TWO AFL players on opposite sides of the country carved out two eerily similar careers early in the 21st century. Matthew Pavlich became a household name and Fremantle’s greatest player over his 17 years with the Dockers, while Nick Riewoldt changed the way we view key forwards throughout his 17 seasons at St Kilda. The pair of cherished centre half-forwards are obviously all-time greats and both dominated the modern era of football, but which one had the better AFL career?
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ALL THE NUMBERS
PAVLICH – 353 games, 15 finals, 700 goals, 126 Brownlow votes, 17.3 disposals per game
RIEWOLDT – 336 games, 17 finals, 718 goals, 153 Brownlow votes, 16.7 disposals per game
STATISTICALLY speaking Pav and Roo’s careers almost mirrored one another, with over 300 games and 700 goals respectively to their names. It’s worth mentioning that Pavlich spent a big chunk of his career bailing Fremantle out by playing in defense or in the midfield – which contributed to his higher disposals per game tally. Super Pav did manage to kick over 60 goals in six seasons compared to Riewoldt’s four as well, but Roo’s higher finals and Brownlow vote count give him the narrowest of victories in this category.
Edge: Riewoldt (Just)
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FINALS success could be deemed as a team honour, rather than an individual accolade, but the great players usually find a way to feature in September. Both were forced to wait for their deep push into the finals, with Riewoldt making a Grand Final in his 10th season, while Pavlich was in year 13 when Freo qualified for the big dance. Both key forwards performed admirably in the postseason, but Roo earning a few extra appearances in both preliminary and Grand Final’s gives him another close nod.
Edge: Riewoldt (Just)
PAVLICH – 2012 Elimination Final
AS a Fremantle fan I think this might be my favourite win in the last decade and Pavlich deserves a boatload of the credit. As Freo tried to change the negative stigma that had plagued the club, they faced a daunting task in the first week of the 2012 finals – taking on the reigning premiers Geelong at the MCG in a win or go home clash. Having never won a final outside of WA, the Dockers logically went in as underdogs, but three first-quarter goals from Pavlich set the stage for Fremantle to re-write the history books with a 16-point win. The premier forward finished with 6.0 from 14 touches and even though they were bounced from the finals the following week, this victory helped set the club up for the success they experienced in years to come.
RIEWOLDT – 2004 Round 11
I had a hard time not putting Riewoldt’s 2009 prelim as his greatest moment. On that night he single-handedly turned the tide in St Kilda’s favour with some late-game heroics to send them to the first grand final in over 40 years. However, Riewoldt is known for his aerial prowess having taken 2,944 marks in his career – the most in AFL history. Roo’s premier skill was on full display in June of 2004, he took one of the most courageous marks you’ll ever see. ’04 was a breakout year for Roo and he quickly set a reputation as a couragous threat in the air anytime he was near the ball.
I swear this is not a homer pick, but I’m siding with Pavlich in this one. Riewoldt had several moments in his career that will be played on AFL highlight reels until the end of time, but Pavlich’s 2012 performance helped to flipp the script for WA’s second-best football club. Taking down the defending champions away from home is one of the most formidable tasks in football and Pavlich virtually did so off his own boot. Ok maybe it is a homer pick…
THIS was the hardest category to split, with Riewoldt and Pavlich chalking up plenty of awards over their lengthy careers. Going off All-Australian nods Pav holds the narrow lead 6-5, with Riewoldt earning captain honours in the 2009 team – an honour that Pavlich never earnt. The Freo superstar did dominate the goal kicking award count, pacing the way for the Dockers eight times compared to Riewoldt’s four. That might be an indication of how poor Fremantle was during Pav’s prime, but it’s still worth noting. Twice Pavlich finished runner-up in the Coleman Medal, but Roo managed to kick more goals at Docklands/Telstra Dome/Etihad Stadium/Marvel Stadium than any other player in football.
RIEWOLDT also led the AFL in marks six times, won the 2002 Rising Star award and captured the 2004 AFL MVP trophy, feats Pavlich never achieved in his career. When it came to the Brownlow Medal, Pavlich featured inside the top-10 twice as many times as Riewoldt (4-2) but teetered off massively to end his career, with just four votes in his last four seasons. In summary, this one could split either way, based on what you value as a more important honour. An MVP & Rising Star nod, coupled with the fact that no player in history has marked the football more than Riewoldt is too much for me to overlook.
Image from afl.com.au
ONCE again I’m not channelling my inner Docker here, but there is no denying that Matthew Pavlich is the greatest player to ever don purple in the West. A true gentleman of the game, Pav stuck by the club when the allure of returning to Adelaide or chasing cash by joining Carlton was at an all-time high. That’s not to say Riewoldt wasn’t a legend by his own right, arguably becoming St Kilda’s best player in the 21st century. Both players were able to captain their clubs through tough times and lead them to Grand Final berths, but Pavlich claims the legacy win as the best Fremantle player ever.
VERDICT – NICK RIEWOLDT
I might be a passionate Fremantle supporter, but even I can see that Riewoldt’s body of work outweighs Pavlich’s accolades. It’s a close count and Roo probably separated himself with a longer peak than Pavlich. Both dominant key forwards in the ’00s could make the case as the decades best player, but they were forced to wait until the latter years of the professional careers to experience finals success.
IN the early chapters of his career, Riewoldt quickly established himself as more than just a mark-kick-goal forward, revolutionising the way a man of his size could play further up the ground. Pavlich may have been the more versatile talent, but one could argue that was more out of necessity rather than ability. After looking at both players’ complete careers it’s hard to say that Riewoldt wasn’t the better of the pair, even if it pains me to admit so.
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