West Coast captain Luke Shuey says Willie Rioli has the potential to make an instant impact in the AFL when the banned goalsneak is available to play again from August 20.
Rioli has officially been welcomed back to the club following the end of his training ban, with the 26-year-old expected to join his teammates for a light session on Monday afternoon.
The premiership player’s two-year ban for twice substituting a urine sample during an anti-doping test expires on August 20, meaning he will be available to play in the final round of the home-and-away season.
Shuey says the first priority is to ensure Rioli and his family resettle well back into Perth life.
But the skipper is confident Rioli, who will now embark on a nine-week training block, can have an impact this year.
“He’s got natural talent. So I don’t think he needs a massive block of training or three or four practice matches to get going,” Shuey said.
“You remember what he was like as a player – no one can do the stuff he does. If we can get him back, that’s a huge bonus for us.
“Not a lot of teams have a player like Willie. And the teams that do, they tend to be the teams up the top of the ladder, because they’re special players and they can win games for you off their own boot.”
As for Rioli’s current state of fitness?
“Well he had a big puffer jacket on the other day (when I saw him), so I was hoping that was just the jacket,” Shuey said with a laugh.
“Nah he’s fine. He’s been training hard. The whole two years he was out he was committed to coming back ready to go, whenever that was.
“He’s trained reasonably hard up north. Obviously you can’t replicate a game intensity or a training session with teammates, but he’s worked his backside off and I think he’s in a good position to get going today.”
Rioli’s future hung in the balance last month after it emerged he had been caught with cannabis at a Darwin airport in April, and then failed to inform West Coast about the incident.
The Eagles decided to give Rioli another chance, and Shuey said his premiership teammate has been welcomed back with open arms.
“What’s important is what he does from here on in,” Shuey said.
“What happened in the past we’ve dealt with, we’ve spoken with him and he understands the reality of the whole thing.
“He’s remorseful. He regrets what’s happened but that’s OK and we’ve welcomed him back with open arms.
“The boys are happy to have him back. He’s a little Energizer bunny for us. For a lot of us he’s a premiership teammate.”