Who is your club’s best first year performer of the last 20 years?
We’ve gone back through the history books of all 18 clubs to work out who had the most significant immediate impact.
For this list, we’re considering every single player regardless of age, so long as it was their first year in the AFL system. For example, Tim Kelly at Geelong counts despite being a mature-age recruit, but James Podsiadly would not count as he was originally drafted by Essendon in 1999.
We’re also basing this solely on performance in their first season. Career performance post season one is irrelevant, which is why you won’t see the likes of Patrick Cripps or Scott Pendlebury on this list.
All of these guys hit the ground running in their very first year in the AFL.
See our choice for you club’s best first-year performer this century below!
Brad Crouch (2013)
While taken in the 2011 mini-draft, Brad Crouch was not officially on Adelaide's list until the 2013 season.
He kicked off his career in very positive fashion, racking up 343 possessions in 14 matches to land the club's emerging talent award. His tally ranked seventh at the club.
Crouch showed early on that he has a penchant for picking up plenty of the pill, averaging a tick under 25 touches were game. He topped the 30-disposal mark twice and had 20 or more in 11 of his 14 outings.
Next best: Based on strict criteria, he isn't eligible to be named as the number one choice, but Graham Johncock's first season must be acknowledged.
Drafted in 2000 but not debuting until 2002, Johncock played all 25 games of that season, including three finals, as both a small forward and defender.
He picked up 244 possessions in total, showed plenty of exciting signs in the backline and was able to get forward to kick 14 goals in a very impressive first campaign.
Daniel Rich (2009)
Daniel Rich was a highly impactful player at the Lions from game one and had an incredible first season on his way to the 2009 Rising Star award.
Playing through the midfield, Rich averaged 17 disposals per game, five inside 50s and four tackles as his trademark booming left boot gave Brisbane fans something to get very excited about. He had 32 disposals against Geelong in Round 15 of 2009, which remains his equal career-high to this date.
A shoutout to Bradd Dalziell too who only managed seven games in his first year (2008), but averaged 27 disposals, seven marks and three inside 50s per game. Had he played a few more than seven, he would have been a lock for this category.
Next best: Justin Sherman (2005), Dayne Zorko (2012), Lewis Taylor (2014)
Sam Walsh (2019)
Getting output from players in their first year at the club has not been Carlton’s strong suit. Looking through the club’s Best First Year Player award, nobody who won it between 2009 and 2015 is currently at the club.
Thankfully, Sam Walsh came along in 2019 and broke all of the midfield records for a rookie. No player has ever had more disposals in their first season of footy than Walsh did in 2019 as he cruised to the NAB Rising Star.
Walsh averaged 25 disposals, five marks, 3.5 clearances and played all 22 games for the Blues.
Next best: Nick Duigan (2011), Bryce Gibbs (2007), Sam Petrevski-Seton (2017)
Jaidyn Stephenson (2018)
Up until 2018, Collingwood had never had a NAB Rising Star winner. They have had numerous players impact the club in their first season this century, including the likes of Dayne Beams in 2009, Josh Fraser in 2000 and Jordan de Goey in 2015, but no one has gone on to claim the award.
That was until Jaidyn Stephenson showed up. The Pies were incredibly creative with how they used their top pick in the 2017 National Draft, playing Stephenson as a small full-forward at stages throughout the year, reinventing how their forward structure worked.
He played all 26 games, booted 38 goals and averaged 12 disposals and four marks per game in his rookie season.
Next best: Dayne Beams (2009), Josh Fraser (2000), Tyson Goldsack (2007)
Dyson Heppell (2011)
Essendon didn’t have a NAB Rising Star winner until Dyson Heppell’s debut season in 2011 – highlighting just how good the now Bombers skipper was in his first year at AFL level.
The Gippsland Power product was drafted as a midfielder – a position he’s a mainstay in now – but cut his teeth at AFL level at half-back, using his composed game to set Essendon up coming out of defence.
He played all 23 games clubs in his first season, picked up 493 touches at 21 per game, his tally ranking second at the club behind Brent Stanton.
Next best: Andrew McGrath (2017)
Paul Hasleby (2000)
It didn’t take long for Paul Hasleby to make his mark at senior level.
After being taken at pick two in the 1999 draft, the silky midfielder from Geraldton collected 30 disposals in his debut game back in 2000 and the rest is history.
