Richmond coach Damien Hardwick has given his backing to AFL premiership defender Alex Rance's comeback-of-sorts, with one caveat.
He's wearing the wrong-coloured sash.
Rance, 31, will make a one-off VFL appearance for Essendon against Southport on Sunday in the No.50 jumper.
It will be his first hit-out at state or national level since his 200th and last match with Richmond in round one, 2019.
"Alex is a guy that just loves playing the game," Hardwick said.
"He'll probably enjoy the game, it will be interesting to see how he goes. He hasn't played for an extended period, but he is one of the greatest players I've ever seen play the game, so hopefully he goes ok.
"I'd just prefer it was in our colours, not so much Essendon's."
Rance suffered a serious knee injury in his last match for Richmond and announced his retirement later that year after the Tigers had gone on to belt GWS in the grand final.
He had only just turned 30 at the time but said he wanted to move away from the game to focus on family and religion.
Rance has since played just one game of football, for the Seymour Lions in the Goulburn Valley league last month, to help out a friend.
He is now doing the same for Essendon coach Ben Rutten, with whom he struck up a relationship during their time together at Richmond.
Rance has given no indication he wants to make an AFL comeback, but Hardwick said his 2017 flag-winning full-back has the physical capabilities to give it a go if he decides he is interested.
"He's one of the more athletically gifted players I've ever seen play the game, so if there's ever a person that's going to come back after a three-year lay-off, maybe it's Alex," Hardwick said.
"I'm not too sure what his mindset is. It is challenging.
"Has he had some time to freshen up? Once again, I'm not too sure, but I'll back Alex in whichever way he goes.
"He's such an incredible player and I think we'd all agree that he did retire early, but we understand his reasoning behind that.
"If he came back to the game, the game would be better for it.
"The challenge is set for him, we'll see how he goes on the weekend and how it transpires from there."
Rance will be joined in Essendon's back line by former St Kilda No.1 draft pick Paddy McCartin, who will play for the Bombers on loan from Sydney's VFL team.
McCartin was drafted as a key forward but has been playing in defence for the Swans.
Australian Associated Press