Hawthorn forward Cyril Rioli has put his hand up for an AFL grand final recall after his first game in three months.
Star Hawthorn forward Cyril Rioli has declared himself ready for next Saturday’s AFL grand final against Sydney.
After Rioli’s latest hamstring injury three months ago, he returned to football on Sunday and played his first game for Hawthorn’s VFL affiliates Box Hill.
Rioli had to prove his fitness in the grand final loss to Footscray, but the two-time AFL premiership player was also protected.
He played just three quarters of the match and despite the tight contest, with Box Hill leading Footscray by a solitary goal at the last change, he was rested for the entire final quarter.
Rioli was rested twice in each quarter before sitting out the match on the bench after three-quarter time.
Nevertheless, Rioli said when he faces Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson, he will declare himself ready for Hawthorn’s third grand final in as many years.
“I’d say I’m ready. As I said, I eased into it, out on the ground I hit some speed which I was very happy with,” Rioli said.
“I’m just glad it held up and hopefully I’m playing next week.”
Before the match, Hawthorn added to their AFL grand final selection intrigue when they withdrew veteran Brad Sewell and ruckman Ben McEvoy from the Box Hill lineup.
It suggests the pair, like Rioli, are in contention for AFL grand final recalls.
Sewell would be a natural replacement if Jordan Lewis does not recover from the corked thigh he suffered in Saturday night’s tight preliminary final win over Port Adelaide.
Rioli started Sunday’s match in Box Hill’s forward half and spent all his game time there.
He had 10 disposals, three marks, three tackles, three clearance and kicked just one behind.
Several times he choose to dish off the ball rather than take a shot on goal and his usual brilliant timing seemed to elude him.
Considered one of the fastest players in the AFL, Rioli at times appeared to be running at three quarter pace, staying in the contest rather than out-pacing his Footscray opponent Sam Darley.
But a trademark Rioli move set up a goal for teammate Sam Collins in the third quarter.
After the match, Rioli said his game had played out as expected.
“I was hoping to play 60 or 70 per cent of game time and I think I did that and stayed off the last quarter,” he said.
“Like I said I got through and hit some top pace, which I am pretty happy with.”
Rioli also admitted to pre-game nerves.
“The last three weeks I have been doing a lot of work, but I haven’t played a game yet, so today was a real test and I’m very happy with the way I got through,” he said.
“I was very nervous before the game, being in a Box Hill grand final (but) once I got that first kick out of the way, I was pretty happy.”
He was also confident in how he pulled up from the hitout.