BRETT Deledio has elevated himself to elite status with his vastly improved contested play, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick says.

Deledio won the Yiooken Award as the best player on the ground in the Tigers' 19-point loss to Essendon in Saturday night's Dream Time at the 'G clash.

After the match Hardwick said the hardness Deledio displayed in laying an equal game-high 10 tackles against the Bombers and winning five clearances had not always been a strength of his game.

"His contested ball work has come on in leaps and bounds," Hardwick said.

"That was probably the one area of his game that I thought needed work but he's just been enormous in that area this year. He's become an elite player of the competition."

Deledio sat alongside his coach as he made his comments at an after-match press conference - Hardwick joked that the Tiger midfielder had kicked him under the table for suggesting he hadn't previously been an elite player.

But when asked if he had ever had 10 tackles before in a game, Deledio said: "Probably not … there's a first for everything I suppose."

Another area of Deledio's game Hardwick said had improved was his ability to be "really damaging" when resting up forward, Hardwick said.

Hardwick also praised the game of Tigers ruckman Ivan Maric, who had 22 possessions, nine marks and 29 hit-outs against the Bombers.

"He was fantastic. The amount of times he took a crucial mark when we needed [it] and used the ball well was fantastic," Hardwick said.

"I think last week I said he played an enormous game [against the Sydney Swans], this week was even better. Especially against a formidable combination of [Patrick] Ryder and [Tom] Bellchambers, I think he was … one of the better players on the ground."

Hardwick said defender Dylan Grimes, who was substituted out of the match late in the second quarter, had suffered only a minor hamstring strain. Significantly, he said Grimes' injury was not to the same hamstring he injured in last year's Dream Time at the 'G game, an injury that ruled him out of the rest of the 2011 season.

However, Hardwick said Grimes' injury had left Richmond's defence undermanned against Essendon's tall forwards but he was pleased with the way his defenders had coped.

"[Jake] Batchelor had to play taller. [Matt] Dea had to play taller. We were probably under the pump a little while," Hardwick said.

"But I was really pleased with the way those guys fought it out. Ryder was dangerous early … but overall I thought the guys battled manfully in the second half."

Nick Bowen is a reporter for AFL Media. Follow him on Twitter @AFL_Nick

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs
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