Now the early-season hysteria is behind us, could Richmond be the Dees' biggest threat?

Where have all the taggers gone? (1:23)

Matt Walsh & Jake Michaels discuss the disappearance of tagging in the AFL, and if the role could limit recent dominant performances from midfielders. (1:23)

The world of AFL football is notoriously prone to jumping to premature conclusions, too ready to declare this side 'premiership material' or that team 'destined for the bottom' of the ladder off the back of not enough evidence.

It's always happened, but the instances of "early crows" which backfire seem to have been exacerbated with the continued evening up of the AFL competition, which arguably has come at the expense of the top of the ladder.

Are the best teams as good as they used to be? Melbourne certainly is, but the rest? We seem a fair way off the likes of season 2009, when St Kilda and Geelong both went 13 games undefeated, or 2011, when the Cats and Collingwood between them lost just five of 44 games.

Fremantle may have risen to second spot on the ladder a few weeks ago, but has since lost to Gold Coast and Collingwood. Brisbane has looked imposing at stages, but last weekend lost to Hawthorn.

Melbourne, clearly, is well on its way to becoming another of those "super-sides". And the last team to do so? Well, despite missing out on finals last year and sitting only eighth on the ladder currently, they might actually still be the outfit presenting the biggest obstacle to the Demons.

Richmond's Friday night clash with Sydney at the SCG, in the context of how this season might pan out, is massive.

The Tigers have now won their past four games, but victories over West Coast, Collingwood, Hawthorn and Essendon don't carry the same clout as would a win on the road against the Swans.

More than mere symbolism, a win over Sydney could potentially push Richmond back into the top four, a prospect which would make even the Demons more than a little nervous. Particularly given the Tigers' selection challenges this week.

It's no mere coincidence Richmond's improved form has come as some big names have returned to the mix. The Tigers had patently struggled without them.

Now, suddenly, they're again without some keys to the engine, two critical key position players in Tom Lynch and Noah Balta missing, along with an important midfielder in Kane Lambert.

Will Richmond's improved position and growing confidence have it cope better with the absences than it did in the back half of last season or even earlier this year? We're going to find out plenty about that against the Swans. But I suspect the Tigers will fare better now than they would have without the same names only a month ago.

Of course, Richmond's finals experience would make it a formidable finals opponent should it qualify for September in a position of strength. But it's the return of some familiar calling cards over the past month which might be really sounding the alarm bells for opponents.

The palpable hunger, more specifically, the manic pressure applied to opposition ball-carriers, has returned.

While his stats may not necessarily show it, Maurice Rioli has been an important addition to the blend in the return of that pressure, pivotal to helping the Tigers trap the ball in opponents' defensive 50 arcs. It's no accident Richmond's best form tallies with his inclusion in the 22.

You can argue similarly about Jason Castagna. Often a favourite whipping boy of the Richmond faithful, Castagna has nonetheless frequently been a reliable barometer of the Tigers' fortunes. His best form this season has come in recent weeks, and he ranks high on Richmond's list of inside 50 tacklers.

And the uptick in the pressure applied to opponents has had a very real impact on the scoreboard for the Tigers, scores from turnovers the talisman.

After six rounds this season, when Richmond was 2-4 and in 12th spot on the ladder, the Tigers ranked just ninth for points scored from turnovers, ranked only 10th for percentage of turnovers scored from, and 11th for percentage of total points scored from turnovers.

After 10 rounds, those rankings for Richmond have climbed to first, first and second respectively. That's some sort of turnaround.

Lynch and Jack Riewoldt have been the obvious beneficiaries as the Tigers, despite their mid-table ladder status, have jumped to No. 2 on the points scored table.

But even without Lynch now, Richmond, via Dustin Martin's return, has greater flexibility in its forward structures. And even at 33, Riewoldt, who has kicked 13 goals in the last four wins, has been terrific of late.

Even with this latest crop of injuries, it's starting to come together for the Tigers. A win on the SCG against Sydney without Lynch, Lambert and Balta would send a real shot across the bows to Richmond's rivals. Not to mention set the scene for a season-defining few weeks after next week's bye, during which the Tigers come up against Port Adelaide, Carlton and Geelong.

Richmond fans will never forget their team's last appearance on the SCG. It was the final round of a disastrous 2016, and the Tigers were thumped by 113 points. Who in their wildest dreams could have possibly imagined the same team would go on to win three of the next four AFL premierships?

That is as massive a turnaround in fortune as the game has ever seen. But I wonder if in the context of the 2022 season, this particularly big Friday night game at the same venue against the same opponent might also in time be seen as a defining moment.

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