Shai Bolton

Shai Bolton (/ʃ/ sh-AY; born 8 December 1998) is a professional Australian rules footballer playing for the Richmond Football Club in the Australian Football League (AFL). He was drafted by Richmond in the second round of the 2016 draft and made his debut in round 9 of the 2017 season, as the club's youngest debutant in nine years. In 2018 he won the VFL's Mark and Goal of the Year awards while playing reserves grade football. During his breakout 2019 season, Bolton received a rising Star nomination and was an AFL premiership player.

Shai Bolton
Bolton playing for Richmond in June 2017
Personal information
Date of birth (1998-12-08) 8 December 1998
Place of birth Katanning, Western Australia
Original team(s) South Fremantle (WAFL)
Draft No. 29, 2016 national draft
Debut Round 9, 2017, Richmond
vs. Greater Western Sydney, at Spotless Stadium
Height 175 cm (5 ft 9 in)
Weight 76 kg (168 lb)
Position(s) Forward
Club information
Current club Richmond
Number 29
Playing career1
Years Club Games (Goals)
2017 Richmond 28 (19)
1 Playing statistics correct to the end of 2019.
Career highlights

AFL

VFL

  • VFL Goal of the Year: 2018
  • VFL Mark of the Year: 2018
Sources: AFL Tables, AustralianFootball.com

Junior football and early life

Bolton was born in Katanning, Western Australia and grew up in the southern Perth suburb of Forrestdale before spending his teenage years in Mandurah.[1][2][3] He comes from strong footballing stocks, with father Darren a former Fremantle player and Peel Thunder best & fairest winner and his uncle Allistair Pickett a two-time Sandover Medalist.[4][5]

In 2013 Bolton entered the elite talent pathway when he joined the Flying Boomerangs Indigenous Academy.[4] He began playing underage football with WAFL club South Fremantle the following year.[4] Bolton was sidelined for much of his 2015 season however after suffering stress fractures in his back.[2] In his final season (2016) at the club he averaged 17 disposals and two goals per game, including a seven-goal performance against East Perth.[4]

He represented Western Australia at the 2016 AFL Under 18 Championships, kicking five goals in the tournament.[2]

Bolton attended high school at Wesley College in Perth, leaving after completing his year 11 studies to focus on football.[4][1]

Prior to the 2016 national draft, Bolton was praised for his "blazing speed" and "natural instinct for the game."[2] He impressed recruiters in October's pre-draft All Stars game at Punt Road Oval, recording 16 disposals, seven inside 50s and a goal.[2] He placed second in the running vertical jump test at the national draft combine that year.[2]

AFL career

Bolton was drafted by Richmond with the club's first pick and the 29th selection overall in the 2016 national draft.[4]

Before the season had even officially began, Bolton was charged with striking Tom Williamson in a VFL practice match against the Northern Blues.[6] He subsequently accepted a one-match ban.[7] Bolton made his AFL debut in round 9, 2017 in a match against Greater Western Sydney at Spotless Stadium and taking the place of the injured Dan Butler in the Richmond forward-line.[8] At 18 years and 163 days, he was the youngest player to debut for Richmond since captain Trent Cotchin in the 2008 season.[9] He was thought to have kicked a match-winning goal in the final two minutes of the match, before an automatic review overturned the umpire's on-field decision and ruled the kick touched off the boot.[10][11] Bolton played in each of the next two matches before Richmond's bye week in round 12.[12] To that point he ranked fourth in the AFL for forward half pressure.[13] In round 13 Bolton turned in an impressive first half against Sydney, racking up 12 disposals and two goals to half time. Though he did not finish strongly, it was nevertheless an "impressive" performance.[14][15] His 13 'crumbs' in that match also tied the record for the four-year old stat set by Sydney's Josh Kennedy in 2016.[16] He was rested from the club's AFL side in round 15 however, after backing up that match with a four disposal game against Carlton.[17][18] Bolton returned to senior football in round 19 when he replaced the injured Jack Riewoldt, creating a forward-line without a recognised tall forward.[19] He was dropped after just one match however, returning to the VFL to play out his season with the reserves.[20] His performances at this level were labelled "above the level" by coach Craig McRae with media pundits suggesting he was close to a call-up to senior level during the AFL finals series.[21][22] Despite this talk he would remain in the reserves, playing in each of the team's three victories as well as in their losing grand final against Port Melbourne.[23] Champion Data figures released at the end of September showed Bolton as the second quickest player at Richmond and one of the 15 quickest in the AFL, after he set a top speed of 34.8 kilometres per hour in an in-match sprint during the season.[24] Bolton finished the 2017 season having played six matches and kicked three goals at senior level.[12] He also played 14 matches in the reserves and kicked 23 goals, good for the fourth most at the club.[25]

