RICHMOND has basked in the opportunity to share its 2017 premiership success with fans in Bendigo.
As the Tigers prepare to wind-up their two-day AFL Community Camp in Bendigo and Echuca, assistant coach Ben Rutten said players had appreciated spending time with the club’s huge supporter-base ahead of the continued hard grind of the pre-season.
“One thing we know is Richmond has got a lot of supporters far and wide throughout Victoria,” he said.
“Bendigo is a good Richmond area, we spend a lot of time out here, so it’s been good to be able get out an share some of that success we had last year.”
Rutten was referring to Richmond’s burgeoning partnership with the Bendigo Thunder Women’s Football Club and its involvement with the Next Generation Academy.
After a day spent visiting the region’s schools, hospitals and aged care venues and dining with fans at Bendigo Stadium on Monday, the Tigers went back to doing what they do best on Tuesday by hitting the hallowed turf at Queen Elizabeth Oval.
There they were joined by a group of 20 Bendigo Pioneers players – mostly invited Bendigo Secondary Senior College students – for an hour-long training session in front of about 1000 fans.
Rutten said it had been great experience to integrate the TAC Cup players into training.
It was also a chance for Tigers star Dustin Martin to return to his roots and give something back to his former club.
The 26-year-old was drafted to Richmond from the Pioneers with pick three in the 2009 AFL National Draft and has since played in 178 games, including the 2017 premiership.
Rutten, who is entering his fourth season as an assistant coach with the Tigers following a 229-game career with Adelaide, could only marvel at the old adage of 12 months being a long time in football.
This time last pre-season he was one only a few assistant coaches the club opted to retain under head-coach Damien Hardwick, with five others, including former Port Adelaide premiership coach Mark Williams, not having their contracts renewed.
From a coaching perspective, Rutten said 2018 would be all about consolidating the gains and good work of last year.
The 2005 All Australian dismissed notions of the Tigers’ drought-breaking premiership as surprising or unlikely and credited the success to hard work and enterprise.
“Obviously the finish to 2016 meant the expectation (in 2017) wasn’t going to be all that great from outside the club,” he said.
“(But) we didn’t put a ceiling on our improvement, we just looked to build and capitalise on any momentum we had throughout the year.
“Our game built, and we had a fair bit of luck along the way with injury and form – it was a full club effort to get the result we did last year.”
On whether the Tigers would alter their structure to accommodate a second tall forward, Rutten was encouraged by the progress of the club’s newest crop of talls, including Callum Coleman-Jones Noah Balta and Ben Miller, but felt none would be ready to play round one.
He hinted midfield option Josh Caddy and Jacob Townsend would likely reprise their roles as mid-sized marking options, and insisted there was still a place for fifth year Tiger Sam Lloyd, who was best afield in last year’s losing VFL grand final against Port Melbourne.
Rutten saw plenty of scope for improvement elsewhere across the playing list.
We didn’t put a ceiling on our improvement, we just looked to build and capitalise on any momentum we had throughout the year.Ben Rutten
“It’s going to come from guys like Jack Graham, who we saw at the end of last year, “: he said.
“He came off no pre-season last year and he’s starting to look like a different player body-shape wise – and he’s really fit.
“Corey Elis, Connor Menadue, Oleg Markov, Jayden Short are the kind of guys we look for continual improvement from and to be putting pressure on the guys in the team.”