Richmond fit and ready to fire: Hardwick

Every AFL side can claim to be in form at this stage of the year.


But few coaches would be as excited about their charges’ fitness as Damien Hardwick.

Richmond stormed into finals last year with nine consecutive wins, however it was preceded by a woeful start to the season.

Ivan Maric, Brett Deledio and Alex Rance – three of the club’s most important players – were all sidelined for much of that stretch.

This time around, Nathan Foley has undergone foot surgery but Hardwick otherwise expects all of his senior players to have a pre-season game under their belt before the serious stuff starts on April 2.

“I think so,” Hardwick said, when asked if the Tigers would be better equipped for round one compared to 2014.

“We’ve pretty much got all our players up and going.

“We only had five guys have operations (after the 2014 season), compared to 15 or 16 the year before.”

One of those to benefit from a full block of pre-season training is spearhead Jack Riewoldt.

“It’s the first time he hasn’t had any form of operation over the course of summer,” Hardwick said.

“He’s in as good a physical nick as I’ve seen him.

“He’s going to have an outstanding year, he’s moving freely and destroying our defenders at the moment.

“His body shape has significantly improved. We’re really excited.”

Riewoldt and Deledio will be among a handful of stars playing their first game of 2015 on the weekend, when the Tigers face Port Adelaide at the Lavington Sports Ground.

Deledio (achilles) and captain Trent Cotchin (hamstring) have both been restricted at training, but Hardwick was confident both would be ready to face Carlton in round one of the season proper.

“If we wanted to push the envelope and it was the regular season, he (Cotchin) could possibly play this week,” he said.

“We’ll make sure he plays some minutes (before round one).

“He (Deledio) will always be a management issue. He’ll only train once or twice a week at various stages, but he’s ready to go.”

The Tigers have already signed up more than 64,000 members, with Hardwick hoping his side will live up to lofty expectations.

“We’re capable of beating any side on our day,” Hardwick said.

“But I think 17 other sides can say the same thing. The competition is incredibly even.”