DUSTIN Martin's emphatic return from suspension and an underwhelming patch of form, was the icing on the cake for jovial Richmond coach Damien Hardwick on Saturday night.
Hardwick was laughing, joking and wishing reporters a Happy Easter after watching his Tigers beat Sydney by 22 points in a "Richmond-like" effort filled with manic pressure.
Martin was close to best afield despite the Swans sending their resident tagger George Hewett to him from the first centre bounce.
TIGERS BARE THEIR TEETH Full match coverage and stats
The 2017 Brownlow medallist amassed 25 disposals (16 contested), eight inside 50s, five clearances (four from the centre) and three goals in a masterful display.
Martin spent large chunks of the contest playing deep in attack, where he proved a handful for Sydney's defenders.
The performance followed his one-match ban for a callous off-the-ball elbow to Giant Adam Kennedy's head, coinciding with tagger Matt de Boer holding him to only 15 possessions.
Martin also managed a modest 18 touches the week before that against Collingwood, but Hardwick prophetically backed him to bounce back on game eve.
"He was great, wasn't he?" Hardwick said.
"He was the first one to put up his hand that he was disappointed with his game and disappointed with what happened after that (the hit).
"But that's what great players do – they respond. We're very quick, I think, as a society to hang people, but he's an incredible player and a guy people love to come and watch…
"So I'm very privileged I get to sit there and watch him on the boundary, which is fantastic."
Read to perfection!— AFL (@AFL) April 20, 2019
And the left-foot finish was awesome from Dustin Martin! pic.twitter.com/JqS5qez5EQ
Hardwick said Martin had earned the right to move himself forward whenever he saw fit, while acknowledging the Tigers also love having him around the ball as much as possible.
There is renewed flexibility in this Richmond line-up, which has swung temporary captain Shane Edwards into defence with great effect.
Instead, players such as second-gamer Jack Ross, second-year player Jack Higgins and fifth-gamer Liam Baker were given opportunities in the middle.
It helped that premiership onballer Dion Prestia was an outstanding contributor, while Josh Caddy also racked up double-digit centre-bounce attendances.
"I thought (Prestia's) game tonight was outstanding and he had a lot of clearance and contested ball numbers – those things were very high," Hardwick said.
"He's just growing in stature, I think, as our season progresses."
Hardwick raved about his players' "incredible" defensive pressure and improved ability to punish Swans turnovers, which provided the first 12 of the Tigers’ 13 goals.
He saw signs of improvement in that regard as far back as round three against Greater Western Sydney, and is keen to see a repeat performance on Wednesday night against Melbourne.
WATCH Damien Hardwick's full post-match media conference
Hardwick said Coleman medallist Jack Riewoldt (wrist) was "highly likely", but captain Trent Cotchin (hamstring) was at least another week away.
"We've dealt with shorter breaks before and we've always played really well, so it's a positive mindset from us," the coach said.
"We're really looking forward to the challenge. The Demons will come hard and they'll be disappointed with their result today.
"We understand what a proud club they are, but I'm really confident our boys will come too and play the brand of footy Richmond people want to see, so we look forward to that challenge."