Richmond coach Damien Hardwick rules out defender Noah Balta for Dreamtime at the ‘G clash with Essendon
Richmond will be without Noah Balta and potentially Jack Graham for Saturday night’s Dreamtime return to the MCG.
Tigers coach Damien Hardwick confirmed Balta (hamstring) would miss this weekend’s clash with Essendon and not return after the club’s round 12 bye in early June.
Balta’s absence is set to open the door for Robbie Tarrant to reclaim his spot, with Hardwick hinting they may give Josh Gibcus (Covid) an extra week to recover despite him exiting health and safety protocols on Wednesday.
Graham (ankle) has shown improvement in recent days but Richmond may also err on the side of caution with him, too, given the short turnaround to its round 11 game against Sydney.
“He’s probably 50-50 at this stage,” Hardwick said of Graham.
He’s moved ahead the last two days. We probably thought he was less likely than more likely, but the last couple of days have been promising.
“But he’s an important player, then we’ve got a six-day break when we move on to Sydney, so it’ll be touch and go.”
But the Tigers will select both Riolis, Daniel and Maurice, in the annual Dreamtime spectacle, which Hardwick described as “exciting”.
“I think anytime you hear the Rioli name, you just get a little bit of a warm glow inside,” he said.
“To see how proud Daniel is of his uncle, in Maurice, is outstanding. Those two just bounce off each other and the Indigenous boys overall have got a real pep in their step this week, as they should.
“It’s a significant event that we’re incredibly privileged to play in, in front of such a huge crowd as well.
“It’s one of the best weeks on the calendar, from our point of view, and we hope it continues to build and grow and we continue to bring Indigenous players to our game.”
Hardwick delivered the ultimate praise to five-gamer Maurice Rioli, whose return three games ago, the coach said, coincided with the re-emergence of “the Richmond style of game”.
“He was probably a little bit quieter last week, but defensively he’s just elite at what he does,” he said.
“We call it that when he’s playing, people see ghosts (just with) the pressure that he puts on. They know he’s there and around the contest and he’s just exciting and our players love playing with him.
“His energy is infectious and our players feed off it, so although he’s a little bit quieter last week, we think he’ll be much better this week.”
The Tigers have won three in a row to climb inside the top eight, whereas the Bombers languish in 16th with only two victories from nine games this season.
But Hardwick said the ladder differential was largely “irrelevant” on big stages like the Dreamtime at the ‘G, which was held in Perth and Darwin the past two years because of the pandemic.
“We know they’re very, very capable. They’re well-coached and well-drilled,” he said.
“Sometimes, for whatever reason, players lack confidence (but) that can quickly turn with a good start, so we’ve got to make sure we start the game and match their vigour.
“There’s no question they’ll be up for the battle, as will we. We’ve just got to make sure that our consistency level goes for the full four quarters. If we look after our patch of grass, we’re going to be OK, we think.”
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