Tonight against the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt will become the fifth player in St Kilda’s history to reach 300 AFL games. Throughout his decorated career predominantly playing as a key forward Riewoldt’s strengths have been his brilliant marking, work-rate, meticulous preparation, supreme athletic ability, courage, leadership and consistency.
Riewoldt will join four other players that have previously played 300 games for the St Kilda Football Club, three former team-mates in Robert Harvey (383 games), Nathan Burke (323 games) and Stewart Loewe (321 games), as well as Barry Breen (300 games). Riewoldt comments “The greatest privilege is to join ‘Harvs’, ‘Burkey’ and ‘Loewey’, because I played with and idolised them. In my first year (2001), Loewey and Burkey played their 300th games, but I didn’t play in either because of injury. But I played in Harvs’ 300th. I’ve also had a bit to do with ‘Breeny’.If you play long enough you’ll have challenges, setbacks and injuries, and they make the milestone really satisfying. I didn’t think I’d get this far because at 28-29 I was in trouble with my knee, so it’s a credit to the support team, the ability to reinvent yourself, your professionalism and some luck, too.”1
Last week key forward Riewoldt captained St Kilda for the 200th time, ranked fifth on the AFL’s all-time list for most games as captain behind Stephen Kernahan (226 games), Dick Reynolds (224), Ted Whtten (210) and Michale Voss (210). In the past couple of seasons Riewoldt has said that he was happy to relinquish the captaincy if it was in the best interests of the St Kilda Football Club, however as he has been the best person to captain the club he has retained the role.
Paddy McCartin who was selected by St Kilda with the number 1 pick at the 2014 National Draft, 14 years after the Saints had selected Riewoldt at number 1 comments “I’m so lucky that Nick’s taken me under his wing a bit, on and off the field, and he teaches you how to be a good person and how to go about life. I can talk to him about anything. You learn just by watching him – his workrate is phenomenal. He worked more with the midfield group this pre-season, but last year he’d take the forward group for 10-15 minutes’ extra work on things like how to get off your man. It’s a credit to him how he still found time to give us young guys last year when he had so much happening.”2
Riewoldt has won the St Kilda best and fairest in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2014 to hold the record for most Trevor Barker awards won with six, two more than Harvey and Bill Cubbins. Last week Riewoldt kicked the 650th goal of his career, becoming just the 25th player in VFL/AFL history to reach this milestone, he ranks third on St Kilda’s all-time list for most goals kicked behind 1987 Brownlow Medallist Tony Lockett with 898 goals and Bill Mohr with 735 goals, Mohr was the league’s leading goalkicker in 1936 with 101 goals for the season.
Nick Riewoldt has set many records with this trend starting before he had even made his AFL debut, at the 2000 AFL National Draft Riewoldt became the first player recruited from Queensland to be selected with the number one pick, joining the St Kilda Football Club. Knee and shoulder injuries restricted him to just six games in 2001, averaging 9.5 possessions and 4.3 marks a game.
During 2002 Riewoldt was outstanding, performing brilliantly in attack and defense, still a teenager he won the Rising Star Award, St Kilda’s best and fairest and amazingly he took the most marks in the AFL during the home and away season with 178 at an average of 8.1 a game.
From 2004 to 2011 Riewoldt played a pivotal role in St Kilda making the finals seven times in eight years, with the only miss being 2007. During this time St Kilda played 17 finals, Riewoldt and Dal Santo were the only two to play all 17 finals and in the 2011 elimination final against Sydney they equalled St Kilda’s all-time finals record held by Robert Harvey.
During Riewoldt’s 16 season career he has suffered numerous set-backs, twice at the peak of his powers he has spent over a month on the sidelines due to injury, suffering a broken collarbone in his first match as captain of St Kilda in Round 1 2005 against Brisbane and seriously injuring his right hamstring in Round 3 2010 against Collingwood. St Kilda fell agonisingly short of winning their elusive second premiership in successive years in 2009 and 2010, losing to Geelong by 12 points in 2009 and having a draw with Collingwood in 2010 only to be comprehensively outplayed by the Magpies in the Grand Final replay the following Saturday.
Through the highs and lows during his 300 games at St Kilda Riewoldt’s commitment and work ethic has been outstanding, allowing him to set an example as a player and a leader. For superb performances during his career Riewoldt has been rewarded with selection in the All-Australian team six times, including being named as captain in 2009 and vice-captain in 2014.
On 24 February 2015 Nick’s sister Maddie at just 26 years of age died from Aplastic Anaemia, a rare bone marrow disease. Following Maddie’s death the Riewoldt family founded ‘Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision’ which was “established to help adolescents and young adults suffering from Bone Marrow Failure Syndromes through research and providing support into treatments, prevention and with an aim to finding a cure.”3 If you would like more information on Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision please click on the link below:
In the week of his 300th game Nick commented at a press conference held at Etihad Stadium “Maddie is the only thing that will be missing from Saturday night as far as I’m concerned. So to be able to pay tribute to her and honour her legacy and raise some money for bone marrow failure syndrome … it’s a great thing to be able to do while we celebrate my 300th. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about Maddie and how great it would be if she was here and able to do this herself. But in lieu of her not being able to do it, that’s what we’re doing as a family.”4
Nick Riewoldt was born on 17 October 1982 in Tasmania, Nick’s family, mum Fiona, Dad Joe and the three children moved from Tasmania to the Gold Coast when Nick was nine years old. Nick is the oldest of three children, having one brother Alex, and one sister, the late Maddie.
After starting his junior football career with the Gold Coast suburban club the Broadbeach Cats, he later transferred to the Southport Sharks. In 2000 Riewoldt played in Southport’s nine point Grand Final win against Northern Eagles, he started the match on the wing, kicked two goals and was named in Southport’s best players. The rover for Southport was David Bain who played 98 VFL/AFL matches for Brisbane and Fitzroy and won Brisbane’s 1990 best and fairest. Nick’s current St Kilda teammate Sam Gilbert played in the Southport Sharks 2005 premiership and other AFL players recruited from Southport after Riewoldt include Dayne Beams, Andrew Raines, Daniel Merrett and Kurt Tippett.
At the National Under 18s Championship in 2000 Nick Riewoldt represented Queensland, he was one of three Queenslanders named in the All-Australian team along with Jamie Charman and Michael Davis, other members of the All-Australian team included Alan Didak, Jimmy Bartel, Daniel Motlop, Kane Cornes, Daniel Kerr and two future St Kilda teammates, Justin Koschitzke and Allan Murray.
Riewoldt lived about 50 kilometres outside of Brisbane’s geographical zone which meant that he had to nominate for the National Draft.
Nick Riewoldt was picked by St Kilda with the No.1 selection in the 2000 National Draft and was 193 centimetres tall and weighed 81 kilograms when he was drafted as an 18 year old. The profile for Riewoldt in AFL 2001 said “The Gold Coast teenager is a tall, strong marking centre half forward who has already played in a premiership side with Southport. Born in Tasmania, his father Joe played for Clarence, and after moving to the Gold Coast when he was 10 Riewoldt did not take up football seriously until he was 13.”5
Riewoldt injured his knee in the 2001 pre-season and after playing two VFL games he made his AFL debut in Round 15 against the Adelaide Crows. St Kilda lost by 97 points at Colonial Stadium in what turned out to be Malcolm Blight’s final game as St Kilda head-coach. After playing four consecutive AFL games Riewoldt missed Round 19 and 20 with a shoulder injury, he played six of St Kilda’s last eight matches predominantly at half forward but was also given stints on the wing. In Round 17 against Geelong Riewoldt had 14 kicks, seven marks, five handballs, an equal team-high three contested marks and a game-high eight inside 50s.
In 2001 Riewoldt played six matches, averaging 7.2 kicks, 2.3 handballs and 4.3 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 80.7%. Riewoldt’s St Kilda teammate and the player taken one pick after him at the 2000 National Draft, Justin Koschitzke won the Rising Star Award playing predominantly at centre half-back. In the 2000 trade period St Kilda recruited five players from other AFL clubs including Fraser Gehrig and Aaron Hamill who finished second and third respectively in St Kilda’s 2001 best and fairest, behind ruckman Peter ‘Spider’ Everitt who won the Trevor Barker Award.
