HAWTHORN v CARLTON
Daniel Howe (Hawthorn)
As defensive stalwarts Grant Birchall and Josh Gibson casually went about their business and shared 50 possessions on Thursday in Launceston, it was a Hawthorn backman with considerably fewer premiership medals to his name that really set tongues wagging. Howe, 20, showed composure in possession and, perhaps just as importantly in terms of Hawthorn’s approach to the game, notched a dozen marks – more than anyone else on the field – allowing the Hawks to regularly build from the back. With four senior matches to his name in 2015, Howe appears set to build significantly on that number and will almost certainly enter calculations for plenty of AFL Fantasy sides in the coming weeks.
Sam Kerridge (Carlton)
In terms of forming first impressions at a new club, leading the way in disposals and contested possessions isn’t a bad way to start. Former Crow Kerridge took no time to make his mark in a navy blue jumper, flashing through a pack and feeding out the ball that led directly to Levi Casboult kicking the opening goal of the NAB Challenge at Aurora Stadium on Thursday night. From there he continued to lock horns with whoever the Hawks sent through the middle and ran the game out strongly to finish with eight tackles and six clearances to complement the 28 touches, 17 of which were contested. - Stu Warren
FREMANTLE v RICHMOND
Darcy Tucker (Fremantle)
The Dockers rarely give a first-year player an opportunity straight away but Tucker was granted that chance against Richmond and he grabbed it with both hands. Many draft experts were surprised to see Tucker slip as far as pick No.27 in last year's NAB AFL draft and he proved he is up to the level already with a very impressive performance. He gathered 21 touches off half-back including three rebounds from defensive 50. He looked composed with the ball and will push for further opportunities in the NAB Challenge and season proper.
Mabior Chol (Richmond)
The Sudanese-born big man appeared a development pick for the Tigers when he was selected at No.30 in the rookie draft. But it appears that Chol could be capable of playing some AFL football this season. He showed some great signs up forward against one of the best defences in the AFL. He took three marks and snapped a goal at ground level. He also threw his body around, laying a heavy bump on Lee Spurr in the first quarter. - Alex Malcolm
ST KILDA v NORTH MELBOURNE
Jack Billings (St Kilda)
Injury limited 2013's No.3 draft pick to just nine senior games last season but he showed in two quarters against North that he is ready to play a more prominent role in St Kilda's midfield this season. Billings was the catalyst for the Saints' best period of the game early in the second quarter on Saturday, sparking a three-goal run that carried them to a 13-point lead. The highlight came at the five-minute mark when he wheeled on to his left foot and rammed a set shot through from 55m. Billings is so creative in attack he will still be a regular fixture there this season, but we expect he'll be deployed more and more in the middle of the ground.
Ryan Clarke (North Melbourne)
The hard-running midfielder continued his impressive first pre-season, winning 13 possessions in an encouraging debut against St Kilda. Clarke comes into AFL football with no glaring weaknesses – he can win his own ball on the inside and spread hard into space when his team has the ball. After Saturday's 44-point win Brad Scott said the Eastern Ranges product had been able to produce for his school, in the TAC Cup and at national level as a junior, giving the North coach confidence Clarke will be ready for senior football when called up. Clarke's most memorable moment against the Saints came late in the first term when he burst through the centre and set up a Drew Petrie major on the goal line with a long bomb. – Nick Bowen
SYDNEY SWANS v PORT ADELAIDE
Jordan Dawson (Sydney Swans)
The 18-year-old spent almost three quarters of the game in Blacktown on the pine, but when called upon made the most of his limited ground time against Port Adelaide. Swans recruiting guru Kinnear Beatson targeted quality kicks in last year's draft and Dawson showed why he was picked up with his booming left boot against the Power. The South Australian kicked one goal in the final term but probably could have finished with more, and at 190cm looks a great forward prospect of the future.
Dougal Howard (Port Adelaide)
With Paddy Ryder suspended and Matthew Lobbe also sitting out the NAB Challenge opener, Howard was the man picked to take on Kurt Tippett and Callum Sinclair in the ruck. A product of Greater Western Sydney's academy, the 19-year-old battled manfully and while beaten on the day, showed plenty of aggression and an appetite for hard work, as shown by his six tackles, the most by a Port player. He played 'Port Adelaide' football which would have pleased his coach. - Adam Curley
ADELAIDE v WEST COAST
Matt Crouch (Adelaide)
The younger brother of potential star Brad is one of the club's inside kings and while he's worked hard to improve his performance on the outside, there's no doubt his strength is at the heart of the contest. But improve he has. Crouch has increased his running capacity over the summer and 12 of his 23 possessions against the Eagles on Sunday were uncontested. He's only played 25 senior games but if Crouch can fire in 2016 he'll play a huge part in the performance of Adelaide's midfield and consequently the side's hopes of making it back-to-back finals campaigns.
Jon Giles (West Coast)
Hardly an inexperienced ruckman but Giles was best for his new side – his fourth after previous stints with Port Adelaide, GWS and Essendon. Up against one of the league's best ruckmen in Sam Jacobs and up against a tsunami of momentum, Giles battled all day and held his own with 21 hit-outs. Stand-in coach Justin Longmuir praised his efforts after the match and said they reflected the sort of fight he'd shown all summer. The 28-year-old needs a great NAB Challenge if he's to push into the Eagles' starting line up as a back-up for Nic Naitanui. - Harry Thring
BRISBANE LIONS v GOLD COAST
Rhys Mathieson (Brisbane Lions)
When he slid to No.39 in the draft, Mathieson looked a steal, and he looks even more so after his debut. The Geelong product was fearless in tight quarters against the Suns, wanting the ball more than most and winning six free kicks in his 13 disposals. While the Lions will welcome back Tom Rockliff, Daniel Rich, Dayne Beams, Pearce Hanley, Dayne Zorko and Ryan Bastinac to their midfield for the season proper, Mathieson has proved he will easily slot in at senior level when given the chance.
Jesse Lonergan (Gold Coast)
In the absence of the club's four best midfielders, Lonergan was brilliant against the Lions. The Tasmanian tank had 23 disposals, of which 16 were contested, with 10 clearances. Coach Rodney Eade agreed he was clearly the Suns' best, and even when captain Gary Ablett, David Swallow, Dion Prestia and Jaeger O'Meara all resume their places, the 21-year-old will be right alongside them in the middle of the ground. Rookie Darcy MacPherson also put in an eye-catching display. He was a terrier in the forward line, finishing with 10 tackles and a goal. - Michael Whiting