‘Ready to go’: Willie Rioli set to return after a two-year ban
Fallen West Coast Eagle Willie Rioli will make his return to football this weekend and could even earn immediate AFL selection, having completed his two-year ban.
Rioli, 26, declared in a video released by the Eagles on Tuesday that he was “ready to go”, having worked diligently on his fitness since he was welcomed back into the Eagles’ fold with “mixed emotions” two months ago.
Willie Rioli is on the verge of his footy return.Credit:Getty Images
His two-year suspension for twice substituting urine in doping tests will end at midnight on Friday, and the Eagles are seriously debating whether the creative forward should line up against the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba.
The slumping Eagles, fighting for a finals berth, also have the option of having Rioli return via the WAFL against Peel Thunder on Saturday.
“I feel like my body is ready to go. I get nervous every game but this will be more of a relief for me,” Rioli said.
“It will probably be surreal to me. It will mean a lot, not only to me, but to my family who have been through this hard time. It will mean the world.”
He said his time away had been “mentally challenging” but that had eased since returning to the Eagles’ “sanctuary”.
“Waiting for the outcome was the hardest part (and) not knowing what my future was looking like,” he said.
“I had mixed emotions about it. I’ve learned to take things as they come, so I’m just excited about the next chapter of my journey. It was good to come back and do what I love doing, and that’s playing footy.
“It’s good to be back in the club environment. There’s a few of the boys who I have become really close to and are like family to me now. The club is like a sanctuary and safe place for me.”
Rioli thanked Jamie Bennell, the AFL Players Association’s Indigenous relationships manager, the Eagles’ integrity services manager Peter Staples, and former club Indigenous players services manager Chance Bateman for keeping him motivated. He also paid tribute to family and friends.
“Lucky enough I had great family support back home (in the Northern Territory) that helped pass the time,” Rioli said, adding he had also kept fit through fishing, hunting and running programs.
“I was lucky enough to have Peter Staples and Chance Bateman – who was at the club at the time – and Jamie Bennell, who came up to Darwin to visit me. They kind of kept my dream alive of playing AFL football again. Also everyone around the club who stuck by me and believed in me.”
If Rioli is given a senior call-up, it will be his first AFL game since an elimination final win over Essendon on September 5, 2019 — 717 days ago.
Eagles coach Adam Simpson refused to rule out an immediate AFL call up when asked about Rioli on Sunday.
“He’s done nothing but impress us and the players about how he’s gone about it,” he said.
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