2017 has seen quite a number of fresh faces make their debut for their respective clubs – over 90 players to be precise. Last year I wrote about which debutants from 2016 could make a team of 22, and today on Bulldogs Centre, I’m bringing it back, as I name my 2017 AFL All-Rookie Team, and hopefully this will be a traditional thing each year.
For those that didn’t follow Bulldogs Centre last year, I got my inspiration from the NBA as they have named All-Rookie teams since 1962, and although the AFL has their ’22under22′, I feel that’s a lot easier to name players as some of the game’s best talents are in that category.
So before we go ahead and get started I just want to make a couple of points with you:
All players selected must have made their debut in the 2017 AFL Season.
All players must have played at least five games to be eligible for selection.
So now without further ado, let’s introduce Bulldogs Centre’s 2017 AFL All-Rookie Team.
Back Pocket – Andrew McGrath (Essendon)
Andrew McGrath was the first overall selection in last year’s AFL National Draft and has justified Essendon’s decision with an outstanding debut season in defence. McGrath played 21 of Essendon’s 23 games and averaged just under 20 disposals, four marks and two rebound 50s per game. As well as gathering disposals, his ability to show composure in the defensive half and to even shut small forwards out of the game has also taken some notice. McGrath took home the Rising Star award this year as well, capping off a fine debut season from the Canadian.
Full Back – Lewis Melican (Sydney)
After spending a couple of seasons on the rookie list, Geelong Falcons product Lewis Melican finally got his chance of playing senior footy, making his debut in round five this season against Greater Western Sydney. Since then he has found a home in the Sydney back line, playing a further 16 games for the Swans, including a magnificent effort against St. Kilda’s Nick Riewoldt, to which he kept the Saints’ champion to just 10 disposals and a goal.
Back Pocket – Tom Stewart (Geelong)
One of the more elder players on the All-Rookie Team this year, 24-year old Tom Stewart was rewarded by the Cats for his stellar season for Geelong’s VFL team with a spot in the senior list ahead of the 2017 season. Having made his debut in the opening round, Stewart has held his own on more than one occasion and isn’t afraid to throw his body in harms way to stop the opposition from scoring. Stewart has played 19 games for the Cats in 2017 and averaged 15 disposals, four marks and three rebound 50s this season.
Half-Back Flank – Luke Ryan (Fremantle)
Another mature-aged draftee from the 2016 draft class, 21-year old Luke Ryan was rewarded for a great year with Coburg in the VFL with a spot in Fremantle’s list. Ryan didn’t make his debut until round 11 against Collingwood, and whilst his debut game wasn’t anything special, his performances would get better with each game. In round 20 against Gold Coast, Ryan had 28 disposals, five rebound 50s and a monsterous 16 marks, which handed him that week’s Rising Star nomination. Averaged 16 disposals, six marks, four tackles and four rebound 50s in 11 games in 2017 and will be pushing for a regular spot in 2018.
Centre-Half Back – Lewis Young (Western Bulldogs)
A young key-position prospect from Sturt in the SANFL, Lewis Young took some time to adjust to the VFL, but a fantastic few weeks for Footscray saw Young promoted to his first AFL game in round 17 against Carlton. The youngest man on any AFL list today had a debut to remember, 21 disposals and nine marks and had quelled Levi Casboult and even got into his head a little bit, he would go on to play for the Bulldogs for the remainder of the season and whilst he had his ups and downs, the upside on this guy is extremely promising, he could be anything for the Bulldogs.
Half-Back Flank – Alex Witherden (Brisbane Lions)
Personally one of my favourite players to come out of this side, Geelong Falcons product Alex Witherden played only nine games for Brisbane in 2017 coming back from a broken leg he suffered in the previous year, and despite a couple of small hamstring injuries, got his chance in round 14 against GWS and impressed in defence, with 20 disposals and seven rebound 50s. A week later, he would record nearly 30 disposals as the Lions upset Essendon at Etihad Stadium. Averaged 23.5 disposals, five marks and five rebound 50s per game and will get simply better next year.
Wing – Brandan Parfitt (Geelong)
Parfitt was Geelong’s first selection in last year’s draft, with the Cats taking him 26th overall, and found himself in Geelong’s 22 ahead of their opening round match with Fremantle. He only registered nine disposals that night, but it’s what he does with the ball that will excite Geelong fans in the long term. A serious hamstring injury hampered Parfitt’s 2017 campaign, but he still managed to play 13 games so far this season and average 13 disposals, three tackles and two inside 50s per game.
