Maurice Rioli

Last updated

Maurice Rioli
Maurice Rioli 1982.jpg
Rioli in 1982
Personal information
Full name Maurice Joseph Rioli Tipakalippa
Date of birth(1957-09-01)1 September 1957
Place of birth Melville Island, Northern Territory
Date of death 25 December 2010(2010-12-25) (aged 53)
Place of death Darwin, Northern Territory
Original team(s) St Mary's (NTFL)
Height 176 cm (5 ft 9 in)
Weight 85 kg (13 st 5 lb; 187 lb)
Playing career1
YearsClubGames (Goals)
1975–81, 1988–90 South Fremantle 163 (129) [1] [2]
1982–87 Richmond 118 0 (80)
Total281 (209)
Representative team honours
YearsTeamGames (Goals)
1978–88 Western Australia 14 (8)
1988 Northern Territory 3 (?)
Coaching career3
YearsClubGames (W–L–D)
1994 Indigenous All-Stars (1–0–0)
1 Playing statistics correct to the end of 1990.
3 Coaching statistics correct as of 1994.
Career highlights



Sources: AFL Tables,

Maurice Joseph Rioli Sr. (1 September 1957 25 December 2010) [3] was an Australian rules footballer who represented St Mary's Football Club in the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL), South Fremantle in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) and Richmond in the Victorian Football League.


Acknowledged as one of the greatest players of his era, Rioli was one of the first Indigenous Australian footballers to have a significant impact on Victorian football, and was named in the centre for the Indigenous Team of the Century. A highly skilled and solidly built centreman with exquisite ball-handling skills and lightning reflexes, Rioli was a renowned performer on the big stage. [4]

After retiring from football, Rioli became a politician in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, and then worked in community services on the Tiwi Islands.

Early days

Northern Territory

Born into the to-become famous Rioli footballing family on Melville Island off the coast of the Northern Territory, the young Rioli learnt the game at the Garden Point Orphanage on the island. He was educated at St John's College, Darwin. [5] He joined St Mary's in the Darwin competition for the 1974–75 season; football in the top end is played during the summer months, or 'wet season'. Richard Woodgate a scout from the South Fremantle club in Perth spotted the sixteen-year-old and lured him to Western Australia to join his brother for the coming season. At this stage in his sporting life, Rioli was also an excellent amateur boxer, who some thought good enough to go to represent Australia at the Olympics. He later won state amateur titles at light middleweight and welterweight. [6]

Western Australia

Rioli chose to sign on with South Fremantle as a professional footballer and quickly won a reputation as a brilliant, elusive centreman. During this era, Rioli was one of a number of brilliant Aboriginal players in the WAFL who caught the eyes of recruiting scouts from the VFL clubs in Victoria. South Fremantle, under ex-Richmond player Mal Brown, were a form team of the competition, playing in three consecutive WAFL grand finals between 1979 and 1981, including winning a premiership in 1980. Rioli won the Simpson Medal as best player afield in the 1980 and 1981 Grand Finals. Rioli was recruited by Richmond for the 1982 VFL season, after playing 116 premiership games and five pre-season/night series games for South Fremantle between 1975 and 1981. [7]

Impact in Victoria

To this point, few Aboriginal players had extended careers in the VFL. On his arrival in 1982, which coincided with the transfer of the Krakouer brothers to North Melbourne, Rioli spoke about the racial taunts and obstacles faced by Indigenous players in the game. Rioli chose to shrug much of the racism off, and he was certainly possessed with an intense concentration on the field. His reputation as a boxer probably helped to avoid confrontation during a game – Rioli was a scrupulously fair competitor who found no trouble with the umpires.[ citation needed ]


Richmond awarded Rioli the number 17 made famous by Jack Dyer. [8] Richmond supporters quickly warmed to their much-heralded recruit, who specialised in the audacious baulk, the pinpoint foot pass and the lightning-fast handball. His ability to work the ball out of packs and congestion was uncanny. Although his leg speed wasn't very fast, his quick mind appeared several steps ahead of the play and he had no problem adjusting to the faster tempo of Victorian football. It was just as well, because the Tigers opted to play him in his favoured centre position where Geoff Raines had dominated. For the previous five years, Raines had been the best player in the team (winning three best and fairest awards) and acknowledged as the best centreman in the competition, but he was moved to accommodate Rioli. [9] The change worked well, and Richmond finished the season on top of the ladder for the first time since 1974. The Tigers booked a berth in the Grand Final with a comfortable win in the semi-final against arch-rivals Carlton.

