• Richmond forward Daniel Rioli is poised for a breakout AFL premiership campaign. (AAP)Source: AAP
After some initial doubts about whether he belonged at AFL level, Tiwi Islander and Richmond forward Daniel Rioli says he is starting to find his feet on the game’s big stage.
By
Will Davies

Source:
The Marngrook Footy Show
19 May 2017 - 9:44 AM  UPDATED 19 May 2017 - 9:44 AM

Few people who watched Daniel Rioli play for Richmond in his debut season would have had any doubts he belongs on the AFL stage.

But the affable 20-year-old questioned it himself, telling NITV he is feeling much more settled after his maiden year on the Tigers’ list.

“I feel like I belong at the level,” Rioli said.

“Especially playing your first year, you kind of get nervous and what not. But playing about 18 games last year helped me a lot for my second year, so I can come in this year knowing what to expect.”

Having doubts about his environment is a familiar challenge for Rioli, who like many Aboriginal footballers, left his community at a young age to chase his dream.

“I remember ringing mum up the next day, I wanted to go home. Mum said to me ‘Stick it out and we’ll see what goes on’.

“I moved away at about 14 years old - moved away from the Islands to attend boarding school in Ballarat (at St Patrick’s College),” the Tiwi Islander said.

“It was a big change and (I was) very scared at a young age; didn’t know what to expect.

“Coming from a small community, you do get scared, but I guess having that first year over and done with schooling and your second year you’re always looking forward to when you know the system very well.

“It was tough at the start but I’ve handled it really well. With mum and dad, they stuck by my side through thick and thin at that time, everything all panned out really well.”

It’s a story Rioli hopes other young Indigenous Australians can take inspiration from, as they chase their dreams in whatever field it might be.

Leadership is a quality the impressive Rioli seems to have in spades and it’s something he’s keen to build on at Richmond.

“Me coming from a small community and like any other Indigenous kid wanting to attend school or getting moved away from home to attend boarding school or whatever it is, home’s always going to be home, it’s not going to move,” Rioli told NITV.

“I thought my first week at school, moving away from home (I was) really scared and didn’t really know anyone.

“I remember ringing mum up the next day, I wanted to go home. Mum said to me ‘Stick it out and we’ll see what goes on’.

“And I stuck it out for about the next four or five days and slowly made that friendship with other kids from classes and footy and I thought, you know, I belong to where I was at school.

“So I reckon just give it time. You always want to go home your first year, you’re like ‘Oh, I want to go home, it’s too much for me’. But I guess when you stick it out, getting to know everyone and getting to know the system very well, everything will be pretty much free-flowing from there.”

Leadership is a quality the impressive Rioli seems to have in spades and it’s something he’s keen to build on at Richmond.

Among other roles, Rioli has been acting as a mentor for first-year players Shai Bolton, who will make his AFL debut against GWS on Saturday, and Tyson Stengle.

Having strong role models in his family and community is something Rioli is thankful for, including relatives Maurice and Cyril Rioli – both greats of the AFL.

“My family, they’ve done so much with me as a kid. They’ve done everything for me and I try and give back to them and make them proud by trying to play at an elite level, which I am, and making the most of every game I play,” he said.

“Being a small Indigenous kid growing up, I always wanted to play footy and that’s always been on my mind when I was growing up.

“I had my grandfather, my uncle’s played at the highest level and I’ve always wanted to be there and to actually be playing on the big stage in front of 80,000 people and being on TV - it’s an unreal feeling.

“It’s good to represent your culture and where you’re from. Myself being from the Tiwi Islands, I’m sure everyone on the Tiwi Islands would be proud that I’m playing at the highest level.

“I’m sure I’m making Aboriginal people around Australia very proud as well.”

For more AFL news, tune into The Marngrook Footy Show, live on NITV on Thursday nights @ 7:30pm, or via the On-Demand service.