With premiership small forward Daniel Rioli still recovering from a serious foot injury, Bolton came out of a fitness-building off-season and straight into Richmond's senior forward line.[26] He played in both of the club's official pre-season matches, including a three-goal tally in that series' first match against Essendon.[27] On the back of those performances he was selected to play in the round 1 season-opener against Carlton.[28] Bolton was relatively ineffectual over the season's first two matches however, recording only three tackles and one goal in total and was subsequently dropped from Richmond's round 3 side.[29] Despite his inability to impact at senior level, Bolton was immediately impressive in his first reserves match of the season, kicking three goals in Richmond's VFL win over Port Melbourne.[30] He remained at the lower level for a further six weeks until suffering a match-ending corked quad in the third quarter of a VFL win over Sandringham in late May.[31] The club was cautious with Bolton's injury, resting him from match play for one week.[32] Upon his return to VFL football he recorded 17 disposals while being trialed in limited midfield minutes.[33] The following week Bolton kicked two goals against Williamstown but was most notable for a spectacular mark that saw him earn the VFL's Mark of the Year award at season's end.[34][35] He would also earn the competition's Goal of the Year when he scored from the forward pocket after repeatedly shrugging tackles during a match against the Essendon reserves in early July.[36][35] The goal, along with 22 disposals and eight tackles recorded in that win saw Bolton earn a second chance at AFL football in 2018.[37] It would last just one match however, with Bolton immediately dropped back to VFL level following a goalless nine disposal performance in the round 17 loss to Greater Western Sydney.[12][38] In his first two matches back at VFL level he was tried successfully in a half-back role, collecting 24 disposals while also rotating through the midfield in the second match of that short stretch.[39][40] The experiment would not last long however, with Bolton sustaining a minor knee injury while training with the club in late July.[41] Continued soreness in the joint saw Bolton undergo an arthroscope procedure, including a clean-up of the tissue around his meniscus.[42][43] Bolton did not return to football in 2018, despite club officials earlier stating that he was likely to return in time for the VFL finals series.[42][44][45] He finished the year having played three matches at AFL level and a further 13 with the club's reserves side in the VFL.[12][46]

