RICHMOND coach Damien Hardwick is still haunted by his team's contested ball capitulation in last year's elimination final, with one number seared in his brain.
The Tigers uncharacteristically lost the contested possession count against North Melbourne by 33 in their 17-point loss at the MCG, exiting the finals at the first hurdle for the third straight year.
The manner of the loss prompted Hardwick to deliver what he said was possibly the biggest spray of his coaching career.
"I still remember that number – 33 – that number still haunts me," Hardwick told AFL.com.au.
"We were ranked No.2 in contested ball differential for the year and to have that number stick out at the end of the game was un Richmond-like.
"At half-time we might have been up by two goals, but the template of KPIs was there and we could tell it was a false positive.
"You're never going to win if you lose the contested ball count by that much."
The Tigers have moved on and recruited to strengthen their contested game, bringing in hard-bodied midfielders Jacob Townsend and Andrew Moore.
The loss to the Kangaroos, however, warrants more dissection five months on.
Richmond's team selection leading into that final landed with a thud after the match committee opted to recall tall forward Ben Griffiths (finger tendon) and midfielder Reece Conca (hamstring) after injury lay-offs.
The pair replaced half-forwards Ben Lennon and Sam Lloyd but didn't give the Tigers the lift the coaches felt the team needed.
The theory behind the changes was that Griffiths would give them the extra tall they needed and Conca's selection was a risk worth taking.
Lennon had "probably sealed his fate" with a poor game the week prior, while Lloyd was stiff.
"They're the decisions you make as a coach, and I still stand by those decisions," Hardwick said.
"It didn't work out for us on the day, but if I could go back and do it again I'd do it again.
"Griffiths had two shots on goal in the first quarter and misses both. If he kicks those two goals we're hailed geniuses as a coaching group instead of having egg on our face.
"We're paid to make those decisions and we live or die by those decisions. We don't hide from that."
Out of contract at the end of this season, there is growing external pressure on Hardwick to lead the Tigers deep into September.
President Peggy O'Neal has said the coach's contract would be discussed at board level early in the year but it is not on Hardwick's radar.
"From my point of view, it's not something I delve into too much," he said.
"I just worry about our season ahead and what I can control right now.
"If our group does a good enough job those things take care of themselves.
"My primary focus at this moment is getting our side playing as good as we can for that round one match against Carlton."