AFTER a few weeks of promising performances, the dam wall finally broke for Richmond in round five, recording its first ever AFLW win.
The Tigers went on to finish with three victories: a marked step up on last year's winless season, but still off the pace of the established sides.
Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the seasons of the 14 AFLW teams in reverse ladder order.
WHO'S HANGING UP THE BOOTS? Your club's retiring players
Coach: Ryan Ferguson
Leadership group: Katie Brennan (captain), Sarah Hosking (vice-captain), Christina Bernardi, Harriet Cordner, Sabrina Frederick, Phoebe Monahan, Alana Woodward
2021 finishing position: 10th, three wins and six losses, 84.6%
Best team performance: Geelong 2.1 (13) lost to Richmond 9.6 (60) in round five.
After honourable losses to Collingwood and Carlton, it was party time against Geelong, recording the side's highest ever score along its way to its first AFLW victory. Monique Conti and number one pick Ellie McKenzie – in a break-out performance – starred, with Katie Brennan booting three.
Best individual performance: All-Australian midfielder Monique Conti had plenty of outstanding performances this year, and led the way in the club's breakthrough win over Geelong. The creative Conti had 27 disposals, six intercepts, four inside-50s and three clearances.
NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Ellie McKenzie
Debutants: Tessa Lavey, Luka Lesosky-Hay, Ellie McKenzie (AFLW debuts); Harriet Cordner, Sarah D'Arcy, Sarah Dargan, Sarah Hosking (club debuts)
Delistings: Emily Harley, Luka Lesosky-Hay, Cleo Saxon-Jones, Holly Whitford
Most improved: There's no doubt the additional support of recruits Harriet Cordner and Sarah D'Arcy helped, but key back Bec Miller came on in leaps and bounds this year. She's got excellent reach and showed her increased confidence when opting to run the ball out of 50, instead of somewhat panicked kicks.
Star recruit: There's no doubt Sarah Hosking provided some much-needed depth to the midfield, but Harriet Cordner was a rock in defence. She provided a calm head and was able to read the play well, adding some composure to a relatively inexperienced line. Cordner finished fourth in the Tigers' best and fairest.
Unsung hero: Winger Kate Dempsey had an injury-affected first AFLW season, managing just one game, but hit the ground running this year. She covered the ground well and was an important linking player down the field, positioning herself well, particularly in attack. Dempsey averaged 12.3 disposals, including a high of 22 against Gold Coast.
- Big, big tick for Richmond's recruiting strategy last year, adding experience across all three lines. New coach Ferguson implemented a clear game plan with a solid defensive structure, which seemed to have an immediate impact in minimising the poor losses
What needs improvement:
- A main factor in the club's string of losses in the first half of the year was players' lack of composure when entering attack. Rushed and high kicks didn't help the forwards at all, and played straight into the opposition's hands. The team steadied somewhat as the season progressed, but it was still an issue against the stronger sides.
- The Tigers were comfortably the lowest tackling side in the competition, averaging 47.3 (compared to second-last Collingwood's 52.1 after the home and away season). Some teams have naturally lower tackle counts due to their game style, but to sit in 14th after winning just three games is an area of concern.
- Support for Monique Conti. The best and fairest had a few more players around her this year, but the Tigers are still highly unlikely to win without their best midfielder starring. Conti averaged 22.3 disposals in 2021, with draftee Ellie McKenzie next best with 15.6. Richmond played best with Katie Brennan forward, and need another inside midfield rotation to keep the skipper there permanently.
BEST AND FAIREST WRAP Who was your club champion?
Early call for 2022: Now some holes have been plugged, Tiger eyes should be looking towards the draft. With just four players remaining from the 13 drafted over the past few years, an injection of young talent will help propel Richmond further up the ladder, but it will get harder to continue to close the gap at the same rate.
Season rating: 4.5/10