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Veteran AFL reporter Caroline Wilson has once again raised Richmond coach Damien Hardwick's marriage breakdown as a possible reason for the club's poor performance in 2021.
The reigning premiers face a battle to finish inside the top eight, sporting just a 7-8 record and mired in 9th on the ladder, alongside the likes of GWS, St Kilda and Fremantle.
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Hardwick's off-field affairs became public earlier in the year when it was revealed he had separated from his wife, and was pursuing a relationship with a member of Richmond's staff.
Back in January, Wilson wrote for The Age that she believed Hardwick's credibility within the club, and among players, would have taken a hit due to the 'power imbalance' between himself and the member of the club's commercial sales team with whom he has begun the relationship.
Following the club's disastrous loss to the Gold Coast Suns in Melbourne last weekend, Wilson again raised the issue of Richmond being impacted by off-field dramas.
Speaking on Channel 9's Footy Classified, Wilson said Hardwick's relationship with the staffer was the 'elephant in the room' when it came to explaining the Tigers' surprisingly poor form.
“I certainly felt at the time that he had hurt the club and he had let the club down by the way he’d handled his off-field issues and the break-up of his marriage," she said.
“I wrote at the time, would there be an issue on-field if disciplinary things took place and would his message be lost?
“I don’t know whether the off-field is affecting the on-field at the Richmond Football Club – only the players and the coach can know that. But what I do know is that great football clubs are strong and united and they hold together at every point.
“And I know that there are people at Richmond who have not enjoyed some of the things that have happened off-field as a result of Damien’s personal issues. I know it’s a tricky subject, but that’s the fact.”
Caroline Wilson questions Damien Hardwick's ruthless radio blackout
Wilson's article about Hardwick's relationship ruffled many feathers within the Tigers - but the veteran reporter said she was standing by the piece.
As a result of the article, Wilson said Hardwick had placed a blanked ban on any appearance with Melbourne radio station 3AW, where Wilson briefly appears for a pre-game segment each weekend.
She said it was a stunning move to blacklist the entire station, considering she plays such a small role in the broadcast.
“I only become aware in recent weeks that he actually won’t come on 3AW at all, he’s banned the whole station, which seems extraordinary to me,” she said.
“I’m only on one pre-game segment every weekend.
“I’m a football journalist – I’ve had my blues with Richmond in the past. I’ve had worse blues probably.
"It’s really interesting that he’s banned all of 3AW, I think that’s pretty strange.”
Meanwhile, Richmond's loss to the Suns has been compounded by confirmation veteran defender Bachar Houli could miss the rest of the AFL season.
The 33-year-old will likely have surgery on a mild syndesmosis injury, placing doubt on the three-time premiership winner's storied 231-game career.
Richmond's shock 10-point defeat at Marvel Stadium on Thursday night followed a similar pattern to last week's thrashing by St Kilda - sloppy ball use and an outworked midfield.
Despite sitting at 7-8, with every chance his side will be outside the top-eight at the end of the round, Hardwick is not giving up on the season.
The Tigers have peaked in the back half of all three of their recent premiership campaigns but they could not be further away from that type of form.
"I think so," the three-time premiership coach said when asked if the hunger was still there.
"Our group are very proud.
"We're the first to admit we're not playing anywhere the level of capacity we think we can and we've got to get better in a lot of facets in our game.
"In fairness, Gold Coast were outstanding. Their hunger in and around the contest was good."
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