RICHMOND coach Damien Hardwick has revealed the "door is ajar" for champion defender Alex Rance to make an AFL return after his sudden retirement last year.

Rance walked away from football in December to devote more time to his family and faith, but remains on Richmond's list heading into the 2020 season.

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After premiership teammate Bachar Houli spoke of his desire to see Rance return on Thursday, Hardwick refused to shut down the possibility of Rance again wearing yellow and black.

"At this stage he's retired in our plans, but plans can change," Hardwick said on Friday when speaking publicly for the first time about Rance's decision. 

"My more important thing is to make sure Alex is happy in his journey in life.

A tearful Alex Rance embraces David Astbury after Richmond's 2019 Grand Final win. Picture: AFL Photos


"Alex has always been an incredible player for us, but his family and his faith have always been at the forefront of his mind. Whatever makes Alex happy makes us happy.

"Is the door ajar? Probably it is, but the ball is in Alex's court from that point of view."

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Hardwick addressed the lack of public sentiment from current Tigers towards Rance that raised concern over possible angst between the defender and his former teammates.

That's what people do, they sit there and hide behind keyboards and it's weak and it's incredibly disappointing from my point of view

- Damien Hardwick

 Forwards Daniel Rioli and Jack Riewoldt were the first to praise Rance on social media more than 11 days after his retirement. 

"Our players have got a different mindset to that. We don't necessarily need to be forefront in the social media game," Hardwick said.

"Our guys are really connected via actual human connection … phone calls, conversations. 

Alex Rance and Damien Hardwick after the 2017 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

"I know we probably copped a little bit of flak for that but it's not how our club operates; we tend to leave the phones at home.

"The more and more we hug, we love. He knows exactly how we feel about him, how important he is to the fabric of our organisation. He'll be heavily missed, not only as a football player, but a person."

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Hardwick also responded to rumours that linked Rance's retirement with the public split from his wife that came just days after his playing announcement.

"That's what people do, they sit there and hide behind keyboards and it's weak and it's incredibly disappointing from my point of view," he said.


"There's no truth to it, there's nothing to it. This man is a man who's been devoted to his family and his faith for a long period of time and there's nothing more sinister [to it] than that."

Hardwick will coach Victoria in the State of Origin Bushfire Relief match at Marvel Stadium on February 28.