The vast majority of Richmond supporters would have been well aware of one of the two former Tiger players involved in the guernsey presentations to young debutants Rhyan Mansell and Will Martyn just before last Friday night’s clash with Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval.
Duncan Kellaway, who handed Martyn the No. 36 guernsey, is revered at Richmond for the immense courage, toughness, dedication and discipline he displayed as a defender throughout an illustrious 180-game career in the Yellow and Black.
But for many Tiger fans, the other guernsey presenter last Friday night is not nearly as familiar.
Well, allow me to enlighten you on Neville Roberts’ time at Tigerland.
Roberts, who presented Mansell with the No. 31 guernsey, was recruited by Richmond from SANFL club West Torrens.
The Tigers had been closely following Roberts’ progress in SA since he was 15, eventually signed him on a Form Four agreement (the method through which VFL clubs recruited interstate players in those days), and then secured his release from West Torrens via a reported $40,000 transfer fee a few weeks before the start of the 1975 season.
The then 20-year-old, 180cm, 79 kg forward made his VFL debut with Richmond in the opening round of the ’75 season against Fitzroy at the Junction Oval.
It was no mean feat for Roberts to immediately force his way into the senior side, given the fact the powerful Tigers were coming off back-to-back premierships in 1973-74.
Roberts had 12 disposals and kicked two goals in an eye-catching debut, and he went on to establish himself as a permanent, valuable member of Richmond’s line-up.
During his first season of VFL football, Roberts continued to live in Adelaide. He would fly into Melbourne each Thursday afternoon, train with the Tigers, play on Saturday, train Sunday, and then return to Adelaide that night.
As difficult as that must have been, it certainly didn’t adversely affect Roberts’ form on-field.
He finished with a highly-respectable 30 goals in his ’75 debut VFL season, as Richmond just fell short of a fourth consecutive Grand Final appearance, beaten by North Melbourne in the preliminary final.
The following year, Roberts encountered a few injury problems, but he still managed to impress with 20 goals in 13 games for the Tigers, as well as another six majors while representing Victoria in a State football match against Western Australia at Subiaco.
Roberts’ final season with Richmond was in 1977. He played 18 games, kicked 31 goals, and again provided the Tigers with plenty of drive in his forward role.
At the end of that year, Roberts was lured back to Adelaide by West Torrens. He later moved to Norwood, kicking a club record 111 goals there in 1983, playing in two premierships with the Redlegs, captaining them from 1985-86, and subsequently coaching them from 2000-01.
Roberts was named forward pocket in Norwood’s Team of the Century and was inducted into the SA Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
As influential and successful as Roberts was in the SANFL, he regrets that he didn’t stay longer at Richmond.
Had he stuck with the Tigers, he would most likely have been a key member of the Club’s 1980 premiership side.
Regardless, Roberts packed plenty into his three seasons for Richmond.
He booted 81 goals in 48 games, with a best match return of six against South Melbourne at the Lake Oval in Round 16, 1975. In 25 of his 48 games, he scored multiple goals.
Roberts averaged 16.5 disposals, 3.8 marks and 1.7 goals per match, underlining the impact he had in his time with the Tigers.