Dustin Martin’s brilliance spearheaded Richmond to a 43-point win over Carlton in the AFL season opener at the MCG.
The Carlton pre-game banner mocked Martin, but the Tigers star had the last laugh on Thursday night as his side held off the Blues’ third-term challenge and won 20.12 (132) to 14.5 (89).
Martin surely polled three Brownlow Medal votes at the start of a massive season for himself and the Tigers.
He and Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe are big ongoing stories because they become free agents later this year, while Richmond and coach Damien Hardwick are under the pump after dropping out of the finals last season.
The Blues banner cheekily read: “Richmond’s five-year plan has become a disaster, vision-impaired like Dusty’s barber”.
Richmond could immediately retort that Carlton last made the finals in 2013 and second-year coach Brendon Bolton is deep in a rebuild of the team.
But the Blues were resilient in front of 73,137 fans, outscoring the Tigers in the third term to keep the contest alive.
With Martin and his interesting haircut dominant, Richmond led by 37 points at half time and were pulling away.
But captain Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs were prominent as Carlton won the centre clearances and reduced the margin to 25 at the last change.
Another goal at the start of the final quarter to Carlton would have made it interesting.
But Martin produced one of his famous “don’t argues” to fend off Sam Docherty and set up Daniel Rioli for a pressure-relieving goal in the opening minute.
A few minutes later, Carlton youngster Jack Silvagni should have been paid a mark in front of goal.
Instead, the ball ended up with Martin and he kicked a booming 70m torpedo out of defence.
Josh Caddy then soccered through a goal and the result was clear.
Martin ended up with 33 disposals, kicked four goals and dished off a couple more.
In another promising sign for the Tigers, star recruit Dion Prestia also impressed with 28 possessions.
While this looms as a tough season for Carlton, there were promising round-one signs.
No.1 draft pick Jacob Weitering played the whole game in attack and kicked three goals despite hurting a hip early.
He again showed it is only a matter of time before he is one of the league’s top key position players.
Former Giant Caleb Marchbank was solid in defence on debut for the Blues and there was also plenty to like about first-gamer Sam Pretrevski-Seton.
Hardwick was pleased particularly with Richmond’s pressure around the ground, noting they scored 11 goals from forward turnovers.
They also won the tackle count 88-66 and singled out Nick Vlastuin for praise – he had 10 tackles in the first half.
“Conversion inside 50 was probably a little bit disappointed in stages, but I couldn’t fault the guys’ intensity and effort,” Hardwick said.
“To see the effort they gave (tonight) was outstanding.”
The Tigers coach added the recruiting of Prestia and fellow onballer Josh Caddy meant Martin could spend more time in attack, where he was lethal.
It was put to Hardwick that whatever the pressure on or off the field, Martin does not seem bothered.
“That’s what good players do,” Hardwick said.
“He’s the ultimate professional, Dustin – he goes about his business, he trains incredibly hard, he looks after himself and he gets the result he deserves (tonight).”
Blues coach Brendon Bolton confirmed Weitering had a corked hip, but was not worried because the rising star played out the game.
“He’s a tough nut,” Bolton added.
Weitering’s performance highlights the quandry for Carlton – do they play him forward or back?
“This question will be asked all year, I reckon,” Bolton said.
Bolton said the match showcased Carlton’s future, with their team featuring five teenagers and three AFL debutants.
He was rapt that the Blues kept coming at Richmond after the first half.
“What is says is these young kids won’t give up,” he said.