There are certain pillars in Championship winning teams. These are important in any side wishing to win the Grand Final but even more so in sides looking to turn around their fortunes and begin their ascent back to the glory days.
One of those pillars is often a solid, experienced and organising number nine. Someone who can make the team tick from the middle of the field. For the Wigan team who finally ended a 12-year wait for Grand Final glory in 2010 they had that special number nine in the shape of Mark Riddell.
Riddell started his career at St George Illawarra Dragons in 2001. He was thrown right in the deep end against local rivals Cronulla in Round One. He stood up to the task and quickly cemented himself in the side even taking over the goalkicking duties. It wasn’t long until his famous raised arm technique was world famous. Nonetheless, it proved potent and his success rate established him as the Dragons first choice goalkicker and he ended the campaign as their top points scorer.
Other the next few years he’d grow in stature earning a reputation that went beyond his impressive and eye-catching goalkicking abilities. His passing, running game and incredible strength earned him a call-up into the Australia training squad although he was sadly overlooked when it came to touring.
The same disappointment was felt when it came to State of Origin too. Many expected him to feature in the 2004 series but no luck came his way.
Perhaps to cement his reputation and earn representative rugby as well as the Dragons’ salary cap struggles, he left St George at the end of the season to pastures new. He left as the club’s highest ever points scorer.
In 2005 he joined Paramatta Eels. Even though he was forced to share the kicking duties, it looked like a match made in heaven. He helped the Eels to top spot and to within 80 minutes of the Grand Final. Plenty were tipping the Eels to end their title drought with Riddell at the centre of a great side. However, a 29-0 upset to the North Queensland Cowboys followed breaking Paramatta hearts and leaving Riddell disappointed again.
That was as good as it got for him at Paramatta. The following year he was fined and dropped for no-showing a recovery session in May. Although he remained a fixture in the side after that, things were never the same prompting him to leave for Wigan at the end of 2008.
For the Warriors, once the dominant force in British rugby league, it had been a turbulent few years. After surviving a relegation scrap in 2006, the Warriors had yet to re-cement themselves as a true force in the Super League. They made the play-offs consistently but sixth and fourth place finishes in 2007 and 2008 weren’t good enough. Riddell was one of the experienced pillars brought in to amend the problems.
Although his first campaign at the DW was hardly perfect with a sixth-place finish befalling the Warriors, there were positive signs and the arrival of Michael Maguire as Head Coach promised to take those positives and form a brilliant team out of them.
Building off Riddell’s strength and experience in the centre of the park, Maguire made Wigan almost unbeatable down the middle of the field leading to a first-place finish. From there, the Warriors qualified for the Grand Final doing what Riddell’s Paramatta side could not.
A fast start against rivals St Helens all but secured the crown but Riddell would have a part to play in sealing the win and the trophy. It was quite fitting that his famous goalkicking routine would resurface in the biggest game of his career although it did little good. He kicked one from three attempts in the absence of Pat Richards prompting Sam Tomkins to take over but even he missed with his attempt. But it was enough for the Warriors as they claimed only their second Super League crown.
He then was released from his contract to return to Australia to take care of his ill mother. Whilst home, he joined Sydney Roosters where he enjoyed a brief stint. A move to keep his career alive beyond that seemed likely when Wests Tigers showed interest. However, their inability to promise him game time saw him deny the offer. He instead began writing for the Sydney Morning Herald before retiring in June.
Following the end of his playing career, he spent time as a coach with Australia’s women’s side as well as Sydney Roosters’ SG Ball Cup team. However, these days he’s better known for his commentary working for Sydney radio station 2GB as well as the Nine Network.
However, he has recently been involved in controversy. He came to the defence of St George forward Paul Vaughan following his controversial BBQ four weeks ago even going as far as to rant at the photographers at the scene according to reports from Fox Sports.