The 2015 NAB Rising Star award looks to be one of the tightest races in the last few years. There were several ready-made midfielder types taken in the 2014 draft, as well as some players who could come out of nowhere, like Tom Langdon last year, to give it a shake. Honourable mentions go to Damien Cavka, Toby McLean, Alex Neal-Bullen, Caleb Daniel and Nathan Drummond, who have the potential to make a strong impression in their first year in the system.
8. Isaac Heeney (Sydney) Heeney is ready to play AFL football at a high level already, but he is ranked so low based on how far back he is in the pecking order. Like Tom Mitchell before him, Heeney may have to bide his time. However, if he makes an early debut, he should make a smooth transition and even have a few games where he breaks the 25 disposal mark.
7. Ed Vickers-Willis (North Melbourne) It’s hard to describe why Ed Vickers-Willis is such a good footballer. There is really no standout points to his game, but at the same time, he has no weaknesses. Vickers-Willis is a natural leader who never misses targets. Indeed, his reliable kicking is why he made the list over bigger names like Corey Ellis and Jayden Laverde, as the former Sandringham Dragon can be trusted to perform his role. Vickers-Willis can play as a tall defender or a midfielder, and he will have no qualms with having to sacrifice his own game to help the team.
6. Jack Steele (Greater Western Sydney) Steele is a natural ball magnet who possesses great athletic talent. That alone could see him break into the Giants ’round one line up. However, with many other similar types ahead of him, he may find it difficult to jump the cue. But once he is in the side, his ball winning ability and solid kicking should be enough to allow him to play more than ten games.
5. Touk Miller (Gold Coast) Miller is one of the best leaders by example for his age. His ability to win the hard ball and kick crucial goals really gets his teammates up and about, and his infectious personality makes him a real favourite around the club. Miller’s game is not too dissimilar to fellow Sun Dion Prestia, although Miller is much better up forward. If he can adjust to the physicality of AFL, then he certainly has the ability to take the league by storm early on.
4. Liam Duggan (West Coast) The former Western Jet is not only the best kick in the 2014 draft class, but he is a real leader who has seen his game expand from the back flank to becoming a genuine midfielder. West Coast don’t have too many solid options to play on the wings aside from Matt Rosa and Andrew Gaff, and Duggan could take a spot on the wing quite early on if an injury occurs. Duggan doesn’t win too much of his own ball on the inside, so he’ll have to hope the Eagles look to get him into the game. He is almost a clone of Gaff in the way he plays, although not quite as fast, so it’s not unforeseeable that Duggan gets off the chain before clubs start paying attention to him.
3. Nathan Freeman (Collingwood) Freeman missed all of last year, which was a real shame. Don’t be surprised if Freeman get nominated for Goal of the Year after taking three steps and weaving through several players to finish from 50. His speed, motor and skills are all in the upper echelon. He’s also a real physical type, who has the ability to play on the inside and outside. The potential Freeman possesses is really quite scary. If Freeman can crack into the seniors, the brand of football he plays attracts plenty of attention, and his 15 possessions will impress more than 30 disposals from an inside midfielder.
2. Angus Brayshaw (Melbourne) Brayshaw could play every game and average 22 disposals and five tackles per game and not many would bat an eyelid. Brayshaw has all the fierceness of his fellow Demon Jack Viney, yet Brayshaw’s game is arguably more developed at this stage. Brayshaw isn’t an explosive athlete, but he is evasive and he can run all day. He can kick on both sides of the body, find the goals and you better believe he can tackle and find his own ball. If Petracca and Brayshaw is available as a quinella, some smart punters could place worse bets.
1. Christian Petracca (Melbourne) Petracca is quite similar to Nat Fyfe in the way he plays – a dominant inside force who is getting better on the outside and can win a game off his own boot. He may find himself starting as a forward at the Demons, and it’s not unrealistic to expect him to average a goal per game and potentially upwards of 15 disposals per game. Petracca can literally do it all, and although Brayshaw’s game is more of the prototypical early bloomer, Petracca is just a supreme talent all around and should take out the award if he plays enough games.