Already building off a take-down of premiership fancies Geelong last week Richmond is eyeing off finals returns from best and fairest Dion Prestia and star forward Tom Lynch in an ominous sign for other contenders.
Premiership players Shane Edwards will return for Saturday’s final round clash with Adelaide after exiting quarantine in Queensland, while David Astbury, Josh Caddy and Nathan Broad are awaiting their chance.
Breakout midfielder Shai Bolton will miss with a corked calf, but he too should be back for the first week of the finals giving Richmond all but premiership ruckman Ivan Soldo available in the pursuit of back-to-back flags.
“Dion joined in some training today … he’s probably still looking at the first week of finals. we’ve got some players coming back which is really important for us,” Hardwick said on Thursday.
“Shai (Bolton) had a corked calf, it probably hasn’t response as we would have liked. we’d rather take the cautious approach.
“We are probably starting to play some pretty good footy at the right end of the season. We probably are a little bit slow to start and we build up in to it. It’s something we have learned.
“We’re starting to get some players back. We have to get those players back in to the side and gelling together to pay some really good footy.”
Presita hasn’t played since Round 5 after suffering a syndesmosis injury, while Lynch suffered a minor hamstring injury in the third quarter of the powerful win over the Cats.
“Our guys have been really positive with Tom. His scans came back on the minor side, he’s running now and doing some strength training,” Hardwick said.
“It’s my understanding he’ll be available for the first week of the finals at this stage. what we also know is that he’s really important to us so we’ll make sure he’s right to go.
“We only get one chance of getting it right so we won’t rush it.”
Mabior Chol will pay against the Crows, but Hardwick said he was still “working through” what to do about the ruck situation with Soldo out for 12 months after suffering an ACL injury.
It’s one of the few problems facing the Tigers, other than working out who might have to go out to allow for so many available premiership players to come back for the finals campaign.
Hardwick also celebrates a milestone this week, the two-time premiership coach drawing level with Richmond and AFL legend Tommy Hafey for the most games as Tiger coach.
It will be Hardwick’s 248th game in charge of the Tigers, the same number as Hafey, who coached the Club from 1966-76, winning four premierships throughout his magnificent career at Richmond.