By Melissa Woods
MELBOURNE, Sept 10 AAP – Richmond feel they’re perfectly primed for Sunday’s AFL elimination final against North Melbourne after two gritty wins leading into the sudden-death encounter.
The Tigers were tested in their last two rounds before securing victories over Essendon and the Kangaroos, which coach Damien Hardwick said was ideal preparation for finals football.
“The contested nature of the game probably ramps up a little bit,” Hardwick said.
“All that are in the eight are obviously good sides and the contested ball numbers probably go up about 10 per cent.
“The great thing for us in terms of preparation is our last two games have been those sorts of numbers.
“It’s a matter of maintaining your composure around the contested nature of the game.”
Hardwick said his side didn’t do that early in their 41-point win last Friday night over the Kangaroos, with the Tigers trailing until the third quarter.
He said his team was looking for a better start as they attempt to win their final since they defeated Carlton in 2001.
“We were probably a bit stand-offish at the start,” Hardwick said.
“North had 33 tackles in the first quarter which was a staggering amount and we probably coughed up the ball a bit more than we would like.
We’ll start better this week, we’ll be more into the contest.”
North Melbourne rested a swag of stars from that final round clash but will be back to full strength on Sunday.
Apart from injured ruck-forward Ben Griffiths the Tigers will also be fit and firing on the back of the nine-day break.
Hardwick didn’t expect the Kangaroos to change much apart from strengthening their side.
“From a game style point of view nothing will change,” Hardwick said.
“The personnel will change but the way they play the game will be pretty much the same so our plan will be pretty much identical to what it was last week.”
North’s star ruckman Todd Goldstein is among those back on deck but Hardwick felt their own big man Ivan Maric was up to the challenge.
“The last time, even though we lost the game, I was pretty happy with Ivan’s form versus Goldstein on that occasion,” Hardwick said.
“It’s going to be crucial, no doubt about that.
“He’s (Goldstein) an incredible player, an incredible athlete, who has done a staggering amount of centre bounce work over the course of the year, but I’ve got extreme faith in Ivan to do the job.”