When Richmond began their rebuild under new coach Damien Hardwick and former president Gary March, they knew they could not have begun at a worse time. What was already shaping up as a painstaking process would be impacted by the arrival of expansion clubs Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney, who would be handed a stunning array of first-round draft selections and list concessions.
This meant the Tigers would have to do more than just go through the draft if they wanted to rebuild at a brisk rate. Remember, this was at a time Matt Rendell, then Adelaide's recruiting chief, warned the Suns and Giants would soon become "superstar teams" and potentially dominate for several years.
"We were not going to be able to do the rebuild by just going to the draft all the time for 18-year-olds," March said at the time.
"We are by no means saying we are there yet. But if you ask about rebuilding, we looked at our list when Damien came in and we knew we had a big hole in the players in their mid-20s, and there was a clear strategy from the footy department to bring in guys in the 22-25 bracket to complement the list."
The Tigers leapt from 15th in Hardwick's rookie season of 2010 to play finals in 2013, the first of three straight appearances, although there would be an abrupt exit in the opening week of September each time. This, in part, had been blamed on a strategy which led to securing "good" pre-loved or mature-age recruits who, for the most part, had maximised their skills and were not going to be able to help the side jump into the top bracket.
The Tigers would add Shaun Grigg, Bachar Houli, Ivan Maric, Troy Chaplin, Chris Knights, Aaron Edwards, Ricky Petterd, Orren Stephenson, Sam Lonergan, Shaun Hampson, Nathan Gordon, Sam Lloyd, Todd Banfield, Matt Thomas, Anthony Miles, Taylor Hunt, Andrew Moore, Kane Lambert, Jacob Townsend and Chris Yarran.
Of those who remain, only Grigg, Houli, Townsend and Lambert, all who have elevated their games, are set to face the Giants on Saturday for the right to play in the grand final.
Last year would bring high-quality talent in Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy, and with that a potential starting 22 which has more in common with the so-called superstar Giants than ever before.
The blue-chip drafting by the Giants was on show against West Coast last Saturday - and that's despite injuries to key personnel, including Jeremy Cameron.
They had 14 first-round selections (five named in the forward line) take to the field and two 17-year-old access selections - the latter being Dylan Shiel and Nathan Wilson. They had three second-round selections, including recruits Callan Ward and Steve Johnson, plus Heath Shaw, a father-son selection from his time with the Magpies, and two players who began their careers through the rookie draft, Zac Williams and Matt de Boer.
The issue for the Tigers until this year had been they lacked quality depth. There was never any doubt over the class of Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt. Cotchin's form dipped last year but he has benefited from a more attacking game style this season.
Where the Tigers have closed the gap is that the team which humbled Geelong almost a fortnight ago had nine first-round selections. There were also five second-round picks, meaning more than half of their players had - in their junior years - boasted elite or strong talent. Jacob Townsend, from the rugby-dominated town of Leeton in NSW's Riverina region, had initially been a NSW-ACT zoned Giant, but would be traded to the Tigers in 2015 for a fourth-round selection.
The Tigers have procured depth through later picks that have come good. They had four players against the Cats who were third-, fourth- or fifth-round selections (David Astbury, Jack Graham, Dan Butler and Nathan Broad), two rookie selections (Kane Lambert and Jason Castagna) and a pre-season selection (Dylan Grimes).
"If you can hit home runs with those selections, that can make a huge difference," said a recruiter from a rival club.
Regardless of whether they win on Saturday, the Tigers deserve praise for elevating - and now thriving - through a rugged expansionist era. For all of the "superpower" scare stories about the Suns and Giants, the former has yet to make the finals, and is now mired in more turmoil. The Giants have yet to advance further than a preliminary final.
The Tigers have become a financial power under president Peggy O'Neal and chief executive Brendon Gale. Are they now about to become the next feared AFL superpower?
The story Forget Suns and Giants, could Tigers be next 'super team'? first appeared on Brisbane Times.