Tigers to springboard into ’17 AFL season

Richmond’s ‘half-step back’ will continue for the rest of the AFL season, with the two strides forward to come next year.

The Tigers were widely tipped to snare a top-four berth this season but are 13th on the ladder, four wins outside the eight, with seven rounds to go.

Coach Damien Hardwick raised eyebrows after his side’s round-three loss to Adelaide when he said the Tigers might need to take a half-step back to go forward after losing three elimination finals in succession.

Early hopes Richmond could retool their team on the run and still play finals evaporated as the losses mounted and, with September off the agenda, the coach will continue to give opportunities to the likes of Oleg Markov, Jason Castagna and Liam McBean.

“We’ve always spoken about those kids and we’ve been really excited about them but they weren’t ready at the start of the year,” Hardwick told reporters on Thursday.

“We were probably at a stage where we were looking to jump up (the ladder), but that’s where that half-step backwards to go two steps forward came into it.

“The season hasn’t gone to plan for us; we’re well below our expected level of performance. As a coaching and playing group, we accept that and we’ve got to get better.

“I think mathematically we can still make (finals) – our focus is still on winning games – but it’s also about giving the side a springboard into 2017.”

The futures of key forward Ty Vickery and speedy defender Chris Yarran remain key issues as the Tigers plan for success.

Vickery is languishing in the VFL but, while he might be out of form, he isn’t out of favour.

“I’m a big fan of Ty’s … he can play,” Hardwick said when quizzed on Vickery’s future.

Yarran returned to the club a fortnight ago after taking leave to seek treatment for a mental health issue.

Calf and foot injuries have kept the former Carlton star sidelined all season and Hardwick remains unsure if he’ll make his debut for the club in 2016.

“He’ll just keep working through that (rehab),” he said.

“He’s missed a significant amount of training and, when he’s right to play, he’s right to play.

“When that is? We’re not to sure at this stage. But we’re just here to support … he’s certainly an important player going forward.”

Richmond take on Essendon on Saturday at the MCG, with onballer Shaun Grigg returning from a minor knee injury at the expense of Reece Conca.

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