AFL Tigers coach says season starts now

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Richmond coach Damien Hardwick says the season starts now for his men after enduring a tough early draw against some of the AFL’s heavy hitters.

The Tigers have beaten only Melbourne in the first five rounds, but they’ve looked good at times in going down to defending premiers Geelong and competition leaders West Coast by 10 points each in the past two weeks.

Richmond’s other two losses have been to 2011 grand finalists Collingwood and third-placed Carlton.

“Our percentage (94.4) is still intact,” Hardwick said after Sunday’s loss to the Eagles at Etihad Stadium.

“Our season really starts now. We’ve got to start gaining some ground on the opposition.

“It was always going to be a tough start.”

Hardwick said with a strong midfield led by Trent Cotchin (29 possessions on Sunday) and some promising signs in attack and defence, his side were definitely taking a step forward following their 12th placing in 2011.

“They’re undefeated, West Coast, and they’re a chance to win the whole thing. Geelong, no different,” he said.

“We could have possibly been two and three, three and two.

“We’ve got a big game versus (15th-placed) Port Adelaide next week.”

Asked if the football community was starting to take the 14th-placed Tigers seriously, Hardwick said the Tigers were having a real crack.

“People are starting to see the brand of footy we’re playing,” he said.

Hardwick pointed to the way Matt Dea threw himself into a marking contest early in the final quarter, leaving the field with blood pouring from his face before returning to the battle.

The Tigers coach said he was pleased with the way the umpires handled the hot topic of players trying to milk free kicks for high contact, which has been a controversy that has dogged the Eagles this season.

“The umpires handled it better today,” he said.

“The rules are there for us coaches to exploit.

“In the Anzac Day clash they started to say guys who lead with the head, they don’t get the free kicks they probably did last week.”

© AAP 2016
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