RICHMOND faces a selection squeeze next week with star midfielders Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin set to return.
Martin was a late withdrawal on Saturday with general soreness and is expected to be fit to play West Coast next Sunday, while Cotchin has spent two rounds on the sidelines with a hamstring strain.
The Tigers are set to welcome back Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin next week. Picture: AFL Photos
"Hmm, two Brownlow medallists, how can we fit them in?" Hardwick said, tongue in cheek.
"I'll happily take them. I understand what you're saying, but they're pretty good players. Trent ran full speed today. Once again, conservative call, but we'll welcome him back next week, which will be good.
"[Martin] trained on Friday, he didn't train long but he trained enough, and we thought he'd be okay. But he came in the next day and he didn't feel any better at all, he actually felt a bit worse," Hardwick said.
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"It was one of those ones where we could [have] pushed the envelope, but he's a pretty important player, so we took the week instead of [possibly] copping two. Our expectation is he'll play this week."
After an injury-ravaged first two-thirds of the season, players who have previously played seniors such as Dan Butler, Kamdyn McIntosh, Ivan Soldo, Connor Menadue and Oleg Markov are now struggling to crack the ones.
"Our recruiting and list management guys and our VFL program need a real pat on the back to provide us with players who can step up and play," Hardwick said.
"I say this without sounding a little bit silly, but it's hard to continually say to players who are playing so well at the VFL level that they're not quite ready [or] there's just no position available.
"What they also need to understand is they're also a significant part of our journey. Back in 2017 (premiership year) we had a couple of changes in round 21 or 22, that's a possibility of happening again this year. They know they just need to play their best footy at the right time, and anything could happen."
Richmond was comfortably on top in the first half, but struggled to keep a dogged Carlton at bay, particularly in the fourth quarter.
A few late goals pushed the margin out to 28 points, but the term wasn't without its tense moments.
"We're in a reasonable position, but there's certainly areas we can get better in our game. There was some frustration today, mainly caused by a pretty solid Carlton outfit, but some of the things we brought upon ourselves," Hardwick said.
"But we can always play better. We're hanging tough at the moment, we're getting some wins on the board against some pretty good opposition.
"We've got an enormous test this week on Sunday (against West Coast), but we're still looking to play our best footy."