Falling two wins behind the top-four would not signal the end of Richmond’s quest for a hat-trick of AFL premierships, according to coach Damien Hardwick.
But history shows it would be extremely difficult to snare a flag from the bottom half of the top eight.
It’s a feat that has been achieved only once in 21 seasons under the current finals system – by the Western Bulldogs in 2016.
The Tigers and West Coast both enter Sunday night’s clash at Optus Stadium with 7-5 records, knowing the loser faces a tough ask to haul in the top four as the battle for finals intensifies.
“They’re all getting more and more important,” Hardwick said on Friday.
“We saw last night Geelong put a couple of games gap between us and them, and West Coast as well.
“It’s a really important game to solidify yourself in the eight and try and give yourself the best opportunity to play finals.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to be important right now but also important down the track when the positions start to tighten up a little bit.”
Richmond and West Coast both had to deal with a raft of significant injuries to important players during the first half of the season.
But they are starting to get back towards having their best sides available, with Kane Lambert overcoming a calf injury and named in the Tigers’ line-up this week.
Premiership stars Dion Prestia (hamstring), David Astbury (achilles), Tom Lynch and Toby Nankervis (both knee) are poised to return after the bye.
Richmond, who have won three of the past four flags, could potentially be close to full strength with enough time to build form before the finals.
“The side that’s playing the best footy at the right time is always a chance to win,” Hardwick said.
“The top four is important at stages but the reality is I think any side can win it this year.
“The competition is getting better and better every year, it’s getting tighter and tighter, and you’ve just got to time your run and play your very best footy at the right time.”
Hardwick said Richmond had relished building on their connection during a three-week road trip, having left Melbourne to escape the city’s COVID-19 lockdown.
The three-time premiership coach emphasised the importance of beating West Coast and taking a positive mindset into next week’s bye before ramping up their latest flag bid.
“It’s a really important game for both sides going into a bye,” he said.
“We just hope we can play our best footy and if we do that we know we give ourselves every chance to win.”