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Friday, April 2, 2021 - 1:37 PM by Chris Pike

BEN Rioli made an immediate impact at South Fremantle in 2020 continuing his remarkable family history at the club by becoming a premiership player, and he's already expecting plenty more from himself in 2021.

Rioli made the move from the Northern Territory to come and play with South Fremantle in 2020, and there was great excitement over his arrival given what his father Sibby, brother Dean and uncle Maurice had been able to produce for the Bulldogs in days past.

It was a significant step up for Rioli to play in the WAFL, though, having spent the majority of the rest of his career playing either in the Northern Territory Football League, or several seasons in the NEAFL for the now defunct Northern Territory Thunder.

But playing his football at the next level up and just one step below the WAFL and to do it at a club where the Rioli name is held in such esteem was something he was keen to try and experience before it was too late.

It was a big leap and then it turned out to be a tough year to navigate with the delay to the WAFL season thanks to COVID-19. 

As it turns out, Rioli felt that probably worked in his favour to be in better shape for Round 1 and allowing him to settle into life in Perth once partner, and fellow Bulldogs player, Tahlia Holtze arrived.


So he went on to become an important member of the South Fremantle premiership team in 2020, and the exciting running defender is expecting to be able to deliver even more now for the Bulldogs in 2021.

"Last year was the first pre-season I've ever done. I've played senior footy for a long time but being in Darwin and playing with Thunder, and playing NTFL, I pretty much played footy all-year round so there wasn’t much time for a pre-season," Rioli said. 

"Last year when I got down here I struggled a fair bit with my body getting a bit sore, but this year I feel a bit more comfortable and I've really enjoyed being down here.

"When I first got down here last year I moved down here by myself because Tahlia was still in Darwin so I spent the first sort of three months down here by myself which was tricky. 

"So to have her here now and combine that with the great friendships I've made especially after winning the premiership, I've got some great mates here now who I spend time with. So I feel really settled here now and to tell you the truth, I love the place."

It turned out quite the remarkable year for Rioli. Not only did he end up living out a dream by winning a premiership with South Fremantle, but Holtze got to win a NTFL flag before moving down to Perth as well.

They both celebrated premierships in the same year and both are now settling well into their new life in Perth, and they have plenty of people to thank for helping them settle in and none more so than the famous Tony 'Wilbur' Walters.

"I left Saints last year and they were second on the ladder at the time, and it was a lot easier given that because the season before we were down near the bottom," Rioli said.

"Leaving that wasn’t too bad and then she said she'd finish her season with Districts and ended up winning the grand final, and I ended up getting back there to watch her win that which was good. 

"Then for us to win the grand final down here so was pretty amazing so it was a good year considering everything that happened for both of us.

"She literally got here the week where all the COVID lockdowns and shutdown stuff happened. But I was able to continue working through all that time and we both did a fair bit of training with Tony Walters. 

"He kept us pretty fit and had the season gone ahead to start when it was meant to, I would have just been ready. But the extra few months actually worked in my favour and I was able to get those extra running sessions under my belt.

"So by the time it was July 18 and the season started, I was perfectly ready to go so in a lot of ways it worked out really well for me."

Obviously growing up and the stories of what his family had achieved with South Fremantle was legendary, but it wasn’t until Ben actually played for the Bulldogs saw what he and his family's legacy meant to so many people that it really hit home.

"I had heard a lot about it but until you actually see the impact they have had on the footy club you don't fully grasp what it means. People talk about it a lot and my dad spoke about it back home, but until you get down here you don't really know what it means," Rioli said.

"But then after that first when we beat East Freo, you go back to the clubhouse and everyone comes up and tells you what a star Sibby was and you hear all these stories. People tell about the games my dad played and it almost sounds super human what he did on the footy field. 

"But to get here and experience it firsthand and hear about the way the people speak about my family, it's amazing. Then there are all the old teammates that played in the 1997 premiership with Deano and until I got down here, I didn’t know just how much the family meant to the footy club. 

"But now I've realised the impact my dad and uncles, and brother Dean have had and it's quite special that's for sure."

While Rioli wasn’t part of the heartache, he knew full well what South Fremantle had been through the previous four years when he arrived in 2020 with the three losing preliminary finals and Grand Final horror show against Subiaco.

But he gets the sense they now come into 2021 with the pressure valve released having won that premiership and he can't wait to see what they can achieve.

"I just think the monkey is off the back more than anything now after the boys lost those three prelims and the way they lost the grand final," Rioli said. 

"I think there won't be those nerves now about getting the monkey off the back so we can all just go out and play free-flowing footy because we've won a flag now. Then you add Cam McCarthy back to the team and Matty Parker who is absolutely training the house down, and we get Blake Schlensog as well. 

"So on paper the team almost looks better on paper and that doesn’t mean anything, but it's a good start when you are starting from scratch again for a new season. 

"The good thing about this is that you go to training and there are 55 blokes there who want to improve every week and it makes it very competitive and a cut-throat environment where you won't play if you aren’t performance. We are going to play some very good footy and I'm looking forward to the year ahead."