Richmond small forward Daniel Rioli will return to senior football in Saturday night’s Dreamtime at the ‘G match against Essendon.
That means the Tiwi star will get to wear the guernsey that he and his parents, Bradley Rioli and Belinda Punguatji, designed for the occasion.
The Richmond jumper art – designed at Christmas in Rioli’s Tiwi Island hometown of Pirlangimpi – features a traditional Pukumani pole, as well as Daniel’s totem – the turtle.
His return on Saturday will mean a clash with Essendon’s own Tiwi star, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, but some diehards in the stands might still be wondering what would’ve happened if Daniel had lined up against his famous uncle, four-time premiership Hawk Cyril.
An anecdote from that family Christmas might provide a resolution.
The Riolis are terrified of frogs, though Daniel doesn’t know why.
“We’ve got so many frogs on the Tiwi Islands – we’re surrounded by sea, we’ve got a lot of forests and bushes. But I’m not sure,” he said.
When one appeared in the house as a prank, Cyril couldn’t find the door quick enough.
“All the Riolis are pretty scared. I’m not scared, but we made him [Cyril] run,” Daniel said.
The result? Cyril running through Pirlangimpi, pursued by another of Daniel’s uncles, Sebastian.
“He’s pretty quick, but he was complaining that he did his hamstring,” Daniel said.
Sebastian eventually caught him, which perhaps provided some proxy evidence of who might win a dash between Daniel and Cyril.
“If my uncle Sebastian can catch him, which he said, I know I’m quicker than Sebastian. But he [Cyril] is retired now.”
Cyril’s retirement in 2018 came after several hamstring injuries, which meant that he and Daniel never went head to head in peak condition.
Daniel was joined this morning by his younger cousin, Maurice Rioli Jnr – the son of Richmond great Maurice Snr, and a potential father/son selection in the 2020/21 draft – for a media performance at the Sherrin factory in Scoresby, where the balls for this weekend’s Sir Doug Nicholls round matches, designed by Yuin artist Rheanna Lotter, have been handmade.
The current Tigers’ star highlighted the important role Maurice Snr played in paving the path to elite footy for young Tiwi players. Maurice Snr dominated at South Fremantle in the WAFL, and then at Richmond in the VFL. It’s often overlooked that the Tiwi legend was best on ground in three consecutive grand finals – 1980 and 1981 in the WAFL, and then in the VFL in 1982.
There are now seven Tiwi players in the AFL, a huge number given the population of the islands is approximately 2,500. Daniel said that’s a testament to how much the islanders love the game.
“Everyone says it’s a religion up there on the Tiwi Islands. I remember myself, as young kid, and with young Maurice Jnr as well, back in the day, if we didn’t have a footy, we’d kick around a coke bottle … there’s no other sport than footy up there. Especially being a Rioli, as well,” Daniel said.
Richmond now has an exciting trio of young Indigenous stars – Sydney Stack (Noongar), Shai Bolton (Wajuk), and Derek Eggmolesse-Smith (Barkindji) – and alongside acting skipper Shane Edwards (Arrernte), Daniel is relishing the opportunity act as a mentor.
“I guess being here for four years now in the system, I can put my hand up and be that leader and just show them the ropes. I guess in the future, when I don’t need to show them the ropes anymore, they can pass it down to other Aboriginal boys coming through.”
“It’s obviously a family club, Richmond … and we’re hoping that little Maurice can squeeze in there, and I can play alongside him. It’s going to be pretty special.”
With McDonald-Tipungwuti a vital part of Essendon’s Dreamtime line-up, Daniel said that the fans can expect to see the Tiwi habit of playing tap-tap footy – where they knock the ball along, end over end, before taking hold of it – on display come Saturday night.
“There are players in the system now that have clean position, and get rid of it straight away,” he said “We want to make it a bit interesting, and tap the footy along, and do all of these tricks with it.
“Playing at a young age on the Tiwi Islands, that’s what we do. I won’t be surprised if you see myself, or Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, doing that on Saturday night.”
Jack Banister wrote about football on the Tiwi Islands in this series.
A version of this story was published via FootyLive by SportsMate.