POPULAR COUPLE THRIVING ON LIFE WITH BULLDOGS

Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - 7:33 PM by Chris Pike

ONE of them continued his family's remarkable history at the South Fremantle Football Club to become a premiership player in 2020 and the other is already vice-captain in 2021 with Ben Rioli and Tahlia Holtze making an immediate impact at the Bulldogs.

Both Rioli and Holtze made the decision to move from Darwin to Perth in 2020, and initially while Rioli was obviously excited to be the latest in his family to play in the Mighty Red V, Holtze didn’t see football in her immediate future.

Her arrival to join her partner in Perth was delayed until March when her football season in Darwin finished with her helping Southern Districts win the premiership, but then the COVID-19 lockdown struck.

It turned out to be a positive for the couple. They got settled into life in Perth, they ended up doing a lot of training with the help of Tony Walters and then come July with the WAFL and WAFLW seasons up and going, both of them were there to make their debut with the Bulldogs.

Now obviously the seasons turned out vastly different with Rioli helping the Bulldogs to the WAFL premiership while Holtze was part of a South Fremantle team just finding its feet in its first season as part of the WAFLW competition.

But now fast forward and with the WAFLW season for 2021 beginning for Holtze and South Fremantle this Sunday against Subiaco at Fremantle Community Bank Oval, and Rioli part of the Bulldogs preparing a premiership defence, they couldn’t be happier with the life change they made together.

Holtze was glad that last year included premierships for both herself and Rioli as she now looks ahead to the upcoming WAFLW season with South Fremantle where she is fully embracing her role as vice-captain.

"Last year before I did come down here I won the premiership with my team up in Darwin. In March we won the premiership and then I moved down here to be with Ben," Holtze said.

"And then seeing him win the WAFL premiership I was so happy for him, and so proud. It turned out to be a good year in footy for both of us, but I just was so proud for Ben because I know how much that meant to him and his whole family.

"Now that I've got this leadership role as vice-captain as well, I really want to use my experience of the last eight years in footy to bring that into the team and help out the other girls with it. 

"I want to be there to help them improve on certain things with their game or leadership skills so I'm keen to help them get to where they want to get to with their footy. 

"I'm still learning and before I started footy I had only ever played soccer, so I'm still learning myself off these girls and hopefully in turn I'm passing something onto them too. I'm hoping now as part of the leadership group to be a good leader and to help guide them."

Rioli is too delighted he made the move to join South Fremantle to now continue on the legacy of his father Sibby, brother Dean and uncle Maurice.

It sure took a lot to convince himself to make the move, though, but ultimately that drive to play the highest level football he could was enough to convince once there was no longer a NT Thunder team for him to play with in the NEAFL competition.

"To tell you the truth had Thunder not folded I never would have made the move. Pete Christie and a couple of others had come up years ago to chat with Shannon and myself but we never really considered," Rioli said. 

"But I had a really good Thunder season in that last year before the club folded, and after that I wasn’t ready to step away from playing at a high level of football. 

"My other options in Darwin were country footy or NTFL, but my coach from the 2019 season had an enormous amount of belief in me and he told me to back myself in to play at a higher level. So with Thunder finishing up, there was only ever one club I would go to and that was South Fremantle. 

"Ever since I've been in love with it and a lot of people say I should have done it sooner, and I think that myself, but I'm just happy to be here now and hopefully we can build something pretty successful at the football club."

As for Holtze, Perth wasn’t quite as foreign to her as it was to Rioli when she moved down last year. 

She had spent a couple of years of her high school life in Western Australia and still had some family here, but nonetheless she couldn’t imagine having made the big decision to move without doing it alongside Rioli with or without football being part of the package.

"I'm definitely happy to be here. Once Ben told me that he was thinking about coming here, I supported it straightaway because I knew it meant a lot to him," Holtze said.

"For me personally I wanted to get out of Darwin for a little bit for something different, and my dad and a few other family members are here. We love it here, it's a beautiful place to live in especially down in Freo. We've already met so many great people.

"I think on our own it would have been a lot tougher. I'm not sure Ben could have done it with not really knowing anyone here even though he has a little bit of family. 

"But it would be so different coming from Darwin for him but I did finish Years 11 and 12 here at Balcatta High, and I have a lot of family here and used to come down for school holidays. 

"So I'm a bit more familiar with it than he is but by moving together at least we had each other for support through the hard times, and could enjoy the good times together. 

"I actually wasn’t even going to play footy down here, but through isolation times I started to train with Ben and Tony Walters, and I thought I would get out and make some friends at the footy club by coming down to try and play. Tony was the one who got me involved and now I've never looked back."

While Rioli agrees that he couldn’t have made the move from Darwin to Perth without the support of Holtze, he also doesn’t think he could have ended up as the player he did on the field with the Bulldogs last season without her support.

When training resumed after isolation, Rioli was feeling in the dumps and doubting if he could actually play WAFL football, but Holtze was there for him all the way and a few months later, he was celebrating a premiership just like his brother Dean did in 1997 and father Sibby did in 1980.

"To tell you the truth as soon as I thought about coming to South Fremantle, I told her that I couldn’t go by myself without her. I wasn’t ready to make the move a few years ago, but now to have Tahlia's support is just phenomenal," Rioli said. 

"I came home from one training session after COVID and I just thought I wasn’t up to it. That was when we were training in groups of 10 but she had dinner ready for me and everything. 

"I came home and sat on the kitchen floor, and I just sat there eating my pasta thinking what had I done to come down here. But she reassured me and offered me that support, and helped me through it and without her support I would have struggled a whole lot. 

"So for us to do this together is something we're both very thankful for."