Willie Rioli was just three months away from ending a two-year drug ban from the AFL when he got himself arrested for drugs. Rioli was allegedly caught in possession of cannabis recently and earned his second nomination for The Frownlow Medal, as well as a second possible suspension from the sport.
The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015, while AFL player Elijah Taylor is the most recent recipient.
Rioli was first nominated for Frownlow honours in 2019 when he failed an ASADA drug test. Two weeks later, he tested positive again to metabolite cannabis on a match day in September, and was found guilty of two breaches relating to tampering with a urine sample, and one for the use of cannabis.
After the failed test and the suspension, Rioli said:
“I realise I have done wrong things and I have learned from it. I am sorry for letting people down. I am looking forward to putting all this behind me and playing footy again soon.”
It seems he may not have learned anything, as a police sniffer dog allegedly detected cannabis in his possession at Darwin airport recently. Rioli was living and playing lower-grade football in the top end while he sat out the two-year ban for the 2019 offence, and the courts will now decide if he ever returns to the field for the West Coast Eagles.
Rioli’s fall from grace is an unfortunate stain on a family of AFL royalty, which has produced many outstanding players across multiple generations. Willie’s nomination also comes on the exact same day that his cousin and Richmond player, Daniel, was also nominated for Frownlow honours.
Willie was supposed to be eligible for selection in August of this year, but now his AFL fate, and his chances of winning The Frownlow Medal, are in the hands of the judges.