Sign him up, Dimma!
Mattaes Phillipou is the Round 8 Rising Star nominee, continuing an impressive start to his career in season 2023 and following in the footsteps of teammate Mitchito Owens who was nominated in Round 4.
Phillipou was drafted by the Saints with pick 10 in last years National Draft, but had been the subject of much conjecture prior to the draft as Essendon and Hawthorn were said to be considering taking him with their first picks.
This didn’t come to pass, and the Saints got their man. He is a product of Adelaide’s Henley High School – the alma mater of many an AFL player – as well as SANFL club Woodville-West Torrens.
Phillipou announced himself as a 16-year-old in the SANFL U18 competition, winning plenty of the ball and impressing with his high marking and ability to switch between the forward 50 and the midfield.
This form was franked in 2022 when he averaged nearly 30 touches and over a goal a game during the U18 season.
Interestingly, even though the Eagles weren’t in the finals mix he didn’t feature in the senior team, which appears to be something of a regularity with expected draftees in South Australia. Something to keep an eye on, perhaps.
It wasn’t just on-field that Phillipou was making his mark though, with stories of his self-confidence filtering across the border as the draft came nearer.
I wrote last week about how Finn Callaghan was the first – of probably many – tall, left footed midfielder to be compared to Marcus Bontempelli, but Phillipou managed to get in before the media and compared himself to the Bont!
Not only that, but he also described himself as a cross between the Bont and Nat Fyfe (yes, the two time Brownlow Medallist and three time All Australian).
I think we all expect most young footballers to have a healthy amount of confidence, but this is obviously next level, especially in this highly sanitised and media managed world.
But, one look at his introduction video when he first walked into Moorabbin, and any concerns would be dispelled – he was just another wide eyed kid meeting a bunch of blokes he’d only ever seen on TV before.
No-one was surprised when Phillipou made his debut in round one, and Saints supporters have been singing his praises ever since.
Which hasn’t been hard to understand, given he has played exactly how he spoke last year – with excitement, confidence and more than a little dare. He has kicked booming goals from outside 50, he’s sat on some heads, and he’s done it all with a big smile on his face.
He is going to be despised by opposition supporters, but absolutely adored by those from the Saints.
He hasn’t quite set the world alight, mainly finding himself stationed in the forward line, but the cameos suggest the ceiling is very, very high – his three goals in Round 2, including an absolutely ripping 55m set shot just after half-time, showed class and maturity, and he has consistently done enough (and possibly more) to hold his spot since.
Phillipou’s strengths are undoubtedly on the offensive side, and he does the most damage forward of centre, but the minor criticisms of his game at this point revolve around his field kicking and his one percenters.
I think the field kicking will be fine, and more was probably made of it in his draft year because negatives needed to be found, but he does need to be more proactive defensively if he’s to reach the heights he is aiming for as well as also just to be a good teammate.
St Kilda lack x-factor though, and Phillipou potentially has this in spades – his skills are obviously elite, but he also wants the ball in his hands when games are on the line. Made for finals footy perhaps, which may come as soon as this year.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Phillipou is less than a week from not being able to be drafted last year (he doesn’t turn 19 until 27 December), so his development should be viewed through that prism, but he is very unlikely to get amongst the votes for the Rising Star unless his form really lifts.
A cross between Bontempelli and Fyfe. Seriously though, early Bontempelli is probably the closest comparison.
Whilst I can’t see him getting close to winning the Rising Star, I can imagine him becoming the best of the bunch. His weapons are excellent, and the things he needs to work on aren’t insurmountable – I’d like to see him spend a bit more time in the middle as the season progresses and get used to having the ball in his hand in transition.
He’s gonna be a player!