Bolton signed a new one-year contract with Richmond in the month following the end of the 2018 season, re-committing despite having previously put contract negotiations on hold during the season itself.[47][48][49] He spent the off-season completing extensive personal fitness training, leading AFL Media and the Herald Sun to label Bolton likely to be one of Richmond's breakout players that season in a new role that would include playing time in the midfield and on the wing.[1][50][51][52] He began the year playing that role in VFL practice matches in March, including a key role with two goals in the club's final pre-season match against Collingwood.[53][54][55] Bolton's clearance work was fantastic as an inside midfielder in the VFL in early April, earning him a call up to his first AFL match of the year in round 4's match against Port Adelaide.[56][57] He played as a forward in that and one further match at AFL level, before being dropped back to the VFL.[58] It was to be a short stint however, with Bolton turning in a best on ground performance with 25 disposals, 11 tackles and a goal that saw him returned to AFL level in round 7.[59][60] While he recorded a then career-best 17 disposals in that match, Bolton saved his breakout performance for the following week, where he kicked four goals and was among Richmond's best players in a five-goal win over Fremantle.[12][61][62][63] For that performance he was also named in AFL Media's Team of the Week.[64] Bolton kicked just one goal and averaged less than 11 disposals in the three weeks that followed, resulting in him being dropped to VFL level in the first week of June.[12][65][66] He was immediately prolific at that level, playing as an inside midfielder and turning in two consecutive best afield performances in which he held averages of eight tackles, 30 disposals, nine clearances and a goal.[67][68] Bolton was recalled to AFL level following those two matches and the club's mid-season bye, kicking one goal in a round 15 win over St Kilda.[69][70] In round 16 he seized an opportunity to play as an inside midfielder for the first time at AFL level, recording 26 disposal, nine marks and two goals as one of his side's best players in a 92-point demolition of Gold Coast.[71][72][73] At the point he ranked number one among the league's Rising Star eligible players for score involvements per game.[74] Bolton kicked a goal and set a new career-best with 29 disposals while repeating his role as an inside midfielder in round 17's win over Greater Western Sydney.[75][76][77] That effort earned him five Coaches award votes (equal 3rd best on ground), selection to AFL Media's Team of the Week and a nomination for the league's Rising Star award.[78][79][80][81] He played one more game with significant midfield minutes, before being named by AFL Media as one of the club's best players in round 19's win over Collingwood while playing his early-season role as a forward.[82][83] Bolton played largely as a forward with limited midfield time for the final month of the season before making the 40-man squad but ultimately being passed over for final selection in the league's 22Under22 team which recognises the best young players in the league.[84][85][86] In the opening match of the club's finals campaign Bolton kicked one goal, had three goal assists and took a spectacular mark on top of Lions midfielder Lachie Neale in what would prove a 47-point qualifying final victory over the Brisbane Lions at The Gabba.[87][88][89] In the week that followed, Bolton signed a new two-year contract extension with Richmond, reportedly rejecting outside interest from home town side West Coast.[90][91][92][93] Bolton followed his first finals effort with a considerably smaller output in the club's preliminary final victory over Geelong, kicking just a single behind and failing to lay a tackle in that match.[94][95][96] In the grand final, Bolton helped his side to an AFL premiership by recording 11 disposals, kicking one goal and applying immense forward-half pressure in what AFL Media labelled a "solid" game.[97][98][99] Bolton led the club for total goal assists (five) during the finals series while placing second at the club and equal 12th among all players in the competition by the same measure across the entirety of 2019.[100][101] He finished what The Age and the Australian Associated Press labelled a "breakout" season by winning an AFL premiership, receiving five Brownlow Medal votes (fifth most among Richmond players) and placing 18th in the club's best and fairest count. [102][103][104][105]

Statistics

Statistics are correct to the end of the 2019 season[12]
Legend
 G  Goals  B  Behinds  K  Kicks  H  Handballs  D  Disposals  M  Marks  T  Tackles
Season Team No. Games G B K H D M T G B K H D M T
Totals Averages (per game)
2017 Richmond 2963426255112150.50.74.34.28.52.02.5
2018 Richmond 29311111425640.30.33.74.78.32.01.3
2019 Richmond 2919151214312326658650.80.67.56.514.03.13.4
Career 28 19 17 180 162 342 76 84 0.7 0.6 6.4 5.8 12.2 2.7 3.0

Honours and achievements

Team

Individual

VFL

  • Goal of the Year: 2018
  • Mark of the Year: 2018

Personal life

Bolton is an Indigenous Australian of the Noongar people.[3] He is the son of former Fremantle player Darren Bolton and is related to the famous Pickett (mother's family) and Krakour (maternal grandmother) footballing families.[106]

References

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