Centre – Hugh McCluggage (Brisbane Lions)
McCluggage was the third overall pick in the 2016 AFL Draft and whilst he didn’t cause as much noise down here in Victoria like McGrath has, he still played 18 of 22 games and did very well considering he faced a delayed start to the year with an ankle injury. McCluggage averaged 15 disposals, four marks, two tackles and two inside 50s per game and at times looked every bit of the player draft experts predicted him to be.
Wing – Sam Petrevski-Seton (Carlton)
Taken by the Blues with the sixth overall pick in last year’s AFL Draft, Sam Petrevski-Seton has had a very solid debut season, playing all but two games as the Blues continue to build up their youth. Petrevski-Seton averaged 14 disposals, five tackles, three marks and two clearances in 20 games in 2017, with his ability to work well both as an outside midfielder and an inside midfielder a really special trait to have in a 19-year old. There’s no doubt this kid will be a star in the future.
Ruckman – Sean Darcy (Fremantle)
I think Fremantle might’ve found their replacement for Aaron Sandilands for when he eventually calls it a day. Despite questions about his size and frame, Sean Darcy would prove a lot of his doubters wrong and eventually made his debut in round 14, when Fremantle visited Simonds Stadium to take on Geelong. He would destroy Rhys Stanley in the ruck contests and would amass a monsterous 40 hitouts on debut and would play a further seven games for the Dockers, averaging 34 hitouts, 12 disposals and four tackles per game in 2017. Freo fans should be excited to watch this young man develop next year.
Ruck/Rover – Jarrod Berry (Brisbane Lions)
Berry was Brisbane’s second selection in last year’s AFL Draft, taken with the 17th overall pick. It took him a few games to adjust to AFL level like most kids, but he started putting in some solid performances and got better as the season progressed, culminating with a performance against Carlton in round 18, which saw him record 21 disposals, seven marks and six clearances – easily the best of the 16 games that he played in 2017 – averaged 14 disposals, four tackles, three marks, two inside 50s and two clearances per game this season.
Rover – Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)
Loomed as the Rising Star favourite ahead of the opening round of the AFL season after a very impressive pre-season campaign, Sam Powell-Pepper starred with 19 disposals, seven clearances, five inside 50s and two goals in a win over Sydney and gathered the first Rising Star nomination for the season. His form began to taper away as the season progressed, which penultimately cost him the Rising Star award, but he was good enough to play 22 of 23 games for Port Adelaide this year and averaged 17 disposals, five tackles, three inside 50s and three clearances per game, as well as kicking 16 goals.
Half-Forward Flank – Mitch Hannan (Melbourne)
A mature-aged draftee who starred for Footscray in their 2016 VFL premiership, Melbourne took the gamble on drafting 23-year old Mitch Hannan with their first selection – 46th overall – in last year’s AFL Draft, and has been one of the finds of the year. Hannan’s ability to take a great leap has been well documented, but he has also showed time and time again this season his uncanny knack for the goals, slotting through 22 goals in 20 games in the red and blue this year. Hannan averaged 12 disposals and three tackles as a forward this season and could be a great football story, given that it was less than two years ago he was playing in the VAFA.
Centre-Half Forward – Wylie Buzza (Geelong)
There weren’t many tall forwards that debuted in 2017 and if they did, they didn’t reach the five-game mark as I stated up at the top of the article, but for Wylie Buzza, I think his six games showed that he’s got a future in the AFL. He might not reach the superstar heights of some key forwards, but his energy and ability to continue to compete will go a long way over the long term. Buzza played six games for a return of 5.4 for the Cats in 2017 after making his debut in the draw and should see more game time in 2018.
Half-Forward Flank – James Parsons (Geelong)
Picked up by the Cats in the 2015 AFL Rookie Draft, Parsons finally broke through to play senior footy in 2017, making his debut in round three against Melbourne and impressed, recording 18 disposals and five inside 50s. The following week he recorded 21 disposals and two goals against Hawthorn. Parsons has played 19 games in 2017 as a half-forward/midfield option and despite games in which he’s hardly seen the footy, he’s kicked 14 goals and is only 20 years of age. He’s very much got a future in the AFL.
