Achieving on & off the sporting field

Little big men

Hometown heroes

Cyril comes from a talented football family. Related to AFL legends Maurice Rioli and Michael Long, his grandfather, Cyril Snr, was also a legend of Northern Territory football.

Chris grew up in the South East Queensland Aboriginal community of Cherbourg, the home of a long line of proud Indigenous sporting champions, including cricketer Eddie Gilbert, boxer Jerry Jerome, and rugby league legend Steve Renouf.

At the 2007 U18 National Championships, Cyril was the only Northern Territorian to win All Australian honours.

Chris played for the Queensland U16 and U17 teams and in 2006 was selected to play for the Australian Schoolboys squad that toured Wales, England and France.

 Growing Pains

Soon after arriving at Scotch College in Melbourne at the age of 14, a severely homesick Cyril was determined to return home to family. It took his Uncle, Michael Long, to drop in and talk the young player into sticking with the school and chasing his AFL dream.

Chris signed his first NRL contract with the Gold Coast Titans where he spent two years in the lower grades. In early 2008 his contract was terminated due to disciplinary reasons and it was later revealed Chris had been struggling with homesickness following the birth of his first child.

Leading into the 2007 draft, some recruiters questioned Cyril’s desire to be an AFL footballer, citing his less than impressive skin fold tests. He was eventually selected by Hawthorn as the 12th pick overall.

Despite being a highly rated Queensland and Australian schoolboy player, after being released  by the Gold Coast Titans, Chris faced an uphill battle in proving his worth and commitment. He faced an unknown footballing future before being thrown a life-line by the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2008 where he quickly turned things around.

 Dream debuts

Cyril made his AFL debut in round one of the 2008 season playing against the

Melbourne Demons. He enjoyed a stellar first season in the AFL, being nominated for the 2008 AFL Rising Star Award in round six after gathering nineteen possessions and kicking two goals, one of which was a nominee for Goal of the Year. He also earned a Mark of the Year nomination and produced an inspirational performance in that year’s Grand Final victory over Geelong. At the end of 2009, he was awarded the AFL Players Association award for Best Young Player, covering his first two years in football.

Chris began 2008 playing in the Rabbitohs NYC squad, before being called up to make his NRL debut against the New Zealand Warriors in round 12. In his first ever NRL match, Chris kicked the game winning field goal in the dying seconds. A week later he scored his first NRL try and the week after that kicked another game winning field goal in what was the second biggest come from behind win in NRL history. He finished the year being named 2008 NRL Rookie of the Year.

 Making moves

Pace and dogged determination are hallmarks of Cyril’s game that have endeared him to AFL fans of all clubs. He plays without fear, running headlong into ball challenges and usually coming up with the goods, then streaking downfield to create scoring opportunities. His silky skills make him a joy to watch.

Like Cyril, Chris is a fan favourite thanks to the sheer excitement factor he brings to each game he plays in. That’s largely due to his enigmatic off-the-cuff style of play, providing that unpredictable element that’s always entertaining to watch. He can win games on sheer individual brilliance and likes to take risks. Add to that his cheeky demeanour and feisty competitiveness, which often sees him throwing his smaller body at the game’s biggest boppers with reckless abandon, and it’s easy to see why Chris is such a popular player.

 The road ahead

The biggest hurdle Cyril faces in reaching his full potential is his battle with recurring hamstring injuries. Leading into the 2012 season, Cyril has revealed he has been working on his running technique, making slight adjustments so as to avoid

future muscle strains and tears. Already an accomplished attacking footballer and points-scorer, Chris has displayed the ability to kick tactically and win repeat sets. When it comes to field-goals there is none better and he is also up there with the NRL’s best goal kickers. The challenge ahead is to improve his tackling, his decision making and ability to lead the team around the park, while at the same time not losing that unpredictable spark that has made him such a star in the first place. While Cyril’s challenges this year will be mostly physical, playing under huge pressure at a new club with fans that expect instant results, Chris’s will be mental.

While all of that plays out, the one thing you can be sure of is that you won’t find many more exciting or liked players in the AFL and NRL than these two young and still developing superstars – and all fans are looking forward to seeing what kinds of magic these two little masters are ready to conjure up in season 2012.

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