Pitted once more against Carlton, Richmond went into the match as slight favourites. However, despite leading at half-time, the Tigers lost the match. Rioli created history by winning the Norm Smith Medal as best afield, the first Indigenous player and the first player from a losing team to do so; [9] when combined with his consecutive Simpson Medals from the 1980 and 1981 WAFL Grand Finals, Rioli had been best on ground in three consecutive Grand Finals. Shortly after, Rioli won the Jack Dyer Medal as the club's best and fairest to cap off an impressive first season. But problems lay immediately ahead. Raines approached the club and requested a contract commensurate with Rioli's earnings. When refused, Raines walked out and asked for a clearance to Collingwood. Other prominent players fell into a financial dispute with the club and left.

Rapidly falling from the success of 1982, the decimated team struggled and finished third-last in 1983. Rioli, however, had another stellar season, again winning the best and fairest, finishing runner-up in the Brownlow medal, gaining Western Australian and All-Australian selection, and winning the Simpson Medal for his state of origin performance. [8] An acknowledged star of the game and arguably the best player at the club, Rioli continued to stand out in a mediocre team. He represented Australia in Gaelic football against Ireland, and was an immediate choice for Western Australia in state of origin matches. However, after finishing second in the Richmond best and fairest in 1985, his days there soon looked set to end.

In the summer of 1985–86, the new private owner of the Sydney Swans, flamboyant and controversial doctor Geoff Edelsten, had been frantically signing talent on massive contracts to play for his team. Rioli was announced as one of his many signings. It was the salary cap that saved Rioli from leaving for Sydney. After rumours that he would either join Essendon or return to South Fremantle, he eventually returned to the Tigers midway through the 1986 season. [8] [10] Rioli performed patchily through the season and the next, when Richmond finished last for only the third time in its history. Rioli captained Western Australia in the state game that year against his teammate Dale Weightman, who led Victoria.


Played in that season's 
premiership team
SeasonTeamNo.GamesTotalsAverages (per game) Votes
1982 Richmond 1721189288162450480.90.413.77.721.42.37
1983 Richmond 17222113357175532461.00.616.
1984 Richmond 17201511271145416420.80.613.67.320.82.112
1985 Richmond 172298320170490340.40.414.57.722.31.514
1986 Richmond 27125513257189320.40.411.04.815.82.70
1987 Richmond 2721121127714342041550.60.513.26.820.02.02.64

Honours and achievements

Playing honours



Coaching honours


Return to South Fremantle and later career

Following the 1987 season, at 30 years of age and after 118 games with the Tigers, [8] Rioli decided that his time in Melbourne was up and headed back to South Fremantle to be appointed as captain for the 1988 and 1989 seasons. In his absence, the football landscape in the west had altered dramatically with the formation of the West Coast Eagles. Rioli opted to play at the lower level, and the scheduling of seasons allowed him to captain-coach the Waratahs club in Darwin during the summer. He was still good enough to win All-Australian honours for a third time after the 1988 Bicentennial Carnival. Rioli played in the 1989 WAFL Grand Final, but South Fremantle went down to Claremont. In 1990, he finished as a player in Perth after 166 games for South Fremantle, but he continued as a player in Darwin until 1991. He followed that with a two-year stint as non-playing coach of the Waratahs. In 1993, he was invited by the AFL to present the Norm Smith medal at the Grand Final. Fittingly, it was won by another Territorian Aboriginal player, Michael Long (Essendon), who had played at St Mary's in Darwin, where Rioli had started his senior football a generation before.

