Essendon looking more "Richmondy"

Rutten and Caracella having an impact already.

Essendon has made no secret that it wants to be like Richmond.

Coach-in-waiting Ben Rutten served four years at Tigerland. Football boss Dan Richardson crossed after the 2017 premiership.

Assistant coach Blake Caracella defected after last year’s flag. Even premiership forward Jacob Townsend has changed the colour of his sash.

Well, there was something markedly different about Essendon in its pre-season victory against West Coast.

Dare we say it … but it was ‘Richmondy’.

Last season the Tigers gained, on average, 497m from handballs. That was an AFL-high, and miles clear of No.2 Melbourne (209m).

Against the Eagles the Bombers surged forward at all times. They surged like they’d never surged before.

In a shortened game, they gained 590m from handballs – an extreme rise on last year’s average of 147m.

In 2019 only eight out of a possible 414 teams gained more metreage by hand … and seven of those were the Tigers.

Yes, this was only one a pre-season match. That’s worth repeating – this was only one pre-season match.

But Essendon’s aggressive handball game was the statistic that leapt off the page when reviewing Round 1 of the Marsh series.

And it wasn’t just one or two Bombers driving the change.

In fact, none of Essendon’s top five – Darcy Parish (+52m), Orazio Fantasia (+52m), Aaron Francis (+51m), Devon Smith (+48m) and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher (+47m) – ranked in the AFL’s top five across nine Marsh Series games.

This might prove to be an anomaly on a night where bolts of lightning briefly suspended the match.

But the more likely conclusion is that – having trained it all summer – it was a mindset.

A repeat by Essendon against Geelong in Colac on Monday would make for very interesting reading.

That’s a big game for the Cats, too, having conceded an alarming 72 entries in last week’s 68-point loss to Gold Coast.

Essendon’s parallels with the Tigers ran deeper than handballing north.

Last year Richmond ranked No.1 for score differentials from turnovers, averaging +17 points per game.

The Bombers were +28 points against the Eagles.

Last year the Tigers averaged 16 intercept marks and 75 intercept possessions. The Bombers recorded 21 intercept marks and 84 intercept possessions against the Eagles.

Last year the Tigers averaged 25 forward-half intercepts and scored 31 points from those intercepts.

The Bombers recorded 23 forward-half intercepts and scored 33 points from those against the Eagles.

Last year the Tigers ranked 17th in pre-clearance contested possessions (-7.4 per game), seemingly unfazed about losing stoppages because they could quickly win the footy back.

The Bombers were -4 in pre-clearance contested possessions against the Eagles.

The Punt Rd flavour at Tullamarine is undeniably strong, and if you were watching Essendon’s win against West Coast from the stats box you would’ve been forgiven the stripes were yellow instead of red.

Again, it was only one pre-season game. But with plenty of cattle missing the Richmond-like set of numbers was enough to spike interest levels in the Bombers’ brand in Colac on Monday.


Interesting to see the numbers bare out what we here identified as a dramatic change in game style.

Can’t wait for the cats game


Yes, we went forward at all times against the Eagles - unlike last year when we often went backwards with the ball waiting for forwards to get into position. Unless, of course, we put the ball in the hands of Saad and McKenna.

Wait till we win 2 premierships, then we will be Richmondy.

Keeping the lid on.


so were already better than richmond playing like richmond after one pre season game, yeah

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I hope their not talking about the Ninthmond version.

They were good days (well disregarding Essington…).

Gee they are starved of content if they are writing an article like this after one pre-season game.

No doubt that’s where we are headed but crikey. Hold your horses.

P. S. I remember @scotty21 refusing to accept Richmond were any good the year they won the flag. I felt his pain. The incredulity that this laughing stock could be a genuinely relevant team was palpable.


I agree to an extent… but I do believe we have changed our game style.

I was worried about this year being wasted under woosha (we all know I’m not a fan) but it seems to me, on the back of training reports and one game tbf, that Rutten and Caracella have had the tactical reins and used that with good effect.

There was a very different way we approached the game against WCE and I loved it.

The first one! Ive reached a level of acceptance now.


LOL, They are comparing one pre-season game to the entire Richmond season.


I was the same. I even double downed on a preseason bet that Essendon would finish higher than Ninthmond half way through the year, as I was certain they would capitulate (and the tiger supported was an ex boss I hated).

Oh the humiliation…

Moreso the profound difference to how we played compared to last year.

And they did emphasise it’s only a single practice game.

We’ll know more by the end of the Geelong game.

As it was forecast they would last year when the handover was announced. Rutten was always going to be the lead man when it came to developing game style and strategy.


This was really noticeable in the WCE game. Worth noting too that Richmond’s style circa 2019 is an echo of Geelong’s game in 2007 - 2011. The difference being that Richmond have put more structure around something Geelong did instinctively. Skilled players like Bartel, Kelly, Chapman, Ablett, Selwood and Mackie were able to think their way through opposition presses by moving into space and quickly moving the ball forward by hand and foot. The Thompson ethos was to move the ball through traffic rather than around it, by running at your opposition and expecting your team mates to provide an option.

I loved the fact that we didn’t bomb the ball forward. You still hear people yelling “KICK THE THING” at games but the reality is that if there are no easy options we’re better off looking for a short handball over the top - even to someone under a bit of pressure - and having players run forward to provide the ball carrier with options.

The other difference in our game style is that we constantly had players forward of the ball. Halle-■■■■■■■-lujah. Watching Saad, McKenna, Zerrett, Walla and co rip the ball down the field at breakneck speed in 2019 was exhilarating, but their efforts generally turned out to be futile unless they were able to get the ball clean into the 50 arc to take the shot. Because there was nobody up ahead of them to kick to. Watching the WCE game on tv where you can’t see forward of the ball I was so often pleasantly surprised to see the ball carrier lower their eyes and pass 35 metres, and sure enough there was a team mate leading up to take the pass. Wow! There was a moment there were I think it was The Langford led up and marked a pass about 45 m out and then turned and hit a second target (Snello I think) who was leading up at about 30 m out. We NEVER saw that happen in 2019.

Anyway, very early days, fingers crossed, etc. I want to see that style against Geelong. Win or lose, if we’re working to that game plan then we can continue to improve.


Only one game. Even a dozen games is neither here or there. It’s about what we do through the entire season. And if that gets us to finals how we cope with finals football.

What we want to happen to make this real is the following:

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After 1 game

I wonder if Richmond are going to play 2019 Richmondy, or if they’ve moved on to something better?


I’m down for it

We’ve won one pre-season game in a row so I fail to see how anyone can make the argument that we’re not going to win the flag. Facts are facts.


What Is good is that we trained all PS and have at least started putting it into practice. Looks like we won’t be ditching it after round 2


Play Richmondly for the entire year and you can guarantee finals.