South Fremantle Bulldogs announce Aboriginal team of century

Wan July 3, 2009, 5:08 pm

South Fremantle's rich vein of Aboriginal talent will be tapped tonight when the Bulldogs announce their indigenous team of the century at a special dinner at the club.

No mainstream club in the country boasts such a pool on which to draw an all-star team to celebrate the wizardry and sixth-sense awareness of native Australians.

South Fremantle have fielded 78 players in senior ranks since the club was formed in 1900, including Jimmy Melbourne, the first Aboriginal to play senior football in Australia.

Known as "Greased Lightning" because of his blistering pace, Melbourne originally played at West Perth before joining the Bulldogs in 1904. He then crossed to Subiaco.

Club chief executive Brian Ciccotosto, the driving force behind tonight's dinner, said the depth of talent was reflected in the fact that 22 Bulldogs had gone on to play VFL/AFL football. And many who would have made it shied away from the bright lights of Melbourne.

Claremont, with 12 players, are the next best in WAFL ranks.

Though the Bulldogs cover country areas from Kojonup to Wagin to Pingelly, their pipeline to the Northern Territory has provided them with some outstanding players.

The genesis of the celebrated link was established by former committeeman Dick Woodgate when he worked in Darwin in the early 70s and became associated with the St Mary's Football Club.

"Dick recommended we bring some of these guys down and the first to appear was Sebastian Rioli in 1972, then followed the likes of Basil Campbell and Maurice Rioli in 1975," Ciccotosto said.

Ciccotosto, a champion rover who captained the team from 1975 to 1977, has a soft spot for Sebastian - one of eight brothers - whose weight often ballooned when he was sidelined with recurring hamstring problems.

"Sibby was a frontiersman," he said. "I captained all of them and I liked them all but Sibby was my favourite because he was the first one down here and he made it easier for others to follow.

"He ended up having a lot of problems with his hamstring but he was a great impact player, a great half-forward.

"You know he was included in the training squad for WA's 1972 carnival side after only four WAFL games. He never made the final squad, but I remember State coach Haydn Bunton getting excited about his talents."

Four of the Rioli brothers - Sebastian, Cyril, Maurice and Willie - all played league for the Bulldogs while John, Manny and Laurence came down but the pull of Darwin was like a magnetic force.

John won a Medallists Medal for the league's best player in the colts before returning home.

Despite the national acclaim won by Maurice during his days at Richmond where be won a Norm Smith Medal in a losing grand final side in 1982, the year before he was runner-up to Ross Glendinning for the Brownlow, Ciccotosto rates ruck warrior Stephen Michael as the best of them all.

"In my opinion he was the greatest and that's why we've made him captain and Maurice vice-captain," Ciccotosto said.

"Stephen was the real figurehead and when he and Maurice were around, all the Aboriginal players behaved themselves."

Bill Hayward, one of three brothers to have played with the Bulldogs in 1936-37, has been included on the interchange bench and is the only pre-World War II player in the line-up.

The team features fathers and sons in Stephen and Clem Michael and Sebastian and Dean Rioli, along with brothers such as the Materas, Collards and McGraths.

The selectors - Ciccotosto, Mal Brown and myself - found one line particularly easy to name. Only a dreamtime team could bring together a centreline which features Peter Matera, Maurice Rioli and Nicky Winmar.

It was a demanding task to trim the original list to a squad of 30, and then almost impossible to cut it back to 22. Players such as Cory McGrath, Ashley Sampi, Warren Campbell, Keren Ugle, Michael Cockie, Willie Rioli, and Shane Tipuamantamerri were unlucky not to have made the side while Leroy Jetta was also considered. - _Tickets for tonight's dinner are still available from the club. _

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