Post-career accolades

In 2004, Rioli was inducted into the WA Football Hall of Fame. [12] In 2016, he was posthumously inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame. [13] The grandstand of the Marrara Oval in Darwin has been named in his honour. [14] In 2018, he was posthumously honoured with a Richmond life membership. [15]

Politics and community work

Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
YearsTermElectoral divisionParty
1992 1994 6th Arafura Labor
1994 1997 7th Arafura Labor
1997 2001 8th Arafura Labor

After permanently relocating with his family to Darwin, Rioli was elected as the member for Arafura in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly for the Labor Party in 1992. He held this position until 2001 when he retired from parliament.

Although he played football for almost a decade in Perth and only six years in Melbourne, Rioli is still recognised as one of the best-known Northern Territorians. He was a trailblazer for indigenous Australian football players at the elite level of the game and was an acknowledged elder statesman among Aboriginal players.

After leaving politics, Rioli worked as a Community Services manager for the Tiwi Islands Council until his death, [16] as well as spending his personal time mentoring young footballers. [17]


The Rioli family is one of the most notable families in the history of Australian rules football. In 1972, Maurice's older brother Sebastian Rioli, became one of the first Aboriginal footballers from the Northern Territory to move to Western Australia to play football for South Fremantle. Maurice followed in 1975 and became the most successful footballer of the eight Rioli brothers. Brothers Cyril Jr and Willie also played league football for South Fremantle, and John, Manny and Laurence also moved to Fremantle, but returned to Darwin without playing senior football. [18] Willie was drafted by Hawthorn in 1990, but did not make his AFL debut. Maurice is the uncle of former Hawthorn player Cyril Rioli (son of Cyril Jr), current West Coast player Willie Rioli (son of Willie Sr), former Essendon player Dean Rioli (son of Sebastian) and great uncle to Richmond player Daniel Rioli. [19] [20] His son, Maurice Rioli Jr. was drafted by Richmond under the father-son rule in 2020 and made his debut in 2021. [21]


On Christmas Day 2010 Maurice Rioli collapsed and died at a family barbecue being held in Darwin, after suffering a heart attack; he was 53. [16] [22] The Northern Territory Government announced a few days later that they would hold a state funeral for him. [22]


Upon the announcement of his death, tributes flowed in from around the country, in particular throughout the football world. Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale immediately extended condolences on behalf of Rioli's former club, saying:

Maurice was an enormously important figure in the game as a player, and more broadly in the leading role he played for Aboriginal Australians. He will be remembered as one of the greatest players in the Tigers' proud history. [3]

Former teammate and club legend Dale Weightman stated:

Maurice was the cream of the crop. You couldn't tackle him, you couldn't touch him, but he was also a great tackler. He also did so much for Aboriginal players. He was always thinking about his people. [4]

On behalf of the AFL, chief executive officer Andrew Demetriou said on Boxing Day:

... he was a wonderful skilled player who could control a game. He was the trailblazer for footballers from the Northern Territory in making their mark in the VFL and the AFL and he continued to serve his community long after his playing days, with his work in public life. [16]

Former teammate and current leading AFL commentator Brian Taylor noted about Rioli's on-field skills that "He was absolutely electrifying ... He was just one of the greatest natural talents I have ever seen. He was the best tackler in his day and is still the best tackler I have ever seen." Richmond legend and Rioli's first coach at the Tigers, Francis Bourke, and former teammate and star player Geoff Raines, were amongst others to also pay tribute to Rioli in the days after his death. [8]


Rioli's state funeral was held at St Mary's Star of the Sea Cathedral in Darwin on 7 January 2011. The funeral was a Catholic service said by the Bishop of Darwin, Eugene Hurley, but hundreds of Aboriginal mourners also paid their respects through traditional "sorry business", with faces painted, clapping sticks, and wailing throughout the ceremony. Many football identities, including AFL coaching great and noted champion of Indigenous players, Kevin Sheedy, attended the service. [17]

