AAP AFL

AFL fairytale turns to nightmare for Rioli

By AAP Newswire

He survived a near-death coma, won a fairytale AFL premiership, is still with his childhood sweetheart, and is now engulfed in a shock doping storm - welcome to the life of West Coast forward Willie Rioli.

Speak to anyone who knows Rioli, and they will describe him as one of the most genuine and friendly characters you will ever meet in life.

The star goalsneak has an almost child-like view of the world - an innocence and infectious excitement that has won him admirers at every place he has lived or played football.

But with that innocence also comes naivety, and it's that naivety during a moment of panic that may have led him into making the worst decision of his life on August 20.

Rioli is facing a ban of up to four years after being accused of tampering with his urine sample during a routine ASADA test.

There's suggestions he supplied an energy drink instead of urine in a bid to dupe the drug testers - an unfathomable act that has left the football world gobsmacked.

At just 24 years of age, Rioli is facing one of the toughest moments of his life.

But he has faced tougher.

In 2012, Rioli almost died from a pneumonia-related virus at the age of 16.

The situation was so grim, Rioli was put on life support for two of the nine days he spent in a coma.

"I remember going home and I was feeling a little bit cold, but it was like 40 degrees and I was wrapped in a doona and a jumper," Rioli told Footy WA last year.

"Mum was looking at me and said I wasn't right and she was going to take me to the clinic.

"I remember waking up nine days later after being in bed and I tried to get up and walk and couldn't walk.

"I had to learn how to walk again."

Rioli boasts a bloodline of football royalty, but it wasn't until he burned off the kilos that his AFL dream became a reality.

The 175cm forward was overweight and playing with the Tiwi Bombers in Darwin at an age when he was eligible to be drafted into AFL ranks.

But after linking with SANFL club Glenelg in time for the 2015 season, Rioli dropped a staggering 16kg to put his name in the mix for the 2016 national draft.

The Eagles swooped with pick No.52, but Rioli failed to crack an AFL game in his first year because of serious hamstring setbacks.

Boasting family members such as Cyril, Daniel Rioli and Maurice Rioli and Ronnie Burns - it seemed just a matter of time before Willie Rioli lit up the AFL.

Fans got their first taste of that last year and Rioli has gone from strength to strength ever since to establish himself as one of the league's best small forwards.

Last year's premiership success was a fairytale - not only for Rioli himself, but also for his adoring family members and community in the Tiwi Islands.

Rioli's sizzling skills had already won him over legions of fans.

But his sincerity off the field also touched the hearts of the football world.

Honest, caring and funny. Rioli quickly became a favourite among West Coast's player group.

He also took fellow indigenous star Liam Ryan under his wing when the 22-year-old hit some personal struggles and lost his licence for a drunken car crash last year.

Rioli was just 14 when he met the love of his life - Lucy Campbell-Brogan.

The pair have been together ever since and welcomed their first child into the world in 2017 - a boy they named Martin.

Rioli says Martin is his pride and joy and seeing him with a smile on his face is better than the feeling of kicking four goals in a match.

Ten other players at West Coast also have kids, and Rioli spoke recently about how happy he was that his child will grow up at the club.

"It's a real family feeling around the club," Rioli said.

"This club is where I want my son to grow up and be around.

"My kids will grow up with Liam's and JD's and Reddo's kids.

"For me, anything to do with caring for another person, or anything to do with family is special."

Earlier this week, Eagles coach Adam Simpson spoke about how much he's looking forward to coaching Rioli over the next few years.

Depending on the how long Rioli's ban is, Simpson may not get that chance ever again and football will be poorer for it.