Richmond assistant coach Justin Leppitsch and head coach Damien Hardwick have turned the Tigers into something special.  Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty
Richmond assistant coach Justin Leppitsch and head coach Damien Hardwick have turned the Tigers into something special. Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty

Dimma and Leppa make great team

JUSTIN Leppitsch and Damien Hardwick looked to be headed for the same fate at the end of 2016 - straight for the senior coaching scrapheap.

Their respective teams, Brisbane and Richmond, had just suffered final-round losses by a combined margin of 171 points.

The Tigers would finish the season in 13th place with eight wins, the Lions 17th with three.

Leppitsch would feel the axe, Hardwick narrowly avoided it.

And it would indeed mean their paths crossed again, reunited at Punt Rd, where they first came together as head coach (Hardwick) and assistant (Leppitsch) in 2010.

"I really went back for Damien," Leppitsch said of his return to Richmond after three seasons in charge at Brisbane.

"He was under the pump. I'd just been in the same situation. I thought he needed a bit of help too.

"I think Damien was as stressed as I was in that last year (2016). But he made the cut - I didn't."

During their playing careers, both were both fiercely competitive defenders who met on the greatest stage - the grand final of 2004, when Dimma's Port Adelaide thwarted Leppa's Lions' bid for four successive flags.

Then Brisbane Lions coach Justin Leppitsch leaves Adelaide Oval after his team's loss to Port Adelaide in round seven, 2016. Picture: Ben Macmahon/AAP
Then Brisbane Lions coach Justin Leppitsch leaves Adelaide Oval after his team's loss to Port Adelaide in round seven, 2016. Picture: Ben Macmahon/AAP

They also toured Ireland together as members of Australia's international rules team.

"We knew each but were never mates," Leppitsch said.

But, he said, "in a lot of ways, it was worlds colliding" when Hardwick was given what seemed like the poisoned chalice - the Tigers' top job - and Leppitsch was departing Brisbane after a stint, post-playing, as coach Leigh Matthews' right-hand man.

"Vossy (Michael Voss) started that year (as head coach) and I thought it was a good time to make a change," Leppitsch recalled. "I'd had 17 years in Brisbane. He (Hardwick) was keen to get me there to coach the defence."

After three initial turbulent seasons (2011-13) working for the black and yellow, Leppitsch returned to help play a part in the Tigers' drought-breaking premiership of 2017.

"You can have more than one love in life, I worked out," he said, adding he was back at Richmond to "finish off the job I started in 2010 with Damien".

Leppitsch was charged with moulding what became a potent forwardline, built around Jack Riewoldt, but featuring smaller types Josh Caddy, Jason Castagna, Dan Butler, Daniel Rioli and Jack Higgins.

Three-time Coleman Medal winner Jack Riewoldt has been a shining light for the Tigers up forward. Picture: Mark Stewart
Three-time Coleman Medal winner Jack Riewoldt has been a shining light for the Tigers up forward. Picture: Mark Stewart

The side is third in the league for tackles inside-50m and second for marks inside-50m.

"We play a pretty simple style of football. There's not a lot of complexities to it," Leppitsch said ahead of tonight's qualifying final clash with Hawthorn at the MCG.

"It's our version of what the Hawks were doing a few years ago."

The Tigers are red-hot favourites to go back-to-back, but Leppitsch, an integral member of the Lions' three-peat (2001-2003) knows a lot still has to go right - as his old teammate and now Geelong coach Chris Scott pointed out last month.

Leppitsch says Scott is the closest thing to a Matthews clone. Matthews famously pulled out the Predator line "if it bleeds we can kill it" when referring to a rampaging Essendon in 2001.

"I thought he (Scott) was going to pull that out too. It was probably on the tip of his tongue," Leppitsch said.

"There is a similar feel to when I was playing in winning teams in Brisbane, but it doesn't mean you're going to win the flag.

"You don't know what's around the corner. You don't know if luck is going to go your way with lots of things ... injuries, weather conditions, the bounce of the ball."



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