High expectations at the start of any season go with the territory for the Richmond Football Club. But as the level of anticipation about the Tigers' 2013 continues to rise, this year the club is ready to embrace it.
While many already believe that with the recruitment of more senior talent the Tigers are ready to contest finals for only a third time in 30 years, their impressive start to the NAB Cup has raised the bar again.
Good in the first round, the Tigers were even better against Essendon last week, despite fielding a depleted line-up against a side close to full strength.
Damien Hardwick shares a joke with his players at training. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
''Rightly so,'' said coach Damien Hardwick of the Tiger army's high hopes. ''It's our fourth year [under his coaching], we've asked them to hang in for the journey, and the list is to a stage now where we can probably firmly say, 'we've got a list that is capable'.
''We realise we've got a hell of a lot of work to do, but I think we've put our club in a position that's certainly capable of doing it.''
Hardwick lauded the character of his team as an important factor in the side's gradual improvement, epitomised by new captain Trent Cotchin and dual best and fairest Brett Deledio.
''They demand players adhere to the standards and values that we hold dearly as a footy club,'' he said. ''That's something this club has taken on board, and it had to, but no doubt we're in a better place than we were when I started three years ago.''
Saturday brings the best test of the new football year to date with a game at Launceston's Aurora Stadium against last year's runner-up Hawthorn, albeit the Hawks having started the pre-season a lot slower, beaten last week by the Western Bulldogs.
''We've played some pretty solid football,'' Hardwick said. ''We went down by a kick to North Melbourne, when Deledio and Cotchin didn't play in the last quarter, and we've certainly felt we've been in a winning position for every game, so we're looking forward to continuing that trend versus Hawthorn this week.
''It's another really solid contest for us and gives our guys another opportunity to play some good football.''
Richmond has picked a strong squad of 27 for the game, with Cotchin and Deledio - both absent against Essendon - returning, along with No. 1 ruckman Ivan Maric. The Tigers will also unveil another pair of their off-season pick-ups from AFL rivals, former Port Adelaide defender Troy Chaplin and former Essendon midfielder Sam Lonergan.
Hardwick said Chaplin, who has been recovering from knee surgery, would play a half against the Hawks, and the Tigers would appreciate the presence of the experienced key backman.
''He's trained really well now for the last two to three weeks,'' he said. ''He's a very good player with outstanding leadership qualities and will further help guys such as Alex Rance, Ben Griffiths, Jake Batchelor - all those type of players around him - so we're looking forward to him solidifying our back six with his presence.''
First-year players Nick Vlastuin and Matt Arnot are two more young Tigers who have impressed, but Hardwick said Vlastuin, the No.9 pick in last year's national draft, would be rested this week.
''He won't play, but he's certainly doing everything right at this stage,'' he said. ''We've just got to see how it pans out. There's still a couple of games to go and we've got a number of players who will force their way back into the side this week.''