Less than a fortnight ago, Marlion Pickett stood in the Tigers’ gym and spoke with great pride about the jumper he and his partner Jessica Nannup had designed for the Dreamtime at the ’G match.
Family and football had combined for the quietly spoken but resilient pair as they created a guernsey that told, through art, their intriguing journey from Perth to the centre of the MCG on grand final day.
Pickett was keen for the spotlight to fall on Nannup, who dodged and weaved as gracefully as her partner can on grass to avoid the glare as she stood nearby.
Shane Edwards, Daniel Rioli, Matt Parker, Sydney Stack, Rhyan Mansell, Marlion Pickett, Maurice Rioli jnr, and Shai Bolton wearing Richmond’s Dreamtime guernsey.
“All credit to her. She [Jessica] put it all together, and it came up really nice,” Pickett said.
But the 30-year-old’s plan to wear the jumper was dashed just six days later when the impeccable timing that saw Pickett win two flags in his first 20 AFL games deserted him momentarily. His decision to bump Hawthorn’s Dylan Moore led to a one-match suspension the Tigers were unable to overturn on appeal.
A shattered Pickett, a Noongar man, woke up Wednesday morning knowing he would not play in the Dreamtime match, and that hurt because this one was for family.
Family and culture centre Pickett. His ability to forge a football career, firstly with South Fremantle and then the Tigers after landing in jail following a chaotic period in is late teens, was due to Nannup’s ability to bring the best out of him.
“Without my partner I wouldn’t be here,” Pickett said.
“Her and the kids were the main drivers [when] getting out of jail…we had to change the way I looked at it and make a pathway for my kids growing up, and not taking the same one I did.”
Pickett’s teammate Matt Parker, a Noongar/Yuet man from the Ballardong region, can say the same about him.
It’s Marlion Pickett’s personal history that makes his one of the most storied first games in sport.Credit:AFL Photos
Without him, he would not have been limping around Richmond’s gym with a sore ankle, one of eight Indigenous men on the Tigers’ list in 2022.
Parker was friends with Pickett’s younger brother Tyson, but Marlion did not take much notice of his sibling’s mate until he saw his football talent on display when they played a game during a local carnival in Western Australia.
Such was the impression Parker made, Pickett invited him to join him at South Fremantle with the Bulldogs knowing Pickett would take it upon himself to ensure Parker settled in to add positively to the club.
“He is the big brother I have never had before, and for him to put his hand out there and get me down to Souths where I wanted to go… I have to respect him for putting himself out there, and hopefully I made him proud doing what I do now,” Parker said.
Marlion Pickett and Matt Parker proudly wearing Richmond’s 2022 Dreamtime guernsey.
Pickett would not take any credit, explaining how he viewed Parker’s rise that saw him shine so bright he was drafted to St Kilda at the end of 2018 (six months before the Tigers chose Pickett), where he played for two seasons before Richmond gave him another crack in the 2021 mid-season draft.
“He just wanted an opportunity. Matty did it all himself. I just got him down there,” Pickett said.
Having grown close at South Fremantle, a club with a long history of Indigenous talent, they worked hard to create then make the most of their opportunities before a touch of luck saw them rejoin each other at Punt Road.
“We had to mature, but we just never gave up,” Pickett said.
They still lean on each other and simultaneously put a hand out to anyone else who might need support with Pickett having an avuncular presence around his more bouncy, exuberant teammates.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from we are like brothers, family from different states, which I kind of like,” Pickett said.
But Pickett and Parker’s bond is deep. They now live 15 minutes from each other with Pickett settled in Thornbury with Jessica and his four children – Marlion, Latrell, Shaniquae and Levi – while Parker lives nearby with his partner Shardah and toddlers Matthew jnr, Mikaela and Maleah.
The two families are close, while the two players carry a special connection. A look out of the corner of their eyes at each other ends with a laugh, saying as much as their words.
“Like a big brother, little brother, it’s fun,” Pickett said.
Although the pair will be sidelined for the Dreamtime game, they will be able to take part in the pre-match ceremony via an AFL exemption and their outlook will ensure they make the best of the situation.
“We’re always having a laugh, when things get a bit of tough, we look at each other and have a laugh,” Parker said.
“It’s not always going to go your way, but from past experience I will never fold, so I will keep my head high and keep trying to strive for the best I can.”
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