RICHMOND star Brett Deledio has been all but ruled out of Sunday's clash against Hawthorn with a calf injury.
Tigers coach Damien Hardwick told reporters on Thursday Deledio was "highly unlikely" to play against the Hawks, but refuted suggestions the midfielder would be put in cotton wool for the rest of 2016 given his history of Achilles and calf injuries.
Hardwick said it was too early to put a time-frame on Deledio's likely return date.
"We'll obviously give him every chance but we'll see how it goes today (at training), but I'd say it's highly unlikely at this stage. He's such a valuable player we don't want to put him at risk for further injury," Hardwick said.
"We don't want to put a player out there who's a possibility of creating further damage.
"He's a competitor, Brett, so he'll certainly be putting up his hand as best he can, but I'd rather him miss one week than three or four."
Deledio had a strong first half against Essendon last Saturday, but complained of calf soreness at the main break and took no further part in the game.
Scans on Monday of his soleus muscle did not reveal any significant damage.
Hardwick said in deciding whether Deledio played on Sunday Richmond would be mindful the forward had tried to "push through" a similar "awareness" in his calf in round one last year and missed the next four rounds.
But Hardwick stressed the 13th-placed Tigers were focused on winning as many games as they could before the end of the season, so would be aiming to get Deledio back on to the field as soon as possible.
"The more times Brett plays the more times we win, so we'll making sure his rehab's a speedy one and get him back out to play," he said.
Deledio was not on the track when Richmond took to Punt Rd Oval for training on Thursday morning.
"I'll be off [training] by myself and will just see how it feels and see what I can get through," Deledio told RSN927 earlier that morning.
"If it's not feeling great, I've still got another couple of days up my sleeve to see if it gets all right."
In better news for Richmond, Hardwick said Deledio's injury could pave the way for Nathan Drummond to play his first senior game since he ruptured his right anterior cruciate ligament on debut in round four last season.
"It's not guaranteed he's playing at the moment, he's got to train well today, but his form at VFL level has been good (and) his training form has been outstanding," the Tigers coach said.
"He's an incredible athlete, so we're looking forward to see what he can do at some stage."
Hardwick said in-form midfielder Dustin Martin was unlikely to spend any more time on the forward line in Deledio's absence, suggesting he was too hard to replace in the middle of the ground.
Martin's outstanding recent form continued last weekend against Essendon when he had 43 possessions and kicked two goals.
The performance earned him the maximum 10 votes in the AFL Coaches' Association award, but ABC commentator Mark Maclure left him out of his votes, arguing a lot of Martin's possessions had been ineffective chip kicks across half-back.
Hardwick joked Maclure was "pushing s**t uphill".
"I think he still had 19 forward-half disposals, so that's a significant number, metres gained is another big one," Hardwick said of Martin's game.
"The fact that he kicked two goals, how many clearances did he have (14)?
"I like 'Sellers' (Maclure), but come on."