In a weekly series leading up to round one, AFL.com.au writers will debate the best moments, players and teams since the turn of the century. From the pick of the Brownlow and Norm Smith medallists to the finest wooden-spooners, non-finalists and premiership teams, a rotating panel will turn their minds to footy's big moments since 2000.
This week's debate centres around which Rising Star winner had the best performance to win the award. Rather than assess which winner has been the best player throughout their careers to date, our writers argue the case for the player who had the finest season in the year they won the award. This allows established champions Nick Riewoldt, Joel Selwood and Sam Mitchell to be judged fairly against more recent winners like Jesse Hogan, Callum Mills and Dyson Heppell.
Joel Selwood, 2007
There have been some great winners of the NAB AFL Rising Star since the award's inception, but it is just too hard to surpass Selwood as having the best single season of a winner. The Geelong captain and champion midfielder set up his brilliant career with an outstanding debut year in 2007. He seamlessly slotted into the Cats' midfield and played 21 games, including their huge Grand Final win over Port Adelaide. Some may say Selwood was fortunate to step into a Cats side on the verge of a breakthrough premiership and the golden era that followed. But what should not be understated is his hardened, professional and consistent approach in that first season – he was not merely a part of that team, he was a key member. That puts him ahead of the rest for me. - Callum Twomey
Joel Selwood shrugs a tackle in the 2007 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos
Nick Riewoldt, 2002
It's one thing to slide straight into a successful side, it's another to become a key contributor early in your career. That's why I put St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt's 2002 campaign at the top of the tree. The No.1 overall pick of the 2000 NAB AFL Draft played just six games in his debut season in 2001. The following year, Riewoldt took up residence at centre half-back, with regular stints up forward, and became an instant star. He played all 22 games, booted 21 goals and grabbed 178 marks for the season at a League-leading average of 8.02 per game. He won the first of his six Trevor Barker awards as the club's best and fairest and picked up 11 Brownlow Medal votes – a great feat considering the Saints won just five games. The long-time skipper – who this year has handed the reins over to Jarryn Geary – will be remembered as one of the greatest players in Saints' history. - Lee Gaskin
Nick Riewoldt with Aaron Hamill after a win in 2002. Picture: AFL Photos
Jesse Hogan, 2015
Consider the situation the young key forward came into. Melbourne gave up a lot at the trade table to secure the rights to Hogan in the 'mini-draft'. Then, a back injury ruined his 2014 season and he wasn't able to debut, only increasing fears from long-suffering Demons fans that another bright young prospect would not turn into the player he was expected to become. They needn't have worried. Hogan dealt with the pressure as easily as he handled some of the game's gun key defenders, including three-time All Australian Alex Rance, in a performance that had football watchers amazed at the Demon's strength. Hogan booted 44 goals that year, ranked third in the competition for contested marks per game and finished fourth in the club's best and fairest. For a key forward to make such an impact so quickly is extremely rare, making Hogan's achievements all the more special. - Dinny Navaratnam
Jesse Hogan celebrates a goal for the Demons in his debut season. Picture: AFL Photos
Callum Mills, 2016
All worthy contenders, but Callum Mills' debut year for Sydney has to be right up there. Despite playing almost his entire junior career as a midfielder, he slotted into the Swans' backline with the composure of a 10-year veteran and – like Hogan – polled 49 of a possible 50 votes from Rising Star judges after averaging 18 touches in his 22 games. Mills is the Swans' second Academy poster boy after Isaac Heeney and became so valuable with his ability to read the play and lockdown on an opponent that coach John Longmire was sweating on the 19-year-old's availability coming back from a hamstring strain for the Grand Final. Watch out when this kid moves into the engine room. - Travis King
Callum Mills in action during his excellent 2016 season. Picture: AFL Photos