RICHMOND coach Damien Hardwick might have already been preparing to write one of the best stories of 2019 before mid-season draftee Marlion Pickett was best on ground in Sunday's VFL Grand Final.
Pickett, 27, did no harm to his chances of a remarkable AFL debut in Saturday's decider against Greater Western Sydney with 19 possessions, one goal and nine tackles in the Tigers' three-point win over Williamstown at Ikon Park.
He was crowned the Norm Goss medallist in the Tigers' maiden VFL premiership win after his strong bid to be considered for a debut at Thursday's AFL selection table.
Pickett is congratulated by teammates after winning the Norm Goss Medal Picture: Getty Images
But with Jack Graham (shoulder) considered unlikely to face the Giants and Nathan Broad (concussion) to be assessed this week, Hardwick might have pencilled Pickett's name into his line up before the new Tiger blitzed the field on Sunday.
"I had a chat to [Hardwick] before the game and he had some clear instructions of what he wanted [with Pickett]," Richmond VFL coach Craig McRae said afterwards.
"I think if the game wasn't as tight, we might have rested a couple [late in the game] … but we played the minutes until the end.
"He hasn't played an AFL game but he plays above the VFL level and previously that's stood up at AFL level and players play well when they go up.
"He hasn't played and this is a Grand Final … but who knows, he's a great player and it would be a great story."
Tigers VFL coach Craig McRae addresses his players during the Grand Final. Picture: Getty Images
VFL captain and former AFL player Steve Morris said he believed Damien Hardwick wouldn't shy away from playing Pickett despite the fact he's only been at the club since May.
"I think Dimma's that sort of character that he'd back someone in, but look, whether that happens, I've got no idea," Morris said.
"He's brought a lot of flair, Marlion. He can do things that not many players can do and he backs himself, he's a beautiful kick of the footy, he's a really good mover, he's got speed, he's got class."
Kamdyn McIntosh and Jack Ross were pulled out of the VFL team before the game as coverage for Graham and Broad, with the Tigers looking set to make at least one change for Saturday's clash at the MCG.
Premiership Tiger Dustin Martin, who looked sore at times during the win over the Cats, wasn't seen at the VFL win.
However, Richmond football manager Neil Balme said Martin wasn't suffering from an injury.
McRae said the decision to rest McIntosh and Ross generated a "difficult conversation" on Sunday morning given neither is guaranteed an AFL spot against the Giants.
"Kamdyn, in particular, thought he was letting people down and I made it pretty clear to him that he's one of the reasons we're in this position so not to feel that way," McRae said.
"Now he's got mixed emotions because he's not sure if he's going to be part of the AFL and he missed out on this.
"It's a difficult position."
Tigers coach Damien Hardwick and Kamdyn McIntosh applaud Richmond's VFL flag. Picture: Getty Images
Pickett said it "felt awesome" to play such an important role in the Tigers' win after a whirlwind few months following his mid-season acquisition by the club.
He said he would be thrilled to play next Saturday if given the chance but was just as happy to build on his AFL career in 2020 if he wasn't called up.
"It would mean a lot and if it happens I would be over the moon but if it doesn't, I'm not too fussed about it," Pickett said.
"I just love to play footy, I was brought up playing footy so I just enjoy it.
Whatever happens, happens. If not, I'm just happy for next year.
However, Sunday's triumph is likely the only one Sydney Stack and Dan Butler will experience this week with the pair unlikely to figure in plans for the decider against the Giants.
As the Tigers hung on to claim victory after the Seagulls moved within one point and missed two chances to steal the lead late in the game, Stack was hobbled by a fresh collision injury to his lower right leg sustained early in the last quarter.
Stack copped a fresh injury during the VFL decider. Picture: Getty Images
He spent time a brief period on the bench but looked less than convincing when he returned before he finished his managed minutes with a quiet six possessions.
The fresh injury will almost certainly rule the first-year revelation out of a remarkable return to the AFL stage this week, given the VFL decider was already his first game in 36 days following left ankle surgery.
Butler, who was one of the Tigers' best in the opening quarter as they raced to a 28-point lead, was reported for striking Williamstown's Nick Mellington in the second term.
Likewise fellow premiership teammate Jacob Townsend, who did all he could to press for a call-up with his typical hard-tackling approach, 11 possessions and two goals, including an important steadier in the last quarter after the Seagulls moved within one point.
Also strong for the Tigers, and in promising signs for the future, were Riley Collier-Dawkins through the midfield and Derek Eggmolesse-Smith across half-back.
And 123-game player Mav Weller had 18 touches in his last game for the Tigers, having decided to call it quits after Sunday's game.
The game looked all but done at the first change after the Seagulls failed to score in the opening term, but they clawed their way back into it after the Tigers failed to capitalise on their early dominance.
The half-time difference was 16 points after the Tigers didn't register a goal in the second, which allowed the Seagulls the chance to pounce after the main break.
Late in the fourth, Willie Wheeler had two chances to put Williamstown in the lead in the dying minutes but shanked two set shots, which allowed the Tigers to hold on to a historic victory.
It was the club's second VFL Grand Final appearance after finishing runners-up to Port Melbourne in 2017.
RICHMOND 4.4 4.8 5.10 8.10 (58)
WILLIAMSTOWN 0.0 2.4 3.8 7.13 (55)
Richmond: Townsend 2, Collier-Dawkins 2, Pickett, Ballard, Naish, Markov
Williamstown: Masters, Myers, Rodda, Pickess, Kennedy, Wheeler, Ottavi
Richmond: Pickett, Morris, Eggmolesse-Smith, Collier-Dawkins, Balta
Williamstown: Hibberd, Dorgan, Wheeler, Meese
Reports: Butler (Richmond) reported for striking Mellington (Williamstown) in the second quarter
Umpires: Pell, Rebeschini, Rodger, Porter