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Why Witherden will beat Stephenson to the Rising Star

Alex Witherden of the Lions celebrates a goal. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
31st July, 2018
22

The AFL’s Rising Star is one of the most controversial and divisive accolades in the AFL community, as highlighted by Lewis Taylor’s success in 2014.

In 2018 a multitude of AFL experts and pundits have glanced increasingly favourably on Collingwood star Jaidyn Stephenson. AFL.com.au reporter Nick Bowen adamantly proclaimed Stephenson as a shoe-in on the AFL’s website.

Referring to Jaidyn Stephenson’s season, Fox Sports’s Josh Gabelich declared the Rising Star race “all but closed”. North Melbourne premiership player David King additionally referred to the Collingwood forward as “a lock” for the award.

Such perspectives are concurred by the betting agencies, which have reduced Stephenson’s odds to frighteningly short numbers.

However, it is possible that many fail to recognise the talents of those who ply their trade interstate. It is additionally plausible that the exciting and high-paced nature of the Magpies’ game inaccurately improves external opinions of his performances.

Young Lion Alex Witherden has compiled a season that not only equals but exceeds that of his Collingwood counterpart.

Alex Witherden Brisbane Lions 2017 AFL

(Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

A fundamental pillar of Brisbane’s defence, Witherden has developed into one of the competition’s elite small-defenders. He’s ranked elite in five statistical categories, including effective kicks, ranking points, and marks.

The 19-year-old amazingly sits first at the Lions for effective kicks and metres gained. He also ranks second in effective disposals and fourth in ranking points. Collecting over 115 ranking points three times in 2018, the former Geelong Falcon demonstrates that he has tremendous upside.

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Witherden’s performances exceed an already impressive quantitative record.

The Round 9 Rising Star nominee is a vital cog in the Lions defence. A consistently accountable defender, Witherden frequently allows fellow defenders like Luke Hodge the freedom and space to launch offensive chains effectively.

Similar to Jeremy McGovern’s role at the Eagles, Witherden’s defensive positioning frequently results in the slowing of opposition offensive chains.

The young defender has been able to produce such performances in the consistently besieged Lions defence. Often outnumbered and inadequately supported, the poor Lions system adds to how impressive his accomplishments are.

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In contrast the output of Jaidyn Stephenson has been comparatively mediocre. The young forward fails to rank elite in a single statistical category and as a forward sits 38th in the competition for goals per game.

Regularly cited in Stephenson’s defence is his considerable tackle pressure. However, the Collingwood forward averages just 0.8 tackles inside 50 per game, which ranks 157nd in the competition, and his overall tackle numbers are even less impressive.

When you consider Stephenson’s performances have occurred in the forward line of a side that sits comfortably inside the top four and averages 55 inside 50 entries per game, it diminishes the impressiveness of his output.

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Much of the AFL community has locked Stephenson away as the 2018 Rising Star, but these opinions could not be further from reality.