AFL Debate Club: It was time to move on from Riewoldt as Tigers enter new phase

Wildcards not needed: Blockbuster Round 23 looms (2:41)

After calls for the AFL to introduce a wildcard week ahead of finals, Rohan Connolly says there's no need, and to just look at this week's fixture. (2:41)

Welcome to ESPN's AFL Debate Club, the column in which our writers and contributors will take one prompt from the week and put their opinion on the record. The kicker? No opinion is immune from criticism!

This week, Rohan Connolly and Jake Michaels debate whether or not Richmond great Jack Riewoldt should have played on in 2024.

Should Jack Riewoldt have played on in 2024?

Rohan Connolly: I'm certainly not one to attempt to call time on players simply because of their birth certificate, or in some cases, not even because of injury or form slumps. But I don't see the sense in Riewoldt fronting up for Richmond again next year.

As great a spearhead as he's been both for the Tigers and for the game in general, Riewoldt turns 35 in October, doesn't have the same output as when his team were at the peak of their powers, and his presence would simply deny others opportunity.

Richmond is hardly short on potential key forward replacements, there's the likes of Ben Millar and Samson Ryan for starters, and the not insignificant form of Tom Lynch to return from injury next season. Lynch turns 31 (he actually shares the same birth date as Riewoldt) in October, but few would argue he has at least two or three good years left in him. So it's not as though the Tigers need another key forward mentor.

That there's even a debate at all to be had here is actually tribute enough to Riewoldt. His performance levels have hardly fallen off a cliff.

He took a fair screamer on Sunday against St Kilda, has 31 goals from 20 games, and has had life made considerably tougher for him this season given Lynch's prolonged absence and the Tigers' poor form.

But that's sort of the point. The great Richmond era is unquestionably at an end. And whether it's Andrew McQualter or someone else coaching the Tigers next year, a substantial makeover, if not a complete rebuild is on the cards.

Riewoldt is a three-time Coleman medallist who will finish his magnificent career with almost 800 goals and three premiership medals. But where he's at now, his continued presence on the Tiger list in 2024 would only be at the expense of someone else's development, and that's largesse the club can't afford.

Jake Michaels: You make some fair arguments there, Rohan, but if I'm Richmond I would have liked to see him go on for one more year.

You touched on it, the expectation of Riewoldt this campaign has been a little unfair for someone about to turn 35. He's been forced to do the majority of heavy lifting in the Tigers forward line ever since Lynch suffered that season-ending foot injury. Sure, the consistency we've become accustomed to over the years may not be there anymore, but I'd argue he's been more than serviceable with those 31 goals, in what's proven to be a below average side.

The primary defensive focus will shift back to Lynch when he returns in 2024 and that would create greater opportunity for Riewoldt, who wouldn't have to contend with the opposition's best defender on a weekly basis. He hasn't lost any of his football nous and would still be one of the better second options in the league.

But the real reason I believe the Tigers would have been keen for Riewoldt to stick around is to assist in the transition from powerhouse contender to a club in rebuild.

I wrote last week that the Tigers are more likely to finish bottom six next year than top six and it's becoming tougher and tougher to hold a contrasting view. Richmond is entering a new phase and having someone of Riewoldt's experience and culture standards would have been crucial to passing the torch to the next generation, so to speak, and avoid the slide into footy wilderness. His services in that regard should have become even more critical given Damien Hardwick's abrupt departure from the club and Trent Cotchin's decision to hang up the boots at season's end.

But it's a moot point now, I guess, with Riewoldt calling time on his career.