While the narrative surrounding Wednesday’s NAB Rising Star Award focused on the pitting of Carlton’s Patrick Cripps against Melbourne’s Jesse Hogan, the AFL Players’ Best First Year Player award is a far more open field.
For starters, the top two finishers in the Rising Star are ineligible, as 2015 isn’t their first year on an AFL list.
The AFL Players’ Association Best First Year Player Award recognises those that have been able to immediately impact the AFL system; only those in their first season are eligible.
To add to the intrigue, this award is peer-voted. During the first round of voting, players are asked to nominate the teammate that’s been most outstanding in his debut season.
The highest vote-getter at each club is then listed as a nominee in the second round of voting. From there, players from all 18 clubs vote for the player they believe to have had the best first year. Players are forbidden from voting for teammates in the second round of voting.
The Best First Year Player Award will be announced at the 2015 AFL Players’ MVP Awards on Tuesday, September 15. Each club’s nominee can be found below.
Adelaide – jake lever
The 19-year-old managed 12 games in his first season with the Crows after being drafted with pick 14 in the 2014 National Draft, holding down a key post in Adelaide’s sturdy defence.
His rebounding abilities were showcased in round 17 against the Suns, when he collected 24 disposals and took ten marks.
Brisbane – harris andrews
After debuting in Round 3 against the Tigers, the 200cm defender managed to cement his spot in the Lions back six for the remainder of 2015.
He earned a Rising Star nomination for his efforts against Geelong in round 18, where he had 22 disposals and took 12 marks.
carlton – Blaine Boekhorst
The mature-aged speedster was drafted by the Blues to play senior football in 2015, achieving just that, debuting in round 4 against St Kilda in Wellington.
Providing run and carry along the wing, the 22-year-old’s best game came against traditional rival Collingwood in Round 18, where he picked up 18 disposals and four clearances, and booted a goal.
Collingwood – Jordan de Goey
The Collingwood youngster has made an immediate impact since debuting in Round 1 against the Brisbane Lions.
De Goey was used as the sub on numerous occasions, but looked well and truly at home when the pressure was on around the contest.
The teenager averaged 13 disposals and four tackles per game throughout 2015, and had 18 touches, 11 contested possessions, six inside 50s and five tackles against the Bulldogs in Round 17.
Essendon – jayden laverde
In a trying year for the Bombers, Laverde emerged as a bright young talent.
Showing class with and without the footy, the 19-year-old was one of his side’s best in the Round 20 capitulation to Adelaide, gathering 20 disposals, laying four tackles and kicking a goal.
Fremantle – Lachie Weller
The brother of St Kilda midfielder Maverick, Lachie Weller debuted as Fremantle’s substitute in round 18 against Greater Western Sydney after dominating the lower levels for much of 2015.
Weller’s dash and hardness at the footy has been rewarded by teammates, who’ve voted him the club’s best first year player despite limited opportunities in the senior side.
Geelong – Cory Gregson
After being taken with pick 47 in last year’s draft, Gregson exceeded all expectations in 2015 with a fine debut season at the Cattery.
Making an immediate impression, the 19-year-old played all but two matches after making his debut in Round 1, averaging 12 disposals, three tackles, three inside 50s, and kicking 12 goals while playing a small forward.
gold coast – touk miller
The first-year Sun was a revelation in 2015, playing every game for the club.
The hard-running midfielder ranked third at the Gold Coast for disposals and second for tackles, earning himself a Rising Star nomination after his 27-disposal, two-goal effort against the Giants in round 16.
greater western Sydney – jack steele
Straight from the GWS Academy, the 19-year-old made an impact in his first season, more than holding his own in a deep Giants midfield.
His hardness at the contest was of particular note, averaging more than five tackles per game in 2015.
hawthorn – Daniel howe
The Hawks rewarded the 19-year-old for his strong VFL form by selecting him in their Round 9 team against the Gold Coast.
The versatile defender showed strength overhead, and looks capable of holding down a spot in Hawthorn’s back six in the years ahead.
Melbourne – Angus brayshaw
The tough-as-nails midfielder arrived at Melbourne amidst great hype after being selected with the third pick in the 2014 National Draft, but exceeded expectations, playing 21 games in 2015.
The 19-year-old looked at home in Melbourne’s midfield from the start of the season until the end, ranking third at the club for tackles and showing great poise with skills on both sides of his body.
North Melbourne – Will Fordham
The first-year Roo appeared close to making his AFL debut throughout 2015, playing an encouraging season with Werribee in the VFL.
The 188cm midfielder had some solid patches throughout the year, including a 29-disposal effort on a wing in Werribee’s Round 9 loss to Collingwood.
A good user of the ball by foot, Fordham will be one to watch in the years ahead.
port Adelaide – jesse palmer
The young Power forward enjoyed a promising year in the SANFL, playing 18 games and kicking 15 goals.
He pushed hard for selection in the senior team during the year, making Port Adelaide’s 25-man squad in round 16 against Adelaide after consistent form in the reserves.
Richmond – kane lambert
The 23-year-old was cruelly struck down by a shoulder injury during his debut for the Tigers in Round 1.
He fought back into the senior side in round 13, and has held his spot since, proving a valuable member of Richmond’s forward line, averaging 17 disposals and kicking seven goals.
St Kilda – Jack Lonie
The livewire forward pocket managed 17 games in an experienced St Kilda forward line this season before a leg injury called an early end of his season.
His best performance came in Round 5 against the Bombers, where he gathered 20 disposals and kicked two goals.
Sydney swans – Isaac Heeney
The Academy selection looked a certainty to win the 2015 Rising Star Award until injury disrupted his debut season.
Displaying the skills and poise of a 10-year veteran, Heeney held his own in aerial contests around the Sydney half-forward line and proved crafty when given time and space close to goal.
The 19-year-old has been likened to Nat Fyfe and is likely to spend more time up the ground in 2016.
West coast – Liam Duggan
An early draft pick in 2014, Duggan lived up to expectation before a knee injury cut his debut season short.
The 18-year-old is an elite ball-user with exceptional decision-making skills and has been flagged as a future leader of the club.
Hailing from Bacchus Marsh in Victoria’s West, Duggan played 12 games in 2015, averaging 12 disposals and three inside 50s per game.
western bulldogs – caleb daniel
The shortest man in the AFL has become a cult figure down at Whitten Oval, his pace and football smarts making him a nightmare for opposition defenders.
The 19-year-old showed his class against Essendon in round 18, where he had 19 disposals and kicked two goals.