Prior to every round of the 2023 AFL season, the team at Zero Hanger will explore the on-field talking points that bear attention in the lead-up to each weekend of games, examining the teams, players, and strategies that shape to determine the outcomes of matches. ‘Under the Microscope’ in Round 3 is Richmond’s tagging plans for Magpies star Nick Daicos, crucial cross-town derbies between the Power and Crows and Dockers and Eagles, and Geelong’s season-defining trip to the Gold Coast to play the struggling Suns. Three-time Richmond premiership coach Damien Hardwick, entering his 300th game as Tigers coach on Friday, has an array of headaches as he prepares his side for its blockbuster match against the in-form Collingwood, including forced changes at team selection, as well as whether he sends one of his disciples to rampaging Pie, Nick Daicos. Entertaining the media on Thursday, Hardwick toyed with the idea of assigning one of his Tigers to attempt to curtail the damaging Daicos, surfacing the prospect of his side’s “system” being the main combatant and forcing the son-of-a-gun to be accountable defensively. “Well, he’s a very good player, but Collingwood have got a lot of very good players, to be honest, so we generally rely on [our] system to take care of it. SEE ALSO: Nick Daicos is the leading candidate to win this year’s Brownlow Medal: Real or overreaction? “But, look, we’ll have contingencies and try and manage him as best we can. He’s going to get the ball, no question, so, do we allow him to play his game and try and manage it and try and exploit him the other way? Probably. “So, a lot of sides have tried but not many have succeeded, so we’re one of those that will give it a crack.” Richmond’s forced changes, comprising of Dustin Martin (general soreness), Jacob Hopper (knee), Jayden Short (calf) and Nathan Broad (four-game suspension), replaced on Thursday night by youthful trio Jack Ross, Hugo Ralphsmith and Judson Clarke, may impact Hardwick’s decision-making pertaining to choosing a desired tagger. SEE ALSO: Richmond to try and tame ‘Judd like’ Nick Daicos as six fringe Tigers push for recalls To elaborate, Trent Cotchin, a candidate to run with the defensively-deployed Daicos due to the Brownlow Medal winner’s sojourn to the forward line this year, could be shifted back to predominantly midfield duties on Friday night because of Hopper’s absence. Richmond’s ex-skipper, spiritual leader, and renowned contested-ball devotee may be the perfect run-with option to stick next to the Collingwood accumulator. The Punt Road stalwart, while he doesn’t possess the same foot speed as he once did, does still possess the acumen and nous for the game that fuelled him to lead three premiership-winning Richmond outfits. Liam Baker and Rhyan Mansell, too, are viable candidates to put the defensive clamps on the father-son prodigy from a forward position. Baker, reputable across the competition for his tenacity when approaching a contest, would undoubtedly ensure physicality if he were assigned to Daicos. Meanwhile, on the topic of aggressiveness, fringe best-22 utility Mansell presents as an alternative option. In previous seasons, Mansell has instigated frisky encounters when shadowing Melbourne goal-threat Kysaiah Pickett and Collingwood forward Jack Ginnivan, encouraging the notion that he could be the perfect option to frustrate an otherwise-composed Daicos. Finally, an additional consideration is Maurice Rioli Jr. A fellow son-of-a-gun, Rioli has swiftly built a repertoire of applying forward-line defensive pressure. The youngster is virtually an ambassador of Hardwick’s storied forward-pressure philosophy, accumulating multitudinous pressure acts on a week-to-week basis. In 2022, Rioli ranked equal-12th among forwards in pressure acts per game (19.2) in just his second AFL season. He’s certainly an option Hardwick will ponder. Ultimately, though, Hardwick could simply put a line through the entire idea of an individual irritant, instead potentially opting to rely on that “system” we continually hear about from the yellow and black mentor. If so, the Tigers, without a bevy of guns on Friday night, will need all the ‘systematic’ help they can get if they want to let Daicos wander unopposed. The Showdown this Saturday at Adelaide Oval between Port Adelaide and Adelaide is shaping as a low-key integral clash in terms of determining the season-long trajectories of these two sides, as is Fremantle-West Coast at Optus Stadium, as