Richmond banking on improved AFL start

Richmond are primed to build some much-needed early momentum when they take on Carlton in Thursday night’s AFL season-opener.

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The Tigers will start strong favourites against the rebuilding Blues in a clash which is expected to draw more than 70,000 fans to the MCG.

Richmond beat their traditional rivals in round one last year but in a familiar story for the Tigers, lost their next six games to leave coach Damien Hardwick feeling the heat.

They will benefit this year from a more accommodating draw, starting their campaign with winnable games against the Blues, Collingwood, West Coast and Melbourne at home and a trip to the Gabba to face Brisbane.

Hardwick has also tweaked his side’s pre-season program in a bid to recreate their 2013 success when they won their first three games and ultimately finished fifth on the ladder.

“Over the last four or five years we’ve probably had that indifferent start,” Hardwick said.

“We did go back and look at the figures, as we normally do. We sort of felt that our best start to the season was 2013, where it was four practice matches and the majority of our list played two-and-a-half to three games.

“We tried to get more minutes into our guys this year, hoping that then transfers into the regular season.”

The Tigers will have a new look about them when they face Carlton, with highly-rated recruits Dion Prestia, Josh Caddy and Toby Nankervis all included and livewire forward Dan Butler set to make his AFL debut.

“We’ve had a great pre-season. Really pleased with what we’ve got out of it,” Hardwick said on Wednesday.

“The injection of excitement we’ve brought into the side with the three new recruits and a couple of the younger players who have stood up.

“We’re just looking forward to the season starting now and we get to see how it all works come tomorrow night.”

Carlton skipper Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Patrick Cripps will lead the Blues midfield, marking the first time the star trio have played together since May last year.

The Blues are widely expected to struggle this year after a poor pre-season showing, with many pundits and bookmakers tipping a bottom-four finish.