RICHMOND coach Damien Hardwick has called on the interchange bench to be extended as the AFL prepares for its fixture cram.
A depleted Tigers line-up will face Sydney at the Gabba on Sunday without premiership stars Trent Cotchin (hamstring), Dion Prestia (ankle), Toby Nankervis (ankle) and Bachar Houli and Shane Edwards, with the latter two remaining in Melbourne away from the club's Gold Coast hub for family reasons.
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While gun forward Tom Lynch is looking likely to play despite hand surgery this week, the two-time premiership coach said the AFL needed to consider expanding the bench to protect the game's stars from being overloaded.
The Tigers coach said it was an opportunity for young players who had missed on selection to get some experience whilst also preventing the big names from burnout.
"The one thing I probably would like to see is an extended bench so we can get some games into those [younger] players. The big one for me is that you want the stars playing every week," Hardwick said on Friday.
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"I think (AFL football operations boss) Steve [Hocking] will work through that in conversations in the coming weeks about what it looks like.
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"The AFL have been very open with what they're looking for and the feedback we've given them and they continue to evolve.
"This is a situation we haven't seen before but we've got to consistently think on the move."
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The AFL had told clubs it was preparing to release its next fixture block this week, however, it is likely to do so in coming days. Shorter turnarounds are expected (after Victoria's return to stage three COVID-19 restrictions) as the League hopes to condense the fixture while clubs are based away from home.
League boss Gillon McLachlan said playing six games in five weeks was more likely than seven matches in five weeks.
Hardwick wouldn't put a number on how many extra players he wanted to see added to the bench.
"People want to see the stars play and we're the same. I want to see the good players play as much as possible so it might mean they have reduced game time and might play two in every three weeks [as usual] and in the third week they might play 50 per cent game time or you might choose to rest them," he said.
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"But at least give us the capacity to make those calls. I think the AFL will look at that and will take that on board and see how it pans out.
"Obviously there's going to be some sticking points with regards to the payment of players and how that works but I'm sure the AFLPA will be very understanding."
Lynch looks set to run out there for the Tigers after training on Friday, just four days after having hand surgery following Sunday's win over Melbourne.
"He did the vast majority [of the session] actually which surprised and he's exceeded expectations. He's gone from a doubtful to a probable which is a great result for us," Hardwick said.
"He's an incredibly brave and tough character."