Bachar Houli is likely to return for the clash with the Giants
THE TIGERS will be bolstered by the return of Nick Vlastuin, expect to regain Bachar Houli, and could name their third debutant for the season on Saturday night for their clash with the Giants.
Small forward Liam Baker will be strongly considered to come into the side to replace the injured Dan Butler (ankle) after three strong performances at VFL level.
“We’ve got some challenges this week with three quality players going out, but we’re very happy with the quality of players we’re able to bring in,” coach Damien Hardwick said on Thursday before training.
“It’s been one of the strengths of the side over the last couple of years and we’ll get to call upon that this week.”
Shai Bolton is another possibility, with the out-of-contract West Australian also putting in a solid run of VFL form.
Bolton last played at AFL level in round two, while Connor Menadue or Sam Lloyd could be considered for a recall, and Anthony Miles is available after missing last week with concussion.
Houli trained on Thursday after building fitness over the past two weeks following his round 10 groin injury.
Hardwick said they were “90 per cent positive” he would get through the session and make the trip to Sydney on Friday, with the Tigers confident he would return at AFL level.
“He’s a terrific player,” he said.
“Bachar is one of the premier half-backs in the League and we get to see it on a weekly basis, but his ability to generate offence for us is really good and he complements Nick and those players [down back] really well.”
Nathan Broad (cheekbone) and Jack Graham (shoulder) will be the other forced chances for the clash at Spotless Stadium.
All three injured Tigers are expected to miss up to a month, however Broad appears already on the road to recovery with an appearance at Thursday’s training session.
The premiership defender, sporting a black eye after surgery on Saturday to insert three plates to fix his depressed cheekbone, took part in drills at Punt Road.
Hardwick said the injuries weren’t ideal but gave them the chance to experiment with their mix.
“We’re still challenging ourselves for what our best side looks like,” he said.
“There are some players who are playing some outstanding footy at VFL level.
“You never know how your side changes, you only have to look at last year and some guys came into the side late and helped us play some really good footy at the death.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ interstate record this year is dismal, with the side returning winless from all three of their trips.
Hardwick said he had been pleased with the team’s form against Geelong, Sydney and Adelaide in recent weeks, but acknowledged the magnitude of the task against the improved Giants at their home ground.
“It’s probably a mini-final for them, so to speak, and for us, we’re always looking to play our best and be our best,” he said.
“We haven’t won away, we accept that and we’re looking to rectify that, there’s no doubt about it, but I’m confident our boys will play their best footy and give us the best chance possible.”
He also said the Giants had shown significant improvement over the last month, which could be further influenced by the return of key players Toby Greene and Brett Deledio this week.
“Their style of game has lifted to another notch, probably their ability to control the ball,” he said.
“They’ve been one of the best over the last four weeks at maintaining possession through that back half, so that presents us with a set of challenges we’ll have to work our way through.
“They’re playing some really good footy, I thought they were really stiff not to beat West Coast, so they’re going to be a big challenge.
“A different set of personnel presents a different set of circumstances for coaches.”
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Source: AFL FOOTBALL NEWS