Richmond recruit Ben Lennon is eyeing a Round 1 berth as coach Damien Hardwick prepares to play his best side through this year’s NAB Challenge series.
After last year’s crushing first week finals exit, the Tigers want to hit the ground running this pre-season in a bid to help secure their first top-four berth since 2002.
The Tigers have not played back-to-back finals series since Tom Hafey and Royce Hart led the club in 1974-75.
Lennon, a game-breaking utility, said he had spent the Christmas break completing some extra training sessions on holiday in Echuca, with teammates Brandon Ellis and Trent Cotchin.
The No. 12 draft pick said the extra training had helped him bridge the fitness gap as he battles to add some polish to the Tigers’ flanks this season.
“My running has improved, I did most of the testing before Christmas and it was not as good as what it needed to be,” Lennon said.
“But after Christmas it has really improved.
“I’m hoping to get a place in the NAB Cup team, as ‘Dimma’ (Hardwick) has said he wants to play his best team for it.
“Hopefully I can get into that and from there if I can get a spot in Round 1.
“I don’t want to put too much expectation on myself, but that’s the goal.”
Lennon’s penetrating right-foot kick has already impressed at Punt Rd, with the Tigers intent on playing the 189cm goalkicker at both ends of the ground.
The under-18 All-Australian is growing in confidence he can follow in the footsteps of fellow first-round Tiger recruits Nick Vlastuin, Ellis and Reece Conca and contribute at AFL level in his first season.
“Especially in some of the full-ground drills when we are playing some match simulation, you start to get a kick and get a bit of confidence and feel as though you can match it with the best,” Lennon said.
“I feel as though I am fitting in, so that’s been good, but obviously there is a lot more to do.”
Lennon, 18, said he would likely play a predominantly outside role to begin with. He rankled second for effective kicks in the TAC Cup last year but ranked below average at applying pressure for his position as a general forward, according to Champion Data.
“Not having a massive body just yet, I’ll need to get on the flanks and use my skills, that’s the plan,” he said.
“He (Hardwick) has thrown me on every line (at training) to get my head around everything.
“It’s been good to learn things off all the coaches, but I’ve been thrown in the deep end.”
Richmond starts its NAB Challenge campaign against Melbourne on February 14.