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Hawks premiership hero turns down match day invitation amid suggestions of fallout with club



Hawthorn heads to Darwin for the first time this weekend, but one of both the club and the region’s favourite sons is unlikely to be at TIO Stadium for the Sir Doug Nicholls Round clash with Gold Coast.

Four-time premiership forward Cyril Rioli has turned down an invitation from the Hawks to attend the game, although the club remains hopeful that he will have a change of heart and decide to be there.

Since his sudden retirement in 2018, after a magical 189-game career that included flags in 2008 and 2013-2015 as well as the Norm Smith Medal in 2015, Rioli has had little to do with Hawthorn, amid suggestions he had fallen out with figures at the club.

There was an episode in 2018 when Rioli’s wife Shannyn took offence at Launceston airport at something said by Hawks president Jeff Kennett. He later apologised for the remark and from all reports, the issue was settled, but Shannyn’s homesickness was a contributing factor in his decision to retire.

His last game for the club was in round four 2018, when he suffered a medial ligament injury. He was due back in the side by the middle of the season, reportedly for Shaun Burgoyne’s 350th game, but instead flew back to Darwin just before the game. Not surprisingly, he made his retirement official shortly afterwards.

He was also a last minute no-show at around the same time for the 10-year reunion of the 2008 premiership team. He was the only player from that team who did not attend the festivities, much to the disappointment of his teammates, which again raised the question of whether he had become estranged from the club.

Given that he returned home to Darwin as soon as he retired and because of the complications caused by COVID over the last 12 months, chances for Rioli to interact with the Hawks since then have been limited.

He was, and remains, adored by Hawthorn supporters, having given them 10 years of incredible highlights and is a key reason why the club has a healthy supporter base in the Top End and has established close ties with the football community in Katherine, the fourth largest settlement in the Northern Territory, 320km southeast of Darwin.

The Hawks were delighted to be fixtured to play at TIO Stadium this season and initial plans were for it to be a major celebration, with Rioli on hand and hopefully, Darwin-born Shaun Burgoyne’s 400th AFL game. To have one of the game’s leading indigenous identities reach the milestone during the Sir Doug Nichols Round would have been especially memorable.

But the 38-year-old has been nursing an ankle injury and the Hawks have not indicated when he will return. If he plays this weekend and can put together a run of games, his 400th will come at Marvel Stadium in round 16 against his former club, Port Adelaide.

If not this weekend, then that is the occasion that the Hawks hope will prompt Rioli to return to the fold once more.


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