With an injury free run in 2002 Riewoldt played for St Kilda against Carlton in Round 1 and went on to play all 22 games for the season. In Round 5 2002 against Sydney, St Kilda were severely undermanned, missing Heath Black, Nathan Burke, Peter Everitt, Fraser Gehrig, Aaron Hamill, Robert Harvey, Justin Koschitzke and Stewart Loewe through injury. The previous week St Kilda had suffered a 122 point loss to Geelong at Skilled Stadium and mindful of how injury depleted they were the Saints employed defensive flooding tactics against Sydney. Riewoldt’s composure and reading off the play stood out as he had 13 kicks, four handballs, a game-high 12 marks including four contested, an equal game-high six rebound 50s and seven hit-outs in the eight goals apiece draw to earn a Rising Star nomination. Riewoldt polled the first Brownlow Medal of his career, receiving 1 vote in his 11th AFL game, Stephen Milne received 3 votes with the 2 votes going to Andrew Thompson.
Nick was judged best on ground for his Round 17 performance against Fremantle at Optus Oval, with St Kilda trailing by 16 points at half-time coach Grant Thomas moved Fraser Gehrig from the backline to attack and shifted Riewoldt from the forward line to defense. Riewoldt had 11 possessions in the third quarter, reading the play brilliantly and finished the match with 15 kicks, six handballs and took 11 marks. St Kilda played much improved football in the second half to win by 39 points, Fraser Gehrig kicked three second half goals and received a Brownlow vote.
Riewoldt had 19 possessions, took 12 marks including four contested and kicked a then career best six goals in Stewart Loewe’s Round 22 farewell match against Melbourne at Docklands to receive 3 Brownlow votes, he finished the season with 11 votes including two best on grounds to finish equal 16th overall and be the top ranked Saint ahead of veteran midfielder Robert Harvey on seven votes.
In 2002 the roles were reversed for the top two selections from the 2000 National Draft as Koschitzke after playing the first four games was kept on the sidelines with a back injury and Riewoldt had an outstanding injury-free year to win the Rising Star Award on 34 votes from Chris Judd on 29 and Luke Hodge on 12.
Riewoldt was ranked second at St Kilda for kicks and first for marks, 80 ahead of Steven Lawrence in second place and became St Kilda’s all-time youngest best and fairest winner at just 19 years and 349 days beating St Kilda legend Trevor Barker’s record. Riewoldt polled 132 votes at the best and fairest to finish ahead of Lenny Hayes on 125 and Steven Baker on 120. Riewoldt played all 22 matches in 2002, averaging 10.2 kicks, 4.3 handballs and 6.1 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 86.5%. Although he was not a permanent forward Nick kicked 21 goals to be ranked third at St Kilda behind small forward Stephen Milne with 50 and Aaron Hamill with 22.
Riewoldt had “dominating displays at both ends of the ground and stamped himself ‘as the one to watch’ for the next decade. He took the most marks (178) of any player in the home and away season.”6 It is almost beyond comprehension that a player can commence a season with less than 10 games AFL experience and then go on to take the most marks during an AFL home and away season, it was a truly phenomenal performance from Riewoldt who was still a teenager at the end of the 2002 season.
The hype surrounding Nick Riewoldt before he had even played an AFL game had been enormous and possibly unprecedented in St Kilda’s history with some people even describing Riewoldt as St Kilda’s ‘great white hope’ and suggesting that he was destined to become St Kilda’s marquee player. In his first full AFL season Riewoldt had clearly demonstrated that he was every bit as good as the hype had suggested, and possibly even better.
From 2000 to 2002 the Saints had finished 16th, 15th and 15th in a 16 club competition and had changed their head-coach twice with Tim Watson resigning during his second year as coach in 2000. During these three seasons the Saints only won a total of 11 games and also had one draw. Malcolm Blight was the coach for 2001 but only lasted 15 games before he was replaced by caretaker coach Grant Thomas. Thomas went on to be appointed as St Kilda’s senior coach for the 2002 season and finally the Saints were starting to get some long overdue stability. Riewoldt is one of very few AFL players to have different head coaches for their first and second AFL games.
By the start of the 2003 season Riewoldt had bulked up to weigh 92 kilograms, an 11 kilogram increase on his weight when he was drafted. In Round 2 St Kilda defeated Adelaide by eight points at Docklands with Riewoldt starring, having 15 kicks, six handballs, nine marks, a team-high six hit-outs, five inside 50s, nine contested possessions, three contested marks and a goal assist to receive 3 Brownlow Medal votes.
St Kilda finished the 2003 season very strongly winning four of their final five games of the season, with each winning margin being more than 10 goals. In Riewoldt’s 50th AFL game St Kilda suffered a surprise 19 point loss to Geelong at a very blustery Skilled Stadium in Round 22. St Kilda finished the 2003 season with 11 wins, the same number that they accumulated in the previous three seasons combined.
Nick spent the 2003 season playing as a key forward and kicked three or more goals on five occasions. Riewoldt finished fourth in St Kilda’s best and fairest behind Hayes, Robert Harvey and Stephen Powell, was ranked fifth in the AFL for marks and equal eighth for contested marks. Nick kicked 30 goals to be ranked second at St Kilda behind Fraser Gehrig with 55 goals. In 2003 Riewoldt played 22 matches averaging 11.0 kicks, 5.0 handballs and 7.7 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 82.7%. Nick was ranked fifth at St Kilda for kicks and inside 50s and polled seven Brownlow Medal votes, ranked fourth for the Saints behind Harvey (18 votes), Gehrig (10) and Hayes (7).
During the 2004 pre-season expectations for a young St Kilda side were very high for the following season and the years ahead. Whilst the Saints had failed to make the finals for five consecutive seasons from 1999 to 2003 they had improved significantly throughout the 2003 season and had a core group of talented youngsters that were expected to ensure that St Kilda regularly participated in the finals and challenged for premierships in the decade ahead. At the start of the 2004 season several of St Kilda’s young players had established themselves in the Saints best side including Riewoldt then 21 years of age, Justin Koschitzke 21, Nick Dal Santo 20, Xavier Clarke 20, Matt Maguire 19, Luke Ball 19 and Brendon Goddard 18. Other talented young Saints yet to cement their place in St Kilda’s best side at the commencement of the 2004 season included Sam Fisher 21, Leigh Montagna 20 and Jason Gram 19.
In seven of St Kilda’s first 10 games of 2004 Riewoldt had at least 17 disposals including 27 against West Coast in Round 9 when both Riewoldt and the St Kilda side as a whole were at their scintillating best. St Kilda won by 101 points with Riewoldt having a game-high 21 kicks, six more than the second ranked player for the game, and also took 15 marks, an amazing nine more than the second ranked player for the game in a dominant performance which underlined just how damaging Riewoldt could be as a key position forward being able to combine superb marking ability with a hard and unrelenting running capacity making hi an extremely difficult match-up. Against West Coast Riewoldt also had a game-high 12 inside 50s, four more than the second ranked player, kicked two goals, nine contested possessions and four goal assists to equal the St Kilda record set by Lenny Hayes in Round 13 2003 against Melbourne at the MCG.
St Kilda started the 2004 season in breathtaking fashion winning the Wizard Cup Grand Final and their first 10 home and away matches to be on top of the ladder three games clear of Melbourne, Brisbane, Port Adelaide and Essendon. Riewoldt was influential averaging 18 possessions and 1.9 goals per game during the first 10 Rounds. From Round 11 to 15 St Kilda had a form slump losing four of their next five matches, which ultimately cost them a top two spot at the end of the home and away season.
With full-forward Fraser Gehrig suspended for Round 15 and 16 Riewoldt played closer to goal, in three matches between Round 15 and Round 17 kicked a total of 21 goals and received 2 Brownlow Medal votes in all three games. Against Melbourne in Round 15 at the MCG Riewoldt kicked a new career best nine goals playing as a deep forward using his athleticism to full effect. Nick had 12 kicks, three handballs, took a game-high 10 marks, three more than the second ranked player for the game, with all 10 marks being taken inside 50, including four contested marks. St Kilda defeated Richmond by 44 points in Round 16 with Riewoldt having 14 kicks, a game-high 11 marks including six inside 50, five inside 50s, one goal assist and kicked five goals, one behind. Fraser Gehrig returned for the Round 17 encounter against Essendon and St Kilda’s two key forwards combined brilliantly to kick 15 goals between them, comprised of eight for Gehrig and seven for Riewoldt. Nick had 11 kicks, five handballs, 10 marks, nine contested possessions and took seven marks inside 50. During his three games from Round 15 to Round 17 Riewoldt’s kicking at goal was phenomenal, kicking a combined 21 goals, two behinds during this period
St Kilda regathered momentum from Round 16 onwards to win five of their final seven matches and finish the home and away season in third spot behind Brisbane and Port Adelaide. Riewoldt predominantly played at centre-half forward and maintained great form throughout the 2004 season, proving to be an extremely difficult match-up for opposition clubs due to his brilliant marking ability and tremendous aerobic capacity.
