Richmond boss keeps flag stars guessing

Richmond players can expect lots of innovation from Damien Hardwick when they defend their AFL flag.
Richmond players can expect lots of innovation from Damien Hardwick when they defend their AFL flag.

Expect the unexpected from the reigning premiers next year as Richmond launch their assault on a third flag in four seasons.

Questions will linger over the Tigers' ability to maintain their hunger in 2020 after enjoying a remarkable period of recent success.

But coach Damien Hardwick already has even his most experienced players on their toes, just two weeks into their pre-season campaign.

"He acknowledges that if we play the exact way we did in 2019, it's not going to be good enough in 2020," dual premiership defender Dylan Grimes said.

"He's always looking for innovative ways to grow and that growth stems from himself.

"He's off overseas always doing the next big thing in coaching or personal development. He's always investing in himself.

"So I have no doubt something will change. I'm not exactly sure what yet, but he always brings a fresh energy to each pre-season."

Hardwick's approach is having a positive effect on the playing group, in particular the senior players.

"To know that a coach throughout the course of the pre-season is going to keep things fresh and vibrant and different, not repetitive and boring, it means a lot to us," Grimes said.

Grimes expected the energy of the players who missed out on last season's flag to help drive the group next year.

The All-Australian defender has already been buoyed by young livewire Sydney Stack, who is reaping the benefits of an unusual contract incentive designed to reward his return from the off-season in good shape.

Stack, who took the AFL by storm in his debut season, went down with an ankle injury in August and narrowly failed in his bid to return from surgery in time to play in the grand final.

But the 19-year-old has returned perfectly poised to build on the groundwork he laid in 17 games and chase that elusive flag.

"He's come back absolutely as we would've hoped really, he hasn't missed a beat," Grimes said.

"He's running well and he's training really well ... so it's good to see him meet those targets in his contract and be ready to tackle the year from the right space."

Meanwhile, Jack Higgins continues to make strides in his return from multiple bouts of brain surgery.

The energetic youngster took part in Richmond's first joint training session between the AFL and AFLW squads at Punt Road on Tuesday night.

The Tigers are one of four new additions in an expanded 14-team AFLW competition this year.

Australian Associated Press