THE BIG – GAME PLAYER

The Wangaratta Rovers were searching for talent in the early eighties.

Spoiled by the heady days of the seventies, when premierships arrived, almost as a matter of course, the Club was stung by the loss of some of the champions of that era, who had reached the end of the road.

It was, indeed, a time of transition.

Season 1983 saw the Hawks miss the Finals for the first time in 16 years. But one redeeming feature was that the Reserves ‘flew the flag’ for the Club and brought home a welcome premiership, under the guidance of the astute Geoff Welch.

There was excitement about the prospects of two 17 year-old lads who had figured prominently during the season and were touted as champions of the future.

Born three months apart, they started with WJFL club College, moved to the Rovers Thirds together and made their mark in the mid-field when slotted into the Reserves.

One of them, a slightly-built winger, Anthony Pasquali, was squeezed out of the Grand Final line-up. But over the next 20-odd years he was to earn Hall of Fame status as a 322-game player, coach and clubman.

The other was Tim Rieniets, who lined up in the centre and played with the aplomb of a veteran…

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Rieniets had already attracted the attention of good judges, as his blossoming career gathered momentum.

He had earned selection in the Under 17 Victorian Country team and, like ‘Pas’, made his senior debut in 1983. With a shock of blond, curly hair, a smooth running gait and exquisite ball skills, he could become, the experts predicted, a player to build a side around.

But he was to make only seven senior appearances with the Hawks.

Under the zoning rules of the time, North Melbourne lured him to Arden Street. He played 32 games with the Thirds and another 13 with the Reserves. But, sensing that opportunity had passed him by, he moved to Coburg in 1986.

“A few of my mates from North were playing at Coburg and I was living close-by. They seemed a pretty good crew, so I decided to sign with them,” he told me the other day.

What an inspired decision!

He adapted quickly to the VFA style and proved to be one of the stars of the competition. His coach Phil Cleary was a Rieniets fan and reflected on Tim’s sojourn with the Lions:

“Like many players blessed with natural talent, he appeared nonchalant, which sometimes frustrated me. Knowing how good he was with the ball, I just wanted him to get it more than anyone else. When he did, it was a sheer delight.”

Rieniets won dual Norm Goss Medals, as best-afield in Coburg’s 1988 and ’89 premierships. “Tim produced some of the best finals football I’d seen from a Coburg player. He played like he was superhuman”, Cleary added. “He came to us from North Melbourne as a back flanker, but he was too creative to play there. He needed to be in the action to capitalise on his ability.”

He made such an impression in his 57 games with Coburg that he was later selected in their Team of the Century, alongside another notable member of the team, Rovers great Laurie Burt.

On the strength of his four terrific years with Coburg, which included interstate selection , Carlton snavelled Tim with pick 27 in the 1990 Pre-Season draft.

“I headed overseas at the end of the VFA season and when I returned there were a couple of messages from Carlton. They wanted me to come down to training. Three days later I was on the track and raring to go, ” he said.

Lining up against North Melbourne in his debut at Princes Park, he came off the interchange bench to slot a goal with his first kick in League football. He played 11 further senior matches in 1990 and, as the season unfolded, found himself being used more in defence.

What had been a productive first season ended on a high when he starred across half-back in Carlton Reserves’ upset victory over Melbourne on Grand Final day.

His form was still okay in 1991, as he averaged 18 disposals in 12 further games, in a variety of positions.

“I hadn’t been going too badly, but I strained a posterior cruciate ligament in a late-season game and wasn’t aware of the extent of the damage. We played in Brisbane the next week on a rock-hard surface and that really stuffed it . I didn’t play for the rest of the year ” he recalled.

Tim was able to do a full pre-season in 1992, but couldn’t crack it for another senior game. His AFL career was over.
He disappointed Coburg when he returned to the VFA and signed with Werribee. His knee was still causing problems and he missed some early games. But come finals time the acclaimed finals expert was in his element.

He played a big part in Werribee’s domination of the 1993 Grand Final. “We had the game won when a ‘blue’ erupted and people came from everywhere”, he recalls.

If you log onto the You Tube vision of the dying stages of that clash, you’ll see Port Melbourne players losing the plot, the fans invading Princes Park Oval, haymakers being thrown at random and police horses charging forward, in an attempt to quell the chaos.

But when the siren sounded prematurely, it was Werribee’s flag by an emphatic 48 points.

Tim’s joints were again playing up and he struggled through another injury-plagued season before deciding to transfer to Sandringham.

“I’d just settled in Beaumaris and it made sense to have a run with ‘Sandy’, which was sort-of just around the corner, ” he said.
He spent four years with the Zebras, but undoubtedly the highlight was the part he played in another flag triumph, in 1997.

Sandy coach Tom Alvin had played with him at Carlton and knew how to monitor the aching body of one of his key players. By finals time he was ‘ cherry-ripe’.

And again, Rieniets proved what an outstanding big-game player he was, as he was named Sandy’s best in their five-goal win over Frankston.

It had given him the unique honour of playing in VFA premierships with three different clubs.

Tim played out one more season before deciding to hang up his boots, at the end of the 1998 season. He then spent another three years as an assistant-coach with Sandringham before deciding to concentrate on his family and his job as the Operations Manager of the Melbourne Seafood Centre.

With six Premierships to his credit and a swag of memorable moments, there’s no doubt that the former Hawk squeezed the maximum out of a long and winding football journey.

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