A traditional funeral was held for Rioli at Garden Point on Melville Island on 10 January 2011, led by his 75-year-old father Cyril Rioli senior, and attended by hundreds of residents from the Tiwi Islands. Family members, including nephew and Hawthorn star Cyril Rioli, painted their bodies and danced and chanted their family's Dreaming story of the turtle to farewell Maurice. Cyril said that he remembered his uncle more for his work on the Tiwi Islands—including helping people with alcohol, drug, and other problems—rather than his exploits on the football field. Other clans danced their own Dreaming stories, and wailing men and women threw themselves on his coffin throughout the three-hour ceremony. [23] Following the funeral proceedings, mourners carried Rioli's coffin to the cemetery, where he was buried near a mango tree. [17] [23]

Related Research Articles

Michael Long is a former Australian rules footballer of Aboriginal descent who became a spokesperson for Indigenous rights and against racism in sport in Australia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Fremantle Football Club</span> Australian rules football club

South Fremantle Football Club is an Australian rules football club based in Fremantle, Western Australia. The club plays in the Western Australian Football League (WAFL) and the WAFL Women's (WAFLW), commonly going by the nickname the Bulldogs. Since its founding, the club has won 14 WAFL premierships, the most recent of them in 2020.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tiwi Islands</span> Island group of the Northern Territory, Australia

The Tiwi Islands are part of the Northern Territory, Australia, 80 km (50 mi) to the north of Darwin adjoining the Timor Sea. They comprise Melville Island, Bathurst Island, and nine smaller uninhabited islands, with a combined area of 8,320 square kilometres (3,212 sq mi).

Dean Rioli is a former Australian rules football player who spent his whole professional career with the Essendon Football Club in the Australian Football League.

Scott Chisholm is a former Australian rules footballer who played for Fremantle and Melbourne in the Australian Football League (AFL) between 1995 and 2000. He played mainly as a half-back flanker and began his football career at St Mary's Football Club in the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tiwi Islands Football League</span>

The Tiwi Islands Football League is an Australian rules football competition in the Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory, Australia. Australian Rules football is the most popular sport on the Tiwi Islands. The Grand Final of the TIFL was broadcast on ABC Northern Territory until 2012.

Paul Medhurst is a former professional Australian rules football player who played for the Collingwood Football Club and the Fremantle Football Club.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Australian rules football in the Northern Territory</span>

Australian Football in the Northern Territory is the most popular sport, particularly with indigenous Australian communities in Darwin, Alice Springs and the Tiwi Islands. It is governed by AFL Northern Territory.

Michael Mitchell is an Indigenous former Australian rules footballer for the Claremont Football Club in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) and the Richmond Football Club in the VFL/AFL.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cyril Rioli</span> Australian rules footballer

Cyril Rioli is a former Australian rules football player who played with the Hawthorn Football Club in the Australian Football League. Rioli was a member of four premiership teams and the Norm Smith Medallist from the 2015 AFL Grand Final.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Austin Wonaeamirri</span> Australian rules footballer

Austin Wonaeamirri is a professional Australian rules football player of indigenous (Tiwi) origin. He previously played for the Melbourne Football Club in the Australian Football League (AFL).

Gary Wayne Shaw is a former Australian rules footballer who played for Collingwood and the Brisbane Bears in the Victorian Football League (VFL) during the 1980s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dreamtime at the 'G</span> Annual Australian rules football match between Essendon and Richmond

The Dreamtime at the 'G is an annual Australian rules football match between Australian Football League clubs Essendon and Richmond.

The Rioli family are a notable Australian rules football family from the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory.

Warren Campbell is a former Australian rules footballer for North Melbourne in the Australian Football League (AFL), South Fremantle in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) and St Mary's in the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL).

