The first time I played on Nick Riewoldt was the last round of 2010 and I distinctly remember feeling very nervous leading into the game.
I watched him so many times growing up and I vividly remembered the famous mark at the SCG in 2004, and the numerous finals he played in and dominated in the years previous.
Playing on him in my first season as a 19-year-old was incredibly daunting, so I was fortunate that I had Ben Rutten alongside me.
We actually played the Saints earlier in that season, but Nick was out with a hamstring injury so I didn’t get to do battle with him until Round 22.
Ben would often play deeper than me, but every time Nick would run past him, Rutten would provide a bit of a roadblock for him which meant I could somehow catch up again because he kept getting further and further away from me as soon as we started running.
I was just trying to hold on and was lucky to have some good teammates around me because Rooey had me questioning my preparation.
His work rate is much talked about and for good reason.
Generally when playing him, I made a conscious decision that if he went anywhere I thought he might not get the ball I’d just let him go, but that came with experience as I started to gain more confidence.
I don’t think I’m unfit, but he was just on another level and if I tried to follow him to every pocket of the ground I’d be in all sorts of trouble. He definitely ran further than most opponents!
Something that I noticed about his game was that he seemed to get stronger as he got older.
When I first started on him he was always stronger, then I went through a patch where I evened things up as I got older, but then it felt like he got stronger again in the last few years.
People will always refer to his key strengths as being able to run and jump, but I think his one-on-one play was underrated. He could move the best defenders around.
If anyone had the right to be cocky out on the field or sledge a younger opponent like myself, it would have been Nick Riewoldt.
Despite all that, he never really did.
He was a fierce competitor and the majority of the time it was his football that did most of the talking. I never tried to get in a sledging battle because it was pointless for me, he’d usually have the football in his hands anyway!
To be fair, he was spending more time helping his teammates around him and helping to organise them rather than expending energy on verbal sledges. That’s probably why he shone as one of the best leaders in the competition.
Nick was someone that you had to be very physical with. If you let it become a running race, you were going to be in serious strife.
I wanted to make it harder for him to simply run off me to limit his ability.
It’s important to note that the physicality I tried to exert was more in one-on-one contests, rather than trying to ruffle his feathers. Let’s be honest, anyone who has tried to play with a broken collarbone is made of the right stuff.
Unless St Kilda can play finals, I unfortunately won’t be able to play on him again, but if somehow we met one more time I’d make sure I said something nice to him after the game when I wasn’t too short of breath.
The reason you play football is to play on the best players, and he was one of them. I wish we had the chance to battle more.
We love to talk about legacies in footy and to put others on a pedestal.
Sometimes it can be a meaningless task, but in Nick’s case, it’s extremely relevant.
Anyone who has taken the most marks in the history of the game is going to be up there as one of the greats.
St Kilda fans are pretty lucky to have two of the best centre half forwards in recent times in him and Stewart Loewe.
He is an all-time great, and I’m lucky to be able to tell my kids and my grandkids that I got to play on Nick Riewoldt.