Some of the most memorable performances every AFL season come from skilled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
In this weekend’s preliminary finals, Richmond hosts Collingwood and West Coast hosts Melbourne with a number of Indigenous players doing everything they can to help drive their side into a sought-after grand final appearance.
Here’s a look at some of those stars and how they’ve performed this AFL season.
Daniel Rioli, Richmond
Continuing the legacy of the famous Rioli name, both on and off the field, Daniel Rioli has become one of the premier forwards of the AFL.
After breaking his foot in Richmond’s 2017 premiership win, Rioli had a delayed start to the 2018 season, but since returning against Geelong in Round 13, the Tiwi Island's product has been in superb form, including kicking three goals in Richmond’s win over Hawthorn in their qualifying final.
Neville Jetta, Melbourne
One of Melbourne’s most important players, Neville Jetta has been at the heart of the Demons’ defence for a number of years.
The 29-year-old helped the club reach its first preliminary final in 18 years with 17 disposals in their 33-point win over Hawthorn last Friday, and looms as crucial yet again when they travel to Jetta’s home state of Western Australia to take on the Eagles this weekend. A proud Noongar man, Jetta is nominated to the AFL’s 2018 Jim Stynes Community Leadership Award.
Shane Edwards, Richmond
Shane Edwards has had a career-best season and playing every game in 2018. He’s averaged nearly 20 disposals and kicked 13 goals.
The 29-year-old capped of his brilliant regular season by being picked in the All Australian team for the first time, having also ranked second in the competition for goal assists. A real leader within the Richmond club and a premiership player in 2017, Edwards hails from South Australia and has strong links to his Arrernte roots in central Australia.
Lewis Jetta, West Coast
A consistent performer for West Coast this season, Lewis Jetta has provided great run and carry for the Eagles out of defence and through the midfield.
A premiership winner with the Sydney Swans in 2012, when he was also the club’s leading goal-kicker. However, Jetta has played 18 games for West Coast this season and only kicked one goal— But what a goal to kick, with his effort putting the Eagles in front of Collingwood in their qualifying final win, and his celebration matching the excitement of the occasion. Lewis play against cousin Neville Jetta at Optus Stadium on Saturday.
Travis Varcoe, Collingwood
A two-time premiership winner with Geelong, 30-year-old Varcoe moved to Collingwood ahead of the 2015 season.
The Narangga man notched up his 200th AFL game late this season and has played 18 games this campaign. After laying six tackles against West Coast in week one of the finals, Varcoe’s big-game experience could be key for the Pies this weekend.
Varcoe has said he wants to play in the qualifying final against West Coast this Saturday despite grieving for his younger sister. The 27-year-old woman died tragically in late August after an on-field collision while playing in the Adelaide Football League women's grand final.
Willie Rioli, West Coast
Making his AFL debut in Round Two this year, Willie Rioli has been one of the stars of the Eagles’ season, playing every game since.
The 23-year-old has averaged 11 disposals and more than a goal a game, and kicked a season-high three majors in West Coast’s most recent meeting with Melbourne, in round 22. Willie’s cousins Daniel and Cyril Rioli were among the 20-strong family contingent who helped Willie celebrate his AFL debut at Etihad Stadium.
Liam Ryan, West Coast
After forcing AFL clubs to notice his WAFL form with the Subiaco Lions, Ryan was drafted with pick 26 in last year’s draft by West Coast.
The 21-year-old has played 11 games for the Eagles in his debut season and has kicked 19 goals. The Wajarri man bagged two goals in West Coast’s win over Collingwood in week one of the finals, and had 15 disposals.
Richmond will host Collingwood at the MCG tonight 21 September, 7.25pm.
West Coast will host Melbourne FC at the Optus Stadium tomorrow, 22 September, 3.20pm EST.