MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 21: Ivan Maric of the Tigers controls the ball during a Richmond Tigers AFL training session at Punt Road Oval on April 21, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Can returning Tigers duo kick-start season?

A struggling Richmond side will welcome back two key players at a time when the club really need to start turning their season around. Following a disappointing beginning to the campaign, the Tigers look a shadow of the team that finished fifth last year, only to fail to make it beyond the first round of the Finals for the third straight season. But with Brett Deledio and Ivan Maric now expected to make their first appearances of 2016, Richmond fans are hoping the fit-again duo can help kick-start the club’s poor start to the season.

Coming off the back of solid seasons, neither Deledio nor Maric have played a game this year due to injury, but the duo’s return to fitness was confirmed by their inclusion in Richmond’s Anzac eve game against Melbourne at the MCG. While Deledio has been struggling with a quad problem since the start of the season, a back injury sidelined Maric throughout the opening four matches of the campaign. Having dropped to around 50/1 in the latest AFL odds, Richmond’s slow start to 2016 has seen many who backed them at the start of the year already write off the Tigers’ chances of being real contenders this season.

Maric completed his return to full fitness with a couple of appearances in the VFL after rehabbing from the back injury he picked up in the pre-season NAB Challenge series. The determined ruckman was made joint captain of the club last year, coincidentally alongside Deledio and earning three Brownlow Medal votes after a productive season. He made 22 appearances and recorded 287 disposals along with 11 goals. In arguably his best year since arriving at the club from Adelaide, Maric really proved himself to be one of the most consistent and reliable players in the league and is a man who is key to the club’s hopes this year.

While Maric’s return will be a boost to the whole team, seeing Deledio back on the field will give the entire club a lift after a tough couple of weeks. The experienced forward is coming off a very solid season in which he scored 27 goals in 18 games with 389 disposals. The joint captain isn’t just an important part of Richmond’s offense, he also adds leadership and organisational skills to a young team. The influential 29-year-old might struggle to make it into Brownlow contention this season, but his return could well be the difference in the Tigers making it into the Finals or not.

As well as Deledio and Maric, Richmond will also welcome back the tireless Anthony Miles into their midfield after he missed the comprehensive defeat to West Coast. The 24-year-old caught the eye in his absence from the senior team with 30 disposals and 19 contested possessions with 12 tackles in the VFL Tigers’ victory over Footscray, and Miles appears to have done enough to earn another chance, not to mention the team’s lacklustre showing against the Eagles.

A winning run now could well save Richmond’s season and now might well be the time to take advantage of their long betting odds of a top-four finish.