Sam Lienert March 29, 2012
Richmond training at Punt Road Oval ahead of their 1st round match against Carlton at The MCG tomorrow night. Photo: Pat Scala/Fairfax Media
Richmond is determined not to cross the line between justified confidence and believing the hype around tonight's much-anticipated AFL clash with Carlton.
Tigers fans are used to high pre-season hopes being quickly dashed in the traditional round-one meeting, which Richmond has lost the past three years, twice by big margins.
But this year, there is genuine cause for optimism.
Richmond's pre-season form is starkly better than the winless Blues, having finished its campaign with big victories over Geelong and Greater Western Sydney.
Unlike Carlton, whose defence in particular has been weakened by injury, the Tigers are virtually injury-free.
And while the Blues, fifth last year, made minimal off-season list changes, finals-starved Richmond has been boosted by four recruits thrust straight into the senior side.
Add the potential natural improvement of what is a younger playing list than Carlton's and a case can be made for a drought-breaking win.
''The confidence of the playing group is important obviously,'' coach Damien Hardwick, recently re-signed for the next two seasons, said yesterday.
''We've trained well - we've played reasonably well over the course of the pre-season.
''So we'll just hopefully take that into round one and get the same results.''
But Hardwick has also warned his players against reading too much into suggestions of the Blues' vulnerability.
And he has cautioned against placing too much emphasis on one match, even if it is one the side has been gearing towards all summer and that is forecast to attract a crowd of more than 70,000.
''Hype's a wonderful thing, isn't it?'' Hardwick said.
''It's amazing the build-up that happens in the media around this time of year.
''We spoke to our players last week and said, 'listen, we've just got to worry about the perception that's in here'.
''We know how hard we've trained, we know we can focus on our game plan and all the things we can control and that's all we do.''
Despite Carlton's defence missing key figures Michael Jamison and Nick Duigan, Hardwick said it was more significant that the Blues midfield was as strong as ever.
He said that had been the key to their seven-match winning streak against Richmond and the Tigers had to get on top in that area.
But with the steady improvement of young guns Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin and the move of Brett Deledio - fresh from signing a new five-year deal - from defence into the centre, he believed they could.
''We're looking to reverse that trend,'' Hardwick said.
''If we can get the ball inside 50, an area of strength of ours is our ability to score, so we'll just make sure we try to win the midfield battle.''
The Tigers' new faces are ex-Adelaide ruckman Ivan Maric, former Melbourne running player Addam Maric and strongly-built AFL debutants Steven Morris and Brandon Ellis.
Maric, picked up in an off-season trade, played 77 games for the Crows over six seasons, but only six last season.
He has shone for Richmond over the pre-season.
Tough 23-year-old defender Morris was plucked out of the SANFL by Richmond and is likely to be given a job on one of Carlton's dangerous small forwards, Eddie Betts or Jeff Garlett.
The Blues have no newcomers but have made eight changes to the side that narrowly lost last year's semi-final to West Coast, including regaining Matthew Kreuzer, Jarrad Waite, Bryce Gibbs and Shaun Hampson.
Carlton defender Jeremy Laidler was named on the bench, despite dislocating a kneecap in early March which was initially expected to sideline him for up to six weeks.
''Jeremy has made a remarkable recovery from the injury,'' Blues football operations manager Andrew McKay said yesterday.
''It is a real credit to him and the Carlton medical and fitness staff that he will return in such a short time.'' AAP