He would go on to win the Rising Star award at the end of that year, earning All-Australian honours in 2003 and eventually was inducted in the West Australian Football Hall of Fame following his retirement in 2010.
In his first season, Hasleby averaged 21 touches from 21 games as well as booting 15 majors.
Next best: Rhys Palmer won the Rising Star award in 2008 which was the best season of his AFL career.
He played 20 games (career high), picked up 462 disposals (career high) and attracted seven Brownlow votes (also a career high).
Tim Kelly (2018)
Tim Kelly took the AFL by storm in a stunning debut season for Geelong.
Kelly, then 23, was snapped up by the Cats in the 2017 National Draft following a standout year for WAFL side South Fremantle.
The midfielder repaid Geelong’s faith in spades, averaging a tick under 23 disposals, 4.2 clearances and four inside 50s per match.
He placed second in the club’s best and fairest award and repeated the dose the following year.
After much speculation, Geelong reluctantly traded Kelly to West Coast in October 2019.
Next best: Joel Selwood (2007)
Jaeger O’Meara (2013)
The smooth-moving Jaeger O’Meara wasted no time getting acclimatised to his new surroundings at the Suns in his debut season.
Playing in every match in 2013 after being taken in the 2011 mini-draft, O'Meara averaged 21 disposals and kicked 16 goals as he announced himself as one of the game’s next stars.
By the end of the year, he was recognised by his peers as the AFL Players’ Association best first year player as well as winning the NAB Rising Star award.
He would go on to not miss a single game in his first two years of his career before a patella tendon injury saw him miss two entire seasons of football.
He eventually sought a fresh start at Hawthorn ahead of the 2017 season.
But before then, his rookie year at the Suns remains the best first-year performance of the expansion club’s history.
Next best: Touk Miller (2015)
Toby Greene (2012)
The Giants have had plenty of young stars immediately make an impact but Toby Greene’s first season stands out.
In 19 games in 2012, Greene amassed a mammoth 539 disposals (at 28.4 per game) which was the most for the new franchise ahead of the likes of Callan Ward, Luke Power and Tom Scully.
Greene’s tally was the best first-year possession total in the AFL until it was broken by Carlton’s Sam Walsh last year and still remains his best individual return in a season.
Unfortunately, his efforts went unrewarded as he was ineligible for the Rising Star due to suspension. He would have been a unanimous winner.
Next best: That very same year, Jeremy Cameron ran second in Rising Star voting to Adelaide defender Daniel Talia thanks to his 29 goals and 80 marks in 16 games while Adam Treloar was fourth after 380 touches in 18 games.
Aside from that trio, Lachie Whitfield enjoyed a solid debut campaign in 2013 with 332 possessions in 19 matches while Josh Kelly was fairly solid the following season with 312 in 18 outings.
Cyril Rioli (2008)
What a welcome to senior footy it was for Cyril Rioli back in 2008!
After he was taken with pick 12 in 2007, ‘Junior Boy’ played all 25 games in the brown and gold as the Hawks stormed to the premiership.
He averaged just under 14 disposals per game as a small forward while kicking 24 goals (fifth at the club), providing 24 goal assists (second at club and equal fifth in the league), delivering 89 inside 50s (fourth at the club) and laying 87 tackles (third at the club).
Rioli kicked two goals apiece in the preliminary and Grand Finals, proving his worth in big moments as he would do throughout his career.
He finished second in Rising Star voting behind Fremantle’s Rhys Palmer and ahead of Richmond’s Trent Cotchin.
Next best: Lance Franklin played 20 games in 2005 and returned 21 goals in a sign of what was to come in his superb career while Jordan Lewis tallied 19 games at an average of 16.1 possessions in the same season.
Clayton Oliver (2016)
Melbourne liked what they saw from Clayton Oliver before they even drafted him in 2015, trading up the draft order to take him at pick four ahead of Essendon.
And it didn’t take long for the footy world to see why as he made an immediate impact at AFL level in 2016.
While other draftees in his crop took a little longer to mature, Oliver burst onto the scene to average 19 touches as a teenager.
He’s only got better since but showed his capabilities as a big-bodied midfielder right from the outset.
Next best: Jesse Hogan (2015)
Ryan Bastinac (2010)
North Melbourne hasn’t had a NAB Rising Star winner this century, but has had a steady stream of contributors who have come in and had an immediate impact on the club.
