Richmond coach Damien Hardwick tried to call off his side’s preseason match against Port Adelaide after a disastrous injury toll led him to call key players off the ground at Docklands, leaving 15 men on the ground.
The Tigers were left with one fit player on the bench in the last quarter of Thursday night’s disastrous 48-point loss to the Power 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 [the preseason game],” 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 [preseason game].”
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 was not 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.
Port Adelaide coach wants shorter pre-season comp
Port Power coach Ken Hinkley has called on the AFL to shorten the pre-season NAB Challenge in the wake of Thursday night’s injury-plagued clash with Richmond.
The Tigers lost four players to injuries in the match, just two weeks out from their season opener against Carlton at the MCG.
And they played stages of the final quarter with only 15 players on the ground to avoid further mishaps.
With no official title now riding on the round-robin competition, which involves all 18 clubs playing three matches, Hinkley believes it’s too heavy a load for the clubs.
“Personally I believe three (games) is too many,” Hinkley told SEN Radio.
“You don’t need three to get ready. Most teams throughout the competition have used one of those games to field a really inexperienced side.”
Hinkley said the Power only based their pre-season around two proper fixtures, with the importance of intra-club matches now taking even more prominence.
“You can do plenty of combative stuff, you can do plenty of structural stuff. The thing you can’t do is go game style against game style,” he said.
“But if you’ve got it wrong by the end of February or March, it’s probably not fixable.”
Hinkley also discussed the idea of scrapping the pre-season matches altogether, allowing for a more balanced AFL premiership where each team would play eight rivals twice, rather than five.
In turn, he also believes it would lead to a more competitive opening month of football where he doesn’t believe coaches would be instructing players to take it easy to avoid injuries.
“I reckon it would be flat out, anything could happen,” he said.
“There could be a few surprises but I don’t think the competition would be drastically affected by it.”