Riley Bonner is the first Rising Star nominee in 2018. Before joining the Power, Bonner played with West Adelaide alongside former Crow Jason Porplyzia, who shares his thoughts on the exciting youngster in an exclusive AFLPlayers.com.au column.
The year 2015 was a great one for the West Adelaide Football Club.
We were a strong side and complementing that were a great bunch of kids who had some serious talent. Aaron Francis and Will Snelling were two that stood out.
But while watching the Under-18s in a Round 3 match at home against Sturt, I noticed a kid who I knew would be drafted come the end of the season.
It was an ordinary day, a wet one, but this kid stood out like a sore thumb. He was handling the ball like it was completely dry, gliding over the top of the grass and sending the ball our way with a penetrating left foot.
He was comfortably the best player on the ground and had more than 20 touches in the first half. He was a class above everyone else.
He also kicked four goals and it grabbed everyone’s attention. Despite being April, that was all the confirmation I needed to know that Riley Bonner was a serious candidate for AFL footy.
AFL clubs started becoming keen after that. They could see him developing into that damaging ball-user off half-back.
We were a settled side in 2015 and went on to win the premiership so it was difficult for Riley to break into that back six but he finally got his chance in Round 17 against South Adelaide.
Again, it was an ordinary day and it’s always windy at Noarlunga Oval but he certainly didn’t do his draft chances any damage — he looked right at home.
He didn’t do anything wrong but we had a number of senior guys coming back and he made way for them. We were peaking in our form as a team and he didn’t get another look in after that.
On draft day, he may have even been touted as a first-round pick but slipped to the Power at 37 — I’m fairly confident they’ve got a steal in Riley.
I guess the only knock on him was his contested ball stuff. He never shirked a contest but he played that outside role for us.
It didn’t take long for that to change though. Clearly, Port have worked hard with him on that side of his game because the next time we played on the same footy field, it was wearing opposite colours in the SANFL, and Riley was noticeably more aggressive and assertive at the contest.
Riley was a great kid. He comes from a great family so it’s easy to see why he’s turned out the way he has. He was confident among his peers. He knew he had some football talent but was always respectful and listened to coaching staff and anyone who was willing to help him out.
He carried himself well among the group. The younger players looked up to him and he was a role model for other kids coming through.
Riley really pushed himself along with the other guys I mentioned above. They all seemed to help each other out and grow together.
From my point of view, I never had any doubt about Riley’s potential. It just took time to build his body and engine, which can take time for some people.
Watching him from afar now has been terrific, it’s great recognition for the West Adelaide program and Riley has always been willing to help out with speaking to our younger players about his journey. It’s a real testament to his character that he remembers those who helped him along the way.
I hope he keeps progressing. I think he could be one of those elite players of the AFL in a couple of years. I’m certainly enjoying watching him.