THE Rising Star class of 2017 was one of the most impressive in recent years.
But looking at the eligible players for this year’s Rising Star award and the 2017 crop might soon have some company.
Brisbane’s Alex Witherden and Richmond’s Jack Graham are among the early favourites to take out the award after sensational finishes to their respective campaigns last year.
But while many of the eligible players might have a season or two of AFL experience under their belt, the winner could very well come from the 2017 draft class.
Witherden’s Lions teammate — and No. 1 draft pick — Cameron Rayner has the potential to make an immediate impact at senior AFL lever, as do most players taken in the top five.
With around two months to the first bounce, we’ve identified all 18 AFL clubs’ best Rising Star chances.
Seen by many as a Jake Lever replacement, the 20-year old overcame a pre-season knee injury at the start of last year to play 15 games in the SANFL and finish one vote behind veteran Scott Thompson in Adelaide’s state league champion award. Doedee was the SANFL’s top-ranked intercept player, averaging 17 disposals, five marks and four rebound 50s in defence. Doedee will be looking to break into Adelaide’s senior team in 2018.
Gallucci’s strong showing in the SANFL paid dividends when the 19-year-old was rewarded with a senior selection against the Brisbane Lions in round nine. There, Gallucci racked up 11 disposals before heading back into the SANFL for the remainder of the season. The midfielder/half forward ended up playing 17 state league games in his first season, averaging 16 disposals, five tackles, four inside 50s and three clearances.
One of the favourites, Witherden is a prolific ball-winner across half-back. In his first season of senior football, the Pick 23 from 2016 made an immediate impact, playing nine games — making him eligible for the 2018 Rising Star — and averaging 23.6 disposals. Witherden is a good prospect with a knack of pinpointing passes across half-back and can be trusted with the ball. The exciting half-back might play a deeper role down back under the tutelage of Luke Hodge, so expect some more exciting things from this youngster in 2018.
The No. 1 pick from last year’s draft, who has already extended his contract at the Lions until 2021, will look to make an immediate next year. Rayner was dominant in the national Under 18 competition for Vic Metro last year, booting more goals than anyone else. He is described as a man with a great contested mark, penetrating kick and can be a big-game player, which will benefit the Lions in 2018 under Coach Chris Fagan.
Pick 3 in last year’s draft, Dow was an Under 18 All-Australian midfielder last year, with the Bendigo Pioneers product performing at a consistent level in every match and competition he played in 2017. He was especially impressive in the AFL Academy’s game against VFL side the Northern Blues. Dow brings his burst through the midfield, but can also drift forward and kick a few goals, highlighted by his bag of seven for Geelong Grammar in a single game.
A midfielder/forward with line-breaking speed who can kick accurately at goal, Stephenson’s performance in the AFL Under 18 championships last year was a highlight, booting five majors and accumulating 28 disposals against South Australia. The Eastern Ranges product will bring some of this speed to the AFL and can mould into a midfielder or forward, player depending on where Nathan Buckley wants him on the field.
Brown went from the father of 1990 premiership player Gavin Brown to becoming a Pie himself in 2017, playing five games. The 19-year-old enjoyed seeing his hard work pay off from his time in the VFL after a bout of glandular fever before the season started. Brown’s consistency in the VFL, highlighted by hauls of 29 and 31 disposals against Werribee and Box Hill respectively, impressed coach Nathan Buckley to give him a chance at AFL level. After averaging 13.6 disposals in his five appearances, Brown will look to be a mainstay in Collingwood’s best 22 in 2018.
It’s been a tough couple of years for the Bombers utility, amassing just five games as he was trying to break into the senior side. During the latter part of last year’s trade period, Francis was reportedly looking to go back home to South Australia to try and break into either Adelaide or Port’s best 22. Ultimately, Francis stayed at Tullamarine and will look for more senior opportunities at the Bombers in 2018.
The youngest Brayshaw brother gets his chance at senior level after being dominant at all of school, state and TAC Cup football last year. He dominated for Haileybury College, averaged 25 touches for the Sandringham Dragons and averaged 21 disposals for Vic Metro. A hard worker, Brayshaw is rated highly for score involvements and his kicking efficiency at TAC Cup level, while he also averaged seven tackles a game.
Darcy was a late second round pick out of the 2016 national draft, but the young ruckman impressed in 2017, working with veteran Aaron Sandilands and current ruck coach Simon Eastaugh. After winning 70 per cent of his ruck contests at TAC Cup level and in the Under 18 Championships for Vic Country, Darcy played eight games in his first year on the senior list at Freo. Dockers development coach Marc Webb said Darcy has built his running capacity to AFL standard and will move primarily into a ruck/forward role over the next few years.
The small Western Jets midfielder comes over to Geelong with a willingness to tackle and a good game sense of winning the ball. Taken with Pick 22 in the draft, Fogarty can also press forward and be dangerous around goals, winning All-Australian honours for his performance for Vic Metro in the AFL Under 18 championships.
GOLD COAST SUNS
A former AFL Academy and Vic Country representative, Brodie is an inside midfielder who loves to play hard and win contested footy. Averaging 13.7 disposals for the Suns in 2017, the 19-year-old has put in a solid pre-season to date. A good showing in the JLT series could hopefully help him cement his spot in Gold Coast’s best 22.
In 2016, Ballard wasn’t good enough to make Sturt’s Under 18’s squad. But in the space of two years, he has transformed from a small midfielder to a solid 196cm wingman — and he still believes he hasn’t reached his peak yet as a player. Pick 42 in last year’s draft, Ballard possesses flexibility with where he can play his footy. He could play on the wings or through the middle with his tall stature for the Suns.