Forward Pocket – Ben Ainsworth (Gold Coast Suns)
Taken by the Gold Coast with the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft, Ben Ainsworth made his debut in the opening round of this season and made the most of his chance, kicking two goals and looked very dangerous whenever he was near the ball. A quad injury made him miss most of the first half of the year, but came back in time for the second half of 2017 and impressed, kicking 14 goals from just 13 games this season, including a bag of four against North Melbourne in round 15 – Ainsworth undoubtedly has the potential to be a match-winning forward but in time we’ll see him used more as a midfielder.
Full Forward – Will Hayward (Sydney)
This is going to be a very unconventional choice at the full forward position, but I’ve gone ahead and named 185 centimetre forward Will Hayward here. A first-round selection at number 21 in last year’s draft, Hayward dominated in the South Australian under-18 competition and has been one of Sydney’s many finds up this season, kicking 22 goals in 17 games. Given that the Sydney forward line is pro-Lance Franklin, this is a solid return for a kid that won’t turn 19 until next month and given that he possesses such footy smarts and is very quick off the mark, there’s no reason why this kid can’t be a 40-50 goal player in future seasons.
Forward Pocket – Dan Butler (Richmond)
In the span of 12 months, Dan Butler has gone from just a player making up the numbers of Richmond’s list, to a vital cog in their exciting forward line. Butler made his debut for the Tigers in their opening round match against Carlton and made an instant impact, kicking two goals from 19 disposals. Butler has played all but two games this season, and has kicked 27 goals and with Richmond still a chance at their first Grand Final in over 30 years, could very much loom as a big-time player in the next fortnight.
Nic Newman (Sydney)
Recruited from Frankston in the VFL ahead of the 2015 AFL season, 24-year old Nic Newman made his debut for Sydney in round two against the Western Bulldogs after two years of solid form in the NEAFL and has played most of the games since, playing a total of 19 games in the red and white this season as a half-back/midfielder type. Newman averages over 20 disposals, including a 35 disposal game against North Melbourne, as well as five marks, four tackles, three rebound 50s and two inside 50s per game.
Zac Fisher (Carlton)
Perhaps one of the smallest players in the team, standing at 175 centimetres, but Zac Fisher isn’t afraid to put his body on the line to win the ball for his team. I was very impressed with Fisher’s debut year for the Blues after making his first appearance in round four against the Gold Coast. Since his debut, he has only missed two games for Carlton, playing 17 of a possible 22 games and although he’s averaging only 12 disposals and three tackles per game, Fisher’s outstanding footy smarts and his willingness to put the work in will make him a valuable contributor in the long run.
Dan Houston (Port Adelaide)
A rookie-draft selection ahead of the 2016 season, Dan Houston got his senior debut in the opening round of the 2017 season and despite a couple of quiet games been very impressive playing as a rebounding defender, playing 17 of Port’s 23 games in 2017, earning a Rising Star nominaton in Port’s round 21 win over Collingwood with 21 disposals, six rebound 50s and a goal. Houston averaged 16 disposals, six marks, three tackles and three rebound 50s per game across the 17 games this season.
Hugh Greenwood (Adelaide)
At 25 years of age, Hugh Greenwood is the oldest first-year player on this team, having made his debut for the Crows in round nine after spending previous years playing college basketball for the University of New Mexico. His first AFL game was one he’ll never forget, kicking three goals as the Crows thrashed Brisbane. Since that game, Greenwood has played all but two games – both occasions he was rested by the Crows – but has been a revelation in the midfield for the Crows, averaging 17 disposals, seven tackles and five clearances so far this year.
The 2017 All-Rookie Team
B: Andrew McGrath (ESS), Lewis Melican (SYD), Tom Stewart (GEEL)
HB: Luke Ryan (FREM), Lewis Young (WB), Alex Witherden (BL)
C: Brandan Parfitt (GEEL), Sam Petrevski-Seton (CARL), Hugh McCluggage (BL)
HF: Mitch Hannan (MELB), Wylie Buzza (GEEL), James Parsons (GEEL)
F: Ben Ainsworth (GCS), Will Hayward (SYD), Dan Butler (RICH)
FOL: Sean Darcy (FREM), Jarrod Berry (BL), Sam Powell-Pepper (PORT)
INT: Nic Newman (SYD), Zac Fisher (CARL), Dan Houston (PORT), Hugh Greenwood (ADEL)