No retirement thoughts for Riewoldt – By Peter Blucher
Nick Riewoldt has delivered an unequivocal argument as to why retirement should not possibly be in his thinking. Not even in the very back of his mind.
Playing his 304th AFL game on Saturday at 33, and in his 16th season in the AFL, Riewoldt looked every bit a player 10 years and 200 games his junior as he led St.Kilda to a 39-point win over Melbourne at Etihad Stadium.
He had 24 possessions and 14 marks – 50% up on his career average of 16.5 possessions and 8.8 marks – and kicked three goals to be an overwhelming choice as best afield among the media commentators.
He also earned the maximum 10 votes in the Coach’s Association Player of the Year Award from Saints coach Alan Richardson and Melbourne counterpart Paul Roos.
And it was no one-off occasion. In six games this year Riewoldt has averaged 19.3 possessions, with four games of 20 possessions or more, and 10.5 marks, with four games in double-figures.
He leads the competition in marks from GWS’s Heath Shaw (56), West Coast’s Josh Kennedy (52), Fremantle’s Lee Spurr (48), Wester Bulldogs Matthew Boyd (48) and Carlton’s Kade Simpson (47).
And despite spending a significant portion of his playing time up the field this season, he still ranks 18th in the League for contested marks and 8th for marks inside 50.
Even his 15 goals, made up of a very consistent 2-2-2-2-4-3 on a weekly basis, ranks equal 9th on the competition.
Along the way on Saturday the former Gold Coaster became the 4th Queenslander in AFL history to reach 5000 career possessions, behind Michael Voss (6143), Jason Akermanis (5868) and Marcus Ashcroft (5848).
Riewoldt was the standout Queensland performer in a Round 6 of the Toyota AFL Premiership filled with a string of quality performances.
At the Gabba, the Sydney Swans’ Kurt Tippett re-opened some old wounds when he posted a career-best 25 possessions and a career-best 36 hit-outs against in their hard-fought three-point win over the Brisbane Lions. Like Riewoldt, he was among the coach’s votes.
How the Lions would have loved to snare the big Gold Coaster when he was on the market a few years ago.
Aliir Aliir, on debut for the Swans, only had six possessions but didn’t look out of place in what coach John Longmire described as the perfect stress test.
“It was a baptism of fire with such a close game,” Longmire said. “He (Aliir) did some good things. At one stage we had Zak Jones, Callum Mills and Aliir in the backline together. They are all pretty young and it was a great experience for those boys to be able to hang on and find a way to win.”
The slippery Gabba conditions on Sunday didn’t suit tall players like Aliir, who was given more than 50 tickets for friends and family for his debut, but when he was called on the 193cm defender showed a cool head under pressure.
“He competes very well and is composed with the ball when he gets it, that’s his strength,” said Longmire, whose only advice to the Africa refugee was a simply “play to your strengths”.
Said Aliir: “He (Longmire) said to me “we picked you because you have been playing consistently, going for marks and spoiling” . He said footy is a one-on- one game, so win your contests, and that’s what I tried to do.”
In the Lions camp, Dayne Zorko had 33 possessions, seven tackles, a career-best 14 inside 50s and a goal to rank second behind Sydney’s Buddy Franklin in the coach’s voting.
Zorko received eight votes – four from coaches Justin Leppitsch and Longmire– as he became the sixth Queenslander to have 10 30-possession games. Only Dayne Beams (42), Voss (24), Ashcroft (17), Scott McIvor (14) and David Armitage (12) have had more.
Ben Keays, sharing his debut with Aliir, had 11 possessions, eight tackles and a goal.
In other Round 6 Queensland highlights:
- Collingwood’s Josh Smith, playing his second game against West Coast in Perth, followed his debut haul of 23 possessions with 29. Only teammate Adam Treloar had more in the Eagles’ 62-point win. Smith also had a team-high 12 contested possessions.
- Kilda ruckman Tom Hickey had 36 hit-outs to go with 13 possessions as he got the better of in-form Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn and help set up the Saints win. He also earned two votes in the AFLCA Player of the Year Award.
- Essendon’s Courtenay Dempsey also earned two Coach’s Association votes for his 25 possessions in a loss to Carlton. It was Dempsey’s biggest possession haul since Round 8 2014.
- Geelong ruckman Zac Smith had 15 possessions, 12 hit-outs, a nice left-foot snapped goal and a thumping 120-point win in his first game against former club Gold Coast in Geelong.
In the VFL, Melbourne ruckman Jake Spencer, making his long-awaited VFL return from injury with Casey, was ranked his team’s fifth best player, and Collingwood’s Jesse White pushed for a senior recall when his side’s best.
In the SANFL, Adelaide rookie ruckman Paul Hunter followed his two-goal debut with another two goals. And in the WAFL, Fremantle rookie Matt Uebergang kicked three goals for Peel Thunder.