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Blue, Demon in box seat as thrilling Rising Star race heats up

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 06: Patrick Cripps of the Blues in action during the 2015 AFL round ten match between the Carlton Blues and the Adelaide Crows at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on June 6, 2015. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Patrick Cripps has enjoyed an outstanding second season of AFL football

EARLY indications suggest another thrilling vote count will decide which future champion takes home the 2015 NAB AFL Rising Star award.

The closest poll in Rising Star history saw Brisbane Lions small forward Lewis Taylor pip Western Bulldogs jet Marcus Bontempelli by a single vote last year.

And with an array of talented youngsters in the mix for the 2015 gong, there's no clear favourite to take home the Ron Evans Medal.

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However, two beacons of hope for Carlton and Melbourne supporters are among the frontrunners. 

In a gloomy season for the Blues, midfield bull Patrick Cripps has shone brighter with each passing week.

A broken leg restricted Cripps' output in his debut season, but the 20-year-old clearance king is making his presence felt in 2015 – highlighted by a 33-disposal, 11-tackle and one-goal performance in the Blues' only win over St Kilda in Wellington. 

From eight games, the West Australian has averaged 22 touches (third at Carlton) and is the Blues' best clearance winner (5.6 per game) now that his hero Chris Judd has retired.

In his element at the coalface, Cripps also averages 14 contested possessions – ranking him eighth in the League, ahead of Geelong captain Joel Selwood (13.7).

It's a similar story for emerging Demons superstar Jesse Hogan, who is mixing it with elite company in the air despite close attention from some of the league's best defenders.

The 20-year-old has hauled in 24 contested marks in 10 games, ranking equal third in the league behind Travis Cloke (28) and Nat Fyfe (25), and level with Tom Hawkins and Cale Hooker.

Hogan has also been Melbourne's most potent forward with 22 majors – including his first bag of five against the Saints last round – and is yet to be held goalless in a match. 

But while Hogan and Cripps might be in the box seat, this year's Rising Star competition is not yet a two-horse race.

Angus Brayshaw and Jesse Hogan have been revelations for Melbourne this season. Picture: AFL Media

 

Early favourite Isaac Heeney (ave. 10 disposals, one goal) has slipped off the radar while he recovers from a knee injury but the classy Sydney Swan could still pinch the award with a strong finish to the year.

If their super form continues, Demons tackling machine Angus Brayshaw (ave. 14 disposals, six tackles) and Greater Western Sydney surprise packet Cam McCarthy (28 goals, eighth in the Coleman Medal) will also give the judges plenty to think about.

Gold Coast rookie Adam Saad and Hawks speedster Billy Hartung have both had great seasons, averaging 19 touches a match, while lively Geelong small Cory Gregson (10 goals) and Richmond's round one nominee Kamdyn McIntosh (17 disposals per game) have played every game.

Unlucky Magpie Tim Broomhead (ave. 14 possessions from eight games) is starting to hit his straps and Mitch Honeychurch (12 disposals per game) was an important part of the Bulldogs' midfield before suffering a shoulder injury in round seven.

History suggests one of the already nominated young guns will take home the award – with only Ben Cousins ('96), Justin Koschitzke ('01) and Daniel Talia ('12) nominated later than round 11 and crowned the Rising Star.

But that doesn't mean this year's result is signed, sealed and delivered. 

West Coast midfielder Liam Duggan (ave. 13 disposals, six marks) has impressed with his composure and looms as a potential top-five contender.

And don't be surprised if the likes of Jackson Thurlow or Darcy Lang (Geelong), Touk Miller (Gold Coast), Dom Sheed (West Coast), Corey Ellis (Richmond), Jordan De Goey (Collingwood), Jed Anderson (Hawthorn) and Jack Lonie (St Kilda) jump up from the pack by season's end.