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Recruiting Files: Knight

November 18, 2015 4:08 PM

AFL 2015 Second Elimination Final - Western Bulldogs v Adelaide

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 12: Riley Knight of the Crows celebrates a goal during the 2015 AFL Second Elimination Final match between the Western Bulldogs and the Adelaide Crows at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Australia on September 12, 2015. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)

I saw Riley play in a couple of school games at St Peter’s and he was dominant.

We delve into the Recruiting Files with Crows SA/WA Recruiting Manager Phil Bunn, who recalls the story of how Riley Knight joined the Club …

From Clare in South Australia’s Mid North region, Knight relocated to Adelaide after accepting a scholarship for Years 11 and 12 at St Peter’s College …

I saw Riley play in a couple of school games at St Peter’s and he was dominant. Typical of a really talented player in a school game, he basically tried to do everything … and he pretty much did!

He would be on the ball, get smashed in a contest but keep going and win plenty of the footy. If he was knackered, he’d go up forward, take three hangers and kick three goals. When I started to see that sort of stuff at a school game I thought, ‘Yep. He can play’.

Knight also displayed consistent form for Woodville-West Torrens Under-18s, but was challenged to produce his best against the best when he was selected to represent South Australia at the Under-18 National Championships in 2013 …

In the lead up to the National Championships, Riley’s form for the Eagles was good. He played in the midfield, but he could go to half-forward or even deeper at times because he was dangerous up there and could kick a goal. As a recruiter, it was good to see that versatility because you can’t just play one position in the modern game.

The question I had at that stage was whether Riley was going to be able to play as well at national level – and he did. There was also a little query on his kick early days, but he kicked the ball really well in the Champs. He was a good, solid player. He just played the same way at every level.

A knee injury forced Knight to sit out the Eagles Under-18s Grand Final. He was also unable to test at the Draft Combine, but the Crows recruiting team wasn’t fazed …

If it’s a minor injury and a player doesn’t complete the Draft Combine testing, it’s not a mark against them. Particularly, not for someone like Riley. The beep test or three-kilometre time trial at the Combine wasn’t going to be the defining moment for Riley Knight. If there was a box to tick for running and endurance, he’d already ticked it.

If anything, Riley not testing at the Combine might have even helped us get him at pick No.46. If he had gone out and smashed it in the time trial, other clubs might’ve thought, ‘Hang on, we haven’t done a lot of work on this fella. Let’s have a closer look’.

The Crows interviewed Knight only once before closing their books on him. The outgoing teenager endeared himself to the Adelaide recruiters …

We interviewed Riley at the Club late in the season. He gave us a bit of an insight into his personality. He had confidence, but it wasn’t over the top. He has strong self-belief and will always back himself. I think we saw that in the way he was able to step up in some big games at AFL level this year. We liked Riley, but we only had two picks in the draft that year and you can’t promise anybody anything …

When Adelaide’s second draft pick, No.46 overall, came around the Club called Knight’s name. The diligent wingman was talented but also filled a need for the Crows …

It’s interesting, before the draft that night ‘Nobes’ said to me, ‘Who do you think we’ll get?’ and I said, ‘Matt Crouch and Riley Knight’. I don’t know if it was good planning or good luck!

Riley plays footy the way AFL is played today, with an emphasis on gut running, transition and the repeat, high-intensity efforts that are so important in the modern game. As our supporters would’ve seen, we added more run and outside speed in the recent trade period with Paul Seedsman and Curtly Hampton. We thought Riley was in that ‘wing’ mould too.

After a tough first 18 months at West Lakes, Knight was rewarded for his patience and persistence. He made his AFL debut in incredibly difficult circumstances against West Coast in Perth, and played 11 straight games …

In his first year at the Club, Riley had a few injuries but to his credit he kept a positive frame of mind. It was great to see him play some games this year and actually get rewarded for the hard work. His elite fitness and hard running came to the fore just as we hoped it would.

His running has always been a huge part of his game. Watching Riley play National Championships and even now at AFL level, I think the better the level of footy, the better he plays. His hard running in SANFL Under-18s and school footy probably went unrewarded a bit because those teams didn’t have the same ability, as AFL players do, to use the ball well and find him. He sees opportunities and transitions back and forth very well, so he finds himself getting the footy. 

One of Knight’s most memorable performances came against the Western Bulldogs in the Elimination Final, where he displayed incredible poise under pressure. He kicked two crucial goals and, in the tense final moments, put the ball to the advantage of captain Taylor Walker, who set up Charlie Cameron to slot the match winner …

I remember feeling really proud of Riley that night. He stood up. As a recruiter, you bring these young men into your Club and you always have a soft spot for them. You follow their progress closely and touch base regularly. I was just so pleased for Riley and his family that night.

In my first draft here at the Crows, we took Matty Crouch and Riley Knight. We also used a rookie pick on Charlie Cameron. That night, at the MCG in a big final, Matt Crouch, Riley Knight and Charlie Cameron were all there, and not just playing but playing well. You never get all the picks right, but that was fantastic for our Club.