Bombers loom as Dreamtime litmus test for Tigers
Are Richmond really "back" as an AFL premiership threat? Damien Hardwick still needs to be convinced.
But consecutive wins for the first time this season have given the Tigers' triple-premiership coach reason to believe the wheels are finally in motion after a slow start.
The theory will be put to the test in the sold-out "Dreamtime at the 'G" blockbuster against Essendon on Saturday night.
"We'd like a bit more evidence - it's a small sample size," Hardwick said.
"Defensively and contest-wise we've been pretty solid throughout the start of the year ... but offensively is probably where we've laboured a little bit.
"The last couple of weeks we've scored 100 points or thereabouts, so we're reasonably pleased with how it's going."
Richmond have lost Jacob Hopper (calf) for at least a month but regain co-captain Toby Nankervis for a ruck battle with imposing Essendon duo Sam Draper and Andrew Phillips.
The Bombers are still without Darcy Parish (calf) and have now lost fellow midfielder Will Setterfield to a fractured foot.
Nankervis will play slightly reduced minutes alongside young tall Samson Ryan, with the pair crucial in Hardwick's planning to control the centre bounce game.
"It's good to have a combative-natured person in there that plays that ruck role 80 per cent of the time," Hardwick said of Nankervis.
"We're pleased to have his leadership and experience around that centre bounce because it's probably been an area where we haven't been overly strong in the last couple of weeks.
"We're looking for a spike in that part of the game and Essendon score heavily from that source as well ... so we've got to make sure we control that as best we can."
The Tigers have not lost to Essendon since 2014, winning the last 13 meetings between the two sides.
But this is their first encounter since Brad Scott took over as coach of the Bombers, who he led to a 4-1 start before dropping their last four games.
"New coach, new system. It is challenging and we sort of don't look at those (historical records) along the way," Hardwick said.
"We do look at what Brad's been able to do in a short period of time with Essendon and change the DNA, so to speak, of what they are now.
"They've got some challenges that they'll present us with and hopefully we can overcome them, but there's some things that we feel we can exploit them with also."
Hardwick lauded the influence of premiership-winning pair Shai Bolton and Nick Vlastuin, who will reach 100 and 200 games respectively for Richmond on Saturday night.
"Both have just been incredible for our footy club," Hardwick said.