From the same small town as Carlton’s Matthew Kennedy, this Collingullie product joined GWS with Pick 14 in the 2016 national draft. Perryman originally started his career playing off half-back, but has slowly emerged himself as a midfielder, playing seven games for the Giants in 2017 and averaging 11.8 disposals, 3.3 tackles and 4.3 marks. Expect him to break out and be a classy edition to the young Giants line-up in 2018.
Pick 5 in the 2016 draft, Setterfield is another tall midfielder that could do some damage for the Giants in 2018 should he remain fit. Setterfield was rated as one of the most complete midfielders in the draft two years ago and will surely be pushing for selection into Leon Cameron’s best 22.
His first full year at the club, Cousins grabbed the opportunity to play three games at senior level in 2017, with the youngster playing in Hawthorn’s memorable win against Sydney back in round 10. The big-bodied midfielder suffered a shoulder injury which derailed his season, and cut short what could’ve been a breakout season. With a strong 2018 pre-season, Cousins could put his hand up for more senior footy and potentially cement his spot in the Hawthorn midfield.
The 20-year-old only managed three games for Box Hill in the VFL before shoulder troubles put a dampener on his press for senior selection. The strongly-built 174cm midfielder can find the footy in the clinches, highlighted by a 34 disposal game against Geelong. Assistant coach Brett Ratten hopes to use 2018 as the year to get the best out of Lovell if he can remain injury-free.
It was a patient wait for the key forward to debut for the Demons — and he finally got his opportunity to play senior footy in Round 20 of 2016, kicking two goals with his first two kicks against Hawthorn. With a full pre-season under his belt, Weideman could become the next key target at Melbourne alongside Rising Star winner Jesse Hogan.
The Pick 4 enjoyed a very strong final series for the Dandenong Stingrays last year, showing he is a ready-made AFL midfielder by helping the Stringrays to a come-from-behind elimination final win against the Eastern Ranges. Davies-Uniacke has a good size, is powerful and strong and definitely sets himself apart with his lateral movement.
Taken at Pick 16 in the 2016 national draft, Marshall is a tall forward originally from New South Wales. Marshall gave up a promising cricket career to pursue footy as a full-time career — and he looks like a long-term prospect for the Power. In his first year of senior footy, Marshall played three senior games. He debuted in Round 22 and was part of that edge-of-your-seat elimination final loss against the West Coast Eagles. They rate him highly.
The younger brother of North Melbourne’s Shaun Atley, Joe looks to be a promising midfielder that can win the inside ball and has clean disposal. Atley debuted in Round 16 last year against the West Coast Eagles, but a strong pre-season will put him in an ideal spot to push for more senior football this year and add to the three games he’s already played.
Taken at Pick 17, and brought into a very exciting Richmond side fresh off a premiership, this small forward/midfielder won the Morrish Medal as the best player in the TAC Cup. His clearance work is fantastic and has goal smarts as a small forward for the Tigers. You won’t be able to take your eyes off him in games.
The premiership hero slid into the Tigers’ team at the right time last year, debuting against Fremantle in Round 22 before becoming the unlikely hero with three goals against the Adelaide Crows in the Grand Final. Remarkably, he’s only played five games, so he’s still eligible for the Rising Star award in 2018. Graham will be a certain starter in the Tigers’ Round 1 game against Carlton and will want to continue the momentum of 2017 heading into 2018.
Bolton showed so much potential and promise last season when he debuted for the Tigers against GWS. He played six games before being influential in Richmond’s VFL side’s quest for a premiership. With explosive speed and a love for a goal, Bolton could be a sneaky Rising Star chance in 2018.
Taken at Pick 7 in last year’s national draft, Clark was arguably the most consistent midfielder in the draft pool, starring in the TAC Cup for the Stingrays and in the national championships for Vic Country. Clark is rated as one of the best kicks from the draft pool and is a dangerous playmaker. He played down back in the first half of 2017 before being unleashed through the midfield to average 26.8 disposals, 6.7 tackles and 6.2 clearances across 13 appearances in the TAC Cup.
Coffield, who was captain of the Northern Knights, is a highly-rated half-back that could spend more time in the middle of the ground for the Saints this season. The 18-year-old averaged 22 disposals at an impressive 74 per cent efficiency over four games for Vic Metro, while he was named among the Knights’ best players in half of his 16 games this season. The Rising Star award is all about consistency — and Coffield provides that in spades.
Florent was an active, vibrant half-forward who burst onto the scene for the Swans in the first game of last season. Florent started superbly for the Swans, averaging 9.8 disposals from his nine games. He committed to the Swans in the middle of June, opting to stay at the Swans until the end of 2020 and will be pushing to return into the senior team for Round 1.
WEST COAST EAGLES
A mobile tall forward taken at Pick 21 of the national draft, Allen was looked at by both Fremantle and West Coast, ultimately getting picked up by the latter. Blessed with a god goal sense, Allen was impressive for WA and capped off an impressive Under 18 championships by winning the Larke Medal as Division 1’s best player overall.
Venables is a medium midfielder/forward who can be very creative in contested situations. He was closely managed by the staff last season and didn’t get to dip his feet into senior footy. However, Venables was close after playing strongly in the WAFL for East Perth. Should he produce a strong pre-season, no doubt he will be in the mix for Round 1.
An agile and athletic key defender from Western Australia who was taken at Pick 9 in last year’s draft, Naughton played seven senior WAFL games for Peel Thunder, averaging 14 disposals and seven marks per contest. He was rated by scouts as the best intercept marker in the draft and was awarded Under 18 All-Australian honours for his consistency.
While three legends retired, Lipinski made his debut in Round 23 against the Hawks last year. It was a tough year for the midfielder/forward, who was restricted by injuries earlier in the season but returned to play some promising games for Footscray in the VFL. Lipinski finished the season in the VFL averaging 18 disposals and four marks, while he kicked 10 goals across the 11 games he played.