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Teenage beast 'the closest thing to Rance' in mix for Tiger debut

Lightning Balta nearly bags GOTY Exciting Tigers youngster Noah Balta produces a scintillating move but is unfortunately denied the finish

IF NOTHING else, second-year man mountain Noah Balta has Damien Hardwick's attention.

Richmond's 2017 premiership coach can barely keep his eyes off what Balta – "the closest thing to Alex Rance" – is doing at training, and it's much the same on match day.

An AFL debut for the 19-year-old against Carlton on Thursday night rests on the fitness of prized recruit Tom Lynch, with Hardwick reluctant to play them both alongside Jack Riewoldt in attack.

"He's been incredibly impressive (in the pre-season). He's as athletic as Alex, he's got traits that are incredible to watch and even at training, we watch him and go, 'Wow'," Hardwick told AFL.com.au.

"What he is, is he's very raw. Once we refine him into the player we think he can be, we think he's going to be a very good long-term player.

"Is it going to be this year? Who knows? We hope so. But it might be 12 months down the track.

"Alex was a little bit of a slow burn to get where he is today and we think Noah has the potential to be that kind of player."

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Balta, who can play a key post at either end in combination with being a back-up ruckman, was particularly prominent in the Tigers' opening JLT Community Series match.

The No.25 pick in the 2017 NAB AFL Draft kicked two goals, gathered 18 disposals, took six marks and had seven hit-outs against Melbourne before a quieter outing against Hawthorn two weekends ago.

Part of Balta's appeal is his 194cm and 100kg frame, plus the intangibles he brings with his mongrel and swagger for such a young player.

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"He's just turned 19, but the sheer size and power is really impressive," Hardwick said.

"He's quite funny on the field. We sit there and constantly amuse ourselves, where he's telling other players what to do when he's actually not doing the right thing himself a lot of the time.

"But that's him learning the game. What we love is that he's got the confidence to do that, which is something we generally have to teach a young player.

"With a lot of hard work, we think he'll be the player we think he can be."