Contested ball remains king in AFL

Forget all the AFL’s fresh trends and novel tactics: contested possession remains king in the AFL.


Richmond’s stunning eight-goal hammering of Adelaide in Saturday’s grand final featured many novel tactics.

There was the undersized Tigers forward line.

The occasional use of pint-sized ruckmen by Richmond.

There were player formations which all but eliminate the traditional positions on an AFL ground — four-men forward lines, instead of the usual six.

There were sweepers and ‘plus one’ in defence; and crafty stoppage structures.

But all pale when compared to winning contested possessions.

Adelaide coach Don Pyke watched in horror as his club’s dream of a first premiership since 1998 became a nightmare.

Pyke spent all season hammering home his most-treasured theme: win contested possessions, win the game.

Adelaide entered the decider ranked as the league’s top-ranked side for winning contested ball but they were dismantled in that area by the AFL’s new premiers.

Last year, Western Bulldogs took the premiership cup with a 172-149 contested ball count in their grand final win against Sydney.

This year, The Tigers won 163 contested possessions to Adelaide’s 138.

That was where the premiership was won.

Richmond torched the Crows in the third quarter, which is dubbed the premiership quarter. So it proved.

In that decisive term, the Tigers walloped Adelaide in contested possessions — 51-31.

“At one stage the numbers I was looking at was minus 27 in the quarter and that is a phenomenal number,” Pyke said.

“Richmond outworked us at the contest.

“They won the contest … and no surprise, the game got played in their half and they were able to score.

“That is why the contest is so important.”

Hardwick’s grand final plans featured his much-talked about small forward line — just one tall attacker, the rest fleet-footed, pressure-packed smalls.

His plotting also included a sweeping defender — in AFL speak, a ‘plus one’ — and he deployed Bachar Houli in that role with telling effect.

Yet all of Hardwick’s plans relied on one premise: win contested possessions.

“Manic I think would summarise it,” he said of Richmond’s approach.

“Our pressure in the first quarter was a little bit off … but then we started to get up and going.

“The third quarter … was off the charts.”

Pre-game, Hardwick stressed to his players: match the Crows in the hurly-burly packs.

“We thought if we could just limit the effectiveness of their disposals when they are in close, a lot of their contested ball is from clearance, we would be OK,” he said.

“The third quarter was plus-20 (contested possessions) which certainly set the tone.

“Our guys really hunted hard around the contest.

“It was a real finals footy game — contested ball, tackle pressure, surge the ball going forward.

“As much as coaches like me think it’s rocket science, it’s not really.”