RICHMOND small forward Shai Bolton has taken a big step forward in the battle to replace injured premiership star Daniel Rioli, with his lively performance against Essendon on Saturday putting him in pole position for round one selection.
Bolton booted three goals in Saturday’s 87-point win in Wangaratta, but it was his defensive pressure that convinced coach Damien Hardwick it was the youngster’s best performance for the club.
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The 19-year-old, who played six games last season, was part of a small forward line that harassed the Bombers defenders into repeated turnovers, then capitalizing with his smarts around the goal.
“Daniel Rioli is going to be a little bit of a slow start, so we’re looking to fill that role and for those players to get that position they have to play a certain way,” Hardwick said.
“Our players are under no illusions that to get in the side they have to bring the pressure and the heat every week.
“It was certainly a step forward. It was one of the better games he’s played for us, based on those factors that we look for and it’s really exciting for us.
“He’s a kid with enormous talent and he’s got a lot of areas in his game to continue to improve. But he’s incredibly young as well.”
Richmond lost ruckman Toby Nankervis to a concussion early on Saturday after his head hit the turf at Wangaratta’s Norm Minns Oval, with defender David Astbury also suffering a head knock.
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Hardwick said the club wasn’t prepared to push the premiership duo with 11 days to prepare for the next JLT Community Series clash against North Melbourne.
The coach was most pleased with the Tigers’ defensive effort and ability to re-establish their high-pressure brand at the first opportunity, out-tackling the Bombers 47-41 and winning the contested ball 127-115.
“We play as the hunter and I think we saw that today,” the coach said.
“We spoke to our players about re-establishing the way we play early, and it probably wasn’t quite to the level in the first quarter.
“But once the boys got up and going it becomes infectious and we started to show when we play that way we’re really hard to handle.”
Hardwick said the Tigers would field another strong line-up against the Kangaroos, while including some young players, potentially father-son pick Patrick Naish.
The coach said the plan had always been to restrict Brownlow medallist Dustin Martin and captain Trent Cotchin to three quarters, and defender Bachar Houli to a half.