When Fremantle’s Zac Clarke received his Rising Star nomination in Round 20 2011, the Dockers had 27 nominations overall – the equal fifth highest of any club at the time.
Fast forward to Round 11 2016 and the club have just received their 29th nominee with youngster Connor Blakely taking out the gong for his 25 disposals and seven tackles in the first win of his seven-game career and the Dockers’ first of the season.
Blakely is Fremantle’s second Rising Star nominee during coach Ross Lyon’s five-year tenure. In comparison, the Western Bulldogs have claimed 11 nominations since Clarke received his – the most by any club during that period, excluding the two recent expansion teams.
But Blakely’s nomination coincides with the club’s change in direction following and indifferent first half of the 2016 season. The Dockers have put an emphasis on the younger generation, fielding eight players with less than 50 games of experience during Round 11 – four of those with less than 10.
“the thing he’s improved most is his work off the ball . . . Ross has really taken notice and is continuing to give him games.”
– Hughes on Blakely
Blakely – pick 34 in the 2014 national draft – is one of those players benefiting from being given a regular crack in the 22. He’s played the past six matches in Fremantle’s senior team and has averaged 24 disposals – 12 contested – five clearances and five tackles in the past three.
But it’s the defensive side of his game that’s given Lyon a reason to persist with the 20-year-old, according to young teammate Ethan Hughes.
“He’s always been a great player, but when you get drafted you need to take that next step and he’s grown in leaps and bounds and it’s shown in his last few AFL games and he’s starting to be recognised,” Hughes told Aflplayers.com.au.
“Since being at Freo, the thing he’s improved most is his work off the ball. It’s something that’s beginning to show now and Ross has really taken notice and is continuing to give him games.
“He’s always been great with the ball but it’s when he doesn’t have it that’s helping in making us a better team.”
Hughes was a teammate of Blakely’s during the duo’s time at Swan Districts in 2014 where the younger Blakely played 14 senior WAFL games.
Hughes said there was never any doubt the inside midfielder was going to make something of his footy.
“We’re both from Bunbury, so we grew up in the area and were zoned to Swan Districts and we also played against each other in the local country leagues.
“He was always that kid who was a couple of levels above everyone else and when he was on the opposite team he was the one we always had to stop.
“He was a consistent performer which led to him standing up and playing league footy for Swan Districts as an underage kid.
“Being a step ahead of kids his own age, you could tell he was going to make it to the top level.”
Fremantle is equal-ninth for total Rising Star nominations on a club-by-club count and has two previous winners of the award: Paul Haselby (2000) and Rhys Palmer (2008).
TOTAL CLUB RISING STAR NOMINATIONS:
- Melbourne – 39
- Essendon – 37
- West Coast – 35
- Collingwood – 34
- Brisbane Lions – 34
- Western Bulldogs – 34
- Hawthorn – 33
- Richmond – 32
- Geelong – 29
- Fremantle – 29
- Carlton – 28
- Port Adelaide – 28
- Adelaide – 26
- St Kilda – 24
- Sydney – 24
- North Melbourne – 23
- GWS Giants – 15
- Gold Coast – 11
- Fitzroy – 6
- Brisbane Bears – 5