By: Daniel Kelly (@Ukurrie)
Photo: Owen Jones (@digital_beard)
Senior coach Brodie Holland’s new look Northern Bullants blooded a host of players but fell to Richmond 16.8 (104) to 8.9 (57) in Round 1 of the 2023 VFL Premiership season.
The Tigers, who played 11 AFL listed players, jumped out to a six-goal lead at quarter time. But the Bullants, with ten VFL debutantes, adapted and almost matched Richmond in scoring for the remainder of the match at the Swinburne Centre on Punt Road.
Brandon Ryan kicked the first goal of the Holland era midway through the first quarter and ended with three for the day. Co-captain Liam Mackie, Perry Lewis-Smith, Harrison Kennedy, Ben Hurley, and Ethan Mantas also added majors for the Ants.
Tyson Young and Jean-Luc Velissaris (30 possessions each), Mackie (28), and Patrick Fairlie (27) were the major ball winners for the famous red and white and contributed to the Ants leading possession for the day.
Holland’s eagerness for his team to attack off half back was instantly apparent, but the execution lacked. Richmond jumped out to a six-goal lead at quarter time as they capitalised on centre corridor turnovers.
After that, though, the Ants kicked eight goals to Richmond’s nine and were worthy opponents.
Kaelan Bradtke was the main beneficiary for Richmond with five goals for the match, all of which came in the first half until Liam Kolar nullified his impact.
Jacob Bauer kicked three for the Tigers as Jack Ross and Lachlan Street (28 possessions each), and Garrett McDonagh (22) had plenty of the ball for the yellow and black.
Bigoa Nguyen and El-Nour were dominant aerially in defence for Richmond snuffing out numerous Bullant attacks in the first quarter until the Ants modified their inside-50 entry by keeping the ball lower.
It appears that the Bullants will maintain their brand of being strong in the contest – they won clearances around the ground with Velissaris, Fairlie, and Dylan Clarke (6 clearances each), leading the way.
Adjusting at the level
The Tigers jumped them early but the inexperienced Bullants settled in the second quarter and wrested back control somewhat for the remainder of the match.
The Ants were more cautious with the ball after quarter time and slowed the game when opportunities were scarce. Mackie and his co-captain, Matthew King, were more deliberate with their kicking and their composure spread across their teammates.
A good day for the recruitment team
A development area for the last couple of years, recruiter Grant King, Holland, and General Manager Darren Bassett have invested heavily in tall timber.
Finnbar Maley (197cm) has a remarkable vertical leap which will provide silver service to the midfield at centre bounces and Ryan (200cm) looks a difficult forward/ruck matchup for the opposition. Tom Stapleton (200cm) awaits his opportunity, too.
Fairlea’s on-field performance on the ball matched the reputation he brought from the SANFL and Tyson Young could not have hoped for a better debut.
Saad El-Hawli’s ability to read the play across half back will launch many of the Bullants attacks and Baker Smith looks at home across centre half back. Mantas also provided run and drifted forward for a late goal.
Former Mitcham spearhead Jake Parente became more of an option inside 50 in the second half. Despite not converting today, it’s clear the goals will come.
The Bullants have an early bye in Round 2 before their first home game at Genis Steel Oval against Essendon in Round 3 at 1.05pm, Sunday April 9.
RICHMOND 7.1 10.4 13.5 16.8 (104)
BULLANTS 1.1 1.4 5.6 8.9 (57)
Richmond: Bradtke 5, Bauer 3, Miller 2, White, Tedcastle, Street, Ross, Johnson, Hicks
Bullants: Ryan 3, Lewis-Smith, Mackie, Kennedy, Hurley, Mantas
Richmond: Ross, Nyuon, Bradtke, Street, Bauer, McDonagh
Bullants: Mackie, Ryan, Young, Fairlie, Velissaris