Rioli Set to Make Dramatic Grand Final Return
September 25, 2014
If Cyril Rioli’s fight to be fit for Saturday’s AFL grand final was a horse race then the favourite has just come into picture at the start of the final straight. He’s known where the post is but has been lurking in the background just hoping to be there at the finish. While Hawthorn fans and footy experts alike hope and pray Rioli will be present for the decider, the class runner may have too much to do with too little time to do it in.
Cyril Rioli is a superstar of the game and at his best can transform the momentum of a match. But the small forward is racing to be fit for Saturday’s decider against Sydney having not played for Hawthorn since tearing a hamstring in round 15. Riloi has declared himself right for the big stage after having his first hit out for nearly 3 months in the VFL grand final at the weekend, but ultimately the final call will come down to coach Alastair Clarkson and his staff.
Rioli’s injury occurred in the final quarter of Hawthorn’s win over the Suns in round 15 in June. The forward was sprinting for a ball before he pulled up lame after feeling a twinge in his left hamstring. Initial assessments led the club to believe he’d only miss a month of football but it was later to be confirmed the injury was much worse than first thought, with scans revealing a serious tear in a tendon. He was expected to spend roughly 8 to 10 weeks out of the game, much longer than his first stint on the sideline in 2014, when he missed 3 matches after injuring the same hamstring against the Swans in round 8. His regular season was over but hope remained he’d return at some stage in the finals series.
Confidence grew Rioli would play again this season, with the Hawks reporting he was recovering better than expected from the injury and had begun rehab in mid-July.
The 25 year old was running and training on the same ground as his team mates in early August but had not yet taken part in ball sessions with the side. But by the end of August Coach Alastair Clarkson conceded while Rioli was improving, he hadn’t recovered to the level the club had hoped for and was was unlikely to partake in any finals action. It was the news most Hawthorn fans had dreaded and when Rioli was ruled out of the weekend’s preliminary final against Port Adelaide it appeared his fate was sealed.
While Rioli wasn’t ready for an AFL preliminary final, he did play in the VFL decider on Sunday to put himself into contention for a remarkable grand final appearance. The 2007 Hawthorn draftee slowly injected himself into the game for his Box Hill Hawks playing the first 3 quarters before sitting out the fourth term. He finished with 10 disposals, three marks, three tackles, three clearances and one behind, as Footscray overran his team. Hoping to be a part of a winning grand final side this weekend, Rioli ruled himself fit to take on Sydney.
“I’d say I’m ready. I eased into it and out on the ground I hit some speed, which I was very happy with. I’m glad it held up and hopefully I’m playing next week,” he said after the game. He added
“I was hoping to play 60 to 70 per cent of game time and I think we did that.”
But Rioli, renowned for his speed and dynamic running, was lacking in his performance. He also appeared unwilling to kick for goal, more often than not looking for teammates, while his usual impeccable timing was also absent. The biggest indication will be how he pulls up over the week and what he can contribute to training in the build up to the most important game of the year. If Rioli can prove he’s anywhere near 100% the coach will have to consider the star.
While most other players in his situation wouldn’t get a look in, Rioli’s credentials mean’s he’ll be given every chance to feature in another grand final. The 2012 All Australian will be hoping to add to his 2008 and 2013 Premiership medals while he’d love to be a part of a Hawks side hunting revenge after losing to the Swans in the decider 2 years ago. In his injury ravaged season Rioli’s managed 20 majors and that number could rise if he suits up on Saturday. The man Bruce McAvaney dubbed delicious all those years ago would be a tasty addition to a mouth-watering match on Saturday afternoon, but if Rioli makes it on the plate undercooked he could be chewed up and spat out by the Swans.