Tigers cult figure Toby Nankervis toast of Richmond grand final victory

Just 12 months after harbouring doubts as to whether he had what it took to play AFL football, cult figure Toby Nankervis was the toast of Richmond after playing a key role in his team's drought-breaking premiership triumph.

The 23-year-old big man fought an engaging battle against one of Adelaide's key weapons, premier ruckman Sam Jacobs, breaking even or possibly even shading his more heralded opponent in his finest game in yellow and black.

His 18 possessions, three tackles and 28 hit-outs helped the Tigers win the crucial clearance battle on the way to an emphatic 48-point win at the MCG on Saturday.

It capped an incredible debut season at Punt Road for Nankervis, who crossed from Sydney at the end of last season after struggling for opportunities with the Swans.

The end to his days in Sydney were heartbreaking, with Nankervis watching on as a grand final emergency during the Swans' upset loss to the Western Bulldogs. He'd been dropped for the preliminary final against Geelong despite playing well in the semifinal victory against Adelaide the week previous, and as understudy to Kurt Tippett, never regained his place in the team.

Desperate for opportunity, Nankervis requested a trade and landed at the Tigers for a third-round draft pick. It looms an absolute bargain buy for Richmond, with the talented Tasmanian playing 24 of a possible 25 games for the season and saving his best for the biggest stage of all.

Wearing a broad grin and holding a cold beer in the Richmond change rooms post-match, Nankervis admitted he doubted himself as his time at Sydney drew to a close.

"I played [in the] the semifinal, and played OK [but then] missed out on the prelim which hurt, and then the grand final too," he said. "There were times after that when I thought 'am I ever going to play in a grand final? Am I ever actually going to be good enough to play AFL?'

"But I'm a resilient character though and it's a great feeling now."

Nankervis spoke to several clubs when he decided to depart the Swans but said he was impressed by Richmond coach Damien Hardwick's honesty when they discussed a potential trade.

He paid tribute to veteran big man Ivan Maric, whom Nankervis kept out of the senior team all year - "I've got no doubt I wouldn't be here without big 'Ivvy'"- and added he was confident of improving even further next season and beyond.

"There's no promises in football - 'Dimma' told me straight away 'I can't guarantee you a game but I like the way you go about it - [if] you come here and work hard there's an opportunity for you'," Nankervis said.

"So I worked my arse off in the pre-season and ... really improved throughout the year and I think I've got so much improvement left. I think I've played 30-odd [36] games and to win a premiership now is just unbelievable."

Unbelievable it was, especially considering the Tigers were under so much pressure after missing the finals last year that Hardwick almost lost his job. Add to that a premiership drought dating back to 1980, and the fact before this season the Tigers had not won a final since 2001, and most weren't expecting the Tigers to challenge for the title any time soon.

Hardwick admitted post-match coaching a premiership so soon after surviving the axe after a disappointing 2016 was beyond his wildest dreams.

"I was confident that if we played our best we'd make finals," the now-premiership coach said.

"If you had have asked me whether we'd be sitting up here, collecting medals and a premiership cup, I'd say 'you're kidding yourself'."

Nankervis echoed his coach's thoughts, although he added the group started believing something special was brewing after about two-thirds of the season had passed.

"We didn't put any limits on ourselves - we knew our best was good enough but it probably took until about Round 16 or 17 for us to believe [we could win a premiership]," he said. "But we ... played some massive games of footy and here we are."