The Brisbane Lions defeated St Kilda by 80 points in the qualifying final at the Gabba. The Saints bounced back the next week to defeat Sydney by 51 points in a semi-final at the MCG. St Kilda progressed to a preliminary final against Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium, very little separated the two teams all night. In one of the games of the season Port Adelaide prevailed by six points, home ground advantage and the experience of finishing in the top four for the past three seasons and making the Preliminary Final in 2002 and 2003 had proved invaluable to Port Adelaide. Riewoldt showed great leadership during the finals and maintained his high level of performance to be named in the best players for all three of St Kilda’s finals in 2004.
Riewoldt was voted the 2004 Most Valuable Player by the AFL Player’s Association and took 223 marks during the home and away season, 53 more than Warren Tredrea ranked second. Riewoldt kicked 67 goals for the season including three or more goals on twelve occasions. Riewoldt polled a career-best 17 Brownlow Medal votes to finish equal seventh and be the top ranked Saint. West Coast Eagles midfielder Chris Judd was a runaway winner with 30 votes, ahead of Mark Ricciuto on 23 and Chad Cornes on 22.
In 2004 Riewoldt played 25 matches averaging 13.0 kicks, 4.3 handballs and 10.2 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 80.8%. Nick was ranked among the AFL’s elite with 27 goal assists and kicked 67 goals 32 behinds to be ranked second at St Kilda behind Coleman Medallist Fraser Gehrig with 103 goals after the finals. Riewoldt was ranked first at St Kilda for inside 50s, second for contested marks behind Gehrig, and second for kicks behind Aussie Jones. Riewoldt was rewarded for his brilliant 2004 season with selection in the All-Australian team as a half-forward, he was joined in the team by two St Kilda team-mates, Fraser Gehrig at full-forward and Aussie Jones at half-back. In just his fourth AFL season Riewoldt won his second Trevor Barker award as St Kilda best and fairest, polling 163 votes to finish comfortably ahead of midfielders Luke Ball (140) and Lenny Hayes (135).
At just 22 years of age Nick Riewoldt was appointed as St Kilda’s Captain for the 2005 season under then St Kilda coach Grant Thomas’ controversial rotational captaincy policy. In his first game as St Kilda captain in Round 1 against Brisbane at the Gabba Riewoldt broke his right collarbone during the third quarter when he dived for a mark. Although it was obvious that Riewoldt was injured Brisbane players Mal Michael and Chris Scott bumped into Riewoldt as he was leaving the field. The actions of the Brisbane players received significant media attention and although no action was taken against Scott and Michael the AFL later made it an offense to use unnecessary force against an injured player.
Riewoldt returned to the St Kilda side for Round 7 against Geelong at the Docklands. In seven matches from Round 7 to Round 13 Riewoldt was a solid contributor for the Saints, averaging 14.6 possessions and 2.1 goals per game. Understandably it took time for Riewoldt to rediscover his 2004 form however in Round 13 against Essendon he had 16 possessions and kicked four goals to receive a Brownlow vote.
The very next week Riewoldt suffered another setback, re-injuring his collarbone against the Western Bulldogs which caused him to miss another three matches. Riewoldt finished the home and away season well with six goals, 17 kicks, five handpasses, 14 marks including four contested and four inside 50s in the Round 22 139 point victory over Brisbane at Docklands. Although it was a dominant display from Riewoldt it only garnered him two Brownlow Medal votes as St Kilda small forward Stephen Milne had an absolute night out kicking 10 goals to deservedly receive three votes.
St Kilda covered the loss of Riewoldt for eight matches during the 2005 season very well, only losing one of these matches to North Melbourne by seven points. St Kilda finished the home and away season in fourth position and travelled to AAMI Stadium to play the Adelaide Crows who had finished the home and away season on top of the ladder. St Kilda showed great character to defeat Adelaide by eight points in the qualifying final despite Xavier Clarke, Brendon Goddard, Max Hudghton, Justin Koschitzke, Matt Maguire and Luke Penny all missing with injuries.
Although the Saints had a week off before their preliminary final against Sydney three members of the victorious qualifying final side missed due to injuries being, Sam Fisher, Aaron Hamill and Justin Peckett. St Kilda regained Goddard and Hudghton for the Preliminary Final against Sydney, however after leading by 13 points late in the third quarter the Saints were overrun by the Swans to lose by 31 points.
Riewoldt played 16 games during 2005, averaging 105 minutes, 11.4 kicks, 3.1 handballs and 8.2 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 65.5%. Riewoldt was inaccurate, kicking 33 goals and 36 behinds, “having an above average 71% accuracy when shooting from the corridor, his kicking from outside that zone was 24%.”7 Riewoldt was ranked first at St Kilda for marks and contested marks, fifth for long kicks and third for goals behind Fraser Gehrig and Stephen Milne.
Riewoldt had an injury free 2006 to be one of six Saints to play all 23 games. Nick kicked three or more goals in nine games including an equal career best nine goals against Carlton in Round 8. Riewoldt also had 15 possessions and took 13 marks including six contested, four more than the second ranked player for the game to poll three Brownlow Medal votes. Riewoldt received eight Brownlow votes for the season, ranked equal third with Lenny Hayes at St Kilda, behind Robert Harvey (12 votes) and Nick Dal Santo (10). Riewoldt was the only St Kilda player to make the All-Australian team, being selected in the forward pocket.
In 2006 Riewoldt played all 23 matches, averaging 112 minutes, 13.0 kicks, 3.7 handballs and 9.3 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 74.5%. Riewoldt led the AFL in marks and contested marks and was ranked equal fourth at St Kilda for kicks. Riewoldt won his third Trevor Barker Award as St Kilda’s best and fairest and was significantly more accurate around goal than in 2005 to kick 60 goals, 35 behinds, ranked second at St Kilda behind Fraser Gehrig with 71 goals. In the 103 point victory against Richmond in Round 17 Riewoldt had six goal assists, four more than the second ranked player for the game, to set a new all-time St Kilda record for most goal assists in a game, surpassing the previous best of four.
St Kilda had a disappointing 2006 season to finish sixth at the end of the home and away season and were defeated by Melbourne in an elimination final by 18 points. The St Kilda board reacted swiftly, sacking head coach Grant Thomas and replacing him with Ross Lyon who had been served a lengthy apprenticeship as an assistant coach including the previous three seasons as midfield coach at Sydney.
Under Grant Thomas St Kilda played a free-flowing, attacking brand of football that resulted in the Saints posting high scores as indicated by the Saints being the highest scoring team during the 2005 home and away season and second highest in 2004, less than a goal behind the Brisbane Lions.
During Ross Lyon’s period as an assistant coach at Sydney from 2004 to 2006 the Swans had focused primarily on the defensive side of their game and playing accountable football. When Ross Lyon took over as St Kilda’s coach for the 2007 season St Kilda’s game plan changed to place a greater emphasis on the defensive game style that had been so successful for the Swans and was a catalyst in Sydney winning the 2005 premiership and playing in the 2006 Grand Final.
Lyon abandoned the rotational captaincy policy that Grant Thomas had used and St Kilda appointed three joint captains for the 2007 season, Lenny Hayes, Nick Riewoldt and Luke Ball, all three players were St Kilda best and fairest winners and had been the Saints sole captain in 2004, 2005 and 2006 respectively.
Riewoldt missed the first two rounds of the 2007 season with a hamstring injury, Ball missed Rounds 2 and 3 with concussion and Hayes missed three matches from Round 6 to 8 with an injured cheekbone. However St Kilda’s injury problems ran far deeper than just the co- captains with Nick Dal Santo and Fraser Gehrig being the only players in the top eight from St Kilda’s 2006 best and fairest that did not miss at least two matches due to injury in the first half of the season, the most significant of these was Brendon Goddard’s knee injury that required a reconstruction and kept him on the sidelines from Round 8 onwards. On top of this former captain Aaron Hamill and ruck recruit Michael Gardiner did not play a game all season due to injury and young defender Matt Maguire was limited to 10 games due to a foot injury.
