RICHMOND rookie Matt Thomas has bolted into round one calculations after a hard-nosed midfield performance in Friday's practice match against Essendon at Punt Road Oval.
Delisted by Port Adelaide at the end of last season, Thomas played a key role in the Tigers' 45-point win over the Bombers, pushing his case for senior elevation ahead of the club's season opener against Gold Coast on March 15.
The 27-year-old finished with 26 possessions (10 contested) and 10 tackles as the Tigers ramped up their pre-season preparations with a ruthless performance, winning 15.11 (101) to 8.8 (56).
In the first match at Punt Road Oval between VFL/AFL opposition since 1964, more than 2,100 supporters packed in to see the Tigers at close to full strength.
The Bombers, meanwhile, lost their third match of the pre-season and could lose key forward Jake Carlisle to suspension in round one after he appeared to make contact to Steven Morris with his knee off the ball in the second quarter.
As well as Thomas, second-year Richmond midfielder Matt McDonough (22 possessions) pushed strong claims for round one selection, while Chris Knights, Todd Banfield and mature-age recruit Nathan Gordon all played their first pre-season games as substitutes.
Thomas had 15 possessions and three clearances in less than a half against Collingwood in the Tigers' second NAB Challenge match and he is now in pole position to earn elevation to the club's senior list.
"He's doing everything right and he's playing incredibly well at the moment," coach Damien Hardwick said.
"He's a bit like a human wrecking ball, which is good to see."
Thomas complemented an onball division that was superbly led by captain Trent Cotchin (13 possessions and two goals) until the captain was substituted at half-time as a precaution with calf soreness.
Key forward Ty Vickery was also substituted before half-time with a stiff back but Hardwick said the 23-year-old would be set to face the Suns in round one.
For Essendon, who has two weeks to prepare for its round one clash against North Melbourne on March 21, captain Jobe Watson was the star.
The 2012 Brownlow medallist built form after a quiet NAB Challenge, finishing with 32 possessions (16 contested).
Coach Mark Thompson said it showed that Richmond was ahead in its preparations for round one and the Bombers were "still in a pretty heavy training phase".
Despite a "sloppy" forward line performance, he said he was committed to playing Michael Hurley in defence at the start of the season with Carlisle partnering Joe Daniher in attack.
"I'm not giving up now, I've put my gonads on the line," he said.
"I thought Richmond played well defensively … they were beating us in physical contests.
"Next time we play we'd want a bit more movement and a bit more working together. Then the boys up the field have got to kick it to the right spots."
David Zaharakis (22 possessions) worked hard to spark the midfield but left the ground late in the fourth quarter with a corked calf following a heavy collision.
Second-year midfielder Martin Gleeson was also very impressive, patrolling a wing and pushing forward to finish with 16 possessions and a goal.
"He'd be a good chance to play [round one]," Thompson said.
"We’re really happy with his development. He doesn't look like he's physically ready, but he's quite a good player, a good decision maker, a good user of the ball.
"We like him a lot."
RICHMOND 3.2 7.8 12.8 15.11 (101)
ESSENDON 1.4 3.4 7.7 8.8 (56)
Richmond: Griffiths 2, Cotchin 2, Riewoldt 2, Edwards 2, Grigg, Ellis, Newman, Vickery, Elton, Banfield, Knights
Essendon: Daniher 2, Carlisle 2, Stanton, Gleeson, Fletcher, Chapman
Richmond: Thomas, Deledio, Houli, Rance, Grigg, McDonough, Astbury
Essendon: Watson, Gleeson, Zaharakis, Stanton, Fletcher
Richmond: Vickery (back tightness), Cotchin (calf soreness)
Essendon: Zaharakis (corked calf)
Umpires: Stevic, Stewart, O'Gorman, Hawssen
Official crowd: Approx 2,100 at Punt Road Oval Jake Carlisle and Alex Rance see the funny side of Friday's practice match. Picture: Michael WillsonDustin Fletcher and Brendon Goddard tackle Tiger Reece Conca. Picture: Michael WillsonThe suburban faithful flock to this historic match at Richmond's Punt Road Oval. Picture: Michael Willson
Richmond supporters pose in front of the Punt Road Oval grandstand. Picture: Michael Willson
Richmond's Trent Cotchin breaks away from the Bombers during Friday's practice match. Picture: Michael Willson