It was one of the more historic debuts for Hawthorn’s mid-season draft pick Jai Newcombe when the 19-year-old ran out on the SCG on Friday night.
Having spent the first half of the year at Box Hill, the boy from Poowong was selected with pick number two in the AFL’s midseason rookie draft just over a fortnight ago. Only nine days after being drafted, Newcombe was selected to play his first game for a side that desperately needed a ready-made bull in the midfield and boy did he deliver.
Newcombe laid a record breaking 14 tackles – the most of any debutant – whilst also equalling the centre clearances (3) and amassing 21 pressure acts in Hawthorn’s stunning 38-point upset win over Sydney.
The stunning debut got the Inner Sanctum office thinking about the best rookie picks of the last decade.
We’ve scoured the records to name your club’s best AFL rookie draft selection.
Adelaide: Rory Laird: Pick 5 2011 Rookie Draft
It’s hard to believe a player of such high quality was taken with pick 5 in the 2011 rookie draft. Having played majority of his career across half-back, the 2018 Malcom Blight medallist and two-time All Australian has shifted into the Crows midfield where he has averaged 31 touches this season.
Brisbane: Oscar McInerney – Pick 37 2017 Rookie Draft
No one clunks marks quite like ‘the big O’ which makes him so important in the current Lions outfit. Oscar McInerney possesses great strength in the ruck and has the ability to drift down forward, particularly in clutch moments. Since the departure of Stefan Martin, McInerney has thrived in the ruck and continues to improve frequently.
Carlton: Michael Gibbons – 2018 Pre-season SSP selection
Recruited from Williamstown to Carlton as a supplemental rookie recruit in February 2019, Michael Gibbons has played an important part in Carlton’s forward line in recent years kicking 35 goals in 47 games. An opportunist, Gibbons doesn’t need to find much of the footy to have an impact as he possesses creativity and good goal sense inside the forward 50.
Collingwood: John Noble – Pick 14 2019 Mid-Season Draft
The son of North Melbourne coach David Noble was selected in the inaugural mid-season rookie draft in 2019. The pasty blonde from Tasmania gives the pies a bit of flare off half back and has also taken his game to a new level this season averaging 19 disposals at 81 per cent efficiency. Noble has formed a great partnership with fellow Pie’s rebounder Isaac Quaynor with the pair looking to cement their spots across half back for the next decade as Collingwood continues to rebuild.
Essendon: Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti – Pick 22 2016 Rookie Draft
Picked up from Essendon’s VFL side in the rookie draft off the back of the infamous supplement’s saga, the man they call ‘Walla’ has been an absolute steal in recent years. McDonald-Tipungwuti is currently having a career-best year so far, averaging 2.3 goals in season 2021 and going at 71 per cent accuracy in front of goal which is rated elite by Champion Data.
Fremantle: Matt Taberner – Pick 11 2013 Rookie Draft
Now arguably Fremantle’s most important player, Taberner has kicked an impressive 27 goals in the ten games he has played in season 2021, just two less than his 29 in 16 games last season. Taberner didn’t exactly burst on the AFL scene since his debut in 2013 but has since taken the next step up to become one of the comps best current tall forwards.
Geelong: Mark Blicavs – Pick 54 2012 Rookie Draft
From long distance running to the cattery, Mark Blicavs has one of the most interesting paths to an AFL list. Prior to being recruited by Geelong, Blicavs was a middle-distance runner and steeplechaser, who attempted to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Now, Blicavs is a two time best and fairest winner and is ultra consistent and versatile, he can play in defence, on the wing or in the ruck.
Gold Coast: Nick Holman – Pick 19 2018 Rookie Draft
Nick Holman is the type of player everyone wants in their side. The ex-blue thrives on the contest and regularly bobs up for a goal. Much respected by his fellow coaches and teammates, Holman regularly gets the job done and never fails to play his role.