Riewoldt returned to the St Kilda side for Round 3 against the Western Bulldogs and kicked four goals in each of his first two games of the season. Nick had at least 20 disposals and 10 marks in four consecutive games from Round 7, however St Kilda’s only win in this period was in Round 7 against Sydney when Riewoldt had 17 kicks, four handballs, an equal team-high 14 marks, two goal assists, a team-high eight inside 50s – as much as the second and third ranked Saints combined and received three Brownlow Medal votes.
St Kilda won four of their first seven matches and then lost four games in a row by more than four goals. At the half-way mark of the 2007 season St Kilda found themselves languishing in 14th position with four wins, seven losses and a percentage of 85.2%, the horror run with injuries had taken a significant toll and the side was still adapting to a far more defensive game style under Ross Lyon. The strategy implemented by Ross Lyon in 2007 and refined in later years was clearly focused more on defensive pressure all over the ground, following the systems in place and relied more on each player performing their role and less on individual brilliance than the St Kilda sides that were coached by Grant Thomas.
Whilst St Kilda’s run with injuries wasn’t great in the second half of the season it was still an improvement on the first half of the season and the Saints improved dramatically to win five out of six games from Round 12 onwards to be outside the eight on percentage after 17 rounds. In three of these wins Riewoldt kicked three or more goals and in the Round 15 two point victory against Adelaide he had an equal team-high 20 kicks, a game-high 18 marks, kicked two goals had three goal assists and received two Brownlow Medal votes.
St Kilda had two wins, a draw and two losses in the final five rounds of the home and away season to finish in ninth position with 11 wins, 10 losses and a draw, only two premiership points and percentage behind the eighth placed Adelaide Crows. Whilst the Saints had missed the finals for the first time since 2003 they had shown significant improvement in the second half of the season, finding a better balance between defense and attack. St Kilda averaged 96 points per game in the second half of the 2007 season, a 22 point improvement on the first half of the season.
Riewoldt’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2008 said “Unlucky to miss All-Australian selection, the game’s hardest running forward was equal second in the AFL for contested marks (47) and led St Kilda’s resurgence in the second half of the season.”8 In eight matches between Round 5 and 12 Riewoldt only managed multiple goals on two occasions, both times kicking two goals, but he finished the season with a flourish, kicking four goals three times and three goals three times in the final 10 rounds of the season to finish the season with 42 goals, ranked second at St Kilda behind Fraser Gehrig with 59 goals.
In 2007 Riewoldt played 20 matches, averaging 113 minutes, 14.7 kicks, 3.4 handballs and 9.7 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 72.3%. Riewoldt was ranked third at St Kilda for kicks, first for marks, second for inside 50s and equal fourth in the AFL for goal assists per game with 1.2 and equal second in the AFL for contested marks. Riewoldt comfortably won his fourth Trevor Barker Award with 529 votes, 41 ahead of second placed Sam Fisher. Riewoldt received 14 Brownlow votes to finish equal 18th and be ranked second at St Kilda behind midfielder Nick Dal Santo.
Riewoldt was appointed St Kilda’s sole captain for the 2008 season with Lenny Hayes named vice-captain. St Kilda started the 2008 season well winning their first two matches against Sydney and Carlton but then lost seven of their next 10 games from Round 3 onwards to be in 10th position after 12 rounds with five wins and seven losses.
Riewoldt had three best on ground performances between Round 15 and Round 20, averaging 19.7 possessions and four goals per game in six matches during this period. In Round 16 at Etihad Stadium St Kilda trailed Hawthorn by 28 points at half-time but controlled the second half, kicking 12 goals to three for a 58 point turn around and a 30 point win. Riewoldt and Jason Blake kicked three goals each in the third quarter with Riewoldt starting the turn around with the opening two goals of the third term at the four and five minute mark. Riewoldt finished the game with 15 kicks, 10 marks, seven handballs, six goals straight, three more goals than the second ranked player for the game, in his second consecutive best afield performance.
St Kilda won eight of their last 10 matches to finish the home and away season in fourth position. The Saints after not being in the top four since Round 2 defeated Essendon by 108 points in the final round to sneak into fourth position with 13 wins and 109.74 per cent, less than 1 per cent ahead of the fifth placed Adelaide Crows.
Eventual runner-up Geelong defeated St Kilda by 58 points in the Qualifying Final. The following week Riewoldt was best afield in the 34 point Semi Final victory against Collingwood, having 15 kicks, five handballs, taking 15 marks, kicking five goals and having two goal assists. The Saints made their third Preliminary Final in five years, however were comprehensively beaten by a Hawthorn side that went on to win the 2008 Premiership. Whilst it was a great achievement for the Saints to make the Preliminary Final significant improvement needed to be made to become a genuine premiership contender in 2009.
In 2008 Riewoldt played 24 matches, averaging 113 minutes, 12.0 kicks, 5.1 handballs and 10.0 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 68.8%. Riewoldt kicked 65 goals 39 behinds to be ranked first at St Kilda, just five goals ahead of small forward Stephen Milne. Riewoldt was ranked third in the AFL for goal assists with 28 and second for total marks in the home and away season behind Richmond veteran Matthew Richardson. Riewoldt finished runner-up in St Kilda’s 2008 best and fairest on 643 votes, 37 behind winner Sam Fisher who was named at half-back in the All-Australian team. Riewoldt made his third All-Australian team being named centre half forward and polled 12 Brownlow Medal votes, ranked second at St Kilda behind Lenny Hayes with 15.
The 2009 Saints were a revelation, taking defensive pressure, tackling and accountability to a new level. This is not to say that the Saints couldn’t play an attacking brand of football, clearly they could – if they choose to do so, but the first priority was to place immense pressure on the opposition. Once the Saints had gained the ascendency over their opponent they gradually became more attacking throughout the remainder of the game, increasing the scoreboard pressure on the opposition. During the 2009 season it was common for St Kilda to slowly strangle the life out of opposition sides with the immense pressure and perceived pressure leading to the opposition making many turnovers. Regularly throughout the 2009 season, after an early arm wrestle the Saints gained the ascendancy either late in the first quarter or early in the second quarter and once the Saints were on top the opposition had little hope of coming back.
In order for a Football Club to successfully implement such a strong defense first mentality requiring everyone to perform their role for the club even if it meant sacrificing some parts of their own game the club’s leaders needed to buy in. During the 2009 season Riewoldt laid 2.1 tackles per game, a 50% improvement on his previous career best of 1.4 per game in 2002. Riewoldt, Hayes and the rest of the leadership group focused more on the defensive side of their game and making sacrificial acts for the good of the team. With the leadership group setting the example there was no chance of any player on the list not following suit and as a result St Kilda delivered high intensity football week in and week out throughout the 2009 season.
Riewoldt started the 2009 season slowly as his pre-season had been hampered by a niggling knee injury but once he regained match fitness there was no looking back, he kicked three or more goals a career best 16 times including nine straight games between Round 4 and Round 12. Nick had a season best of six goals against Melbourne in Round 22 and kicked five goals on five occasions.
In Round 14 against Geelong at Etihad Stadium Riewoldt set the standard in the first few minutes by taking a courageous mark in St Kilda’s goal square running back with the flight of the ball against Geelong captain Tom Harley. Riewoldt finished the match with 16 disposals, 11 marks and three goals straight including one from 55 metres out to receive one Brownlow Medal vote. History was made with both sides entering the Round 14 match undefeated, St Kilda won an incredible high quality match by six points.
In Round 20 against Essendon at Etihad Stadium Riewoldt had a shot to win the game after the siren from 45 metres out on a 45 degree angle on the non-preferred side for a right footer and missed, after trailing by 43 points mid-way through the third term the Saints had fought back gallantly only to fall just short, losing by two points.
St Kilda won their first 19 matches of the home and away season and after two narrow losses to Essendon and North Melbourne late in the season they finished the home and away season with 20 wins, two losses and on top of the ladder for the first time since 1997.
In the qualifying final against Collingwood Riewoldt had two shots from an almost identical position to his miss against Essendon in Round 20. When his side needed him the most on the big stage Riewoldt delivered, kicking two sensational captains goals from 50 metres out within a minute of one another a third way of the way through the second quarter. Up until this stage of the match the Saints had been outplayed and trailed by nine points, after the two Riewoldt goals St Kilda led by three points. Riewoldt kicked a third goal for the quarter on the half-time siren from 40 metres out on a slight angle to put St Kilda 10 points in front. Riewoldt continued with his heroics in the second half, kicking a goal from 50 metres out on a tight angle early in the third quarter and then sealed the match by kicking a right foot snap goal from the forward pocket early in the last quarter. St Kilda won the match by 28 points, Riewoldt was best on ground with 13 kicks, six handballs, 10 marks, five goals and was great with his defensive pressure which resulted in him laying five tackles. Goals were at a premium with only a total of 19 goals kicked by the two teams combined, with Riewoldt being the only player to kick more than two goals.
