All-Australian defender Dylan Grimes believes the coronavirus shutdown has actually made players better physically prepared for Thursday night’s AFL season restart than they were in round one.
Many leading figures in the game have expressed concerns the short preparation after returning to full-contact training late last month could leave players more susceptible to injury than usual.
But Grimes sees the break in a positive light as he prepares to line up for a full-strength Richmond against Collingwood in Thursday night’s season re-opener at the MCG.
The Tigers have been able to recall fit-again Bachar Houli and Jack Higgins, who both missed round one, while the Magpies are without some big names including Adam Treloar, Levi Greenwood (both calf) and Tom Langdon (knee).
“It sounds a bit odd, but we’re probably more ready (than we were for round one),” Grimes told AAP.
“Most clubs’ injury lists are pretty small and guys are feeling pretty good. It might have freshened some players up.
“After a long pre-season guys can get a bit tired or they’re maybe still holding an injury from the previous season or recovering from surgery.”
The traditional Victorian heavyweights have reignited hostilities in recent seasons and despite Richmond’s emergence as the competition’s force, Collingwood have been a thorn in their side.
The Magpies have won two of the past three meetings, including a famous upset in the 2018 preliminary final.
Grimes said the reigning premiers having to tackle one of the biggest threats to their flag defence in the first game back was like being “thrown in at the deep end”.
“They’ve been a good side for a long time now and certainly given us some headaches,” Grimes said.
“They’ve got some enormous talent and if there was ever an incentive to hit the ground running, it was knowing that we had the Pies first up.”
The Tigers-Magpies fixture has drawn more than 70,000 fans on each of the past five occasions.
But only a handful of club heavyweights will be allowed as spectators inside the MCG on Thursday night, with regular crowds still barred from entering under Victoria’s coronavirus protocols.
“We’re certainly going to miss having (huge numbers of) Richmond and Collingwood fans there but I’m sure both teams are going to bring the energy regardless,” Grimes said.