Ryan Bastinac sits just above the rest in terms of output in year one, averaging 19 disposals, three inside 50s, three clearances and three marks per game across 2010, playing all 22 games.
He didn’t become a star of the competition like some others on the list, but Bastinac had a solid 10-year AFL career and played 164 games for the Roos and Brisbane.
Next best: Daniel Wells (2003), Luke McDonald (2014), Ben Cunnington (2010)
Connor Rozee (2019)
Port Adelaide’s Connor Rozee is one of the game’s brightest young stars.
Rozee turned heads during his debut season, finishing second to Carlton midfielder Sam Walsh in last year’s Rising Star award.
The exciting forward averaged 15.4 disposals and chimed in with 29 goals – including a five-goal haul in just his third match against Brisbane.
An excellent 2019 campaign saw Rozee finish fourth in Port Adelaide’s best and fairest award while taking out the goalkicking from veteran Robbie Gray.
Next best: Ollie Wines (2013)
Dustin Martin (2010)
No surprises here.
Martin is one of Richmond’s top few players of the last two decades and it all started in his debut season back in 2010.
He amassed 425 disposals (third at the club) in 21 games (at 20.2), had the second most inside 50s, won the most clearances and picked up six Brownlow votes in a true sign of things to come.
Unfortunately, Martin was farcically ineligible for the Rising Star award even though he was not suspended but rather accepted a reprimand after he plead guilty to a high bump.
The Tigers were bang average, winning just six matches, but Dusty was the shining light.
Next best: We must not forget the debut season of Brett Deledio.
He won the Rising Star award in 2005 and remains the only Tiger to do so. He played all 22 home-and-away games in which he averaged 15.3 disposals and kicked 14 goals.
The Tigers battled into 12th position with a 10-12 record but Deledio vindicated the club’s decision to select him with pick 1 in the 2004 draft.
Nick Vlastuin was impressive from day dot. In 2013 he played 18 games, gathered 294 disposals and won the Bill Cosgrove/Harry Jenkins award for best first year player, just like the two names above.
Callum Wilkie (2019)
St Kilda defender Callum Wilkie exceeded all expectations in his first year in the AFL.
Wilkie, selected with the third pick in the 2018 rookie draft, played every game in his debut season – just the second Saint to do so since 1995.
The mature-age recruit and former accountant quickly became a key member of St Kilda’s back six having previously plied his trade for North Adelaide in the SANFL.
Wilkie led St Kilda for intercept marks and possessions and placed second for defensive rebounds.
Next best: Justin Koschitzke (2001)
Callum Mills (2016)
Sydney’s Callum Mills made history when he took out the 2016 Rising Star award.
The young Swan became the first academy player from any club to take out the gong. He was also the first Rising Star winner from New South Wales.
Mills quickly integrated into a star-studded Swans side and notched 22 games in his maiden season, averaging 18.6 disposals and 3.4 defensive rebounds per match.
The ultimate success would elude the then 19-year-old, overcoming a hamstring injury to play in the gut-wrenching 22-point Grand Final loss to the Western Bulldogs.
Next best: Tom Papley (2016)
Chris Judd (2002)
It was always going to be special.
The debut season of Chris Judd was highly anticipated and he certainly did not let anyone down.
He played 22 games, including a final, while amassing 331 touches (ranked fifth at the club) at 15 per game, four inside 50s a game and kicked 21 goals.
Judd came in second behind Nick Riewoldt in Rising Star voting in a season that truly kickstarted a savagely successful career.
Next best: Daniel Kerr would have held this mantle if not for Judd.
The year prior, Kerr played 19 games and picked up 296 touches at 15.6 per game, including 22 and 20 in his first two games respectively.
Like his premiership teammate Judd, he was also beaten to the top youth award by another Saint in Justin Koschitzke.
Josh Dunkley (2016)
The Western Bulldogs have been one of the better clubs at bringing players into their club and getting immediate output from them. The likes of Tom Liberatore, Adam Cooney, Liam Picken, Bailey Smith and Aaron Naughton standout as players who have done so.
Josh Dunkley’s 2016 season gets the nod because of his work in finals during the club’s premiership run. Dunkley solidified his spot in the team in Round 17 after a few weeks in and out and from that point on averaging 19 disposals and seven tackles per game.
He was a key part of the club’s drought breaking premiership, playing both as a pressure half-forward and through the midfield at stages.
Next best: Aaron Naughton (2018), Tom Liberatore (2011), Bailey Smith (2019)