With their win against Collingwood, St Kilda were rewarded with a week’s break and progressed to a preliminary final against the Western Bulldogs which was played at an extreme intensity with few easy possessions. Riewoldt again led from the front to be one of St Kilda’s best players and had 13 kicks, five handballs, took 11 marks, had 11 contested possessions and kicked a game-high four goals. The Saints prevailed by seven points after Riewoldt soccerred a goal through in the dying minutes. After trailing by seven points at half time St Kilda were extremely accurate in front of goal to kick six goals straight in the second half whilst the Bulldogs missed several gettable chances, kicking three goals four behinds. Highlighting how influential Riewoldt was on the result he kicked a quarter of the total goals for the game with St Kilda defeating the Western Bulldogs nine goals to seven and the Saints captain took just under a quarter of the contested marks for the game with seven from the total of 32.
With the preliminary final win St Kilda progressed to the 2009 Grand Final to play Geelong who they defeated by six points in their only home and away encounter. Geelong had finished the home and away season in second position with 18 wins, two games behind the Saints, and were playing in their third successive Grand Final. The two matches between Geelong and St Kilda in 2009 were arguably the best two games of the entire season. Both encounters involved high intensity football where the tackling and pressure applied to the ball carrier was absolutely immense, watching these matches supporters felt surely both sides can’t continue playing football at such a high standard and maintain unbelievable pressure, but amazingly this is exactly what St Kilda and Geelong did twice.
St Kilda delivered their trademark unrelenting brand of football on Grand Final day but ultimately they could not produce the desired results in one of the most crucial areas – accuracy around goal. The Saints missed several easy opportunities when kicking for goal which ultimately cost them the game. St Kilda lost the game by 12 points with St Kilda kicking nine goals 14, behinds to Geelong’s 12 goals, eight behinds.
Riewoldt played the 2009 Grand Final with a slight tear in his abductor muscle opposed to a tough opponent in Harry Taylor, and in wet conditions that made it difficult for key forwards he had eight kicks five handballs, took five marks and kicked a goal, as always Nick had a very high work-rate and laid six tackles.
In 2009 Riewoldt won a St Kilda all-time record fifth best and fairest, polling 642 votes to narrowly edge out Brendon Goddard on 638 votes and Leigh Montagna on 635 votes. Riewoldt led St Kilda’s goal kicking with the accurate tally of 78 goals 47 behinds, ranked third in the AFL behind Carlton’s Brendan Fevola and Brisbane’s Jonathan Brown. At 26 years of age Riewoldt was named Captain of the 2009 All-Australian team, being selected as centre-half forward and was joined in the team by four St Kilda teammates in Montagna (wing), Hayes (centre), Dal Santo (interchange) and Goddard (interchange). Riewoldt was the first St Kilda player selected as captain of the All-Australian team.
Riewoldt played 24 matches during the 2009 season averaging 113 minutes, 13.3 kicks, 4.0 handballs and 9.6 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 66.3%. Riewoldt again led the AFL in total marks, and was ranked fifth at St Kilda for inside 50s. Riewoldt was “one of the most dominant players in the forward 50 during the H & a rounds, ranking third for disposals and marks. Riewoldt ranked fourth in the competition for scoreboard impact and was involved in 31% of the team’s scores.”9 Riewoldt polled 15 Browlow votes for the season to finish equal ninth and be ranked third at St Kilda behind Lenny Hayes (20 votes) and Nick Dal Santo (17 votes).
One of the criticism’s Riewoldt has faced throughout his career is that he can be inaccurate around goal and that he can suffer from the yips. Whilst it is true that Riewoldt at times can miss goals that he should kick he turned this perceived weakness into a major strength during St Kilda’s 2008 and 2009 finals campaigns, kicking an amazing 19 goals three behinds, an accuracy rate of 86.4% with several of his goals having a high degree of difficulty and occurring under intense pressure when the scores were close. In four of his six finals in 2008 and 2009 Riewoldt kicked at least three goals including two bags of five goals.
Riewoldt was held to only five marks in Round 1 2010, however his great endurance and work-rate still enabled him to have 11 kicks, 11 handballs, 12 contested possessions, kick a game-high four goals and have two score assists to be a critical factor in the eight point victory against Sydney at Stadium Australia, earning the 3 Brownlow medal votes.
In the 64 point Round 2 victory against North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium 27 year old Riewoldt was again outstanding, having 14 kicks, nine handballs and kicking seven goals straight. In a dominant performance Nick took five contested marks and seven marks inside 50, only two less than the entire North Melbourne team, throughout the game Nick consistently timed his leap for marks to perfection giving his opponent virtually no chance of spoiling him. Riewoldt took a total of 15 marks in one of the best marking exhibitions you will ever see and also recorded his biggest bag of goals since kicking nine goals against Carlton in Round 8 2006 and was again judged best afield by the umpires.
During the Friday night Round 3 match against Collingwood at Etihad Stadium Riewoldt seriously injured his right hamstring with just over a minute remaining in the first half when he jumped for an overhead mark 60 metres out from goal. The significant tear to his right hamstring was a huge setback for Riewoldt who had been in some of the best form of his career in the opening two rounds of 2010. Melbourne based orthopaedic surgeon Julian Feller operated on Riewoldt’s hamstring on 14 April 2010, three days after he suffered the injury. A week after the surgery Riewoldt was in a hyperbaric chamber to reduce the swelling of the hamstring and within a month he was jogging lightly.
Riewoldt missed 11 games and along with Jason Gram returned to the St Kilda side for Round 15 against Brisbane. St Kilda won the first three matches of 2010 to be on top of the ladder with a percentage of 183 and won eight of their 11 eleven matches without Riewoldt to be second on ladder after 14 rounds, only percentage behind ladder leading Geelong. Understandably after such long lay-offs Riewoldt and Gram both looked to be underdone against Brisbane but they steadily regained touch and match conditioning in the following weeks.
Riewoldt’s form since returning from injury had been improving to the point that he was on the cusp of tearing a game apart. In Round 20 at Etihad Stadium it all come together and for the second time against North Melbourne in 2010 key-forward Riewoldt was goalless in the first term and kicked seven goals after quarter time to be best player on ground, in the 52 point victory. Riewoldt won a team high nine contested possessions and was back to the form he showed in the opening two rounds of the 2010 season before he seriously injured his hamstring. Riewoldt had 15 kicks, four handballs, took 10 marks and had one goal assist, playing close to goal he had 12 scoring shots and took seven marks inside 50, only three less than the entire North Melbourne team and had an equal team-high nine contested possessions. Riewoldt’s repeat efforts and marking were superb, either using his great aerobic capacity to break away from his opponent to mark uncontested or to read the play brilliantly and utilise his magnificent timing to take three contested marks.
With 15 wins, a draw and six losses St Kilda finished third on the ladder with 62 premiership points, behind Collingwood on 70 and Geelong on 68, the Western Bulldogs finished fourth on 56 premiership points. These four clubs had all finished in the top four in the previous season, 2009, making it the first time since the top eight was introduced in 1994 that the same four teams finished in the top four at the end of the home and away season in two consecutive years.
Nick Riewoldt was a focal target for St Kilda throughout the four point Qualifying Final victory against Geelong at the MCG having 19 kicks, three handballs, 11 marks including a team high four contested, one goal assist and kicked three goals. St Kilda employed a bit of Pagan’s paddock with Riewoldt moving up the ground and then burning his opponent Harry Taylor off to mark as he was running back towards goal with the flight of the ball. Riewoldt’s second and third efforts together with his superb endurance allowed him to open up space on his opponent, Taylor. Riewoldt frequently contested the ruck as a third man up in the dying minutes and won a crucial clearance on the wing with two and a half minutes remaining.
After trailing the Western Bulldogs by six points at half-time of the preliminary final Riewoldt was instrumental in St Kilda’s blistering third quarter, having nine possessions, kicking two goals and having seven score involvements. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the St Kilda captain during the third term however, as a third of the way through the quarter he was involved in a heavy collision with teammate Justin Kochitzke on the boundary line and looked to be in all sorts of trouble. Riewoldt remained on the field, continued to play sublime football and later in the quarter snapped a goal from 25 metres out. Riewoldt finished the match with three goals three behinds, the sixth time in seven finals since the 2008 Semi-Final against Collingwood that he had kicked at least three goals. Riewoldt had 14 kicks, seven handballs, took seven marks including four contested and won 12 contested possessions ranked equal second at St Kilda behind Leigh Montagna with 17.
