The Debutant Ball: Who impressed on their AFL debut this week?

Hawthorn's Josh Ward and Connor MacDonald leave the MCG after a win on debut against North Melbourne. Image @hawthornfc/Twitter

Whether it’s a selection squeeze, Comeback story or Debut, Round One selections always intrigue.

The first game of the season gives the first opportunity to see recruits unveiled in their new colours officially for the first time, but also provides the first opportunity for those newly drafted players to get their first shot at the big time at the first available opportunity.

The Inner Sanctum has a look at how the players from your club fared on their AFL debut this week.

Adelaide

Joshua Rachele

For Adelaide supporters, the debut for Joshua Rachele against the Fremantle Dockers was anticipated since the live-wire forward stepped foot at West Lakes. Taken with the first pick for the Crows and Pick 6 overall, the excitement machine delivered in a big way for his new side on Sunday.

Rachele looked as confident as ever at the level, almost winning the game off his own boot if it had not been for the defensive effort of defender Heath Chapman to win the game for the Dockers.

Amassing 14 disposals and booting five goals on debut in front of the home ground, Rachele looked at home with a classy fourth goal in a surge by his team in the third quarter to keep the game close.

Jake Soligo

Taken in the same draft as Rachele, Jake Soligo had an understated start to his footy career on and off the field.

Drafted as a midfielder, Soligo played down forward amassing five disposals overall but coming into the game within the second half.

He showed glimpses of what he could do if given midfield time but wasn’t near the contest enough to have much influence on the game. Soligo will be better for the run and will continue to grow in confidence.

Madeline Irwin

Brisbane – Nil

Carlton – Nil

Collingwood

Nick Daicos

The hype surrounding a footballer wearing the black-and-white has probably not been matched since Nathan Buckley moved down from Brisbane, such as the expectation on Nick Daicos.  And based on his first game, there is a fair chance the hype is justified.

Daicos did not look out of place at all on an AFL field, racking up disposals at will across half-back.  There were a few nervy moments for him early on, but he soon illustrated all the poise and skill he demonstrated as a junior and in the practice matches.

Daicos finished with 27 disposals and helped lead Collingwood to an all-important first-up win to start 2022.

Scott Kertes

Essendon

Nic Martin

There would be few players in history who could lay claim to as impressive a debut as Nic Martin had.  In an otherwise dark day for the Bombers, Martin shone brightly, playing mostly forward of centre but still amassing an impressive 27 disposals, 10 marks, and five goals. A performance capped off with the Rising Star nomination for Round 1.

Bombers fans would have to be most impressive, not only with his finishing in front of goal but his poise and ability to make the right decision in heavy traffic.

Kaine Baldwin

After missing most of the last two years due to knee injuries, Kaine Baldwin may have felt his opportunity might not have come. However, Essendon was always keen on him and his eventual rise to senior football was swift, earning a Round 1 spot in Ben Rutten’s side.

Baldwin at times looked rushed and nervous on the big stage but appeared to settle in well as the game progressed. The 19-year-old finished the game with having a couple of shots on goal for one behind and amassing seven disposals.

Given the reputation Baldwin had before his injuries, if he can get a clean run at it Essendon supporters can expect to see improvement from game one.

Scott Kertes

Fremantle – Nil

Geelong – Nil

Gold Coast – Nil

Greater Western Sydney – Nil

Hawthorn

Josh Ward

Having impressed during the offseason, Pick 5 from last year’s draft Josh Ward made his much-anticipated debut against the Kangaroos. Finishing the game with 13 disposals and three marks, Ward put in an honest performance in his first AFL game.

Despite being amongst the least active Hawks in the side, playing just 62 per cent of the game, Ward was still given opportunities to play in the middle and show his class. While he didn’t win a whole lot of the footy, he was effective with it, finishing the game with an 85 per cent disposal efficiency rate.

Connor MacDonald

MacDonald had the better game out of the two Hawks debutants, finishing the game with 16 touches, and showed encouraging signs in his side’s 20-point win over the Kangaroos.

In the absence of Luke Breust, MacDonald was given ample opportunity up forward in addition to his short stint in the midfield. Like Ward, MacDonald too was unable to finish the game with a goal.

