Time for Tigers to step up: Hardwick

July is “big boy month” and will reveal whether Richmond are AFL contenders or pretenders, declares coach Damien Hardwick.

The Tigers take on Carlton at the MCG on Friday night, starting a crucial block of matches that also includes clashes with St Kilda, Fremantle and champions Hawthorn this month.

Hardwick says the Tigers, who currently sit sixth on the ladder, will then know if they are the real deal in 2015.

“The month of July is when the big boys step out,” Hardwick said on Thursday.

“It’s a make-or-break month, not only for our football club, but most football clubs.

“It’s when the contenders step up and the pretenders step away.

“It’s big boy month, so it’s time to come and play.”

Richmond had a close shave before claiming a nine-point win over Greater Western Sydney last round, while the Blues went down by 11 to the Western Bulldogs.

Carlton are now 2-2 since John Barker took over from sacked coach Mick Malthouse and Hardwick said he was impressed by their new game style, calling it “inspired”.

“They’re playing a faster brand of footy; their handball receives are up, their uncontested marks are up.

“They want to play a quick, attacking brand of footy off halfback so we’ve got to make sure we slow them down as much as we can and get the game on our terms.

“The way they’ve been playing has been inspired … they’re a different side, no doubt.”

Shaun Hampson is a certain starter to replace suspended ruckman Ivan Maric, with Hardwick saying he had earnt his spot.

“He’s played incredibly well at VFL level and dominated regularly there,” Hardwick said.

“We’re excited about the opportunity it presents for Shaun … it gives him just reward for effort.”

The coach lauded the efforts of skipper Trent Cotchin to get them across the line against the Giants and agreed with Maric’s recent prediction that he could end up as one of the Tigers’ great captains.

“Trent’s grown into the role really well and the best thing about him is that when he leads, he leads by example,” Hardwick said.

“We’re really impressed with what he’s been able to offer but we’re also really excited about what he can continue to offer.”

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