MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 28: Alex Rance of the Tigers thanks fans during the 2018 AFL round 15 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Sydney Swans at Etihad Stadium on June 28, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Richmond premiership coach Damien Hardwick has revealed the “door is ajar” for defender Alex Rance to make an AFL return after his sudden retirement at the end of last year.

Rance decided to step away from the game in December to focus on his family and faith, but the champion defender still remains on the Tigers’ list heading into the 2020 season.

Hardwick has refused to shut down the possibility of Rance returning to Punt Road in 2020 after Bachar Houli spoke of his desire to see Rance return.

“At this stage he’s retired in our plans, but plans can change,” Hardwick said on Friday when speaking publicly for the first time about Rance’s decision.

“My more important thing is to make sure Alex is happy in his journey in life.

“Alex has always been an incredible player for us, but his family and his faith have always been at the forefront of his mind. Whatever makes Alex happy makes us happy.

“Is the door ajar? Probably it is, but the ball is in Alex’s court from that point of view.”

Concerns were raised between Rance and his former teammates over the lack of public support for Rance, but Hardwick was quick to shut those concerns down.

“Our players have got a different mindset to that. We don’t necessarily need to be forefront in the social media game,” Hardwick said.

“Our guys are really connected via actual human connection … phone calls, conversations.

“I know we probably copped a little bit of flak for that but it’s not how our club operates; we tend to leave the phones at home.

“The more and more we hug, we love. He knows exactly how we feel about him, how important he is to the fabric of our organisation. He’ll be heavily missed, not only as a football player, but a person.”

Hardwick also responded to rumours linking Rance’s retirement with the public split from his wife just days after Rance announced his retirement.

“That’s what people do, they sit there and hide behind keyboards and it’s weak and it’s incredibly disappointing from my point of view,” he said.

“There’s no truth to it, there’s nothing to it. This man is a man who’s been devoted to his family and his faith for a long period of time and there’s nothing more sinister [to it] than that.”

Hardwick will coach Victoria in the State of Origin Bushfire Relief game on February 28.