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The AFL's best young players, part one

Adelaide's Tom Doedee in action in the AFLX. (AAP Image/Sam Wundke)
Expert
1st May, 2018
119
3535 Reads

Now that we’ve had five rounds, it’s becoming clearer which young players are making their mark on the competition.

I’ve picked my top five, although it’s an issue I intend to revisit as the season goes on.

Generally, I’ve looked at players who could be part of an under-23 team, regardless of games played (for example, mature-aged draftees can also be included).

This gives a better guide than the best first-year player or the best player under 21 as the Rising Star award does, because most of the players who fit that profile tend to be inconsistent and extremely inexperienced.

What I’m looking for here rather than simply raw talent is the young player who has had the biggest impact on their team so far in 2018. Let’s have a look at the initial group of players.

5. Riley Bonner – Port Adelaide
I’ve been a fan of Bonner since he was drafted, and while it’s been a frustrating wait for him to fulfil his potential, he’s certainly done that at the beginning of this year.

Like teammate Darcy Byrne-Jones, who came from nowhere to establish himself in Port’s best team two years ago, Bonner reads the play well, and his raking left boot has allowed him to launch plenty of scoring chains off half-back.

With Jasper Pittard’s injury, Bonner has taken the chance to establish himself as an excellent rebounding defender. Stats-wise he’s averaging 21 disposals, five marks, and four rebound 50s, and he’s also ranked 11th in total metres gained. He’s already got a Rising Star nomination in the bank for his first-round, 31-disposal performance against Fremantle.

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Riley Bonner playing for Port Adelaide in the 2018 preseason.

(AAP Image/Mark Brake)

4. Brayden Fiorini – Gold Coast
In a Gold Coast team that badly needs some x-factor, Fiorini is a shining light. He’s been consistent, classy and creative playing as a wingman, averaging 21 disposals, five marks, three tackles and three clearances and inside 50s per game.

He apparently worked hard on his defensive game in the offseason and is reaping the rewards. One area he does need to improve is his disposal efficiency – he’s ranked 16th in the competition for total turnovers.

Brayden Firoini plays for the Gold Coast Suns in 2016

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

3. Jeremy Finlayson – Greater Western Sydney
Finlayson has been nothing short of excellent. He played only one game last year, his third on the GWS list, but already looks to have cemented his spot in the team after playing all six games to start the year.

With injuries affecting GWS’s defensive stocks, Finlayson has come in and looked right at home, averaging 20 disposals, four marks, two tackles and five rebound 50s.

Emphasising his impact is the fact he’s ranked third in total rebound 50s, 17th in total intercepts and 20th in metres gained in the competition – pretty impressive numbers for a player who has played seven games. Experienced defenders Matt Buntine and Adam Kennedy, both on the comeback from injury, will find it difficult to displace Finlayson.

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2. Tom Doedee – Adelaide
The Crows sprung a massive surprise when they took Doedee with pick 17 in the 2015 draft, but it seems to have been an astute decision. In his third year on the list he’s stepped into Jake Lever’s large shoes and hasn’t missed a beat.

He made his debut in Round 1 and looks to be going from strength to strength. Just take a look at his numbers: 19.5 disposals, seven marks, two tackles and four rebound 50s. He’s also ranked 16th in total marks, tenth in total intercepts and, perhaps most remarkably, eighth in the competition for effective disposal percentage.

He’s already been rewarded with the Round 2 Rising Star nomination, and at this stage he looks like a worthy winner of the award.

Tom Doedee plays for the Adelaide Crows in 2018's AFLX tournament.

(AAP Image/Sam Wundke)

1. Tom Phillips – Collingwood
At 22, after 30 games, and entering his third season on the list, Phillips seems to be hitting his straps – and not a moment too soon for Collingwood’s midfield.

In his six games this year, Phillips is averaging 28 disposals, five marks, three tackles and two clearances – that’s an improvement of six possessions. Competition-wide he’s also ranked 18th and 20th respectively for total uncontested possessions and disposals per game.

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His pace and decision-making have seen him become an important part of what is generally a one-paced Pies midfield, and he’s quickly establishing himself as arguably the best young player in the game.

Honourable mentions
Hugh McLuggage, Jaiydn Stephenson, Harry Morrison and Alex Pearce.

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