George Wardlaw, Ollie Dempsey and Ryley Sanders. Pictures: AFL Photos

WITH the 2024 AFL Rising Star race thrown into chaos after suspensions to the two runaway favourites, West Coast's Harley Reid and Western Bulldog Sam Darcy, we've asked our expert reporters to tip their likely winner. 

There's half a season to go, and several contenders have already staked a claim to be considered among the new frontrunners.

Will one of North Melbourne pair George Wardlaw or Colby McKercher take out the crown? Is Cats forward Ollie Dempsey's spectacular leap too eye-catching to ignore? Or can a bolter emerge in the depths of winter and give the award a shake?  

Check out our reporters' picks below. 


Ryley Sanders
I realise he has started and finished matches as the sub, and that he also was sent back to the VFL. But amidst all that there has been some very nice football played by this kid. And with Reid and Darcy ruled ineligible at round 12, there's a lot of runway remaining for Sanders to emerge as the 2024 Rising Star asterisk.


Ollie Dempsey 
Geelong forward Dempsey had played seven games coming into this year, acting as the sub in three of those, and had kicked just two goals. This year, however, he has become a fixture of the side, playing all 12 games. His 10 goals across the season is complemented by his 12 goal assists, proving to be just as dangerous setting up teammates as he is off his own boot. For a club that must start to seriously consider the long-term future of its forward contingent, Dempsey has shown he is key to that planning.


George Wardlaw
Right now, it's neck and neck between Wardlaw and Geelong's high-flyer Ollie Dempsey but the North Melbourne midfielder is fractionally ahead. His tenacity in the contest, ability at clearance and his improvement in getting forward and impacting on the scoreboard have ensured a few rare bright spots for the Kangas this year. He looks the type of player that will be highly influential in the club's future success, given he can sway the momentum of a match in an instant and won't need 30-odd touches to put his stamp on the game. If he can stay fit, he'll be in the box seat from here.



Ollie Dempsey
The young Cat has made one of the most difficult roles in football – high half-forward – into his own. Also spending time on the wing and as a deep small forward, Dempsey has solidified his spot in the talented Geelong line-up in his third year of AFL, playing all 12 matches after seven in the past two years. He's due to lock in a Mark of the Year nomination at some point, he is a key connecting player for the Cats in attack, has kicked 10 goals and is equal-first within his team for total goal assists. – Sarah Black


Ollie Dempsey
I copped some flak from my esteemed colleague, Cal Twomey, for not selecting Harley Reid as my Rising Star winner in's Crystal Ball predictions earlier this year. But it now appears a fortuitous choice. In saying that, I had selected Kangaroo George Wardlaw. While the midfielder has had a consistent season, I have found myself caught up in what Ollie Dempsey is producing at the Cattery. Yes, there might be some recency bias with his stunning performance at the weekend (27 disposals, three goals), but I feel like he's building very nicely and is set to stamp his mark on this Rising Star race in the second half of the year.



Colby McKercher

North Melbourne had to wait 30 years to win its first Rising Star Award after Corey McKernan missed out in 1994 due to suspension. Now they could go back-to-back after Harry Sheezel won last year’s Ron Evans Medal. Colby McKercher is yet to win a game across his first nine appearances in the AFL, but amid the doom and gloom at Arden Street, the 2023 No. 2 pick has been having a big impact that is only getting better by the week. The Tasmanian earned a nomination in round nine after collecting 32 disposals and five rebounds. He has collected 30 touches in each of his past three games and is averaging 20.7 disposals across the season.


George Wardlaw 
He was my selection in March and remains so now. Still yet to sing the song in North Melbourne colours, Wardlaw has endured a fruitless start to his career on the win-loss front. But despite the tough start, the 19-year-old appears tougher. This season, Wardlaw has averaged just shy of 18 possessions per match. His Rising Star nomination – his second off the back of one in 2023 – came in round two, with the No.4 pick finishing the loss to Fremantle with 23 touches, five clearances and a goal. Watch out for St Kilda’s Darcy Wilson, too. Have loved his debut season.

Darcy Wilson (right) celebrates a goal during St Kilda's win over West Coast in round 12, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos


Ollie Dempsey
Dempsey's standout showing against Richmond on Saturday night couldn't have come at a better time to push his Rising Star stocks. The livewire forward and midfielder gathered a career-best 27 disposals and also equalled his career-high three goals against the Tigers in another eye-catching display. The Geelong youngster is in his third year, which can sometimes bring a tax in the Rising Star stakes, but has kicked 10 goals to the midway point of the season and ranks third for AFL Player Ratings in the eligible Rising Star candidates. With a few more games like his against the Tigers, Dempsey's chances will rise like one of his high-flying marking attempts.


Ollie Dempsey 
The combination of Dempsey's superior preparation as a third-year player and his obvious talent could be enough to separate from the pack in the second half of the season. Nominated in round one, Dempsey has proved a composed finisher in the front half with a great work ethic to get up and down the ground and be involved in transition with 16.7 disposals a game. He can take a good mark and has 10 goals from 12 games. Even through his quieter patches of form, Dempsey has put in big quarters in most matches. He should be a standout if it comes together more consistently in the second half of the season.


Ollie Dempsey
It's a cluttered field now, but Dempsey has had a strong impact on a top-four team. Playing all 12 games, he's shown versatility at half-forward and on a wing, averaging 17 disposals and kicking 10 goals. Although there's a little projection required here – rather than purely what we've seen to date – it's easy to envisage him continuing to impact winning with his clean hands in the air and at ground level. It's an open award, but the 21-year-old deserves to be right among the frontrunners.