North Melbourne’s decision to rest up to 10 players on Friday night against Richmond has the AFL world aflutter – but Tigers coach Damien Hardwick might be the calmest man in footy.
Tigers great Kevin Bartlett says the Kangaroos have “torn up the rule book”, calling the move “absolute crap” on radio station SEN.
Everyone has a view it seems; backers of Brad Scott’s move call it pragmatic and sensible, while those at the other end call it an attack on the integrity of the game.
At Punt Road, Hardwick is in the eye of the storm as he prepares his side for their round-23 contest with the understrength Kangaroos.
Just half an hour after hearing the news, Hardwick defended North Melbourne’s right to pick any side they wanted to – even if it has ramification for the finals.
“Every side is trying to do their best for the following weekend,” he said.
“North’s ladder position realistically can’t change … each side will do what they think is right to get the best performance out of their players, that’s their decision and one I’ll leave up to them.”
While the AFL has ticked off the move, Hardwick indicated Thursday morning was the first the club had heard of the move.
He didn’t rule out dropping players of his own, but Hardwick said his strongest inclination was to go in all guns blazing.
“I probably learnt a saying from Denis Pagan back in the day, `you don’t flirt with form’,” he said.
“That’s something that is in my philosophy and something we’ll probably take on board.”
That means a definite return for captain Trent Cotchin, who missed last week with back soreness, while Hardwick reported Brett Deledio had put his hand up to play after copping Courtenay Dempsey’s horror tackle last week.
North Melbourne’s decision turned the match of round 23 into what’s expected to be one-way traffic.
Within an hour of the announcement, Richmond had moved in betting markets to pay just $1.08 for a victory.
That would almost guarantee the two sides play again in week one of the finals series in an elimination final.
Hardwick said even if the Kangaroos play two very different sides, he is confident their structure won’t change.
“North Melbourne play the same style, the players that come in we expect that they will play a role and the same type of game that they normally play,” he said.
“We know how they play.
“That’s the ducks and drakes of it all, depending how the result goes, whether we do play them next week.
“What we will be doing is trying to perform our best this week and get the four points.”