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Has 'Nank' got the tank to beat Goldstein?

Magpies in focus, Dusty's price, more Thursday Footy Feed with Matt Thompson
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 30: Toby Nankervis of the Tigers in action during the 2017 AFL round 02 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Collingwood Magpies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 30, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media)
Toby Nankervis shapes as a pivotal player for the Tigers against North Melbourne

RICHMOND ruckman Toby Nankervis could be the key to victory in Saturday night's clash against North Melbourne, with coach Damien Hardwick putting a premium on the coalface battle.

Nankervis has been one of the recruits of the year since crossing from Sydney, but he faces a challenge against All Australian big man Todd Goldstein at Etihad Stadium.    

The Tigers have won the clearance battle once in the past five games (against Fremantle), and have come out in front in contested ball only once (against Greater Western Sydney).

Hardwick said getting on top in the midfield would be the key to notching back-to-back wins, with Nankervis particularly important to the Tigers' chances. 

"Goldstein played 97 per cent game time last week in the ruck, he might have had one rotation, so it's going to be a big job for 'Nank'," the coach said.

"He mightn't get him in the hit-outs, but we're really confident in 'Nank' at ground level.

"It's going to be another good contest for him. He's held his head up high in the first 10 rounds and we're looking for that to continue.

"We've got to make sure we control that inside contest as best we can and then manage the outside of the contest also."

Nankervis ranks No.20 in the AFL for hit-outs (26.4), but among that ground of ruckmen he ranks No.6 for clearances (3.8), No.5 for tackles (4.0) and No.5 for disposals (15.0).

Goldstein averages more hit-outs (33.2), but is shaded by Nankervis in clearances (2.9), tackles (3.1) and disposals (13.8).

North Melbourne has won its past two matches against the Tigers, including the 2015 elimination final, and seven of the past eight clashes between the teams.

Hardwick said history would have no bearing on Saturday night's game, with 11 changes to the Richmond team that faced the Kangaroos in 2016 and the 22 that beat Essendon in round 10.   

"We're a different side this year and they're a different side to what they were last year as well," the coach said.  

"The run of games really has no bearing on this result.

"We're really happy with the way we're playing and the template we're bringing to the game as well."

The Tigers appear likely to recall small forward Dan Butler after two matches sidelined with groin soreness, with Hardwick declaring: "He was in good form before he went out … if he can add to the side we'll play him".

Hardwick said the match committee had a number of selection headaches, with the absence of an in-form tall forward to support Jack Riewoldt an ongoing issue.

The coach said half-forward Ben Lennon and midfielders Anthony Miles and Jacob Townsend were others in the selection frame this week.

Asked how he felt about the latest round of speculation on Dustin Martin's future, which included a reported offer from Essendon of $1.6 million a year, Hardwick said: "It makes me wish I was Dusty I suppose. It'd be nice".

"It's the age that we're in. The figures that get bandied around, nobody's anymore aware than us," the coach said. 

"Those figures are easy to say. Whether they're true or not, I don't know. I know it's easy for an SEN commentator to say … but there's no foundation. I'm not too worried about it."

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