How Trent Cotchin's leadership has transformed the Tigers

The first player he makes his way to is Shane Edwards. They high-five, embrace and share a quick laugh over a Gatorade.

Then it's over to Jack Riewoldt, Tom Lynch and Josh Caddy. The forwards. More hand slapping, more excitement, more jubilation.

Richmond has just thumped Brisbane at the Gabba in the second qualifying final and after belting out a rowdy rendition of 'We're from Tigerland', skipper Trent Cotchin is busy making the rounds.

One by one he finds time to congratulate, debrief and bond with every one of his 21 teammates.

For Cotchin, this doesn't just happen after booking a place in the preliminary finals for the third straight year, instead it's his go-to post-game ritual.

"It's important," Cotchin tells ESPN. "Whether it's Shane Edwards or Shai Bolton, we all play a role within this team and everyone deserves recognition. I really do have so much pride to lead this group. Everyone is special."

Since taking over the Richmond captaincy in 2013, Cotchin has grown into one of the competition's great leaders.

From high-fiving every teammate on the way through the banner, offering encouragement on and off the field or simply being able to physically impose himself on a contest, the Tigers skipper ticks all of the boxes when it comes to inspiring his troops.

"I love seeing others grow," Cotchin explains. "For me, I really thrive on that and I know our football club does as well."

The dominant display against the Lions earlier this month was Richmond's 10th consecutive win, something the club had not achieved since 1980. It's set up a preliminary final showdown against Geelong at the MCG, with the winner to earn a place in the Grand Final.

Just another cruisy year for the Tigers, right?

Wrong.

Season 2019 could not have run more off script for Richmond. In the very first quarter of the year, Alex Rance, perhaps the club's most important player, agonisingly went down with a season-ending ACL injury.

Riewoldt was the next star to hit the sidelines through knee injury, while Cotchin himself only managed 11 games in the home and away season as he battled a persistent hamstring problem.

"I spent a lot of time on the sidelines this year and to be honest, I'm not a good watcher," Cotchin tells ESPN. "It's certainly been challenging at different stages when I wasn't playing, but you can really see what makes our culture so strong. As a group we're all so proud to wear this jumper."

Despite all the missed football and the fact he had to lead his team from the grandstands for a large portion of the season, Cotchin insists his approach towards captaincy remained the same.

"It's no harder because it was never about me or what I bring," he says. "It's always been about our team and how we contribute individually. We all have a role to play within.

"We're given a set of boundaries and we're supposed to flourish in those. If you show up knowing you have a role to play for the team, whether it's AFL or VFL, well, that's just what's expected as a Richmond player and it's what makes us, us."

With the club plagued by injuries and after suffering a mid-season three-game losing streak, many began to question the Tigers' premiership credentials. But that was before superstar Dustin Martin rediscovered some of his devastating 2017-like form.

Since Round 15, Martin has averaged 28 disposals, seven inside 50s and 1.5 goals per game as the Tigers came surging from the bottom of the eight into genuine flag calculations.

"To play with him is really special," Cotchin says of Martin. "Some of the things he does are better than anyone I've ever really seen.

"But he's a competitor and that's what makes him great. He's got amazing talent but without that competitive nous you typically don't go anywhere. It's a credit to him the way he's dealt with expectation."

If Richmond are to extend their winning streak to 12 games and land a second premiership in 24 months, Cotchin will become just the fourth double premiership captain in club history and cement his status as one of the league's great leaders.