AAP AFL

Tiger cubs up for Hawks ruck battle in AFL

By AAP Newswire

Richmond are counting on an opportunity to be grasped, a bit of youthful exuberance and some raw talent to help them overcome a ruck mismatch against Hawthorn.

With premiership ruckman Toby Nankervis sidelined for up to two months with an adductor injury, seldom-used Ivan Soldo and exciting youngster Noah Balta will attempt to fill the void when the Tigers host the Hawks at the MCG on Sunday.

At 23, Soldo will play just his ninth AFL game and 19-year-old Balta will play his eighth, all of which have come this season.

The pair have the job ahead of them as they go up against hardened, in-form campaigners Ben McEvoy and Jon Ceglar.

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick believes Soldo will benefit greatly from spending time in the No.1 ruck role and is more than capable of holding his own.

He will be backed up by Balta, who battled on bravely in the ruck in last week's win over Fremantle after Nankervis went down.

Hardwick is counting on Soldo to be his workhorse and Balta to bring the x-factor.

"I thought he was terrific (last week). He's a beast, he's incredibly athletic," Hardwick said of Balta.

"For a young kid in really his first year of footy (for me) to say, 'Listen, you've got 80 per cent of the ruck duties' ...

"I'd actually be happy if he got a shin guard at some stage. He hasn't got one, he reckons it's a sign of weakness, but we'll let him keep continuing to do what he does.

"He's been fantastic and he's learning every week ... he's like a sponge. His ability to take the game on and create havoc through his athletic prowess is exciting for us.

"We think we've found a player but he's got a long way to go, which is exciting for us because we can see potentially how good he's going to be.

"The ball is in his court."

Soldo comes in for his first game this season, with influential backman Nick Vlastuin the other inclusion to replace impressive youngster Jack Ross (ankle) and Nankervis.

Hawthorn couldn't find a spot for Jarryd Roughead, despite five goals in the VFL last week, and have stuck with the same line-up that ground out an upset win over GWS.