The decade-spanning Rioli name has become one of our nation’s greatest football legacies.

It began in 1982 when a trailblazing Maurice Rioli completed the most extraordinary rookie year and was crowned at the pinnacle of the Australian game.

The centreman from the Tiwi Islands landed at Richmond via the WAFL to not only claim a club best and fairest on debut, but to be the first player in a losing VFL grand final and the first Indigenous man to win a Norm Smith Medal.

Rioli’s feats were made more remarkable given the context of bagging back-to-back Simpson medals for South Fremantle before displacing Tigers stalwart Geoff Raines in the middle of the ground the next year.

Daniel Rioli

A lot has changed in the game since the first of Rioli’s stellar six seasons at Punt Road.

The Rioli football patriarch once stood tall but alone back when Aboriginal footballers had to work harder than most for acceptance.

Today the man who carries the name of his late dad, Maurice Jnr, has an Indigenous brotherhood at his call that always includes Tiwi blood, including his older nephew Daniel.

It has given the 19-year-old a far more culturally safe environment to express himself.

“You feel a lot more comfortable out there knowing that you have brothers out there,” Maurice Jnr told Yokayi Footy.

“It’s nice to know they are always going to have your back playing footy.

“When it comes to celebrating after a goal or something, it’s always big when it comes to the brothers – a big hug, a big smile, a big celebration, so it’s awesome to play footy alongside of them.

“It’s very comfortable knowing they are always there with you – even if they are not playing.”

That was especially the case when the crafty small Richmond forward was given the opportunity to run out in Dreamtime at the ‘G clash in only his sixth AFL match.

On that deadly night, the Rioli Tiwi Islands pair joined Shane Edwards from Arrente country, Palawa man Rhyan Mansell and Noongar man Shai Bolton in donning the club’s Indigenous guernsey.

The design featured the family totem, the Kaarak (red-tailed black cockatoo), of suspended teammate Marlion Pickett and his partner Jessica Nannup, and was in the middle of a momentous ceremonial war cry that involved fellow West Australians Matty Parker and Sydney Stack, adorned in traditional body paint.

“It all means a lot – it means you are representing your mob

Willie Rioli of the Eagles celebrates after scoring a goal. Picture: AFL Photos

for all past Indigenous players that have been there before you,” Maurice junior said.

“It’s an amazing game that shines a light on Indigenous culture.”

While Daniel is still in awe of the annual showpiece over six Dreamtime appearances, this year’s clash back at the MCG held greater personal significance.

“It was pretty special,” Daniel said.

“Who would have thought I’d get to play alongside my little uncle Maurice in it.”

Daniel, who wears the same number Richmond legend Jack Dyer made famous, has watched all the clips of great uncle Maurice.

But Daniel, 24, is equally impressed with Maurice Jnr taking ownership of his own playing style.

“He’s not older than me, but he’s playing like that at the moment,” Daniel said.

“He’s only played a few games, but the more games he plays under his belt, he’s going to be an even more special player.

“I know a fair few opposition (sides) come up to me and say they’re pretty much more scared of Maurice than me.

“You don’t know where he is going to come from, like from behind or wherever, but he just chases down tackles.”

Not that Daniel was a slouch in that department.

That was on display at the 2015 AFL draft combine when he recorded the fastest time in the 30-metre repeat sprint tests and the second fastest 20-metre sprint.

The cheeky boast then was the newly-drafted Tiger could outpace Hawk Cyril Rioli.

But Maurice Jnr is now showing up all members of the family.

“He’s definitely got me for pace now,” Daniel said.

Cyril Rioli in 2018. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

“He’s got younger legs than me, but he’s going well.

“At least he’s not chasing me down.”

After 114 games up forward, Daniel has moved down the other end of the ground this season.

It has arguably placed the new shutdown small-defender and rebounding half-back into career-best form.

The third generation of the Riolis to play in the AFL, Daniel has attributed the knowledge spent as a goalsneak to his latest performances.

“First of all, my uncle Maurice kicked me out of the forward line … but it’s been pretty good because it helps me with my speed, my power, my ability to run,” he said.

“Being a forward, I sort of know how the small forwards down there think, so it is a little bit of an advantage too. I’m liking my role down back now.”

But what Daniel has liked most is the day when the most Riolis ever in the AFL at one time appeared on the same ground.

That happened on May 29 this year when the Tigers flew to Perth to face the Eagles.

“If you told me this when I was younger that myself, Maurice and Willie got to play on the biggest stage in one AFL game against each other, I wouldn’t believe it,” he said.

“It’s something I would say, ‘are you kidding?’ and for that to happen it would’ve been something I would treasure for the rest of my life.

“To have three of us Riolis on the field on the same night is pretty special, not just for myself but the whole family on the Tiwi Islands.”

  • Story by Andrew Mathieson