Richmond coach Damien Hardwick has defended Dustin Martin's early-season form and backed the superstar midfielder to bounce back strongly against Sydney after a one-match suspension.
Martin was banned for an off-the-ball hit on GWS tagger Matt De Boer in a loss to the Giants and also fined by the AFL for making an obscene gesture during a frustrating outing for the Brownlow Medal winner.
The 27-year-old hasn't yet reached the lofty heights he's capable of this season, going goalless through his opening three games and managing just 18 and 15 possessions in his past two matches.
Hardwick pleaded with umpires to protect his star player from tagging tactics that pushed the boundaries of fair play after the GWS game.
He can expect more of the same against the Swans at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night but the coach is backing Martin to come out on top.
"Dustin is a player who works on his game every week, mentally and physically," Hardwick said on Thursday.
"What we've got to be very careful of is, perception is reality I suppose, but it was one bad game he's played.
"The guy's a Brownlow Medallist, he's a multiple best-and-fairest winner for us, he's an incredible player and I expect him to bounce back.
There's light at the end of the tunnel for the Tigers, who are 2-2, with Bachar Houli also available after overcoming a hamstring strain.
Jack Riewoldt (wrist) is firming to return for the Anzac Day eve clash with Melbourne but Hardwick said hamstrung skipper Trent Cotchin will not be ready in time to face the Demons.
Asked about the possibility of star defender Alex Rance recovering from a knee reconstruction in time for a finals campaign, the coach was non-committal.
"It's the furthest thing from my mind, to be perfectly honest," he said.
"I'm not too sure. I'm not fully aware of where that's at.
"We've got a side to prepare for this week and we'll cross that road when we come to it."
With Rance unable to renew his battle with Swans superstar Lance Franklin, Hardwick tabbed in-form defender Dylan Grimes to shoulder most of the burden.
At 1-3, Sydney are off to their almost-traditional slow start under John Longmire but Hardwick isn't fooled by their early-season form.
"They're probably similar to us in that they're not quite at their best but they're certainly capable of flicking a switch," he said.
Australian Associated Press