What Robbie Tarrant Means For Richmond's 2022 Flag Prospects

It appears as though the hierarchy at the Richmond Football Club believe a fourth flag in six years is achievable.

At least, that’s what the impending signing of North Melbourne’s Robbie Tarrant tells us.

Like any great team, there’s an inevitable drop-off. Granted, there were plenty of injuries to key personnel, but the 2021 version of Richmond was a far, far cry from the powerhouse we’d seen over the previous four seasons.

With David Astbury and Bachar Houli announcing retirements, it came as a shock when the unofficial, yet impending signing of Tarrant came to light.

Yet when considering the quality, albeit ageing talent that is still around, it almost behoves Hardwick and company to send them off in style.

After all, while signing a 32-year-old on paper seems odd, Tarrant has proven to be reliable and over his early-career injury issues, and the Tigers have an eye-watering draft hand that holds them in good, long-term stead. 

Astbury and Tarrant are different types of players, although adjustment out back is hardly a new thing for the club.

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As the kings of the AFL over a four-year span, Richmond was always subtly changing the way they defended to stay on top of the opposition.

Early on, it was a heavy reliance on Alex Rance, while Astbury was able to focus on the secondary forwards and peel off at the right times. His defensive work flourished in a lesser role.

Post-Rance, the Tigers were looking to become the masters of the intercept. Astbury needed to be the main key defender, but they weren’t keen on exposing their defence to as many one-on-ones. 

In 2020, the physical conditions completely changed and it was ground-level defence that became the focus of Richmond. 

Astbury’s game transformed into a predominately lockdown player, a role that he was good at with loss percentages spanning between 25 and 28% per season since 2018, but his defensive pressure and intercepting dropped off.

The return to normality and the rotating door of defensive personnel left the Tigers completely exposed in 2021, with no way to steady the ship,  while Astbury’s efforts were nullified with the club becoming one of the easiest to score against once inside 50.

Robbie Tarrant has proven to be a more well-rounded key defender over the last half-decade, although perhaps less defensively consistent than the Richmond retiree.

Indeed, there’s a significant fluctuation in his one-on-one numbers, although it’s clear North Melbourne exposed him to far less than that of a traditional full-back.

In 2016, 2018 and 2020, Tarrant rated elite for his one-on-one work, losing between just 19 and 22% of his one-on-ones. These numbers skyrocketed to above 30% in 2017, 2019 and 2021. In each year, he was hardly exposed to more than three one-on-one contests per game.

What hasn’t been an issue for Tarrant, and likely what the Tigers are banking on, are his excellent reading of the play, and elite counter-attacking output for a key defender.

The former first-round pick has established himself as one of the best ball users out of defence in the entire league, while also looking to be meaningful by foot.

Between 2016 and 2020, Tarrant was pushing nearly 300 metres gained per match, 4 rebound 50s and 6 intercepts a game, rated elite for a key defender.

Only in 2018 did the backman’s kicking efficiency for the season drop below 79%, again elite, and it has resulted in him being used as a key rebounding weapon.

2021 was the first season Tarrant had missed a substantial number of games in a long time, due to surgery removing a small mass on his kidney, and in the back-end of the season, regained some of his best form.

His intercept and marking numbers rivalled career-highs in his final seven games of the season, as did his defensive half pressure acts.

Against Geelong and Essendon, they looked to make Tarrant more accountable and exposed him in one-on-one situations, struggling to contain the lead-up speed of Tom Hawkins and Gary Rohan, and the reach of Peter Wright in respective matches.

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Overall, the package and the leadership is there for Richmond to take full advantage of, where they aim to reclaim the crown they had in 2017, 2018 and 2020, as the league’s best intercepting team, as well as the top metres gained side in 2018, 2019 and 2020. They’ll look to protect Tarrant and the other defenders by double and triple teaming on a consistent basis.

Importantly, Robbie Tarrant is a fantastic resource for two particular young Richmond key defenders to tap into, Noah Balta and Bigoa Nyuon.

Some Richmond fans believe Balta’s future is best suited to playing as a centre half-forward, yet he remains the team’s brightest key position prospect.

Balta’s speed and strength has turned him into an above average key defender and his closing speed holds him in good stead at ground level. 

Nyuon hasn’t been seen at AFL level and is very much a work-in-progress, however those close to the ground are enamoured with his prospective intercepting ability and a developing strength that is well worth persisting with at Richmond.

Ultimately, the Tigers need defensive consistency and reliability. If they’re choosing to head back to backline mayhem, where every player can defend both at ground-level and aerially, aiming to get multiple players to every contest, then Tarrant is the perfect fit for this team.

Tarrant’s longevity and continued high-level form does draw questions as to why he wasn’t targeted by other clubs, the Bulldogs in particular.

A team on the brink of Premiership contention, Tarrant would have clearly provided the intercepting and timely spoiling that was so sorely lacking in key moments that could have elevated the 2021 runner’s-up to the next level.

Yet it leaves his prospective new club jumping for joy, in their effort for success in longevity.

Of course, for the Tigers to become a genuine threat, they must improve in clearance situations and recapture their tackling tenacity in attack.

But with the league’s strongest draft hand and plenty of flexibility to do damage over the next couple of months, a unique opportunity has presented itself for Richmond to set themselves up for both now, and the future.

Robbie Tarrant is the sort of harmless, shrewd acquisition whose importance won’t go unnoticed for very long.

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Dem Panopoulos

Dem is a lover of sport with a keen eye for analytics. A passion for statistics that defies logic given his MyCricket numbers, you can see and hear him share his thoughts and views on Twitter @dempanopoulos

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