Main content

Second-tier Tigers please Hardwick

Round 3: Hardwick post-match Damien Hardwick speaks to the media after the Round 3 win over West Coast.

THE usual suspects fired again, but Richmond coach Damien Hardwick is crediting much of the Tigers' 3-0 start to the improvement of his second-tier players.

Dustin Martin's barnstorming beginning to the year and skipper Trent Cotchin's equally strong form have dominated Richmond's positive headlines so far.

That duo were the Tigers' best players once more in Saturday's 11-point win over previously undefeated West Coast, combining for 73 possessions, including 40 contested.

But this time they shared the limelight with the likes of Reece Conca and Kane Lambert, along with their mosquito fleet forwards Dan Butler, Daniel Rioli and Jason Castagna.

Conca picked up 25 disposals and mostly used the ball well as the No.6 pick in the 2010 draft continued his impressive season start.

Lambert switched onto Brownlow medallist Sam Mitchell after the former Hawks captain had 12 first quarter possessions. Mitchell added only another 13.

Hardwick revealed he challenged his mid-tier group in the off-season to take their game to the next level.

"I've been pleased with the improvement of those players," Hardwick said.

"Reece is a player who's showed signs, but I think his consistency level this year has risen.

"Brandon Ellis (is) a little bit the same and Nick (Vlastuin)'s probably another of those guys we're looking for to step up.

"The thing we've got to continue to do is consistently get that output from those players, because we know from our top-tier players we're going to get that."

Butler, Castagna and Rioli all provided highlights in influential moments, with their breakneck speed and line-breaking ability adding new potency to the team.

Those qualities, paired with Richmond's dominance of contested ball (161-135) and tackles (77-61), have transformed Hardwick's squad into finals contenders.

Daniel Rioli and Reece Conca celebrate Saturday's win over West Coast

"They look really clever when they've got that space in front of them," Hardwick said.

"They're going to be inconsistent at stages – they're all pretty young guys, all under 21 – so they're going to have their ups and downs.

"But their ability to impact the contest from an offensive and defensive perspective has been really pleasing for us and the goals come as a result of that.

"I thought they took another step forward today."

The Tigers last recorded three season-opening victories in 2013, the season they ended a 12-year finals drought.

A fourth triumph on the road against the Brisbane Lions next week would be their best start since 1995.

"We've been playing some good footy, without it being scintillating at stages," Hardwick said.

"I thought today our second half (was very good) … our first half we probably left a few goals on the table at various stages and were a little bit untidy.

"Our forward-line pressure was once again improved after half-time and that allows us to score a little more freely also, (which is) a real positive."

Nick Vlastuin went off in the third term with a broken nose and took no further part, but Hardwick expects the tough utility to be ready for the Lions trip.