The West Coast Eagles are coming off a very disappointing season. After making the finals six seasons in a row, the Eagles finished in ninth position with just ten wins and their first loss to crosstown rivals Fremantle since 2015.
Willie Rioli is poised to make his AFL return against the Brisbane Lions with West Coast confirming the premiership forward is eligible for selection after completing his doping ban.
Rioli was provisionally suspended before the 2019 semi-final against Geelong and in March this year was handed a two-year backdated ban, which ends on Friday, for twice substituting urine during a doping test.
“It has been a long journey back but I’m grateful for it,” Rioli told the club’s website.
“It was mentally challenging; luckily enough I had great family support back home that helped pass the time.
“Waiting for the outcome was the hardest part, not knowing what my future was looking like.”
Rioli returned to training with his Eagles teammates in June.
If named to face Brisbane on Saturday, he will play his first AFL game since September 5, 2019.
“It was good to come back and do what I love doing, that’s to play footy,” he said.
“It’s good to be back in the club environment.
“There’s a few of the boys who I have become really close to and are like family to me now.
“The club is like a sanctuary and safe place for me.
“I get nervous every game, but this will be more of a relief.
“It will probably be surreal to me. It will mean a lot, not only to me, but to my family who have been through the hard times.”
On Sunday, coach Adam Simpson said he was considering whether to call on Rioli for West Coast’s must-win clash with the Lions – although the 26-year-old could instead play in the WAFL or be held back until 2022.
The Eagles sit ninth, behind Essendon due to an inferior percentage.
“He’s done nothing but impress us and the players the way he’s gone about it,” Simpson said.
“We’ll have to weigh it all up and see how we go.
“He’s training well and he’s had a really good block of fitness, so we’ll see how we go.”