Richmond coach Damien Hardwick tried to call off the fight as his 15-man side lay bloodied and bruised on the Etihad Stadium canvas.
The Tigers were left with one fit player on the bench in the last quarter of Thursday night’s disastrous 48-point loss to Port Adelaide after Shane Edwards (collarbone), Reece Conca (hamstring), Shaun Grigg (thumb) and Jacob Townsend (head) were all forced out of the game.
Watching his team’s preparation for round one of the AFL season take repeated body blows from his position on the sideline, Hardwick requested an early end to the last quarter only to be denied by AFL football operations manager Mark Evans, who cited broadcast issues.
The coach responded by giving his quickly-tiring players as much rest as he could by going three men down in the dying minutes of the game.
The move made for farcical scenes as Port ran way with the contest, but Hardwick was unapologetic.
“I’m here to put our best side forward for round one and win that game – I’m not here to win NAB 3,” he said.
“Our players hadn’t had a rotation for a quarter, we had a number of players cramping so we thought we’d just get them off and then send them back on if they’re OK.
“My main priority is to get a fit and fired up Richmond side for round one – not to win a practice match.
“It was a tough night at the office for us, we lost some really good players, but we’ll see how we go.
“I know it seems like a big deal but our main priority is the health and safety of our players for round one … not to win a NAB 3.”
Brett Deledio, who has managed ongoing Achilles and calf issues this pre-season, played the first half as planned then watched on from the bench.
Hardwick said that he wasn’t tempted to send his star veteran back onto the field as the injury toll mounted.
The Tigers take on Carlton in the season-opening blockbuster at the MCG on March 24 and Hardwick said it was too early to tell what sort of a setback, if any at all, Thursday night’s debacle would prove to be.
Edwards, Grigg and Conca will be sent for scans, but Townsend appears to have escaped a concussion.
“I think we’ll be fine, granted we lost some players, but I thought we looked pretty good at various stages of the game,” the coach said.
“We’re going to lose a player or two, and they’re good players, but we’ve certainly got the depth to cover them.”
Hardwick declined to comment on reports Dustin Martin had played under duress after his father had been arrested and was in danger of being deported.