Key Tiger up for Dockers tall order in AFL

Jason Phelan
Toby Nankervis looms as a key figure for Richmond when the AFL premiers take on Fremantle

Richmond are backing Toby Nankervis' fierce competitive streak to help counter the imposing physical presence of Fremantle's Aaron Sandilands when the sides clash at the MCG.

Their duel will be an enthralling showcase of differing ruck styles and a key factor in Sunday's encounter.

Nankervis is coming off a career-high 29 possessions in last week's win over Collingwood, while Sandilands - who is 12cm taller than his Tigers foe - is second in the league for hitouts per game.

The giant Docker averages almost 18 more hitouts a match than Nankervis, who is tied for 18th in the AFL for average hitouts.

But it's clearly not all about the hitouts at Punt Road.

Damien Hardwick's men sit atop the ladder after six rounds, but are ranked last in total hitouts with 147 - 192 less than league leader Melbourne.

And what Nankervis lacks in aerial power he more than makes up for in his attack on the footy when the ball hits the deck.

"Sandilands is obviously going to get most people for height," Tigers assistant coach Justin Leppitsch told AAP.

"But Toby's around-the-ground stuff and ability to crash in at ground level is probably as good as a midfielder's let alone a ruckman's.

"That's his strength so it's going to be a good battle ... two completely different style players."

'Nank the Tank' quickly endeared himself to teammates, coaches and supporters alike after his switch from the Sydney Swans ahead of the 2017 season.

He flourished given the opportunity at a lead role, going from bit player in Sydney to premiership ruckman in the space of 24 games.

"I'm pumped we've got our bloke ... he just competes," Damien Hardwick said of Nankervis after the Pies win before going on to label him a "godsend".

"People forget he's still only young (too)," Leppitsch said of the 23-year-old who will play his 43rd AFL match against Fremantle.

"He's only in his fourth season of footy, so he's still got a lot of growth in his game, which is great when you consider how good he's been so far."

The Tigers made one change to the side that defeated Collingwood, Shaun Grigg dropping out with a hamstring injury to be replaced by Jacob Townsend.

The Dockers lost Michael Walters to a knee injury and rested Michael Johnson, the pair replaced by Brennan Cox and Ethan Hughes.