Giacomo Bruno

Melbourne – Nil

North Melbourne

Jason Horne-Francis

The highly anticipated debut of North Melbourne’s Pick 1 Jason Horne-Francis was unveiled against Hawthorn in Round 1.

Whilst his side wasn’t able to get the win against their opposition, the eighteen-year-old fired up early in the game as he had a significant impact moments after entering onto the field.

Horne-Francis was impressive in his AFL debut, marking the occasion with his first goal, booted from 40 metres out which sent Kangaroo fans in a spin. He finished with 13 disposals and three marks.

With one game under his belt now, hopefully, this young gun will continue to excite North Melbourne fans for a long time to come.

Ashleigh Matosevic

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Port Adelaide

Jackson Mead

Son of former Port Adelaide player Darren Mead, Jackson Mead impressed on the training track over the summer and broke into a strong Port Adelaide Round 1 side.

It is always a tough road trip to play the Lions in Brisbane, and Mead certainly learned the significant jump up to play at the elite level.  He looked good in small patches, amassing 10 disposals at 70% efficiency in the side’s close loss.  Given the injuries on the night, Mead should be given ample opportunity to improve in the upcoming weeks.

Scott Kertes

Richmond

Josh Gibcus

The Tigers couldn’t wait to unveil their prized number Pick 9 after an impressive first summer at Tigerland. The athletic defender made his debut against the Blues, joining forces in the backline with newly minted co-captain Dylan Grimes and the returning Noah Balta.

Switching between Charlie Curnow and Tom De Koning as his opponents for his first game at AFL level, Gibcus had 10 touches at 80 per cent efficiency, as well as three intercept marks in Richmond’s opening-round loss to the Blues, with coach Damien Hardwick labelling the performance a “pretty solid game” from the teenager.

Jono Baruch

St. Kilda

Mitchito Owens

Taken with Pick 33 in the 2021 National Draft for the Saints, Owens started his debut match on the interchange bench and spent the least time on the ground of all active players at 49 per cent ToG. 

This limited game time resulted in just six disposals and two tackles, along with two score involvements. 

Owens’ performance isn’t a slight on his ability, as he will continue to get more game time as the season progresses.

Jack Hayes

The mature-aged SANFL recruit lived up to the hype and more on Friday night, as he put on a show in his debut match in the red, white, and black. 

Hayes started the game up forward and dominated, kicking three goals and taking 10 marks. While his whole game was fantastic, his third quarter was a standout and had the AFL world talking.

He kicked two of his three goals, had four intercepts and four score involvements in the quarter where the Saints fell as far behind as 35 points. Hayes and co dominated the back end of the quarter to be behind by just five points at three-quarter time.

Hayes has certainly cemented his spot in the side for the time being and has already achieved cult favourite status at RSEA Park.

Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera

Wanganeen-Milera was the medical sub for the game against the Pies and was unused. 

This is counted as his first AFL match but is likely that he will experience time on the ground in weeks to come as coach Brett Ratten looks to amend his sides’ Round 1 loss.

Jarryd Thomas

Sydney

Angus Sheldrick

Angus Sheldrick was one of the surprise debutants to make an appearance in Round 1. A beneficiary of the Sydney players left out due to COVID-19 protocols, Sheldrick, found out late in the week that he’d play his first AFL match.

Sheldrick started his first match in the forward pocket and was immediately amongst the action. His first disposal was a soccer off the ground towards the goal square in which Isaac Heeney collected and kicked the first goal of the match.

Overall, Sheldrick looked comfortable at the level and will become stronger over time. It was easy to see that his natural position is on the ball, however, he’ll have to do his time up forward before becoming another youthful addition to the Sydney midfield.

Jack Dobson

West Coast

Brady Hough

A year ago Hough was playing country football for Harvey-Brunswick-Leschanault. On Sunday, his rapid rise through the ranks was complete, with the Pick 31 in the National Draft making his debut for the Eagles at Optus Stadium. 

Hough took it all in his stride, looking comfortable at the level and adjusting well to the speed of the game as it wore on. He finished with 10 disposals in the defensive six for West Coast, which included three tackles and three inside 50s. 

He may find it difficult to hold his place over the coming weeks with some experienced Eagles expected to come back, but Adam Simpson will be assured that the 18-year-old is up to the level already after an excellent first pre-season in the AFL system.

Jasper Chellappah

Western Bulldogs – Nil

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