His AFL career is just six games old but rising Richmond star Maurice Rioli Jr is already drawing comparisons to his famous father, club legend Maurice Rioli.
But the son of the one of the first Indigenous players to really make their mark on the VFL/AFL is also determined to forge his own legacy as he prepares to play in front of 70,000-plus fans in the return of the Dreamtime at the ‘G event on Saturday.
Rioli Jr will line up against the Bombers with his nephew Daniel – who is six years older than him – by his side. It will be a huge occasion, one that brings back a flood of memories for Rioli Jr, who lost his famous dad when he was just eight years old.
Maurice Rioli Jr visits the grave of his superstar father who tragically died when he was just eight years old. Rioli Jr will now play his first Dreamtime at the ‘G match alongside his nephew
‘I wish I had my dad when I was growing up,’ Maurice Jr told the Herald Sun.
‘And to have him teaching me a lot more about footy and hunting.
‘I’m lucky enough to have families and people that are friends who became close to me … luckily I had people around me who supported me through it all, especially my mum.
‘I wish he had taught me a bit more about footy growing up.’
Maurice Rioli played 168 games for South Fremantle and 118 games for Richmond in a decorated career
The rise of Rioli Jr has been stunning to see, with the unconventional forward already rolling out a host of party tricks in the AFL.
It comes from growing up in Darwin, where Rioli Jr and his relatives would craft a ball from socks or a Coke bottle and play in the streets.
‘We never used to have an oval under lights back home,’ he said.
‘We always used to wait until it was really dark and then the street lights would turn on along the road. We’d play football outside near the lights, and that was pretty cool back then.
‘We always think about how lucky we got. When you’re kicking a Coke bottle around, that’s where you started from and now kicking an actual footy out on the MCG, is pretty remarkable.’
Maurice Rioli and Daniel Rioli of Richmond run out during the AFL Round 7 match between the West Coast Eagles and the Richmond Tigers
Daniel said watching Maurice establish himself in the team was a pleasure and he was looking forward to sharing the Dreamtime at the ‘G experience with his relative on AFL.com.au.
‘It is special. I spoke to him [this week] about it and he is pretty keen,’ he said.
‘When I first got drafted I always wanted to be a part of those games, for me to be a part of the game itself is pretty special but now, to have Maurice there with me, it is going to be even better.
‘We played against [West Coast Eagle and relative] Willie [Rioli] a few weeks ago now and that was pretty awesome in itself, but Dreamtime at the ‘G with my relative is pretty special and I can’t wait to celebrate that occasion with him.’
Maurice Rioli, Daniel Rioli of the Tigers and Willie Rioli of the Eagles pose for a photo during the 2022 AFL Round 07 match between the West Coast Eagles and the Richmond Tigers
Daniel Rioli has shown his versatility this season with a shift into the defensive line – and jokes about how his uncle took his spot.
‘He kicked me out of the forward line now,’ he laughed.
‘So I have shifted down back, but nah, he is going really, really well.
‘Everyone is going to compare him to his dad, like a midfielder, but he is a completely different player to his dad.
‘He is a forward, pressure sort of player and he has really shown that in the games he has played.
‘I think the more games he plays, he is going to be better for it and he is already shining.
‘I think the Dreamtime game will suit him because he is very excited and I think he will bring out some tricks for that game.’
Daniel is off contract at the end of 2022, but said it would be pretty hard to leave the club – especially with Maurice coming through the ranks.
‘Obviously my grandfather played here and now I’ve got my little uncle here so it would make life pretty hard if I did leave,’ he said.
‘I think it’s an amazing club here. I’ve got to keep playing good footy and see where we take it from here.’
Daniel Rioli and Shai Bolton of the Tigers warm up prior to the round 14 AFL match between the Richmond Tigers and the West Coast Eagles
The Riolis form a group of eight Indigenous players at the Tigers including Shai Bolton, Shane Edwards, Matthew Parker, Marlion Pickett, Sydney Stack and Rhyan Mansell. Bolton said the group had formed an extremely tight bond.
‘We’re always together no matter what,’ he told the Herald Sun.
‘Sometimes we have a barbecue together and just bring our partners and all our families together and just spend a bit of time with each other. On our day off we might go play basketball together.
‘It doesn’t matter what tribe we are from, we are always connected and we always relate somehow.’
Pickett designed the Tigers’ Indigenous Round jersey but was unfortunately suspended for the match against Essendon for an off-the-ball bump on Hawk Dylan Moore. He has been granted a special exemption to take part in the pre-game Dreamtime at the ‘G ceremony, however.
Bomber Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti designed their strip for the clash, but announced his retirement from the AFL on Friday.