“My more important thing is to make sure Alex is happy in his journey in life.
“Alex has been an outstanding player for our footy club and the biggest thing for us and our organisation is to make sure Alex is happy. He’s got a bigger purpose in life and football is second to that and we understand that. Family and faith are incredibly important to him and we support him 100 per cent.”
But Hardwick said Rance’s decision wasn’t necessarily surprising.
“We probably had a feeling,” he said. “It’s been a significant force in Alex’s life, family and faith, so we have had some conversations over the last two to three years with regard to this and we probably thought it may come to this at some stage and it has.
“We obviously would have liked to get a couple [more] years out of him but once again Alex’s happiness is at the forefront of our mind.”
Online gossip regarding Rance’s shock retirement disappointed Hardwick, but the two-time premiership coach said there was nothing sinister about Rance’s career-ending decision.
“That’s what people do, they sit there and hide behind keyboards and it’s weak,” Hardwick said.
“It’s incredibly weak and it’s incredibly disappointing from my point of view but there’s no truth to it.
“This man is a man that has been devoted to his family and his faith for a long period of time and there’s nothing more sinister than that.”
Hardwick defended his players’ decision not to rush to social media to pay tribute to their teammate.
“Our players have got a different mindset to that,” he said.
“We don’t necessarily have to be forefront in the social media game.
“Our guys are really heavily connected by human connection – phone calls, conversations – and I know we probably copped a little bit of flak in regard to that, but that’s not how our club operates. We tend to leave the phones at home.
“The more and more we hug, we love, all that sort of stuff is very much a part of us. 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 football player but as a person.”
Damien Ractliffe is the Chief Racing Reporter for The Age.