2015 will go down as the year that Cyril Rioli finally cemented himself as a true star.
We’ve seen flashes of brilliance in his first seven seasons, but constant hamstring troubles and a habit of regularly going missing in games has hampered him.
While his disposals per game is the lowest it’s been since his debut season, thanks largely to spending less time in the midfield, his scoreboard impact and his influence on the outcome of games has been unmatched.
He has 34 goals from 19 games this season, and is almost certain to pass his best of 35 in a home-and-away season.
Similarly, he has already equalled his career best of 52 scoring shots.
Alastair Clarkson’s decision to play Rioli more permanently in the forward line has given Hawthorn a fourth serious scoring option alongside Jack Gunston, Luke Breust and Jarryd Roughead. Those four have combined for 159 goals this year.
Increased time in the forward fifty has resulted in four hauls of three goals or more which is significant, as across Rioli’s career Hawthorn have only lost three of the 22 games where he has kicked at least three goals. All three of those loses came during Hawthorn’s disappointing 2009 and 2010 campaigns.
Much has been made of the need to expose Hawthorn’s lack of midfield pace in order to bring down the reigning premiers, but keeping Rioli quiet is arguably just as important.
Excluding his debut season, Hawthorn have lost 42 per cent of games where Rioli kicked one goal or less, a significant rise from only losing 20 per cent of games where Rioli scored multiple goals.
Since day one Rioli’s ability at ground level has been well known. The majority of his highlights reel consists of goals created through forward pressure or his crafty ability to weave through four or five players after getting front and square at a contest.
However, Rioli’s aerial presence has increased significantly this year, resulting in a career high for marks inside 50 and making him an even tougher player to match-up on.
Very few sides have a defender readily available that can match Rioli for pace while also being able to compete with him in the air. This is why Rioli is such a headache for opposition coaches.
None of the other top four teams appear to have a player that they can automatically turn to and rely on to stop Rioli. Sydney have had extremely good results in using Alex Johnson, but a fourth knee reconstruction earlier this year means he will be nowhere in sight come finals time.
The next month will see countless hours poured into deconstructing Hawthorn’s game plan, and you can be assured that a significant portion of those hours will be spent worrying over who will line up next to the man wearing 33 in brown and gold.
Cyril Rioli is a true star of the game now and the rest of the competition is on alert.