Shane Edwards of Richmond.
Shane Edwards of Richmond.

Surprise move that turned Tigers’ season around

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick enrolled two new students in Justin Leppitsch's defensive school last April.

Seated side-by-side - and with the Tigers' season tipped to fall by the wayside - were 30-year-old Shane Edwards and 18-year-old Sydney Stack, who was preparing for his first.

Spearhead Jack Riewoldt's busted wrist held the Round 3 headlines, but Hardwick was more concerned about stopping goals than slotting them.

 

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He had lost Alex Rance (knee), Bachar Houli (hamstring) and Dylan Grimes (suspension) and so Stack and Edwards were told to study up in the Punt Rd classroom to help save the Tigers' season.

"I hadn't played in the backline ever," Edwards told the Herald Sun.

"I almost felt like I was a new player. Sydney's 18 and I'm 30 and we're learning the same stuff, so I felt like a young kid again.

"It was almost like playing your first game again."

 

Shane Edwards sparked Richmond’s third-quarter blitz in the qualifying final.
Shane Edwards sparked Richmond’s third-quarter blitz in the qualifying final.

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Leppitsch pressed "play" on some training vision and they got to work. In teaching terms, this tutorial was about as remedial as it gets.

"It was the basics - where to stand, risk versus reward when you're kicking it, where you have to run when we have the ball, when we don't have the ball," Edwards said.

"Stuff you'd teach an 18-year-old I had to learn, and I had as many questions as Sydney.

"I was asking, 'Am I doing this right? Is that wrong? Geez, that looks dangerous. Why don't we go there if we can get a goal? Oh, because if we turn it over they'll get a goal easier'.

"Sometimes in defence you have to play the safe option, whereas my whole career has been weighted to a bit more risk playing half-forward."

Leppa's lesson also covered field positions, where to run when the Tigers take an intercept mark, kick-out structures and when you can and cannot get to the bench.

Greater Western Sydney smashed the Tigers by 49 points in Edwards' debut in defence as captain Trent Cotchin pinged a hamstring.

A week later and Richmond's Benjamin Button-style rookie defender was installed its captain.

"It's not a position you'd ever want to find yourself in, having the whole leadership group out," Edwards said.

"I never would've thought in my wildest dream I'd have to be captain, let alone the honour it is to be captain.

"I'll look back and be able to say I got to captain Richmond for six games, but at the same time why did you get to captain? Because all of our leaders were out and you were the last one. I feel grateful either way."

Edwards said Cotchin kept him "calm" while Grimes, Nick Vlastuin, Kane Lambert and former Gold Coast captain Tom Lynch provided a decent fill-in leadership posse.

"It's not like I was out on an island," Edwards said.

"All I had to do was give a couple of speeches before a game. Terrifying - but I still had to do them.

"I'd just start off saying a few things we want to take into the game, but then I'd pass to Kamdyn (McIntosh) or Dion (Prestia) or someone who makes the group laugh really easy.

"They'd take us through a mini rant and rave and everyone would feel razzed up and ready to go.

"My style was probably more director than actor."

 

Shane Edwards leads the Tigers out against Port Adelaide. Picture: Sarah Reed
Shane Edwards leads the Tigers out against Port Adelaide. Picture: Sarah Reed

 

And it turned into an award-winning script. Edwards took over at 1-2 and led the Tigers to a 6-1 run as they jumped from 14th to fourth on the ladder.

With the barriers back, except for Rance, Hardwick returned Edwards to his natural habitat.

In fact, in the Tigers' 10-game winning streak the skilful star has spent 69 per cent of his time in the midfield. In the past six wins Edwards hasn't set foot in Leppitsch's patch.

But Edwards - who burst Brisbane open with 13 disposals in the third quarter of the qualifying final - is grateful for his time behind the ball.

"Now I know what the defenders like, what they don't like, and playing halfback has helped my defensive running in the midfield," he said.

Hardwick has long lamented how criminally underrated Edwards is, outside of Punt Rd, and Champion Data backs that up.

Excluding midfielders and ruckman - who exclusively follow the ball - Edwards is rated the No.1 player in the game.

Does the player who Chris Johnson reckons "reeks" of Shaun Burgoyne feel underrated?

"I don't know," he said.

"I don't feel underrated. I know that no one at Richmond underrates me. It's more just media and other teams.

"I don't really know why I'm underrated. I sometimes feel like I could be a bit overrated.

"It's a funny thing, it depends who you talk to and everyone I talk to really pumps me up."