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Muting 'outside noise' is again a test for Tigers

It's fair to say Richmond's 2020 season -- which culminated in a third flag in four years -- wasn't one without controversy, and it's already evident the Tigers again need to put drama aside to climb the premiership mountain.

But if there's a club well equipped to handle the 'outside noise', it is the men from Punt Road, who, just one week into 2021, already have multiple distractions knocking at the door of the Swinburne Centre.

News broke last week that Damien Hardwick and wife Danielle had split, with the coach now romantically involved with a club staffer. For news-starved footy fans, the story quickly became the talk of town. Hardwick hasn't addressed the issue publicly, but has sought to reassure Richmond's playing group that his focus is firmly on the season ahead.

It's a narrative Richmond are used to peddling to the media; in the interrupted 2020 season, most of which took part in Queensland, the Tigers were front page news as often as back page news, with ESPN even posing the question of if there was a culture issue at the Tigers.

In the space of a couple of months, skipper Trent Cotchin's wife Brooke was discovered to have breached biosecurity measures put in place by the league, something which at the time threatened to derail the fragile season that many had worked so hard to get off the ground. That dragged on as a senior AFL reporter was stood down from his position for revealing the person involved.

Later, senior Tiger Nick Vlastuin and Jayden Short were seen by broadcast cameras groping fringe teammate Mabior Chol, who looked uncomfortable and angry about the treatment he was receiving in the rooms. The club took a bizarre stance at the time, cutting short press conferences, playing coy and even intervening when journalist Hugh Riminton pressed further on the issue.

And finally, youngsters Sydney Stack and Callum Coleman-Jones were removed from the Queensland hub after being found to have visited a strip club before becoming involved in a brawl on the Gold Coast - breaking the COVID-19 protocols in place.

Throughout this time, Richmond were outside the top four. But when the pointy end of the season rolled around, the Tigers were able to knuckle down, winning seven of their last eight to masterfully guide themselves to the double chance and, eventually, a memorable 2021 premiership.

Heading into a 2021, it seems the Tigers will again need to navigate controversy and commentary, something veteran forward Jack Riewoldt said the side was well equipped to do.

"I suppose for us, it's differentiating what's work and what's the outside noise," Riewoldt said on Monday.

"[But] it's business as usual, and it's a sign of a good club and a good culture that we can separate the personal side of things and get back to work. We understand that we've got a job to do, and that starts today back at preseason day one."

As expected, Hardwick addressed the playing group prior to the first training session of the new year, and was front and centre at training as the senior players took part in drills under a blazing Melbourne sun. Riewoldt said it was clear Hardwick, much like the players, was fully focussed on the job at hand despite his personal life being splashed across tabloids and discussed on social media.

"Obviously it's sad that Dimma and Danielle's marriage has come to an end - he's obviously been a big part of our football club, but the whole Hardwick family has been a massive support network for us and will continue to do so as we will for them," the vice-captain said.

"You never like to see something like a marriage breakdown and end, but it happens in life and we move on.

"Damien's a good enough character to separate his personal life and his professional life. The last four years have shown that he's been arguably the best coach in the land and he'll continue to support us and we'll continue to support him over the next period of time."

And on Stack -- who spent Christmas and the New Year in jail after he broke Western Australia's strict COVID-19 restrictions -- Riewoldt said the club was committed to "make him a Richmond man", indicating the Tigers' strong culture and leadership would continue to help him navigate the AFL spotlight.

Riewoldt was not at all dismissive of the issues at hand, which he described as serious, but the 32-year-old said football clubs were big places, and the playing group was focusing on what it's there to do - play football.

"We know these are important issues. Sydney is probably the most important issue at the moment, getting him back ... and then when football rolls around, like training today or a game, we put out attention on that," he said.

When the Tigers were called upon to focus on their footy in 2020, it ended well for them. They're no strangers to controversy -- or probing press conferences -- but given what Hardwick, Cotchin and the playing group have built over the last decade, there's nary a side in the league better equipped to go about their business in the face of scrutiny.