RICHMOND coach Damien Hardwick has left the door ajar for axed premiership defender Brandon Ellis to win back his spot for the Tigers' preliminary final.
A 31-point demolition of Hawthorn at the MCG on Thursday night extended Richmond's finals streak to four wins and advanced it to within one victory of another Grand Final.
Ellis was the unlucky player to miss out, losing his spot to midfielder Kane Lambert, who returned from two games out with an ankle injury.
It was the second time this season the 25-year-old was dropped from the Tigers' senior side, but Hardwick was adamant he could yet play a role in September.
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"To be fair, his form was pretty good. It's just we probably didn't need his skillset tonight and we went a different way," the coach said after the game.
"He's such a valuable player for us, so it was really tough leaving him out. Obviously, it was upsetting for him and it was upsetting for me.
"I love the kid and the way he plays … just because he wasn't in the side this week, doesn't mean he'll miss out next (game)."
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Five-time All Australian defender Alex Rance sent a scare through the Richmond camp when he landed awkwardly just before three-quarter time and clutched at his left foot.
But Rance was back on the field to start the fourth term – despite the Tigers leading by 35 points and comfortably being in control – and played the match out.
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"He finished the game, so my assumption is he's fine," Hardwick said.
"He's a really important player to us, so obviously having the week off is beneficial for that and beneficial for a lot of our players.
"It was a pretty tough game out there tonight with the conditions at hand, so it will certainly be welcome."
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Hardwick said he would give the players the weekend off before returning to work on Monday ahead of a match-up with one of West Coast, Collingwood, Sydney or Greater Western Sydney.
They will likely play their preliminary final on Friday, September 21 at the MCG, where they have won a record 22 consecutive matches.
Richmond's strong performance against the Hawks was also a timely reminder that too much stock was placed in how the Tigers fared in the final month of the season.
They finished two games clear on top of the ladder, but the fact three of their last four victories were by single-digit margins triggered some to doubt their formline.
"It's funny, you win 18 games, but I was probably looking for what you guys were looking for – thinking, 'is it there?'," Hardwick said.
"But I think the thing we've found this year is we can respond when we need to, and that's a pleasing thing.
"I consistently challenge these guys, and credit where credit's due – Jack (Riewoldt), Alex (Rance), Trent (Cotchin), they all stand up and respond and that's the maturity level of our side.
"Jack kicks two points tonight … but we're not relying on the one player to win the game for us. Everyone's a role player at various stages and that was the pleasing thing again tonight."