• Rioli's announcement is still sending shockwaves through the AFL community. (AAP)Source: AAP
Teammates, rivals and fans have shown their respect after the star player's shock exit.
Rangi Hirini

4 Jul 2018 - 6:00 PM  UPDATED 4 Jul 2018 - 6:12 PM

The AFL world has been shocked after Hawthorn premiership player Cyril Rioli announced his immediate retirement.

The 28-year-old had been on compassionate leave since early June, travelling to hometown Darwin to attend family matters.

He flew back to Melbourne last week and told his teammates of his decision to walk away from the game this morning.

“I’ve decided to officially hang up the boots from AFL football,” Rioli said in a video.

“I’ve loved playing in front of each and every support, so thank you to everyone out there.”


'It's time to return home'

The small forward who took on the league's best contested ball players from the age of 19 grew up in the Northern Territory's Tiwi Islands.

He later played for the Northern Territory Football League club St Mary’s in Darwin, like many AFL stars before him.

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Rioli played 189 games with the Hawks, including the 2008, 2013, 2014 and 2015 grand final wins.

He won the Norm Smith Medal for his performance in the 2015 premiership win over West Coast and was named an All-Australian on three occasions.

"It was a pretty difficult but in a way,  an easy decision [to retire] but in the past sort of 12 months, it has really affected me in many ways and i think it was just the right, in terms of going home," Rioli said. 

"I've been pretty proud of what I've been able to achieve, and I've felt like I've had a really happy and good career. But I think it's time for myself and my wife to return home and be amongst friends and family again, I've been away for so long now and I'm looking forward to the next journey of my life."

He said he first wants to have a 'really good break' and he hopes to be a part of the club's Indigenous program in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory. 

'He’s been through a lot of tough times'

Xavier Clarke, who played in the AFL for St Kilda and Brisbane, grew up playing football with Rioli in Darwin.

He was surprised by his childhood friend's announcement but understood his motivation.

"I think it’s a pretty brave decision for Cyril," Clarke old NITV News.

"He’s certainly had some injury concerns over the past year or so, and the illness of his father, he’s been through a lot of tough times over the past 12 months.”  

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He said Rioli had been an inspiration on the field for many up-and-coming Indigenous players.

“I think what he’s done for Hawthorn football club has been absolutely amazing, the club has built a great culture around him,” Clarke said.

“He’s provided a lot of highlights, that’s for sure.”

Clarke also said Rioli had also "set an example" with his decision to retire. 

“I think a lot of our young Indigenous men, in particular, tend to shy away or hide away from difficult times and I think he’s on the front foot and he’s missing home and he wants to go home and spend time with his family."

'One of our biggest stars'

Ronnie Burns, who played in the AFL for Geelong and Adelaide, said Rioli was a “lovely young man” who loves his family and Indigenous culture. 

“He’s done well for himself in the football arena,” he told NITV News.

“He’s one of our biggest stars in AFL, not just an Aboriginal player but overall he’s the star of the game. 

"Cyril Rioli's contribution to football has been enormous. People go and watch him, and he puts bums in seats."

After playing more than 150 AFL games himself, Burns said he could understand Rioli's decision to end his playing career.

“This kid has done it all, he’s done a lot with football and obviously with the name Rioli and his mum, a lot has been put on his shoulders and he’s done well I think he’s done terrific” Burns said. 

“You go though a phase where you get burnt out ... I went through that phase as well."

“Personally, I think he finds he’s got as much as he can out of football and wants to get onto another phase with his life.” 

'Tiwi magic out on the MCG'

Rioli's retirement was a trending topic on Twitter and thousands fans showed their support on social media.

Fremantle midfielder Bradley Hill, who played alongside Rioli at Hawthorn for five years, paid his respects.

“You went from being my favourite player to becoming my best mate/big brother,” Hill wrote.

"Going to miss watching that Tiwi magic out on the MCG.”

Rioli was also thanked for his mentorship by West Coast forward Willie Rioli.

You have paved the way for not only me but for a lot other kids who move away for boarding school to chase their dreams,” he wrote.