In the drawn 2010 Grand Final against Collingwood Riewoldt had 13 kicks, three handballs, eight marks and kicked two goals, three behinds. The following week in the Grand Final Replay Collingwood’s loose man in defense was very effective to time and again intercept passes to Riewoldt, and for only the third time for the season he was kept goalless, the other games were Round 3 against Collingwood when he injured his hamstring and Round 22 in a low scoring game against Adelaide. In the Grand Final Replay 56 point loss Nick had 10 kicks, seven handballs, five marks, four inside 50s and one goal assist.
During 2010 Riewoldt played 15 matches, averaging 102 minutes, 11.6 kicks, 5.5 handballs and 8.0 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 67.7%. Riewoldt kicked 39 goals 34 behinds including three goals or more seven times, he was ranked equal second with Adam Schneider for goals at the Saints, behind Stephen Milne with 57. Despite missing 11 games he still ranked equal second for contested marks at St Kilda with 36, only two behind Brendon Goddard, Riewoldt took 10 or more marks four times with a season best of 15 against North Melbourne in Round 2.
Riewoldt received the three Brownlow medal votes in both matches before injuring his hamstring in Round 3 against Collingwood, he also polled two votes against North Melbourne in Round 20 to finish the season with eight votes, ranked fourth at St Kilda behind Hayes (19 votes), Montagna (16) and Goddard (14). In 15 seasons from 2001 to 2015 Riewoldt had only been judged to be best afield by the umpires in back to back games one other time, Rounds 15 and 16 2008 against Carlton and Hawthorn respectively.
The profile for Riewoldt in the 2011 AFL Prospectus said about his 2010 season “He was the most valuable target inside 50 in the competition, as the Saints were able to retain possession from 62% of the kicks that were directed to him – the highest percentage of the top-15 targets in the league. In the games he played he was involved in 39% of his side’s scoring chains – the highest percentage of any player.”10
In Round 9 2011 against Melbourne Riewoldt led St Kilda for contested possessions with 14 to have 11 kicks and 20 handballs despite being restricted to only five marks, he set a new career-best for handballs beating his previous best of 11 by nine handballs. Riewoldt laid five tackles and kicked three goals to become the fifth Saint to kick 450 goals, joining Tony Lockett, Bill Mohr, ex-teammate Stewart Loewe and current teammate Stephen Milne.
Riewoldt’s phenomenal form against North Melbourne continued in Round 23, playing his best game of the season Riewoldt earnt himself the 3 Brownlow Medal votes after playing a key role in St Kilda’s surge of five unanswered goals at the end of the second quarter, and the St Kilda captain finished the match with five goals and two goal assists. Riewoldt took 10 marks, including four contested with several of these being deep in the forward line, resulting in easy shots at goal. In his past four games against North Melbourne Riewoldt had been superb, kicking 22 goals including two bags of seven goals in 2010.
During 2011 Riewoldt played 22 matches, averaging 114 minutes, 10.0 kicks, 6.0 handballs and 7.0 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 70.9%. Riewoldt kicked 36 goals, 31 behinds, ranked second at St Kilda for goals behind Milne, he kicked at least three goals eight times, with his highest tally being the five goals against North Melbourne in Round 23. Riewoldt led St Kilda for marks with 154, one ahead of Sam Fisher and was ranked third for contested marks, however his average of seven marks per game was the second lowest tally of his career to that stage, only being higher than the 4.3 marks per game in his debut season. Riewoldt polled four Brownlow votes comprised of 3 votes in Round 23 against North Melbourne and 1 vote against Geelong in Round 1.
At the end of the 2011 season many experts were saying that Riewoldt would be unable to return to the dominant force he had been for close to a decade. His marks per game had dropped to 7.0, his lowest tally since his debut season and his goals per game had fallen to 1.64, ending a sequence of seven seasons from 2004 to 2010 when he averaged at least 2 goals per game in every season. Although he missed only one of St Kilda’s 23 games in 2011 he could manage only eighth place in the best and fairest, it was the eighth time that he had played at least 20 games in a season and the previous seven times his lowest finish in the best and fairest was fourth in 2003.
As well as the obvious statistical drop-off other key factors were that Riewoldt had turned 29 in October 2011, the position of centre-half forward was a physically gruelling one and it was difficult for players in this position to maintain their previous levels at the age of 29 and beyond, for instance other centre-half-forwards in Wayne Carey had a significant drop in performance between turning 29 and 30 whilst Dermott Brereton’s form significantly dropped even earlier, at around 27 years of age.
Riewoldt played the first 19 games of 2012 before injuring his knee against Melbourne in Round 20, whilst his average possessions per game dropped from 16.0 in 2011 to 14.5 in 2012 Riewoldt was playing closer to goal and was a more influential player during 2012 which resulted in him being nominated in the 40 player squad for the All-Australian team although he didn’t make the final 22 man team.
Nick was ranked second at St Kilda for marks and contested marks, behind Sean Dempster and Koschitzke respectively and he polled nine Brownlow votes ranked equal third with David Armitage, behind Hayes (19) and Dal Santo (10), with his 21 disposal, seven goal, best afield performance against Gold Coast in Round 11 his career tally moved to 102 votes. Riewoldt kicked at least four goals on four other occasions, twice being judged best afield with 24 disposals, 11 marks and four goals against Essendon in Round 15 and 20 disposals, 14 marks and four goals against the Western Bulldogs in Round 18.
In 2012 Riewoldt played 19 matches, averaging 106 minutes, 10.5 kicks, 4.0 handballs and 6.6 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 73.2%. Riewoldt kicked 47 goals 31 behinds, ranked second at St Kilda behind Milne with 56 goals. Riewoldt finished fifth in the Best and Fairest despite missing the last three games with a knee injury.
The profile in the 2013 AFL Prospectus said “Riewoldt returned to a more stay-at-home forward last year, winning 45% of his disposals in the forward 50 – 7% above 2011. Riewoldt was also involved in the 19th-most one-on-one contests of any forward – recording the fourth-best win/loss differential of the top 25.”11
In October 2012 Riewoldt married Catherine Heard in Texas on a riverside property owned by Catherine’s family. Nick and Catherine met three years earlier in Las Vegas and Catherine moved from Texas to Melbourne in 2010.
During three games from Round 5 to Round 7 2013 Riewoldt averaged 23.7 disposals and 3.0 goals per game. Round 5 against Sydney at Wellington on Anzac Day was an historic occasion, being the first AFL match for Premiership points played outside Australia, Riewoldt was a standout with his extraordinary running ability enabling him to be an influential player in all areas of the ground. Nick set game-highs for kicks and marks with 22 and 13 respectively, had five handballs, kicked two goals, had a goal assist, equalled his career best for contested possessions and tackles with 14 and seven respectively and also had five rebound 50s for the first time since Round 13 2008 against Fremantle at Etihad Stadium.
In a low scoring game against Carlton at the Docklands in Round 7 Riewoldt kicked 3 goals in the nine point victory, also having 15 kicks, 10 handballs, a game-high 13 marks, an equal team-high four inside 50s, three contested marks, two goal assists and received the three Brownlow Medal votes for the only time in 2013.
On the eve of their 250th game Nick Dal Santo said about Riewoldt “What you see on the weekends, even now, is exactly the way he trains. He’s intense and he trains as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen.”12 Riewoldt’s immaculate preparation has been a critical factor in him maintaining a high standard throughout his career, and excluding his debut season he has averaged at least 14.5 possessions and 6.5 marks per game in every season.
On Saturday June 22 at 30 years of age Nick Riewoldt played his 250th AFL game in the 35 point win against Melbourne at the MCG. Riewoldt played his role in the Saints victory with 21 disposals, 10 marks and three goals. Two of Nick’s St Kilda teammates and fellow All-Australians also reached milestones against Melbourne with Nick Dal Santo also playing his 250th game and Sean Dempster playing his 150th.
In their first 20 games of the 2013 season the Saints had three wins and 17 losses, however they finished the season with back to back wins, starting with a 46 point win against Gold Coast at the Docklands. In the convincing win against Gold Coast Riewoldt had 20 kicks and 15 marks, setting game-highs in both categories, he also had six handballs, an equal team-high four goals with (Milne), six inside 50s, and received 2 Brownlow Medal votes.
