Dave Hughes put it best on Before the Game last Saturday night. “Nick Riewoldt! Didn’t you read the papers over the summer? You are meant to be,”… well you get the point.
Talks about Riewoldt’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, and clearly premature. Not only is he defying the critics by constantly putting in great performances, he is in fact bettering his career averages, quite a feat for someone with his previous credentials.
You will be hard pressed to find a key forward who has been as phenomenal and as consistent as the St. Kilda captain in the past decade. Yet despite this quality, Riewoldt was written off by many prior to the season, perhaps because of a knee injury suffered late last year against GWS.
However, nine rounds into the season, Riewoldt has showed no signs of the injury let alone any sign of slowing down at all. In fact, Riewoldt has been one of the only bright sparks (along with recruit Dylan Roberton) in the Saints’ demoralising start to the year, where they have won only two of nine games.
While Riewoldt’s Grand Final teammates have either stagnated or abandoned ship, the Saints captain has been nothing but admirable in attempting to revive the Saints, despite limited results. In the last five weeks, Riewoldt has averaged 20.2 disposals and kicked 14 goals in that time (an average of 2.8 a game). To put that in relative terms, Riewoldt has averaged 16.2 and 2.2 in those categories over his outstanding 247 game career.
The game at the weekend against the Western Bulldogs epitomised what Riewoldt is all about. His St. Kilda teammates were being beaten to the ball by the lower-rated Bulldogs side, who had won just one game out of their past 19. Despite kicking 4.2, the captain’s efforts weren’t enough to see his side get over the line, but don’t try and tell him that. Up until the very last minute, Riewoldt was throwing his body around, running back with the flight in a contest which brought back memories of his infamous mark against Sydney: he was close in the contest, but it just was not enough. That tells the whole story of the Saints’ season really.
It is becoming more evident that Riewoldt will not be a premiership player, the heartache of 2009 and 2010 being as close as he will get. For a man of Riewoldt’s stature to miss out on the grandest of accolades is a shame, and potentially an excuse for one to lose sight and become complacent.
Not for the captain. When others have regressed, Riewoldt has clearly performed to the best of his ability to cover his teammates: it is just a shame that others have not followed suit.
Nick Dal Santo, while improved in the last couple of weeks, is a shadow of his former self. Lenny Hayes returned from injury against the Western Bulldogs only to be subbed out of the game with calf trouble. Justin Koschitzke’s last good season was 2009, and Brendon Goddard jumped across to Essendon. It is safe to say that despite Riewoldt’s heroic efforts, covering the lack of quality of his teammates was bound to be insurmountable.
His apparent demise over the last few years in which his performances apparently were not up to standard were clearly influenced by injuries for Riewoldt. The early stages of the 2013 season have not only reminded fans of his quality, but also what a joy it is to see him at full flight.
Injury permitting, he will reach game 250 against Melbourne in round thirteen: the game will surely be a celebration of a man who has always put the club in front of himself. Saints fans and players alike must go out in force in support of the captain, their hero, who has been nothing short of admirable in both triumph and defeat over the last decade.
His career has seen him receive accolades such as the AFLPA Most Valuable Player, a club record of five Trevor Barker (best and fairest) awards, the NAB Rising Star in 2002, and also four appearances in the All-Australian team, including captain in 2009. If he keeps going at this rate, he may have another best and fairest and even another All-Australian to add to the collection at the age of 30.
As the number one draft pick in the 2000 National Draft, it was evident that ‘Roo’ was coming into a side at the very bottom. It seems as though he will depart in a team of a similar position, if not being hoisted up by some of the lesser clubs. But there is no doubt that Riewoldt will exit this game, whenever that may be, nothing short of a champion, who just fell short at the final hurdle of winning a premiership.