Werribee enjoyed an improved Hard Yakka / Totally Workwear VFL season in 2019 after several leaner years and the club’s developing young guns may still reap the rewards yet.
Bior Malual, Louis Pinnuck and Jake Riccardi were all invited to the recent Victorian State Combine in an indication they’re on the radar of AFL clubs ahead of the 2019 NAB AFL Draft on November 27-28.
The trio are hoping to join the likes of North Melbourne key forward Ben Brown, Adelaide key defender Kyle Hartigan and Gold Coast tall pairing Sam Collins and Josh Corbett as former Tigers currently on AFL lists.
While Malual, Pinnuck and Riccardi all played at least 18 games in Werribee’s first finals campaign since 2015 this year, they weren’t the only Tigers aged 24 or under in 2019 who played consistent roles for the team.
Dominic Brew, Joe Maishman, Ryan Hebron, Matt Munro and VFL Team of the Year member Jack Henderson appeared in every match this season, while players such as Joel Bennett, Max Augerinos and Darcy Bennett are others untried at AFL level who appeared often in the line-up, along with J.J. Liston Trophy winner Tom Gribble, who is still only 25.
20-year-old Riccardi was one of biggest beneficiaries of Werribee senior coach and former Port Adelaide AFL premiership mentor Mark Williams’ first season in charge at Avalon Airport Oval.
The 195cm forward finished equal-second on the VFL goalkicking table with 35 majors from 18 home-and-away matches – behind only Port Melbourne’s now three-time ‘Frosty’ Miller Medal winner Jordan Lisle (40 goals).
— 7VFL (@7VFL) June 30, 2019
Riccardi’s stellar debut senior season out of NAB League club the Calder Cannons was capped with the Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal for the VFL’s most promising young player, placing him in the company of Corbett (2018), Melbourne’s Bayley Fritsch (2017 when at the Casey Demons) and Fremantle’s Luke Ryan (2016 when at Coburg) as recent winners of the award – with the last 13 winners finding their way onto an AFL list.
“When I first walked into the club, it was a really welcoming environment and I thought: ‘This is the place I want to be’,” Riccardi said at September’s VFL Best & Fairest Night, when he was also selected in the VFL Team of the Year. “That was the decision made.
“I wasn’t really expecting much (draft-wise) through last year and even the year before. I was kind of showing a bit but not really in the frame as much, so I thought I’d give myself the best chance and get fit over the (2018-19) off-season.
“I really hit pre-season hard and gave myself the best chance to play for Werribee in Round 1. That was my goal.”
Riccardi ended up well surpassing that initial aim. He played in all 20 games and only went goalless three times, kicking a season-high six majors in the Round 18 win against Coburg as well as one haul of four goals and another four bags of three.
As with his fellow young Tigers, the tutelage of several former elite-level figures who arrived at the club this year could prove crucial in Riccardi potentially realising his AFL dream.
“(Mark Williams) is probably one of the best coaches I’ve had,” Riccardi said. “Without him and (assistant coach and ex-AFL 166-gamer) Nick Daffy and a few of the other coaches there, I wouldn’t have really been here (accepting the Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal).
“(They’ve taught me to) just always stay in the game and be competitive for 120 minutes – some things that you’re not accustomed to in junior footy.
“(Midfield recruit and ex-AFL 141-gamer Michael Barlow) is just a star. If you want to know how to be a consistent footballer, it’s just him. With where he’s been and what he’s been through, he knows what he’s talking about and he knows what he’s doing. You’ve got to listen to everything he says and just absorb everything.”
2019… The most fulfilling and stimulating on a personal level for some time… @WerribeeFC is proud to have the JJ Liston Medalist 🥇 in Tom Gribble and Fothergill Round Mitchell Medalist Jake Riccardi. Proud couch and Teammate of all involved. @VFL pic.twitter.com/dgex0F9R7v
— Michael Barlow (@mjbarlow20) September 10, 2019
* CLICK HERE to see the stories in our 2019 AFL Draft Watch series, including one on Werribee’s Bior Malual.