In the 15th of a special richmondfc.com.au nostalgic series celebrating Richmond’s 50 years at home at the MCG, Tony Greenbergreminisces about Maurice Rioli and his sparkling display in the Tigers’ losing 1982 Grand Final side.
Malcolm Brown’s 14-game league career with Richmond in 1974 was littered with controversy, as was his time back at Tigerland during the 1990s in an administrative capacity.
But the Tigers are forever indebted to ‘big, bad Mal’ for helping them recruit one of the most talented players ever to represent Richmond on the field of battle – Maurice Rioli.
Brown had developed a close relationship with Rioli when he coached him at WAFL club South Fremantle in the late 1970s-early 1980s after the classy centreman had move to Perth from Melville Island.
Rioli’s brilliance was a key factor in South Fremantle in winning the 1980 premiership.
He was awarded the Simpson Medal for being best afield in the ’80 grand final victory over Swan Districts.
At the end of that season, Rioli was red-hot property, with VFL clubs forming a conga line in a mad scramble to secure his services.
It was Brown, however, who stepped in and told Rioli in inimitable style: “Look, you’re going to Richmond – sign this bloody paper!”
And, that’s exactly what Rioli did.
Richmond boasted star players such as Kevin Bartlett, Geoff Raines, Dale Weightman, Bryan Wood, Barry Rowlings, Robert Wiley, Michael Roach, David Cloke and Mark Lee, but Rioli wasn’t the slightest bit fazed about being in such illustrious company.
He proceeded to play superb football right from the outset of his debut season with the Tigers in 1982.
Rioli played a pivotal role in a convincing Richmond win in his first league game, picking up 24 quality disposals against Fitzroy at Waverley Park and thrilling Tiger fans with his vast repertoire of silky skills.
This would prove to be a familiar scene throughout that 1982 season, as Rioli dodged, weaved, tackled and created numerous opportunities for teammates through his deft disposal.
With his abundance of football ‘smarts’, he always seemed one step ahead of his opponents.
Rioli’s finest moment during an excellent debut league season came on the biggest stage of them all – Grand Final day.
Richmond had finished on top of the ladder at the end of the 1982 home-and-away rounds and defeated Carlton in the second semi-final, to go straight through to the Grand Final.
The Blues then booked their Grand Final berth the following week by beating Hawthorn in the preliminary final out at Waverley Park.
So, as had been the case 10 years earlier, Richmond would enter the Grand Final against Carlton as a hit favorite.
Sadly, as in 1972, the result was the same, with the Blues pulling off an upset premiership win.
For Maurice Rioli, however, it was bitter/sweet.
A premiership in his debut season of VFL football eluded him, but he became the first Indigenous player, and the first member of a losing league Grand Final side, to be awarded the prestigious Norm Smith Medal for being best-on-ground.
Rioli showcased all his silky skills on that one day in September, 1982.
When Carlton got the jump on Richmond, kicking the opening three goals of the Grand Final, it was Rioli who dragged the Tigers back into the contest.
He kicked two of his three goals for the premiership-decider in the first term through trademark lightning reflexes, to help Richmond get within four points of the Blues at the first change.
In the second term, Rioli continued to exert a significant influence on the contest, as the Tigers gained the ascendancy.
Richmond’s half-time lead of 11 points was due, in no small way, to Rioli’s capacity to combine sheer class and creativity, along with constant pressure on the opposition through top-shelf tackling.
Much to the chagrin of the Yellow and Black barrackers, Carlton regained the initiative in the third quarter, and took a 17-point lead into the final break.
The Tigers dug deep and managed to cut the deficit to just five points early in the last quarter, before a stalemate ensued, with neither team able to fully capitalise on their forward entries.
Rioli continued to work energetically and intelligently in a bid to propel Richmond to premiership success.
In the end, however, the Blues were a bit steadier, and they emerged victorious by 18 points.
As disappointed as he was, Maurice Rioli could at least console himself with the fact he’d done everything within his considerable powers to try and lift the Tigers over the line.
His match statistics of 18 kicks, one handball and one mark may have seemed fairly moderate by today’s standards, but his equal game-high three goals were worth their weight in gold. And, the overall impact he had could not be measured merely by statistical numbers.
Suffice to say, every time he went near the ball, Tiger players and fans alike sensed something positive was about to happen for the team, while their Carlton counterparts sensed imminent danger.
Despite being on the losing side, Rioli was a most worthy recipient of the 1982 Norm Smith Medal.
His brilliant, inspirational efforts throughout had been a major factor in keeping Richmond’s premiership hopes alive for much of the Grand Final.
Rioli was further rewarded for a fine debut season that year by winning the Tigers’ Best and Fairest, the Jack Dyer Medal.
He made it back-to-back Jack Dyer Medals in 1983, finishing runner-up in the competition’s prestigious Brownlow Medal that year.
1982 Grand Final match details
Richmond 4.3 9.4 9.10 12.13 (85)
Carlton 4.7 6.11 11.15 14.19 (103)
Goals – Richmond: Bartlett 3, Cloke 3, Rioli 3, Jess, Raines, Weightman.
Leading possession-getters – Richmond: Weightman 25, Wiley 24, Raines 21, Rioli 19.
Goals – Carlton: Ashman 2, Fitzpatrick 2, Johnston 2, McConville 2, Bosustow, Harmes, Hunter, Maclure, Marcou, Maylin.
Leading possession-getters – Carlton: Ashman 23, Johnston 23, Marcou 22, Fitzpatrick 20, Sheldon 20.