Benedict John "Benny" Vigona is a former Australian rules footballer best known for playing for South Fremantle in the West Australian Football League (WAFL).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Daniel Rioli</span> Australian rules footballer

Daniel Rioli is a professional Australian rules footballer playing for the Richmond Football Club in the Australian Football League (AFL). He is a three-time premiership player with the club and in 2017 he received the award for the AFL's Goal of the Year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ben Long (footballer)</span> Australian rules footballer

Ben Long is a professional Australian rules footballer playing for the Gold Coast Suns in the Australian Football League (AFL).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marlion Pickett</span> Australian rules footballer

Marlion Pickett is a professional Australian rules footballer playing for the Richmond Football Club in the Australian Football League (AFL). At age 27 and after a six and a half season career with South Fremantle in the West Australian Football League which included a club best and fairest award, Pickett was drafted by Richmond with the 13th selection in the 2019 mid-season rookie draft. He won the Norm Goss Memorial Medal as best on ground during Richmond's reserves side's premiership in 2019 before making his debut in a victorious AFL grand final the following week. Pickett was the first player to debut in a VFL/AFL grand final in 67 years and the first to win a premiership in his debut game since 1926. He became a two-time premiership winner with Richmond's grand final victory in 2020, earning the second honour in just his 20th game at AFL level.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maurice Rioli Jr.</span> Australian rules football player

Maurice Rioli, Jr. is a professional Australian rules footballer who plays for the Richmond Football Club in the Australian Football League (AFL)


  1. "Premiership Players 1931 – 2009". WA Football.
  2. These tallies refer to premiership matches (home-and-away and finals matches) only.
  3. 1 2 Varghese, Sam (25 December 2010). "Maurice Rioli dead". Melbourne: The Age. Retrieved 25 December 2010.
  4. 1 2 Whitelaw, Anna (26 December 2010). "Tigers great Rioli dies". The Age . Melbourne: Fairfax Media . Retrieved 4 March 2011.
  5. "St Marys Past Players – Maurice Rioli". Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  6. Butler, Steve; The Day I Punched out Jacko; Pre Game; The West Australian; 11 April 2008
  7. Poat, Peter, ed. (1982). 1982 West Australian Football Register. Westralian Publishers. pp. 75–88.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "Tributes flowing for 'genius' Rioli". The Age . Melbourne: Fairfax Media. 27 December 2010. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
  9. 1 2 Faulkner, Andrew (27 December 2010). "Obituary: Maurice Rioli: he made footy an art". The Australian . Archived from the original on 15 October 2012.
  10. Poat, Peter; East, Alan, eds. (1986). 1986 West Australian Football Register. Westralian Publishers. pp. 82–121.
  11. "Maurice Rioli". AFL Tables. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  12. "Maurice Joseph RIOLI>>WA Football Hall of Fame" . Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  13. Navaratnam, Dinny (14 June 2016). "Hall of Fame 2016: Rioli, Hart, Lappin join the greats".
  14. "ParlInfo - ADJOURNMENT : Sport" . Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  15. "Life reward for Rioli". Richmond FC. Telstra Media. 10 December 2018. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  16. 1 2 3 "Tributes flow for AFL great Rioli". The Age . Melbourne: Fairfax Media. 26 December 2010. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
  17. 1 2 3 Murdoch, Lindsay (8 January 2011). "Mourners gather to farewell 'Rolls-Royce' Rioli". The Age . Melbourne: Fairfax Media . Retrieved 4 March 2011.
  18. "South Fremantle Bulldogs announce Aboriginal team of century". 3 July 2009. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  19. Jon Ralph (3 May 2008). "Cyril Rioli's own adventure". Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  20. Bloodlines: The Rioli Family Message Stick, ABC TV
  21. Pierik, Jon (12 June 2017). "Maurice Rioli junior shapes as a father-son prospect for Richmond Tigers". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  22. 1 2 Pierik, Jon (29 December 2010). "State funeral for Rioli". The Age . Melbourne: Fairfax Media . Retrieved 4 March 2011.
  23. 1 2 Murdoch, Lindsay (11 January 2011). "Rioli farewelled with song of his Dreaming". The Age . Melbourne: Fairfax Media . Retrieved 4 March 2011.

Further reading

Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
Preceded by Member for Arafura
Succeeded by