Source: The Rising Star contenders
Round one: Riley Bonner (Port Adelaide)
The 21-year-old left-footer won a career-high 31 disposals in the opening round against Fremantle, and was a staple of the Power’s defence in 19 games this season after only four matches in his previous two years.
Round two: Tom Doedee (Adelaide)
A leading contender to be this year’s NAB AFL Rising Star. Bided his time in the SANFL for two seasons, but stepped into Jake Lever’s former role in 2018 and averaged 2.2 intercept marks before breaking his collarbone in round 22.
Round three: Sam Murray (Collingwood)
Murray failed to play an AFL match in two years on the Swans’ rookie list, but made an instant impression at the Pies with his defensive dash. Averaged 20.8 possessions and 3.6 rebound 50s in 13 matches.
Round four: Jaidyn Stephenson (Collingwood)
The hot favourite. Set aside any fears about his heart condition to produce a tremendous rookie season up forward. Kicked 32 goals, one of four Pies to kick that many, including five against the Crows to inspire the Magpies to a rare win in Adelaide.
Round five: Ben Long (St Kilda)
The hard-as-nails forward was a bright spot in a tough season for the Saints. Played the first seven rounds, but a fractured metatarsal in his right foot sidelined him for three months. Returned for the final three rounds.
Round six: Jake Waterman (West Coast)
Played an important role for the Eagles as a link man in attack, especially with Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling missing significant time because of respective injuries. Kicked multiple goals three times, including three in round eight.
Round seven: Jack Henry (Geelong)
Played every game from round two, becoming a key cog for the Cats in defence – taking five intercept marks among 11 overall against GWS – before swinging forward late in the season and kicking a goal in five straight matches.
Round eight: Ben Ronke (Sydney)
Ronke lit up the MCG with a seven-goal haul at the Hawks’ expense to lead a Lance Franklin-less Swans to victory and earn himself a Rising Star nomination. Kicked five majors on another occasion and averaged 4.1 tackles.
Round nine: Alex Witherden (Brisbane)
No Rising Star nominee – he was also nominated in 2017 – averaged more than Witherden’s 22.4 disposals down back this season in an improving Lions side. His coach Chris Fagan believes his kick-in specialist would be a worthy overall winner.
Round 10: Ed Richards (Western Bulldogs)
The flame-haired Bulldog with famous lineage and pace to burn excelled at both ends of the ground, including a span when he booted seven goals in three matches in the middle of the year. Played 21 matches in his debut season.
Round 11: Oliver Florent (Sydney)
The Swans speedster took a major leap forward playing on the wing in 2018. Compiled a six-match streak of at least 20 disposals from rounds eight to 13, capped by a career-best 29 with four inside 50s against West Coast.
Round 12: Brennan Cox (Fremantle)
Cox might be the answer for the Dockers in the post-Matthew Pavlich era. His standout performance was his four goals, 19 possessions and seven marks against Adelaide that earned him a nomination. Averaged an impressive 1.7 contested marks.
Round 13: Hunter Clark (St Kilda)
Played a big role in the Saints’ dramatic fightback to win from 31 points behind the Suns at three-quarter time in the week of his Rising Star nomination. The No.7 draft pick had to work hard for his spot, but made 15 senior appearances.
Round 14: Paddy Dow (Carlton)
When Brendon Bolton speaks about “green shoots”, he’s referring to the likes of Dow. The first-year Blue was fast-tracked into centre bounces and showed promise, winning nine or more contested possessions eight times.
Round 15: Cam Rayner (Brisbane)
It took the dux of last year’s draft class a while to receive a nomination, but don’t let that fool you. Some think Rayner is the second coming of Dustin Martin. Kicked 20 goals, on top of winning at least 18 touches on six occasions.
Round 16: Adam Cerra (Fremantle)
Spent time in various roles, but a move to half-back triggered a form surge for the silky rookie, who amassed 30 possessions in round 12 to be one of the best players afield in a brilliant Dockers win over the Crows.
Round 17: Sam Taylor (GWS Giants)
Stood tall in defence in the Giants’ time of need as injury sidelined a series of key players. The numbers don’t do Taylor justice, but his composure and ability to quell opponents many years his senior endeared him to his teammates.
Round 18: Jack Higgins (Richmond)
Won the footy public over with a two-goal debut and excitable interview afterwards, and has progressed from a goalsneak to crack the Tigers’ midfield rotation. Effective inside and outside the contest, he averaged 16.1 possessions and kicked 12 goals in 18 matches.
Round 19: Tom Cole (West Coast)
The small defender’s third season at the Eagles was one of significant development. Cole played 18 matches in 2018 after only six across his previous two years. Took three intercept marks and had five rebound 50s against the Roos in his nomination round.
Round 20: Harry Morrison (Hawthorn)
Earmarked by coach Alastair Clarkson on season eve as a potential star in the making, the boy from Benalla developed nicely in various roles in his second year in the system. Twice won 20-plus disposals and kicked a goal.
Round 21: James Worpel (Hawthorn)
The ‘Worpedo’ swiftly become a cult hero at Waverley Park for his fearless attack on the ball. This was no better demonstrated than in his clash with Joel Selwood when he charged from the opposite direction to pinch the Sherrin from under the Geelong captain’s nose.
Round 22: Aaron Francis (Essendon)
Took a month-long sabbatical in February to focus on his mental health before building form in the VFL then finally breaking back into the Bombers’ senior side in round 19. No player – not just Rising Star nominees – averaged more than his four intercept marks in 2018.
Round 23: Aaron Naughton (Western Bulldogs)
Talented defender who also impressed playing as a forward on occasion throughout the season. His sticky hands and excellent reading of the play are his standout features and he made sure he scored a belated nomination with six intercept marks in the last round.