SHAUN Hampson is getting closer to finally pairing with the ruckman he "hated" playing against, with Richmond big man Ivan Maric closing in on a return to the field.
Hampson, recruited by the Tigers last year to combine with Maric, hasn't yet had the chance to play with the former Adelaide ruckman.
Maric needed bone spurs removed from his right ankle in late February and missed all of the Tigers' pre-season games.
With Maric scheduled to return in the VFL next Saturday against the Box Hill Hawks, the opportunity for the pair to play together should come sooner rather than later.
"I was recruited to help the big fella out and I haven't played a game with him yet, so I'm looking forward to that," Hampson told AFL.com.au this week.
"I've been looking forward to it all pre-season as well, but his body didn't quite permit it.
"I love the way he plays. I always hated playing against him, and I think I can really help him out in a positive way."
Maric would have played in the VFL this week had the Tigers' team not had a bye.
Instead, he will run out in a week's time, and will likely need more than one game before a senior call-up given his lack of match time this year.
Coach Damien Hardwick told Fox Footy's On the Couch on Monday that Maric was an "elite character and great leader" who would inspire his teammates to play better around him.
The Tigers saw last week against Geelong how important the return of key players could be, with Brett Deledio and Alex Rance part of their five-point loss after they overcame injuries.
Hampson said Maric's return would not necessarily see him spend more time in attack, with the Tigers to adjust their big man structure each week based on who they were up against.
"I think it could be either [player up forward] – depending on who the opposition ruckman is," he said.
"I might match up against some ruckmen better and he might match up against others better."
Hampson has held down the role of the Tigers' No.1 ruckman this year in Maric's absence, playing every game except for round three when he missed with knee soreness.
He said his move to Punt Road after seven seasons at Carlton had "rejuvenated" his passion for the game.
The Tigers have the bye this weekend before moving into a much kinder portion of the fixture after playing four 2013 finalists in the opening seven rounds.
Hardwick is still confident of his team making the finals, while Hampson agrees the next month – where Richmond faces Melbourne, Greater Western Sydney, Essendon and North Melbourne – gives the Tigers a good chance to build some momentum.
While the Kangaroos are the only one of those four teams inside the top eight, Hampson says there is no room for complacency.
"It's a good opportunity, but the way footy's going now, no teams are easy beats at all," he said.
"The next couple of games are GWS and Melbourne, and they're capable of some good footy as well.
"We'll just approach it like we've been approaching every other game and hopefully get a few wins on the board."