Eagles ready to give Rioli plenty of love

Mystery surrounds the timing of Willie Rioli's return to training, but the West Coast goalsneak can expect plenty of love when he finally rocks up.

ANDREW GAFF at Optus Stadium in Perth, Australia.
ANDREW GAFF  at Optus Stadium in Perth, Australia. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty Images

West Coast midfielder Andrew Gaff says he and his teammates will show Willie Rioli plenty of love when the banned goalsneak returns to training.

Rioli is expected to return to Perth and resume season preparations in the near future, but the exact date remains a mystery.

There was initial talk Rioli would rejoin the squad after the Christmas break, but he was a notable absentee when the Eagles hit the track on January 6.

The 24-year-old is facing a ban of up to four years after allegedly tampering with his urine sample in August during a routine drug test.

He also tested positive for a metabolite of cannabis some weeks later, but it is the alleged urine tampering that threatens to end his fledgling career.

Rioli has been spending time with family in Darwin and in the Tiwi Islands since news broke of his provisional ban last September.

And Eagles players will give him a loving welcome when he returns.

"We'd love to have him back and we'd love to get around him and support him through this difficult time," Gaff said.

"We're hoping pretty soon (he returns). He's had a really tough time.

"But we're looking forward to throwing our arms around him and helping him and supporting him through what has been a challenging six months."

With Rioli expected to miss the entire 2020 season, a spot could open up for Jarrod Brander in the forward line.

Gaff has been impressed by the 20-year-old's work on the training track, and says Brander's flexibility could also prove crucial.

The 195cm utility can also play on the wing or in defence.

"We've got a lot of good half-forwards like Jamie Cripps, (Jack) Petruccelle, and Liam Ryan," Gaff said.

"Jarrod throws a different type of player into the mix. He's taller, he's aerobically very good, and he can provide the team with a lot.

"The great thing about him is he can play any position of the ground."

Gaff is keen to play his part in the AFL's bushfire appeal match, saying he's available for selection if Victoria pick him against an All Stars side.

The 27-year-old has been shocked at the scale of devastation the fires have caused and says it would be an honour to play alongside some of the AFL's best players to help raise money for the relief cause.

"Any time you can play against the best and with the best would be amazing," Gaff said.


AAP