Providing both entertainment and positive results is not an easy thing to do in the AFL but Richmond has been doing that in the opening rounds of the 2017 season.
Currently sharing top spot on the ladder with Adelaide and Geelong after winning their opening four games, the Tigers are playing with greater confidence than in previous years.
Coach Damien Hardwick is implementing a more attack-minded gameplan and so far it is paying off. Instead of playing at a slow tempo and emphasising on defending, Richmond is playing in a more direct manner and it moves the ball at a high tempo.
If there is one particular part of the team that has improved more than the others this year, it is Hardwick’s forward set-up.
The Tigers had been lacking in quality small forwards but now they have Dan Butler, Daniel Rioli, and Jason Castagna making an impact.
Butler has kicked six goals since making his debut against Carlton in Round One and he averages nearly 16 disposals a game.
Rioli has added more muscle since last season and has kicked seven goals, with his first goal in the victory against West Coast in Round Three a potential candidate for Goal of the Year.
Castagna did not have a clear role in 2016 but Hardwick has allowed him to settle as a small forward this year and it has worked. The 20-year-old kicked 2.4 against Carlton but his accuracy improved on Sunday as he kicked 4.1 in the 52-point victory against Brisbane at the Gabba.
Jack Riewoldt has not been kicking bags of goals, kicking just 8.6 in the first four games, but he has been staying in the goalsquare more than going up the ground. By having him in the goalsquare, the Tigers have a reference point in attack, and he also improved his scoring on the weekend, kicking 4.2 against the Lions.
Recruiting in the off-season was fundamental too. The erratic Tyrone Vickery went to Hawthorn as a free agent, and Toby Nankervis arrived from Sydney, who has been a decent performer.
Richmond added former Gold Coast players Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy – via Geelong - to its midfield and that has allowed Dustin Martin to spend more time as a forward.
Captain Trent Cotchin was decisive in the close wins against Collingwood and West Coast, collecting 26 and 34 possessions respectively while kicking two of the Tigers’ first three goals against the Magpies.
Aside from the big names playing well, the change in style for Richmond has meant that workhorses like Shaun Grigg and Brandon Ellis can be more effective. Instead of seeing the lower-tier players display signs of indecisiveness, the direct approach under Hardwick allows for a no-nonsense approach when it comes to ball use.
For many years the Tigers struggled to win without star midfielder Brett Deledio but since he was traded to Greater Western Sydney, they have a gameplan which helps them to collect victories without him.
It is debatable if Richmond can sustain this form because the club has had a reputation of self-destructing on the field since the 1980s. The club has only made the finals six times since winning the 1980 VFL premiership and in some seasons it starts well only for the form to wane and then it misses out on finals.
If key players can stay fit though and they persist with this entertaining brand of footy, the Tigers might be able to prove doubters wrong and put themselves into finals contention.