With plenty of hype surrounding Jesse Hogan and Patrick Cripps, it’s easy to lose interest in the NAB AFL Rising Star Award race. These two have been the dominant players in this year’s crop of nominees, but it’s hard to ignore the other contenders who will no doubt have bright futures in the AFL.
One such player is Touk Miller of the Gold Coast Suns. Drafted at pick 29 in 2014, the former Calder Cannons and Vic Metro captain has played every game this season; an astonishing fact considering he is just 19 years old.
At 178 cm and 81 kg, Miller’s size may have worried off some recruiters, but the Suns were eager to select him once they realised how far he had slipped
While he hasn’t received the media hype that Hogan and Cripps have, Miller has arguably been just as important to his team as those two have, considering the injuries that have decimated the Gold Coast Suns.
Often, smaller players are brought in as the substitute or as small forwards. If the first two rounds were anything to go by, coach Rodney Eade had the same plan for young Miller.
The injuries to David Swallow and Gary Ablett early in the season forced a change in plans at the Suns, and the mid-season injury to Dion Prestia further cemented the initial alterations to the line-up.
As a result, Miller was required to play predominately as a midfielder, just three games into his career.
With a month to go in Gold Coast’s season, Miller ranks fourth at the club for clearances, second for tackles and second for contested possessions. As a junior, these were the areas of his game that made him stand out.
In fact, throughout his junior career as recorded by Champion Data, Miller has always collected over 50% of his possessions in contested situations. He also has elite endurance, meaning his time on ground statistics are higher than a lot of other inside midfielders.
At this stage, Miller is averaging 17.7 disposals at nearly 60% efficiency, and 4.5 tackles a game. They’re impressive numbers for a first year player and would delight Suns fans and draft aficionados all over the place.
The last month has seen an improved performance overall by the Suns, with Miller’s hard work inside allowing players like Harley Bennell, Aaron Hall and Jarrod Harbrow to deliver the ball inside 50. In that time, Miller is averaging nearly six clearances a game.
Of course, as is the case with all young players, there are areas of his game that Miller needs to improve. His kicking is and always has been a worry, ranking below average in that area of the game. Also, his outside work will slowly improve as he gets more time in the AFL system, but has always been a part of his game that he hasn’t been able to develop as effectively as others.
If 2015 is anything to go by though, his commitment to the team and his teammates will see a very quick all-round improvement, which is sure to excite the Suns’ coaching staff.
It’s likely that in 2016, Miller will spend a lot more time in the forward line given the players that will return in Gold Coast’s midfield. In his final TAC Cup season, Miller averaged a goal a game and is generally a very strong mark in one-on-one situations, which would allow him to succeed in that role next season.
Miller has a little bit of Nathan Jones and Tom Rockliff about him, in that he is ferocious in the contest and has extremely good core strength. Much like the Brisbane captain, he will become one of the premier tacklers in the competition and have an impact up forward. He also has Jones’ bullish nature when it comes to clearance work.
He won’t win the Rising Star award. He may not even finish top five. But Miller is on track to become an important part of one of the most exciting midfields in the competition.
He’s certainly off to a good start.