When former Richmond forward Nick Daffy joined Werribee as the forward line coach ahead of the 2019 VFL season he was told the club was short on putting together an imposing forward line.
With that in mind, Daffy decided to piece together the players he thought could have an impact for the group, including the reasonably unsighted Jake Riccardi.
Riccardi, who had played with the Calder Cannons in the NAB League for two years prior and been the occasional 23rd man for Werribee, was touch and go to be selected for Round 1 as a raw key forward.
Ultimately, Daffy and Werribee’s senior coach Mark ‘Choco’ Williams took the leap and named him for the first game of the season.
It was a risk worth taking, with Riccardi’s confidence and ability skyrocketing by the week.
“I remember a recruiter from Essendon talking about him (during the season) and we just knew that he was getting it and growing at a rapid rate,” Daffy told aflplayers.com.au following Riccardi’s Round 14 Rising Star nomination.
“Each week we would work on something, bring it into the game and eventually we ticked a few boxes and he kept getting better and better.”
Daffy, who played 165 games at Richmond from 1991-2001 before joining the Swans for a season, said he saw shades of Tigers great Matthew Richardson in Riccardi.
“The way (Riccardi) ran and how he reached for the ball, it was clear from the start the similarities between himself and ‘Richo,'” he said.
With growing confidence coming from the coaches, Riccardi began to feed off that energy and bring his own self-belief into games.
According to Daffy he was always the first on the tracking track and the last to leave, driven to succeed and earn his place on an AFL list after missing out on two Drafts.
Riccardi kicked 38 goals from 20 matches in 2019, earning him the Fothergill-Round Medal as the league’s most promising player alongside Coburg’s Marcus Lentini.
It was no surprise to Daffy to see the young forward recognised following his rapid development across the season.
Despite the improvement in his game and forward craft, recruiters still had question marks around Riccardi’s “killer instincts” as a forward, something Daffy doesn’t believe rings true.
“Recruiters asked me if (Riccardi) wants to be the man in contests and I was thinking about that often and I didn’t necessarily agree,” he said.
“(The game) has changed a little bit and he wants to work hard on-field, which is the energy people feed off.
“It shows that you don’t always need to be aggressive because if you’re hungry and clever you’re going to get the ball.”
Whatever question marks may have existed around Riccardi’s ability at the elite level, it wasn’t enough to deter the Giants, who selected him with pick No. 51 in last year’s National Draft.
Riccardi was made to bide his time on the sidelines this season before earning his debut in the Giants’ Round 13 loss to West Coast.
He collected 16 touches and kicked two goals, but it wasn’t enough to earn him the Rising Star nomination for that round.
However he backed up his performance against the Dockers, kicking an impressive four majors from 12 disposals.
Even Daffy, who knew what Riccardi was capable of, was surprised by his output.
“I knew he had the ability but I didn’t think that he would get it as quickly as he has,” he said.
“I’ve been really impressed with just how clean and comfortable he is in the contested marking and the way he uses his body.”
Daffy, who has experienced and understands the intricacies of the AFL system, has enjoyed watching Riccardi’s first two games alongside his son and reminding himself why he went into coaching in the first place.
“You’re able to make a difference in giving someone the confidence that it can be done,” he said.
“It’s about setting the right plan and being able to help and support them to know that they can go further.
“It’s been great to see Jake making an impact so early in his career and watching him it’s really hit home as to why I coach.”
AFL RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2020
Round 1 — Sam Sturt (Fremantle)
Round 10 – Luke Jackson (Melbourne)
Round 11 – Kysaiah Pickett (Melbourne)
Round 14 – Jake Riccardi (GWS Giants)