Richmond Tigers’ pocket rocket Liam Baker standing tall

A bit like the successful reinvention of Dan Rioli, out of necessity or frustration Baker moved to a half-back line. Those close to him felt it was the first step towards the door.

Half-way through his first VFL match a club scout mentioned to another watching the game it was a genius move. Baker was dominant. His speed, his decision-making and his ball use were opening up gaps in the field others could not find.

He came back into the senior team and began to make a mark.

Three weeks ago, against Port Adelaide, the game was slipping from Richmond in the dying moments of the last quarter until Baker intervened. This was the sort of moment normally reserved for one of the usual suspects in Dustin Martin, the big forwards, or Trent Cotchin, or more recently Shai Bolton. This day it was the fabulous Baker boy.

He delivered something in that game that he had not revealed before. He didn’t get lucky. He saw moments and he seized his chance. He moved up around the ball and won the match for the Tigers. Port were almost wrong-footed by who was wrong footing them. This sort of play was not expected from Baker. It’s now.

Then last week, lost amid the understandable Tom Stewart fallout to the Geelong game was the fact that when Dion Prestia was knocked out of the game, Damien Hardwick did not hesitate to choose Baker as the player to move on the ball.

Tom Stewart collides with Dion Prestia.Credit:Fox Footy

Richmond lost but Baker was superb in a performance that was not only influential in that game but influential in Richmond’s thinking of what comes next this season and beyond. The Port and now Geelong games have presented a case that demands Baker be shifted to the on-ball role he began with as a junior.

It also created an even more compelling case for him to join Bolton as the central figures of the Richmond midfield in years to come.

It thus also made an even more compelling case for Richmond to re-sign the out-of-contract player. Hardwick did not need convincing, on Thursday he called out his list manager Blair Hartley to get Baker’s signature on a new contract.

“He’s such an important player both on and off the field. He’s a superstar,” Hardwick said.

“He’s one of those guys – there’s not many of them – as soon as you see Liam you start smiling. He’s just one of those people that makes you feel great about life.”

Baker is also a rare player because he is possibly more highly rated in his own club than outside it. Well, he was until a few weeks ago.

Industry sources say Baker is worth $500,000 to $600,000 a year. Richmond will no doubt offer him a long-term deal to keep him in Melbourne. West Coast will offer a long-term deal to get him back to Perth.

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Unlike Luke Jackson, also managed by Jason Dover of TLA, the football decision for Baker is clearer. Jackson might wonder if he would be a better player more quickly were he to go to a club where he will more quickly be the No. 1 ruckman, rather than work on a transition plan of gradually taking over from Max Gawn at Melbourne.

Baker doesn’t have that. Richmond have made him into a good senior AFL player. They know they can make him an elite player in multiple positions on the ground.

While Richmond hoped the signature might come quickly, Baker is in no rush as these decisions are never football ones alone.

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