In the final round of 2013 two St Kilda players, Justin Koschitzke and Adam Schneider played their 200th AFL game, it was also the final AFL game for Koschitzke and two players who were already members of the 200 game club, small forward Stephen Milne (275 games) and defender Jason Blake (219 games). The Saints provided a fitting send-off, playing their best football for the season to defeat Fremantle who finished the season third on the ladder by 71 points at Etihad Stadium. On the eve of the finals Fremantle took the opportunity to rest many of their star players. Riewoldt had 15 kicks, eight handballs, an equal team-high 12 marks, two goals and a goal assist in the Saints big win.
Riewoldt played 21 of a possible 22 games for St Kilda in 2013, averaging 108 minutes, 13.4 kicks, 5.2 handballs and 9.6 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 67.9%. Riewoldt led St Kilda for marks with 202, 89 more than the second ranked player- Sean Dempster, ranked fourth for kicks, second for goal assists, fifth for inside 50s, and took 72 marks inside 50, an astronomical 50 more than the next best Saint Tom Lee. Riewoldt led St Kilda with 50 goals, 22 more than Milne, and kicked at least three goals nine times with a season best of four goals four times.
Riewoldt’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2014 said “Riewoldt was the No. 1 ranked key forward in the competition in 2013. He averaged a career-high 19 disposals per game – ranked No. 1 of all key forwards – while grabbing the second most marks inside 50 of any player. He was involved in 35% of the club’s scoring chains in the games he played – ranked No. 1 in the league – and his scoreboard impact of 24 points per game ranked equal second behind cousin Jack.”13
In 2013 Nick said “For me it’s about knowing what I need to do to play well. It’s about work rate. I’m not a Jonathan Brown, Tom Hawkins, Trav Cloke type of forward. I know I need to run and work to get the ball. It’s that simple for me.”14
On the problems Riewoldt has faced with his knee he commented in April 2014 “The lateral (movement) started to go a bit and then the last sort of four or five years, probably 2009 it started to get sore. The last couple of seasons it’s deteriorated a bit more to the point where I need to do a lot more to be able to get up each week. Once it gets to a certain point in the season I have to get it drained every week because the swelling becomes inhibitive. You just can’t function as you need to function. It’s more of a functionality issue with the swelling than it is any actual pain.’’15
Riewoldt started the 2014 season in sublime form and was a key factor in St Kilda starting the season with back to back victories, increasing St Kilda’s winning streak to four games. During St Kilda’s season opener Nick Riewoldt kicked a game-high three goals, he dominated during the third quarter and made an impact on the scoreboard with two goals in two minutes half-way through the third term to extend St Kilda’s lead from eight points to 20 points, the Saints ended up recording a 17 point victory against Melbourne at Etihad Stadium. Riewoldt also had 15 kicks, eight handballs, an equal game-high 12 marks, four inside 50s and an equal-team high five 1 percenters to be easily the most influential forward for the game and receive 2 Brownlow Medal votes. The following week in the seven point win against GWS Riewoldt kicked a team-high five goals, his most goals in a game since kicking seven goals against the Gold Coast in Round 11 2012. Nick had 17 kicks, a game high 14 marks, five more than the second ranked player for the game, a game-high seven inside 50s, and one goal assist to again receive 2 Brownlow medal votes.
St Kilda went into round 5 against Essendon has heavy underdogs but left Etihad with another four premiership points after outplaying their more fancied opponents to record a 16 point win with captain Riewoldt again leading from the front with five goals in a low scoring game in which the two teams only kicked a total of 20 goals between them. Riewoldt’s aerobic capacity proved too much for direct opponent Michael Hurley and he had 14 kicks, 10 marks, including two contested and received three Brownlow medal votes to increase his tally to seven votes after Round 5.
After the victory against Essendon St Kilda recorded 11 consecutive losses to be on the bottom of the ladder after Round 17 with just three wins. St Kilda recorded the upset of the season in Round 18 defeating the second placed Fremantle Dockers by 58 points at Etihad Stadium with Riewoldt clearly best afield against former team-mate Zac Dawson, having 30 disposals, 16 marks and kicking four goals to set an outright game-high for marks and goals and an equal team-high with Shane Savage for disposals. Riewoldt also had 22 kicks, eight handballs six inside 50s, and two goal assists.
During 2014 Riewoldt played all 22 games, averaging 115 minutes, 11.9 kicks, 4.8 handballs and 8.7 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 70.8%. Riewoldt kicked 49 goals 21 behinds, ranked first at St Kilda for goals, he kicked at least three goals nine times, with a season best of five goals twice, against GWS in Round 2 and Essendon in Round 5. Riewoldt’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2015 said “He took 191 marks – 21 more than any other player in the H & A rounds – and ranked No 1. for uncontested marks and marks taken on the lead. He kicked the 10th most goals and ranked 12th for scoreboard impact, but was involved in 38% of St Kilda’s scoring chains – the highest percentage in the league. When kicking into the forward 50 the Saints retained possession 59% of the time – the fifth-highest percentage of the top 100.”16
Riewoldt won his sixth Trevor Barker award as St Kilda best and fairest, polling 137 votes to finish 11 votes ahead of runner-up Lenny Hayes with Sean Dempster and Leigh Montagna finishing in third and fourth position respectively. Riewoldt led St Kilda for marks, contested marks and inside 50s, ranked third for kicks behind Montagna and Farren Ray. St Kilda finished 2014 on the bottom of the AFL ladder with four wins, in all three victories the umpires judged Riewoldt to be in the best two players on the ground, receiving three votes twice and two votes twice. St Kilda were extremely reliant on Riewoldt kicking goals and with 49 goals the key forward kicked more goals for the season than St Kilda’s second to fourth ranked players combined, 43 goals comprised of 18 to Rhys Stanley, 14 to Jack Billings and 11 to midfielder David Armitage. Riewoldt polled 11 Brownlow Medal votes to lead St Kilda, four votes ahead of Montagna, it was the sixth time in his career that Riewoldt had polled more than 10 votes in a season. Riewoldt was selected as centre half-forward in the 2014 All-Australian team and was also named vice-captain with Joel Selwood captain. It was the fifth time Riewoldt had made the All-Australian team with his previous selection being in 2009 when he was named captain.
James Riewoldt was born on 4 December 2014 which provided the family with a great deal of happiness and a positive focus during a very difficult time for the Riewoldt’s. Catherine Riewoldt comments on her husband’s parenting style and the inspiration he provides “There is not a thing I would change. He is so hands-on and every spare second he has is spent with James in his arms. I actually think he changed more nappies than I did in that first month. Having a child is not something I take for granted. It’s the greatest gift God has blessed me with and it’s now the most important job I will ever have. Nick is a pillar of strength for not only me but James, his family, the people around him at the footy club. There’s so many people he supports. And watching how amazing he’s been to people while also trying to deal with his grief and harness that, it’s been amazing.”17
Riewoldt didn’t play any NAB challenge games and took some time away from the St Kilda Football Club late in the pre-season after the death of his younger sister Madeleine on 24 February 2015. Speaking about Maddie’s battle and if anything could have been done differently Nick commented “She hated the illness. It took everything from her in her prime of her life. It took away her ability to travel, to work, have relationships, have fun, so when she got out she wanted to help people in similar situation. There are no what-ifs because she did everything she could possibly do, she fought as hard as she possibly could. The doctors and nurses did everything they possibly could to help her. Mum and Dad … I’ve never seen anything like it.”18
Despite not having played any NAB Challenge games and having an interrupted pre-season Riewoldt played in Round 1 of the AFL season against GWS. Riewoldt was impressive, having 13 kicks, four handballs, a game-high 10 marks, eight contested marks, a game-high four contested marks, and kicked a goal, however late in the game Riewoldt suffered whiplash after being bumped by Thomas Bugg which resulted in Riewoldt leaving the field and playing no further part in the game. Riewoldt’s absence during time on of the last quarter proved critical with GWS holding on for a nine point win. In an interview with Herald Sun Journalist Mark Robinson in June 2015 Riewoldt reflected back on the Round 1 game “It was hard to play, but I wanted to do it.The hashtag on social media was #FightLikeMaddie and it was perfect. Three or four times we thought it was over, but she fought. How she was able to pull herself out of those situations was unbelievable. I put on the black arm band before the game, like I had a lot of times in my career for people, and I had a moment when I got upset. I never thought I’d be putting one on for my sister. And then in the last quarter, I got the whack from behind, whiplash.” The St Kilda medical team wanted to stretcher Riewoldt off the ground however he was adamant that he wasn’t being stretchered off. Nick went to the Epworth Hospital for precautionary scans and recalls “I was just lying there and it was if Maddie had said: ‘Hey, don’t forget about me you blokes. I was in the hospital for seven months’. And so here we were, me and Alex, and we actually had a bit of a chuckle, it was surreal.”19
Due to injuring his calf in the warm-up Riewoldt was a late withdrawal for St Kilda’s Round 3 game against Collingwood at the MCG, he also missed Rounds 4 and 5 with the calf injury. In Round 6 Riewoldt returned to the St Kilda side however a week later he suffered another injury when he was tackling Adelaide defender Brodie Smith, with the duo clashing heads and both suffering from concussion which resulted in Riewoldt missing one game and Smith missing two games. Having only played four of St Kilda’s first eight games of the 2015 season Riewoldt kicked four goals in a game three times in his next five games, with the Saints winning all three times that Riewoldt reached this mark. In Round 11 Riewoldt played a critical role in St Kilda defeating Melbourne by two points at Docklands, having 14 kicks, an equal game-high 10 marks, four tackles, a team-high six on percenters and kicked a team-high four goals.
