“He has a field day every time he plays us as well. I think he had 40, or it might have been 50, one game he played us,” Hardwick said on Monday.
“He is an incredible player. We showed our players some vision of him this morning, he can fight through tackles and get through and then create one v none. He is a player we can tag but the reality is he will probably still get 30 when we do tag him. We will monitor him as best we can.
“We will try and manage his output but the reality is great players do what great players do. We are not a heavy tagging side. We have those contingencies in place but we will back our side in to play their very best footy and if we do that, we think we will be okay.”
Neale was best on ground and had 33 disposals and two goals against the Bombers on Friday night when he was largely allowed to roam free.
The Tigers and Lions have made one change apiece. For the Tigers, hard-running defender Nick Vlastuin returns from a calf injury for his 150th match to replace Oleg Markov. The Lions have rested veteran Grant Birchall, having played eight matches this season, and replaced him with key defender Jack Payne, who will make his senior debut.
The reigning premiers have found their groove after an indifferent start to hub life and reinforced why there is no reason why they cannot claim back-to-back flags when demolishing the Western Bulldogs last week.
Dustin Martin booted six goals in the 47-point win against the Lions in the qualifying final and his growing influence this season has reflected the improvement the Tigers are enjoying despite missing several key players. He was brilliant against the Bulldogs and prompted Channel Seven commentator Bruce McAvaney to declare he was back in “Brownlow shape”.
Asked if Martin, who now appears fully over a rib injury, could recapture his stunning form of 2017, Hardwick replied: “It was a pretty special year, there is no doubt about that. But I think Dustin’s consistency will always keep him up around that level.
“His last two weeks have been outstanding, the GWS game and the Bulldogs game. He takes a bit of time to warm into the season but once he finds his mojo, he gets up and going. I expect he will be in some really good form from here on end.”
Brisbane may have awarded Charlie Cameron a five-year contract but the dashing small forward will not want to reprise the memories of his two performances against the Tigers last year. All-Australian defender Dylan Grimes held him to seven disposals in round 23 and only one goal a week later, while taking crucial intercept marks.
Cameron said on Monday he had learnt from those performances and would look to run Grimes across the ground.
Hardwick said: “Once again, we have got some plans in place. What that will look like, Charlie plays in different parts of the ground, Dylan will, too.
“It will be a team-type match-up at various stages. We know that Dylan is capable of doing the role but Dylan has got other obligations that we need him to fill at various stages as well.”
Tigers forward Tom Lynch was well held by Harris Andrews in both matches last year, managing a combined 13 marks and three goals. Hardwick said Andrews was “probably” the best defender in the league and the Tigers needed to hinder his ability to take intercept marks.
“We know how Brisbane play. They know how we play. We both try and do our best to take away their strengths and exploit their weaknesses,” he said.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge. They are in outstanding form at the moment. I love the way they are playing, I love watching them play.”
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.