RICHMOND vice-captain Trent Cotchin says this year's Tigers are the "real deal".
After two seasons of rebuilding under coach Damien Hardwick, Cotchin says Tigers fans can finally be confident of seeing their team involved in September action following an 11-year finals drought.
"I think it's the real deal now," the midfielder said before training at the ME Bank Centre on Wednesday.
"We've started from scratch and we've built from pretty much the bottom.
"We've had a couple of really good developing years, and it's time that we started taking those steps forward."
Richmond faces a tough opening to the season, with clashes against 2011 finalists Carlton, Collingwood, Geelong and West Coast in the first five rounds.
Cotchin said that meant a strong start would set the club up for a successful campaign.
"We're not going to get hung up on talking about finals before the season even starts, but it'll be interesting to see where we're at against the better sides, especially early in the season," he said.
"Hopefully we can set a standard that takes us forward, and we do play finals at the end of the season."
Hardwick comes out of contract at the end of 2012, but Cotchin was unconcerned that discussion over his future could put added pressure on the players.
"I think 'Dimma' has been doing a fantastic job," he said.
"If the players play to the way that the coaches are coaching, then we should be in a good position come the end of the season."
Key forward Jack Riewoldt returned to full training a fortnight ago after post-season hip, finger and ankle surgery.
Cotchin said the 2010 Coleman medallist was on track to feature in the NAB Cup.
The Tigers will open the pre-season competition with matches against Hawthorn and North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium on February 17.
"He (Riewoldt) has really been welcomed back into the group and he has his say, and he's a really important player for us and for the younger guys in helping to teach them the structures that we're trying to change, and make sure they work in our favour," Cotchin said.
The 21-year-old also tipped draftees Brandon Ellis, Matthew Arnot and Todd Elton to push for senior selection during 2012.
Create a private or public head-to-head Toyota AFL Dream Team league then fill it with 18 teams before round one, and you will automatically go in the draw to win one of ten $1000 cash prizes.