Maddie’s match, the major fundraiser for Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision was played in Round 16 at Etihad Stadium between her brother Nick’s team St Kilda and her cousin Jack’s team Richmond. When Maddie’s match was announced Nick commented “Maddie loved sport so it’s fitting that we’re able to use this game, with her two favourite teams, to promote what she loved most – family and footy. Watching the Saints and Tigers play is a fixture that brings our family together and we’re proud to be able to honour Maddie and use this platform to raise awareness of Bone Marrow Failure Syndromes.”20 Five dollars from every ticket purchased went to Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision and fans from both teams were encouraged to wear Maddie’s favourite colour to the game purple. Maddie’s cousin, Richmond key forward Jack Riewoldt commented on Maddie’s match “This means everything to us to be able to honour Maddie, her fight and deliver on her wish to raise awareness for Bone Marrow Failure Syndromes. She was a fighter and she fought every day. And now, through the launch of Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision, and through the support of everyone who comes along to this game, her fight will be kept alive.”21
Nick had a calf strain which led to some speculation that he might not be able to play in Maddie’s match however he took his part in the St Kilda side and embraced cousin Jack at the coin toss. St Kilda trailed Richmond by 56 points but played a sublime final quarter to reduce the final margin to 16 points. Nick had 14 kicks, nine marks an equal team-high five inside 50s, two goal assists and kicked a goal whilst Jack had 11 kicks, six handballs a goal assist, 12 contested possessions and kicked two goals. Maddie’s match was a great success in raising money and awareness of bone marrow failure.
In a quirk of the AFL fixture St Kilda played Melbourne again just six rounds later in Round 17 at the MCG. In unsuitable conditions for a key forward with rain falling for significant portions of the game Riewoldt was easily the most influential forward on the ground, and one of only two players along with Saints midfielder Luke Dunstan to kick multiple goals for the game. Riewoldt receiving the 3 Brownlow Medal votes, having 13 kicks, two handballs, one goal assist took 13 marks and kicked three goals to set game-highs in the latter two categories.
During 2015 Riewoldt played 17 games, averaging 104 minutes, 12.6 kicks, 4.3 handballs and 9.7 marks per game with a retention rate of 70.7%. In 2015 Riewoldt led St Kilda in marks, ranked fourth for contested possessions and goal assists. Riewoldt spent some time playing in the midfield during 2015 to make use of his athletic prowess but also to provide more opportunities inside 50 for Josh Bruce and the number 1 selection at the 2015 National Draft, Paddy McCartin. Having spent the majority of his AFL career as a defender in previous seasons Bruce was a revelation playing as a key forward in 2015, kicking 50 goals to lead St Kilda’s goalkicking, Riewoldt was ranked second with 29 goals. Riewoldt finished seventh in St Kilda’s best and fairest, with midfielder Jack Steven winning his second best and fairest in three years, ahead of David Armitage, Sean Dempster and Leigh Montagna. Riewoldt’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2016 said “With the emergence of Josh Bruce, Riewoldt won the fewest amount of his possessions in the forward 50 since 2003, racking up a career high uncontested marks per game and ranking No. 1 in the competition for lead marks per game.”22
Throughout his 299 game AFL career Riewoldt has averaged 11.9 kicks, 4.5 handballs, 8.7 marks, 2.17 goals and 0.46 Brownlow votes per game. In 11 of his 13 seasons from 2003 to 2015 he averaged between 15.95 and 18.05 disposals per game, the exception being an injury affected 14.50 in 2005, and 14.53 in 2012. In 12 out of 14 seasons from 2002 to 2015 he has averaged between 7.7 and 10.2 marks per game, the outliers being 2011 with 7.0 and 2012 again with 6.6.
Riewoldt’s courage in taking contested marks including running back with the flight of the ball ranks in the absolute elite of the AFL. Never has this been demonstrated more clearly than in Round 11 2004 against Sydney at the SCG. As Robert Harvey kicks the ball from the wing, Riewoldt is in picture jogging about 10 metres in front of Harvey, Riewoldt sprinted back with the flight of the ball, whilst at full pace he launched himself in the air and amazingly took the chest mark over the top of Stephen Milne and Sydney’s Nic Fosdike. Riewoldt landed uncomfortably but thinking of the team gets up quickly and handballs to Harvey who has continued running hard after his kick, Harvey runs to 45 metres out and kicks the goal. It is one of the best passages of play you will ever see and was set-up by the supreme work-rate as much as the brilliance of two of St Kilda’s all-time greats, two-time Brownlow Medal winner Robert Harvey and six time St Kilda best and fairest winner Nick Riewoldt.
During his 15 season AFL career 33 year-old Riewoldt has polled 130 Brownlow Medal votes, to rank second on St Kilda’s all-time list behind Harvey on 215 and just ahead of three other former teammates Hayes (129), Dal Santo (127) and Stewart Loewe (126).
Two of Riewoldt’s greatest traits are his work-rate and his consistency, there is no doubt that these two traits are intrinsically linked with his consistency largely being a result of his incredible work-rate. Earlier in his career Riewoldt would do a high volume of intense running between matches and pre-game in the hours before a game, in the last five years he has reduced this workload with his intense running during games being a form of training for games in the weeks that follow.
Riewoldt ranks 25th on the VFL/AFL all-time goalkickers list having kicked 650 goals, he is kicked 45 goals in season seven times with his most productive season being in 2009 with 78 goals. Riewoldt is third on St Kilda’s all-time goalkicking list, behind Tony Lockett (898 goals) and Bill Mohr (735). The players ranked fourth to sixth on the list are all former teammates of Riewoldt’s being Stewart Loewe (594), and Stephen Milne (564) and Fraser Gehrig (390). Riewoldt holds the record for most goals in finals for St Kilda with 41, 16 more than Barry Breene and Milne in equal second place. Riewoldt has been St Kilda’s leading goalkicker four times, 2008, 2009, 2013 and 2014, however he has also been very adept throughout his career at setting up goals for teammates. Riewoldt combined brilliantly with two-time Coleman Medallist Fraser Gehrig and frequently after both starting inside 50 Riewoldt would move up the ground and be the player kicking the ball inside 50 with a precise pass to hit Gehrig on the lead. Riewoldt holds the record for most goals in finals for St Kilda with 41, 16 more than Barry Breene and Milne in equal second place. Riewoldt holds the St Kilda record for most goal assists in a game with six and also holds outright second place on the list with five assists in a game as well as a share of third place with four assists in a game.
Riewoldt is St Kilda’s youngest ever best and fairest having won the 2002 award when he was 19 years and 349 days old. With tremendous consistency over a prolonged period of time Riewoldt won his sixth St Kilda best and fairest 12 years in 2014 to join a select group of players including Kevin Murray and Jack Dyer who have won a best and fairest both as teenagers and after turning 30.
Despite playing such a physically demanding position as centre-half forward for most of his illustrious career Nick Riewoldt, through a combination of meticulous preparation, skill and work-rate has been able to maintain an outstanding level of performance, win a best and fairest after turning 30 and will tonight reach 300 AFL games further enhancing a standing he had cemented years ago as an all-time great of the St Kilda Football Club.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
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16 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2015, 10th edition, page 320
22 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2016, 11th edition, page 321