Four Indigenous players will take part in this Saturday’s AFL Grand Final at the MCG. We’ve brought you the highlights and lowlights of their seasons ahead of the big dance.
Travis Varcoe—Collingwood Magpies
Narangga athlete Travis Varcoe will represent Collingwood and could win his third Premiership medal, placing him in an elite group of players.
Varcoe has played through the finals series despite the tragic loss of his 27-year-old sister at the end of August. She died in hospital after an on-field head clash while playing the Adelaide Football League women’s grand final.
The 30-year-old forward is a key player for Collingwood for his versatility—he can also play in the midfield if called upon. Varcoe won two Premierships with Geelong and joined Collingwood in 2015. He notched his 200th AFL game this season and his experience will be instrumental if the Magpies are going to defeat the boys from the West.
Lewis Jetta—West Coast Eagles
The Bridgetown local is a crowd favourite and another experienced campaigner set for a massive game on Saturday. Jetta has one Premiership medal in his cabinet, collected in 2012 while playing for the Sydney Swans.
In that game, Jetta produced one of the highlights of grand final history, receiving a handball deep in defence and setting off on a sprint battle with Hawthorn’s Cyril Rioli that ended in a Sydney goal. West Coast fans will hope Jetta can replicate the sizzling display of speed this Saturday against Collingwood.
Six years on, he’s averaged an impressive 16.6 disposals per game in his 19-games, steering the Eagles into the grand final. One to create opportunities rather than finish them, Jetta has only kicked one goal this season. Can you guess which team it was against? That’s right, Collingwood, in week one of the finals. He’s a key player for the Eagles particularly because of his experience in big events.
“That sprint was one of those moments where you look back now and are like, ‘Wow, I did that in a GF,’ Jetta said.
“Yeah I could still do it. But I prefer to kick the ball 50m, 60m, instead of running with it now. Hopefully one of the younger boys, maybe Liam [Ryan] or Willie [Rioli] … could do one of those runs as well.”
Willie Rioli—West Coast Eagles
Willie Rioli has enormous pedigree heading into his first AFL Grand Final. His cousin Cyril, now retired, won the Norm Smith medal for best on ground in the 2015 grand final—the fourth of his Premierships with Hawthorn. Willie’s Uncle Maurice won the Norm Smith medal in 1982 and his cousin Daniel played in Richmond’s Premiership winning team last year.
Willie is now making a name for himself with the Eagles, only missing one game this year—round one against the Sydney Swans. Rioli has worked hard on looking after his body after two hamstring injuries kept him off the paddock for much of 2017. He has kicked 27 goals from his 25 games, and credits much of his success to the support of his parents. He also praised Jetta for his leadership this year, in what has been a breakout season for the rookie.
“I’m just happy I’m contributing to the team and finding my mojo,” he told reporters.
Liam Ryan—West Coast Eagles
Ryan was selected with pick number 26 in last season draft. He’s played 12 games this season and working with Rioli in the forward line, bagged an impressive 20 goals.
The statistics might have been even better had a serious ankle injury and a club-imposed suspension not kept him off the field for half the year. In 2017 he kicked an astounding 73 goals from 23 games playing for Subiaco in the WAFL.
In just 12 games, the 21-year-old has crumbed and sped his way into a deadly prospect in the forward line, particularly alongside Rioli.
Rioli and Ryan both made their debuts this season and what they lack in experience on AFL Grand Final day, they’ll make up for with their ability to read the play.
If you see the ball sail through the middle sticks, it’ll likely be this guy.
By Keiran Deck