GWS: Daniel Lloyd – Pick 26 2016 Rookie Draft
Daniel Lloyd was recruited when Assistant Coach Mark McVeigh spotted the small forward off the back of a 9-goal game when playing in a semi-final for the Killarney Vale Bombers in the Black Diamond Football League. Lloyd is now a forward line regular in the Giants line-up having played a crucial role in the sides journey to make the 2019 Grand Final. Lloyd has incredible goal sense and provides plenty of pressure inside forward 50.
Hawthorn: Changkuoth Jiath – 2017 Category B Rookie
The man they call CJ has become a fan favourite in recent times. Plucked out of Hawthorn’s Next Generation Academy, the Ethiopian born refugee is becoming one of the most exciting players in the game. In now his fourth season, Jiath’s run and dash off half back is becoming a real weapon for the Hawks. The now fresh 22-year-old has grown in confidence this season as his game sense at the elite level has improved.
North Melbourne: Kayne Turner – Pick 25 2014 Rookie Draft
Kayne Turner was the youngest player on an AFL list in 2014 when he was finishing his year 12 studies at Maribyrnong Secondary College whilst also playing finals footy. Turner played in all three of North’s finals that year including a goal in the opening term of the clubs thrilling six-point semi-final victory against Geelong. Turner has since become one of North Melbourne’s most versatile player with his ability to play at both ends of theground.
Melbourne: James Harmes – Pick 2 2014 Rookie Draft
He may be one of the most versatile players in the Melbourne line-up. Harmes has the ability to play both down forward and back whilst also playing a tagging role in a strong Melbourne midfield alongside the likes of Oliver, Brayshaw, Viney and Petracca. Harmes is as courageous as they come and has a real thirst for the contest.
Port Adelaide: Dan Houston – Pick 45 2016 Rookie Draft
Like many others on this list, versatility is Houston’s elite trait. Houston was drafted as a forward before making a name for himself down back. In recent years, Houston has added another string to his bow, playing majority in the middle. The 24-year old is blessed with speed and is elite by foot making him one of the most damaging players in Ken Hinkley’s side.
Richmond: Jayden Short – Pick 11 2015 Rookie Draft
He is the only premiership player on this list having played in both the 2019 and 2020 premiership side. Short is one of the league’s premier rebounding defenders who likes to use his long leg to roost the ball out of half-back. With a penetrating kick, Short can be dangerous when floating around forward 50 with his ability to pin-point leading teammates and kick goals from beyond the arc.
Sydney: Jake Lloyd – Pick 16 2013 Rookie Draft
It was a flip of the coin between Lloyd and Tom Papley but Lloyd’s consistency just gives him the nod. Lloyd is one of the premier rebounders in the comp with his ability to hit up his teammates and also find a lot of the ball. You always know what you are going to get with Lloyd who rarely fails to have a good game.
St Kilda: Rowan Marshall – Pick 10 2017 Rookie Draft
Growing up with a rugby union background, Rowan Marshall quickly realised footy was his sport. Despite being overlooked in the 2014 national draft, Marshall continued to play footy for the North Ballarat Roosters before St Kilda picked him up in the 2016 rookie draft. Now arguably the most important player in St Kilda’s best 22, the Kiwi-born ruck has formed a great partnership with Paddy Ryder to become one of the most dangerous ruck duos in the comp. Marshall has battled with injury so far this season but when fit, he’s one of the best rucks in the comp.
West Coast: Harry Edwards – Pick 18 2018 Rookie Draft
There was not too much to choose from in recent years with the tall defender one of very few rookie picks still on the Eagles list. Edwards has played 4 games in season 2021 thus far since debuting in west coasts nine point victory over Geelong in round 9 last year. Edwards boasts great height and is working his craft alongside Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern to become an important key tall in the Eagles strong defence.
Western Bulldogs: Roarke Smith – Pick 5 2015 Rookie Draft
The Bulldogs took the athletic defender from the Calder Cannons with their first pick in the 2014 NAB AFL Rookie Draft. Whilst most of his career has been riddled with injury, Smith has played four consecutive games since round 9 and has provided pace across half back and in the middle. Smith was fortunate to be re-rookied at the end of last year following a strong run of form and being selected to play in the sides elimination final against the Saints.
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