AFL rivals have been warned they will confront a fitter and more defensively focused Dustin Martin this season.
Richmond coach Damien Hardwick believes his three-time premiership superstar is ready to take his game to an even higher level.
The fruits of a strong summer preparation are set to be laid bare in Thursday night’s season opener against Carlton at the MCG.
“His fitness work this year has been phenomenal,” Hardwick said.
“That’s one area that I’ve noticed that he’s put a lot of work in and certainly we’re seeing the benefits of that.”
Improved fitness will help Martin adjust to a return to full-length quarters this season – back to 20 minutes from last year’s reduced 16 minutes.
But Hardwick said the three-time Norm Smith Medal winner’s fitness focus was more about his personal desire to improve his game.
Martin’s defensive output has also been noticeably higher during the 2021 pre-season.
“That’s one of the things – he’s covering the ground a lot better and his speed is up as a result of that,” Hardwick said.
“He’s been really impressive this pre-season and hopefully he takes that into Thursday night’s game.”
Dion Prestia (hamstring) and Tom Lynch (toe) both took part in Richmond’s training session at Punt Road on Tuesday and look set to play against Carlton.
Veteran defender Bachar Houli (calf) ran laps and is yet to join the main group for skills sessions, but is considered a probable inclusion for round two.
Marlion Pickett has been trialled across half-back during pre-season and Derek Eggmolesse-Smith is another option, while Hugo Ralphsmith is a long-term alternative.
Current government coronavirus limits will allow up to 50,000 fans to be on hand for Richmond’s first match in front of a crowd at the MCG since the 2019 grand final.
The Tigers will start hot favourites against injury-hit Carlton, who they have beaten in each of their last 10 meetings.
The Blues have been particularly hard hit in the front half, with Charlie Curnow (knee) ruled out and Mitch McGovern (back) unlikely to play.
But Hardwick is wary of the threat the Blues pose to his side, which is chasing a fourth premiership in the space of five seasons.
“They move the ball really quick and they’re really dominant if you allow them to play the game on their offensive terms,” Hardwick said.
“They’ve probably got a couple of talls that they’d like to have in that side but coaches love predictability and they’re going to be a little bit unpredictable up front.”