DUSTIN Martin will be challenged to take his midfield game to a new level in 2015 and become like Jobe Watson, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick says.
After an impressive third finish in the best and fairest, Martin is entering his sixth AFL season having added attacking weapons to his repertoire.
In the Tigers' run to the finals the 23-year-old became a match winner more than once when pushed forward to win crucial contests.
While Hardwick wants Martin to remain an explosive option inside 50 this season, he says it's time he became a midfield force much like the Essendon skipper on a more permanent basis.
"We think his running capacity has really improved over the course of his pre-seasons he's had with us, and we feel for him to take that next step as a player it's going to be the majority of him playing midfield," Hardwick told AFL.com.au.
"He needs to become a contested ball king, a tackle king in that area, much like a Jobe Watson type of player that's capable of setting up the game from the middle of the ground.
"We look forward to giving him that opportunity."
In 2014, Martin ranked in the elite bracket for score assists, score involvements and goals, and was second behind Jack Riewoldt at the club for goals scored with 27.
He won possession 57 per cent of the time he was targeted inside 50, and also 55 per cent of his offensive one-on-one contests.
Memorably, he booted the match winner against Adelaide in round 21 with less than a minute left after he out-muscled Ricky Henderson and gathered the ball.
Then, two weeks later, he kept his feet in a contest with Sydney Swans' defender Ted Richards and ran on to kick an important steadier with just over five minutes left in the Tigers' must-win clash that decided their finals fate.
Hardwick said the intention to improve his midfield game didn't mean his time as an impact player inside 50 was over.
"The year previous, funnily enough as a midfielder, he had more shots on goal than he did as a forward last year," he said.
"The thing that was noticeable last year was he probably won three or four games for us late in games when we put him one out.
"There's going to be stages where he'll certainly push deep and it's going to be an exciting prospect for us to have him more in the midfield but also having that capability of winning us a game up forward also."
Dustin Martin leads the celebrations after the win over the Swans. Picture: AFL Media
The Tigers weren't shy in their desire to improve their midfield depth, as well as forward line speed, in the exchange period last year.
They went after inside midfielders David Armitage and Jack Trengove, and had a crack at luring Essendon's Jason Winderlich.
Armitage stayed a Saint, Trengove a Demon after it was revealed his problematic foot had not healed (he later had surgery to fix the damage to his navicular bone that will threaten his 2015 season), and Winderlich back-flipped on retirement plans to play on with the Bombers.
While Hardwick admitted recruiting such players would have helped to fill certain roles, he believed the Tigers had the capability to develop their own – starting with Martin.
"The loss of [Dan] Jackson is enormous for us, so we thought if we could bring in a player of similar capabilities that would be a win," he said.
"Obviously it didn't happen, which is disappointing, but we're more than pleased with the players we've got there to fulfil that role.
"Dustin will play some more midfield time, we drafted a young player in Corey Ellis, who is a pure inside mid that we're very excited, about [although] he's injured at the moment.
"We've got some players we feel can significantly improve us in that area and we're looking forward to giving those guys the responsibility of doing so."