Tigers' season review: Eight-game unbeaten run leads to top-four finish

RICHMOND of season seven was a far cry from the Tigers who went winless in their first season just three years ago.

Making finals for the first time, from the top four no less, was a result of consistent team-wide efforts and an eight-game unbeaten streak.

womens.afl is looking at each of the 18 AFLW teams' seasons in reverse ladder order.

Richmond players line up during the national anthem prior to the S7 semi-final against North Melbourne at Swinburne Centre. Picture: AFL Photos

Head coach: Ryan Ferguson

Leadership group: Katie Brennan (captain), Sarah Hosking (vice-captain), Bec Miller, Gabby Seymour, Monique Conti

Ladder position after home and away season: Fourth, seven wins, two losses and a draw, 147.9%

Ladder position after finals: Fifth, seven wins, four losses and a draw, 115.5%

Debutants: Katelyn Cox, Eilish Sheerin (AFLW debut), Grace Egan, Libby Graham, Steph Williams (club debut)

Milestones: Monique Conti, Jess Hosking, Sarah Hosking (50 games), Maddy Brancatisano, Grace Egan, Maddie Shevlin, Kate Dempsey, Kodi Jacques, Beth Lynch, Courtney Wakefield, Ellie McKenzie, Tessa Lavey (25 games), Katie Brennan (50 goals)

Rising Star nominations: Nil

Retirements: Courtney Wakefield

Courtney Wakefield is chaired off after Richmond's semi-final loss to North Melbourne at Swinburne Centre. Picture: AFL Photos

Best team performance

Richmond's round five win over minor premier Brisbane is one of the biggest upsets in AFLW history and remains the club's best performance. Toppling the best teams requires every player to rise to the occasion, and that is exactly what the Tigers did at Punt Road that day.

It was a chaotic, pressured game, with the Tigers not allowing the ball to escape out into space. Brisbane was kept to a disposal efficiency of 56 per cent, the side's lowest of the season, and goaled from just 3.1 per cent of its forward entries, the Lions' lowest ever conversion. The defence stood strong, but it was defensive acts right across the field that helped them get it done.

Meg Macdonald spent the day running alongside star Emily Bates, Gabby Seymour laid an all-time goal saving smother, while Wakefield was dangerous up forward.

AFLW S7 Highlights: Richmond v Brisbane

04:30 Sep 24. 2022. 1:23 PM

The Tigers and Lions clash in round five of the 2022 NAB AFL Women's Competition

Best individual performance

In an outstanding season, Monique Conti's performance against Greater Western Sydney in round nine was simply exceptional.

Playing in slippery conditions in Mildura, Conti led Richmond to its seventh-straight win with her 441m gained from 24 disposals, eight tackles, five inside 50s and three goals. Rightly, the midfielder was awarded a maximum 10 coaches votes and three AFLW best and fairest votes.

Conti's smooth movements and clean skills in the wet had her standing head and shoulders above everyone else on the field, and in the process, she showed off her newfound ability to hit the scoreboard.

Conti's brilliant running effort goes all the way

00:38 Oct 23. 2022. 4:31 PM

Mon Conti bursts away to bounce through a terrific major

Most improved

With Harriet Cordner inactive and Bec Miller sidelined for extended periods of time due to injury, Maddie Shevlin's steady head in Richmond's defence was vital.

Shevlin not only won more of the ball than she ever has before, averaging 12 disposals per game, but her skill in disposal was also at a career high. She averaged 317.6m gained as she looked to turn defence into attack at any possible opportunity, also kicking two goals.

An outstanding performance against Brisbane in round five was Shevlin's cherry on top of a career-best season, where she has eight intercepts, 10 rebounds, 24 disposals and a whopping 658m gained.

Maddie Shevlin leads Richmond players in the club song after defeating Brisbane in R5, S7 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Star recruit

Out of the wilderness of local Sydney competitions, Eilish Sheerin hit the AFLW with a bang, registering 17 intercepts on debut - the most of any player in their first game.

Sheerin's intercepting is one thing, but her want to run and carry out of defence changed the face of Richmond's backline. She averaged 366.9m gained across the home and away season - the fourth-most in the competition, behind inaugural players Ebony Marinoff, Jasmine Garner and Ellie Blackburn.

Her season was rightly rewarded with All-Australian selection and second place in Richmond's best and fairest.

Unsung hero

Plucked out of the Giants to help with that lack of key defensive depth, Libby Graham's addition to Richmond's defence went under the radar.

With Bec Miller injured for much of the season, Graham was often tasked with the opposition's most dangerous forward and played a reliable role on the last line. She was another key part of that round five win, with 10 one percenters.

Graham does the small stuff that sets up her teammates to propel the ball back out of defence and doesn't need a lot of the ball or a stacked stat line to have a significant impact on games.

Libby Graham in action during the S7 semi-final match between Richmond and North Melbourne at Swinburne Centre. Picture: AFL Photos

What went well

Richmond's unbeaten streak between rounds three and 10, including seven wins and a draw, was evidence of just how far the side has come in three years, ultimately making finals for the first time.

This was built from a full-team defensive effort right across the field. They conceded an average of 27.5 points per game, the lowest in club history and 14.8 points on average fewer than last season earlier this year.

By applying defensive pressure higher up the field, opponents found it difficult to enter their forward 50 neatly, leading to the Tigers conceding only 4.7 marks inside 50 per game, which in turn made it harder for sides to take composed shots on goal. This led to Richmond conceding a goal from just 13.2 per cent of the inside 50s it did allow.

What needs improvement

Richmond averaged the fewest clearances in the competition this season, with just 20.7 per game, despite having players like Egan, Conti, Ellie McKenzie, and Sarah Hosking at their disposal. Finding that first possession is often key to winning control in games and, as a result, Richmond's control had to come through other ways.

The Tigers' success this season was from taking away opposition strengths rather than having a clear style of play with ball in hand. This meant that they could often challenge or beat teams the first time they played but were found out in a second meeting.

Improvement last season came from incredible forward efficiency, but that fell away significantly this season, goaling from just 14.9 per cent of their inside 50s and kicking at 38.3 per cent accuracy. With the defensive line bolstered, the next step in the Tigers' development is solidifying things ahead of the ball, but this becomes a tougher prospect with All-Australian forward Courtney Wakefield retiring.

Courtney Wakefield marks during Richmond's round three S7 match against Hawthorn at Punt Road Oval. Picture: Getty Images

Off-season focus

Finding a contested marking forward target to take the place of Wakefield seems to be the most apparent need for Richmond over the off-season. Katie Brennan is reliable, and Stella Reid is developing, but neither play as tough, contested marking players, rather they are mobile, running options.

Filling that gap will allow the Tigers to develop more of a system in their attacking ball movement next season.