Why Nick Riewoldt must remain a Saint


Nick Riewoldt training in New Zealand. Source: FILE

Nick Riewoldt should not be traded to other clubs in the wider interests of the game, writes Jake Niall of The Age.

If Buddy, Gary and Juddy can move clubs, why can’t Nick Riewoldt?

If Nick Dal Santo is likely to finish his career at a club that’s far closer to a premiership than the Saints, why can’t Riewoldt also seek to emulate Brian Lake?

Dale Thomas is making the hazardous move from Collingwood to Carlton. In the minds of one club’s vociferous supporters, that’s akin to Anakin Skywalker hooking himself up to a breathing apparatus.

For the Blues, Daisy’s jumping the Berlin Wall and finding freedom. But the same logic applies – if Daisy’s prepared to take the heat for leaving the Pies for Carlton, why shouldn’t Riewoldt outrage his tribe by finishing up with Collingwood (or, less offensively, Richmond)?

Here’s why. St Kilda Football Club has to stand for something, besides the burning of small people and aberrant player behaviour. Saint Nick is among the rocks upon which this church is built.

At a time when the Saints are struggling for wins, money and unity, they need Riewoldt to provide stability, leadership and a corporate memory of those gallant grand final teams.

They need him to hang around long enough for impressionable youngsters to learn how to train and prepare themselves. He’s the premier role model at his club.

But it’s not just St Kilda that would be damaged by Riewoldt leaving the Saints. The game needs him to stay.

Players, coaches, officials and even fans have been conditioned to the notion that football ”is a business now.” Well, yes it’s commercial, cut-throat and the better players are increasingly willing to move. What goes unsaid, however, is that while it is a business, it’s a business like no other. The business of football is supported by the religion. That makes it the reverse of Scientology.

Sometimes, the hard-headed decision just isn’t right. Club members aren’t regular shareholders. They aren’t looking for a conventional return on their investment. They want to win and be part of a like-minded congregation. And they want players to adore.

Some beloved players ascend to sainthood, a rare few are further elevated to become the club messiah, and then there’s James Hird.

Franklin mattered to Hawthorn fans – particularly to children – but wasn’t so integral to Hawthorn’s playing group and coaches. He’s an external loss, not someone mourned at close quarters. The Hawks would find it much harder to cop Luke Hodge leaving. ”I’d be devastated if Hodge went and played for GWS,” said one Hawthorn insider, in the wake of Buddy’s exit. ”I’d imagine that’s how St Kilda would feel about Riewoldt.”

The fans certainly would feel flattened by Riewoldt leaving. As a captain, he’s more officer class than in the earthy Hodge-style, so his teammates mightn’t be quite as mournful. But he would still leave one hell of a hole.

Geelong’s inspiring skipper Joel Selwood is another player whose exit would be horrifying – a fact he recognised a couple of years ago, when he spurned an offer of what we believe was almost $1.5 million a year for five years to play for Greater Western Sydney. Not everyone takes the money.

Riewoldt, clearly, has had to contemplate the prospect of moving. He was approached by Eddie McGuire and he would also appeal to a couple of other clubs. Richmond, for instance, has the family connection via Jack, and their front half would be greatly approved with a second Riewoldt.

But the Saints are adamant that their Riewoldt won’t be traded. They’ve had some discussions about extending his contract, which runs out at the end of next year. The club is willing to extend Riewoldt’s contract by 12 months, in what is a recognition of his special circumstances and stature.

Riewoldt’s partner Catherine is from Texas and he’d be aware of how Peyton Manning, the decorated quarterback and franchise player, crossed from the Indianapolis Colts to the Denver Broncos during 2012.

Manning’s situation at the Colts had strong parallels with Riewoldt’s. His team was bottomed out and rebuilding. When they chose an outstanding young quarterback, Andrew Luck, as the NFL’s No.1 pick, the Colts decided to let Manning go and find a club which was still a realistic chance for the Super Bowl. He chose the Broncos, who’ve consequently won their first four matches this year and are favourites to be there on Super Sunday.

While Manning had won a Super Bowl ring with the Colts and Riewoldt has been cruelly denied the AFL equivalent twice, the Saints’ situation is pretty comparable to the Colts, though they don’t have the rights to Tom Boyd, the projected No.1 pick who would replace Riewoldt in the same way that Luck filled the Manning slot at quarterback (Manning, Luck and Riewoldt all being No.1 picks, Boyd anointed as No.1). There’s no denying that, philosophically, it makes sense to give up a very good player to a team that can win a flag – or which thinks it can – when your team obviously cannot win one during his career.

Collingwood has pick 10, will surely gain pick No.11 for Thomas and will be further compensated for trading Heath Shaw. The Pies might have given St Kilda a first rounder for Riewoldt, theoretically putting them back closer to premiership contention. I say ”theoretically” since the Pies have lost two A-grade players and appear lacking in both leg speed and defenders who can kick. Riewoldt wouldn’t necessarily be the answer for them.

If Riewoldt was to go, one wonders how many other iconic players will follow. It would be natural to wonder, then, if there’s a single player who couldn’t be shifted if the circumstances suited club and player.

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