Not playing ‘anywhere near the level of expectation’: Hardwick urges Tigers to lift

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick admits the Tigers are not playing “anywhere near the level of expectation” required, as they fight to prove their premiership era is not over.

The AFL’s best side in three of the past four years, the Tigers are battling injuries to key personnel, poor form, and fears their game plan has been well and truly deciphered by opponents.

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick.Credit:Getty Images

The Tigers have slipped outside the top eight after three straight defeats, to West Coast, St Kilda and the Gold Coast Suns. The loss last week to the lowly Suns at Marvel Stadium was particularly stinging, as it came after Hardwick had labelled the week leading into that match as the most important of the Tigers’ year.

That opportunity wasted, the Tigers now hope to regain momentum against Collingwood at the MCG on Sunday.

“We are not playing anywhere near the level of expectation that we would like, so we have got to play a hell of a lot better,” Hardwick said before a spirited training session on Friday.

“The fact of the matter is, we are a forward half, turnover side. When you give up 62 entries inside 50 (to the Suns), you are attacking from the back half. It’s not the Richmond brand of footy. So, we spoke about that with the players.

“Our contest work wasn’t to the level we would like. Our pressure wasn’t there, but the fact of the matter was we didn’t get the ball inside 50.”

The Tigers will welcome back ruckman Toby Nankervis, who has not played since round 11 because of a sprained PCL. His work in the ruck and physicality around the ground has been central to the Tigers’ dominance.

Toby Nankervis is set to return for the Tigers.Credit:Getty Images

“When you have got Toby Nankervis out of your side, there is 10 contested ball (missing) … and we haven’t had Ivan Soldo all year, either. Two quality ruckmen that we base a lot of our game around. We have missed those guys enormously,” Hardwick said.

The contested ball problems have left the Tigers on the back foot. The statistics show they are among the bottom sides in points against per inside 50, points against from turnovers, and points against from stoppages. They are also struggling in points from clearance differential and were ranked last for clearance differential.

“Clearance wise, we have never been a great clearance (side), we would like to be a little bit better from that,” Hardwick said.

Hardwick said Daniel Rioli had impressed at half-back in the VFL and was a strong chance to be used in this role against the Magpies, should he be selected.

“His run and carry is back, which is really exciting for us. He is winning and halving contests, he is really excited by the challenge, as are we,” he said.

Sydney Stack is also in the mix to return. The West Australian had a tumultuous off-season, having found himself in jail in WA after breaking bio-security rules.

This incident came after he had breached AFL COVID-19 protocols during the 2020 season by attending a Gold Coast strip club, culminating in a fight outside a kebab shop – and a $100,000 fine for the Tigers.

He had to regain fitness and the confidence of his teammates upon returning to the club in late March.

“I think what happens is everyone matures and everyone grows up at stages, don’t they? Some take a little longer than others but we always thought Sydney’s on-field performance is not our biggest concern,” Hardwick said.

Hardwick said he expected Shane Edwards (ankle) to miss only one week.

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