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Why Richmond will miss Kane ‘The Rug’ Lambert

In the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece The Big Lebowski, the Dude was perturbed when he was attacked in his home by two enforcers who had confused him for a man that he had never heard of.

But he was positively disgusted when one of his assailants pissed on his favourite Persian rug. His disgust stemmed solely from the fact that the rug ‘tied the room together’.

Kane Lambert did the same thing for Richmond in those dynasty years. He tied the whole thing together.

Lambert retired earlier this week, to relatively little fanfare given he was one of the four or five most important players in Richmond’s triple premiership run.

It’s always strange seeing how athletes are talked about when they retire, it’s almost like they have passed away.

You could almost have repurposed the Kobe Bryant retirement montages and thrown an RIP at the end when he tragically passed. With Lambert though, it seems almost justified given in these last couple of years he was almost killing himself to play.

Kane Lambert

Kane Lambert (Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Lambert’s hip in recent years has been catastrophically bad. He has osteoarthritis. Every step looked like it caused him physical pain and his gait when in a full run was stilted and laboured.

He was barely able to train and will need a hip replacement so he can continue to live a relatively normal life. He himself has said that he has struggled to tie his shoes or get into cars, and yet he did all that he could to play perhaps the most physically taxing sport on planet earth.

I am not saying this is exactly Bo Jackson coming back to play baseball, but really it isn’t far off. And Bo Jackson is the single greatest athletic specimen that anyone who watched him had ever seen.

Lambert isn’t that. A truly extraordinary effort from a player whose career could easily be described by the same adjectives that any NFL evaluator describes a white receiver: gritty, smart, tough.

However, so smart was Lambert that it seems almost a certainty that he will get into coaching, and I expect that the tigers will keep him on staff in an off-field role.

Even in games recently where he hasn’t been playing, he has been on the bench, with a headset on, keeping a close eye on proceedings. The trust that Hardwick had in him to play off of virtually no training will, I think, extend to the coaches’ box or boundary line.

But that’s enough about these last couple of years where the physical toll has worn on Lambert. Let’s talk about his prime. Lambert only played 135 games of AFL football, an extraordinary effort given from whence he came, but in comparison to the other luminaries with whom he shared the yellow and black jumper, a relatively meagre number.

Despite that, I challenge anyone to have had a more impactful 135-game career than Kane Lambert.

One of only three players to kick a goal in each of Richmond’s grand final wins, the Tigers win/loss record with and without Lambert was ridiculous. In Lambert’s career he was 92-1-42 and between 2017 and 2020 Richmond lost at most seven games with him in the fray.

Even this year, the Tigers are seven and zip without Lambert at a percentage of about 150, and 2-1-8 with a percentage of about 96. This is what I mean when I say he was that white Persian rug. He tied the whole thing together.

But how did he do that? What was it that made a player who was a half forward flanker/onballer so structurally important to the Tigers? It was the positional versatility and running capacity that he provided that essentially just allowed the more celebrated Tigers, notably Dustin Martin, free to drink White Russians and do cool stuff with Lambert trailing behind him and cleaning up his messes.

Kane Lambert of the Tigers celebrates after scoring a goal

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

In those premiership years you’d generally see Martin start on the ball. As the ball drifted backwards, Dusty would drift forward where he could petrify defenders just by striding in their general direction.

But to make up for that it was Lambert who doubled back and did the defensive running that Dusty would otherwise have been responsible for. It’s maybe the best example of consistently selfless football that we have seen in recent years.

Truly it is fitting that when Richmond kicked that first goal against GWS in that 2017 preliminary final that had the MCG register a higher decibel reading than an F-18 it was Martin that handed the ball to Lambert for the easiest of goals. That moment, with the benefit of hindsight, was symbolic. A doth of the cap from a player putting together the best season in the history of football, to the player that made it all possible.

A genuine gun footballer who got his start late, Kane Lambert will be irreplaceable for the Tigers for years to come. They are trying with Judson Clarke, who was immediately tabbed as filling the ‘Kane Lambert role’, but Clarke is not yet the unique force that Lambert was.

One thing that I do know is that The Rug was invaluable. It tied the whole room together.

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