Adem Yze during Richmond's match simulation against Melbourne on February 18, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

RICHMOND recruit Sam Naismith is in the frame to play his first AFL game since 2020 – and only third since 2017 – in the Tigers' Opening Round clash against Gold Coast, completing a remarkable turnaround for an injury-cruelled career that looked all but over two years ago.

The Tigers signed Naismith as a delisted free agent at the start of November –  after granting Ivan Soldo's trade wish to Port Adelaide – following a standout VFL campaign for Port Melbourne that breathed life back into his AFL career. 

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Naismith's time at the highest level looked over when the New South Welshmen was delisted by Sydney at the end of 2022 after playing 30 games across nine injury-ravaged seasons that included three knee reconstructions and more than a dozen other operations.

But after banking an exceptional maiden pre-season at Punt Road and impressing first-up against six-time All-Australian ruckman Max Gawn in Sunday's match simulation against Melbourne at Casey Fields, the 31-year-old has built a compelling case for an unlikely AFL return on March 9, 1354 days after his most recent appearance. 

Sam Naismith chats with coach Adem Yze during a Richmond training session in November 2023. Picture: Richmond FC

With Tigers skipper Toby Nankervis racing the clock to be fit in time for the trip to Queensland, the 31-year-old's call-up looks even more likely.

New Richmond coach Adem Yze has been thrilled by Naismith's pre-season to date and expects the former Swan to force the Tigers' match committee to make some difficult decisions in 2024.

"He had a great year at VFL level, so he deserved this opportunity. Getting him into the footy club, he knew at the start he was going to be a back-up, because we needed some support for 'Nank' just in case. But he has come in and trained the house down. Right now, he has thrown his hand up to be our first ruck in (Opening Round), which is awesome," Yze told

"There is the footy element, where he is a great player and a great guy to have around the club, great runner and powerful man, with really strong ruck craft. But his character is what stood out when I first met him and we spoke about getting him across. 

"He has obviously been through a lot as a kid and with his family and then his knees. He has had all this adversity, but you wouldn't know; he is always asking about other people and making sure everyone else is OK. That type of character is exactly what we want at our footy club.

"I'll be really excited for him to make his debut for this footy club, because he will deserve it. We're not just going to give him a game – we've got Samson Ryan who is another good back-up to 'Nank' – but when he gets his chance he will deserve it. Sam will play again next week against Collingwood and who knows for the Gold Coast game?"

Sam Naismith in action during Richmond's training session at Punt Road Oval on November 15, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Nankervis didn't feature in Sunday's match simulation and won't face Collingwood in the AAMI Community Series match at Ikon Park next Tuesday night due to a lingering foot issue that has restricted his pre-season over the past month. 

With 13 days between now and the first meeting between Damien Hardwick and the side he led to three premierships, Richmond is hopeful Nankervis will be available but will also need to factor in the five-day break between Opening Round and the Tigers' round one clash against Carlton. 

Nankervis has proven to be one of the most shrewd recruits in Richmond's history, becoming a three-time premiership player and captain since moving from Sydney – where he was stuck in the queue behind Naismith – in exchange for pick No.46 in 2016.

After sharing the captaincy with veteran defender Dylan Grimes in 2022 and 2023, Nankervis was appointed sole skipper in December in one of Yze's first key moves, solidifying the ruckman's standing in the group following the retirements of club greats Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt. 

Toby Nankervis during Richmond's 2024 official team photo day at Punt Road Oval on February 21, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Yze is open to playing two ruckmen in the same 23 this year, but with key defender Noah Balta being transformed into a key forward over the summer and All-Australian forward Tom Lynch on the cusp of returning, the first-year coach is wary of not picking a team that is too tall.

"The big discussion will be when Lynch is available and how big we go. Then we have the opportunity to play Noah as the second ruck," Yze said. 

"I do like the model of playing big boys forward. It is a contest game, you go down the line a lot, so you need some big boys to create a contest."

Lynch has only just returned to full training and will complete a mini pre-season over the next few weeks before he is given the green light to return. 

The 31-year-old didn't run for nine months after breaking his foot against the Western Bulldogs in round four last season. 

Lynch has been ruled out of Opening Round but is pushing to be available for the round one clash against Carlton five days later, however Yze said they won't play the 2022 Jack Dyer medallist until he banks enough work, given his injury history.

"He is starting full training, so we are working out what block of training he needs to be physically ready to get through the season, whether that's three weeks or four weeks, we will make that decision. We know he needs a small pre-season right now," he said.

"The last thing we want to do now that he is physically ready to play, but hasn't had a pre-season is (take risks) and look back and go, 'Well he had two weeks of full training, what did we expect?'. We’ve got to do the right thing by Tom to get him through the whole season. 

"When he does start he doesn’t know any other way than going flat out. We love that about him, that's why he is a leader of our footy club. He is in a really good spot to start training. He'll get a good block in. 

"I wouldn’t count out the Carlton game, it might be one more week. Right now he is starting and he has a month of training. Take the Gold Coast game out of it. Our fitness staff can plan a whole month of training. If he played Gold Coast he would struggle to play Carlton anyway, so that didn't make sense. His goal might be Carlton and then we'll make a decision closer to that game."