Prized Tigers recruits all in despite Hardwick departure

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Prized recruits Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper told teammates their commitment to chasing a premiership at the Tigers had not wavered as they digested Damien Hardwick’s decision to finish up as Richmond coach.

Both Taranto and Hopper joined the club on seven-year deals in a move the Tigers hoped would relaunch them back into top-four contention quickly under Hardwick.

In good hands: Replacement Richmond coach Andrew McQualter chatted with Tim Taranto on Tuesday.Credit: Getty Images

Hardwick’s presence as coach was part of the appeal Richmond held for the pair as they weighed up their decision to move from the Giants.

Co-captain Dylan Grimes said the pair got on the front foot as soon as the news was confirmed.

“They came forward and said ‘look, we have the belief that the club is going to win a premiership and that’s what every player is after. I have got as much faith now, and I am as committed now as ever’,” Grimes said.

“It was a really positive message to hear from two players who have made such a big decision to our club and commit themselves to the cause.”

Jacob Hopper is out for the medium-term with a calf issue.Credit: AFL Photos

Grimes said the pair’s thoughts were conveyed in a general team discussion, impressing the co-captain.

“It was a great sign from two really quality people. To be at a club they have not been around for a particularly long time, which is going through a challenging period … for them to lean in like that showed great leadership,” Grimes said.

Hopper is out with a calf strain, having played eight games in 2023, while Taranto has been one of the Tigers’ best in his first season. He was again among their best in Sunday’s loss to Port Adelaide. Although disappointed not to be coached for longer by Hardwick, the pair are also viewing the decision as an opportunity for them to be at the start of a new Tigers era.

The veteran defender said he was grateful for the contribution Hardwick made to the club and his career. He described Hardwick as “a father figure”, saying it was “a weird feeling” to prepare for a game without him being around but Andrew McQualter was an excellent caretaker.

“Footy is pretty ruthless. We had to get ourselves in a position physically and mentally to be able to play against some really good opposition,” Grimes said.

Despite the loss to Port Adelaide which leaves them 15th on the ladder and 10 points outside the eight, Grimes said the team was determined to turn around their form patch. He said McQualter had made it clear in the build-up that they should be “chips in” for this season.

“Normally, when a coach leaves a club is in turmoil, but that wasn’t the case for us,” Grimes said. “There is still a lot of belief.”

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