the Dockers, supposedly finals-aspirants, reel from two disenchanting losses to begin their season. In the case of the Showdown hosts, Port Adelaide, the Power started an important campaign on the right foot by dismantling Brisbane, however, they followed that up with a disgraceful showing against Collingwood at the MCG last weekend, during which they were battered in the contested-ball category. In a season where the pressure is definitively on long-tenured coach Ken Hinkley to produce results, the opening fortnight of the season has produced two extreme ends of the spectrum for Port Adelaide. In front of a mostly-Power-contingent crowd, up against an 0-2 rebuilding arch-rival, a statement needs to be made. The Crows, meanwhile, don’t have a win to their name after surrendering a large lead to GWS in Round 1, before tiring late in the game en route to a second-round loss to Richmond at home. In year four at the helm, despite Adelaide’s continued list re-tool, Matthew Nicks would certainly like to see a marked improvement in the win-loss column in order to re-instil confidence in the Crows’ higher-ups. Meanwhile, over in Western Australia, the Dockers and Eagles have one combined win across four games to begin the year. Fremantle has been especially poor, particularly when considering its vastly promising campaign in 2022 and the subsequent expectations placed on this team heading into the new season. It hasn’t panned out the way coach Justin Longmuir would’ve liked, so far. The Dockers’ ability to move the ball appears severely hampered to start out, struggling to progress inside-50 via their chip-kick, slow-moving game style. An absence of dare, pertaining to moving the ball aggressively through the corridor, looks to be one of the key factors limiting this team thus far. A change is almost certainly required. The Eagles, conversely, notched their first win of the season in stirring fashion against the Giants, after they were labelled by Fox Footy’s David King as “inoffensive”. They certainly seemed more offensive against GWS, peppering the Optus Stadium goal-face to the tune of 30 scoring shots. Facing the vulnerable, low-on-confidence Dockers, an arch-rival they have traditionally dominated (32-23 all-time), the Eagles surely sense an opportunity for consecutive victories. Lost among a Round 3 schedule stocked full of blockbuster match-ups — Josh Dunkley facing his old side, a grudge match between old foes Collingwood and Richmond, ‘Clarko’ vs. Sam Mitchell, St Kilda’s 150th anniversary date with Essendon, The Showdown, a qualifying-final rematch between the Demons and Swans, and the Western Derby — is the Gold Coast Suns hosting Geelong at Heritage Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Suns coach Stuart Dew has to be thoroughly displeased with his side’s first pair of outings, particularly considering the momentum his side was gaining through the second half of 2023. Starting out against the Swans, Dew’s men were largely uncompetitive, allowing Sydney midfielders Chad Warner, Errol Gulden and Callum Mills to run riot en route to a Bloods trouncing. Last weekend, led by blossoming midfielder Noah Anderson, Gold Coast showed better fight but was still outmuscled by an Essendon side that didn’t scrape finals contention last season. This weekend, if the Suns start 0-3 and put forth a showing reminiscent of their first home game of the season, Dew may feel his seat beginning to warm. On the Geelong side of the ball, the Cats’ defensive unit has been decimated thus far, with Tom Stewart and Jack Henry both missing time, while Sam de Koning has been knocked around. Absences, coupled with a lack of midfield clarity following Joel Selwood’s retirement and the coaching staff’s desire to immediately integrate recruits Tanner Bruhn and Jack Bowes, have helped contribute to the 0-2 start to the Cats’ premiership defence. It should also be mentioned that Collingwood and Carlton figure to be dominant forces in 2023. However, Stewart, diagnosed post-Round 1 with an MCL sprain after awkwardly twisting his knee against the Magpies, was surprisingly named in Chris Scott’s side for Sunday, which, barring a characteristic late change, suggests the All-Australian is ready to resume his duties as Geelong’s most important player behind the ball. While the dreaded 0-2 start is statistically concerning for most finals and flag aspirants, the 0-3 start is virtually irredeemable. Therefore, the Cats should be raring to go this Sunday.