THE race for this year's NAB AFL Rising Star award is wide open, especially considering Gold Coast young gun Matt Rowell is out of action for at least half the season.
Can Hayden Young make it back-to-back crowns for Fremantle? Or will someone jump out of the pack and spring a surprise?
Our reporters take a look at every club's top Rising Star chances and who else is eligible for the award.
Best chance: Lachlan Sholl
A running machine who values offence and defence, Sholl has quickly become a key member of the midfield since Matthew Nicks' arrival. He showed an ability to link up dangerously in round one, winning 23 disposals and playing 95 per cent game time to highlight his fitness. Previously nominated in round 17 last season after a best-afield performance against Carlton, racking up 24 disposals and two goals. He played eight games in his second season and remains eligible for the award, entering his third season aged 20.
Other contenders: Riley Thilthorpe (yet to debut), Harry Schoenberg (10 games), Sam Berry (two games), Luke Pedlar (yet to debut) - Nathan Schmook
Best chance: Harry Sharp
It's tough for youngsters to get an extended run in the Lions team at the moment, but Sharp has made an instant impression, forcing his way in for the first two games of the season. The powerhouse runner hasn't set the world on fire yet, but it's easy to see him becoming a crucial cog with his ability to link up and hit targets off both feet. Small forwards Tom Berry and Keidean Coleman look to be battling for one spot and are capable of push their cases.
Other contenders: Tom Berry (seven games), Keidean Coleman (seven games), Jaxon Prior (one game) – Michael Whiting
Best chance: Sam Philp
The young Carlton midfielder has had a delayed start to the year due to a minor hip flexor injury, but demonstrated some of his potential in two senior games last season. Philp has plenty of power and explosiveness from stoppage, while his breakaway speed with the footy is undoubtedly his biggest asset. Expect him to compete for a spot in the best 22 when he returns to full fitness. Fellow first-round pick Brodie Kemp is also expected to challenge for a place in the backline when he returns from a syndesmosis injury and could be alongside Philp as Carlton's biggest contender.
Other contenders: Brodie Kemp (yet to debut), Luke Parks (yet to debut), Corey Durdin (yet to debut), Jack Carroll (yet to debut) - Riley Beveridge
Best chance: Will Kelly
The Pies have high hopes for the father-son recruit who is expected to return from a shoulder injury at VFL level this weekend before pressing his AFL claims. Kelly, who stands 194cm, debuted in round six last year, a game in which he sustained a season-ending elbow injury. However, the 20-year-old has impressed on the training track this summer and will get senior opportunities as a marking target in attack as the Pies look for extra options in attack following Jamie Elliott's fractured leg. Among Kelly's Pies teammates, Trey Ruscoe may be his biggest threat after playing the first two matches of the season.
Other contenders: Ollie Henry (one game), Mark Keane (one game), Trey Ruscoe (six games), Reef McInnes (yet to debut), Finlay Macrae (yet to debut), Caleb Poulter (yet to debut) - Mitch Cleary
Best chance: Nik Cox, Archie Perkins
The Bombers' first two picks at last year's NAB AFL Draft seem best placed to pick up Rising Star nominations this year. Cox has already played two games and he impressed in round one with his brilliant kicking on both feet for a player his height, while Perkins' debut is imminent and he will come in with a more ready-to-play body and with an ability to find the ball in the midfield and excite inside 50. There will be plenty of opportunities for Essendon's youngsters this year so the club will be hoping several push their name into nomination discussion.
Other contenders: Harrison Jones (two games), Ned Cahill (five games), Zach Reid (yet to debut) - Callum Twomey
Best chance: Hayden Young
The defender with the laser left foot remains eligible after an ankle injury restricted him to five games in 2020. Assured with the ball and cementing himself in the Dockers' best team, expect a full season from Young at AFL level if he can stay fit, putting him firmly in the mix for this award. Can intercept and compete in the air at his best, and the 2021 game style suits his ability to hit dangerous corridor targets when coming out of defence. The No.7 pick in the 2019 NAB AFL Draft wasn't nominated in 2020.
Other contenders: Liam Henry (four games), Heath Chapman (one game), Sam Sturt (three games) - Nathan Schmook
Best chance: Francis Evans
Evans looked more than equipped at AFL level with two goals on debut against Brisbane on Friday night. The 19-year-old got the job done on the ground with a snap for the opening goal of the game before hitting up as a marking option across half-forward, showcasing his ability above his head. Now into his second season, Evans should only blossom in 2021 after being restricted through injury in his draft year and part of a large contingent of reserves players limited due to COVID-19 in 2020. He should also get plenty of opportunity over the next fortnight with Gary Rohan joining Patrick Dangerfield on the sidelines for the next two games. Speedster Jordan Clark has played too many games to be eligible.
Other contenders: Ben Jarvis (one game), Max Holmes (yet to debut), Sam De Koning (yet to debut), Cooper Stephens (yet to debut), Cameron Taheny (yet to debut) - Mitch Cleary
Best chance: Matt Rowell
It might seem strange to select Rowell after he's copped a knee injury that will sideline him for the next couple of months, but as the 19-year-old showed last season, he doesn't need many games to make his mark. The best-case scenario for Rowell is he can play 10 or 12 games, go about his ball-winning and goalkicking ways and make a case to win the award. Fellow 2019 draftee Sam Flanders could also come into consideration if he forces his way back into the Suns' best team.
Other contenders: Alex Davies (zero games), Sam Flanders (five games), Elijah Hollands (zero games) – Michael Whiting
Best chance: Tanner Bruhn
Tanner Bruhn is the only Giant eligible for the award to have played in both matches so far this season, although he hasn't had the sort of immediate impact his four goals in the AAMI Community Series suggested he would. Mostly playing across half forward, rather than in the midfield like he did in his junior years, Bruhn has averaged only eight touches and is yet to kick a goal. But the smooth-moving, strongly built 18-year-old looks AFL-ready and will undoubtedly improve as he gets more games under his belt.
Other contenders: Tom Green (seven games), Connor Idun (four games), Xavier O'Halloran (two games) - Martin Pegan
Best chance: Tyler Brockman
Has been a standout for the Hawks in attack over the opening two rounds after a blistering summer which including three goals in a quarter in the AAMI Community Series. Taken at pick No.46 in last year's NAB AFL Draft, Brockman is electric at ground level and super in the air for a player who stands 181cm. Coach Alastair Clarkson even hinted pre-season that he's a player who may eventually work through the midfield as the Hawks search for extra speed in their engine room. Brockman's forward partner Jacob Koschitzke might be his biggest challenger for the Hawks' next nomination. Running defender Will Day is ineligible after playing one too many games in his debut campaign last season.
Other contenders: Jacob Koschitzke (two games), Damon Greaves (three games), Josh Morris (four games), Finn Maginness (one game), Connor Downie (one game), Denver Grainger-Barras (yet to debut) - Mitch Cleary
Best chance: Luke Jackson
The athletic Melbourne big man has made the type of instant impact at AFL level that few young rucks tend to make. His versatility is his biggest strength and has seen him start games in the ruck, in the midfield and up forward and have an influence in each position. Eligible for the NAB AFL Rising Star given he only played six senior games last season, Jackson has again hit the ground running in 2021 and is working incredibly well in tandem with four-time All-Australian ruck Max Gawn. He already has one nomination, having been rewarded for a two-goal performance against Adelaide in round 10 last year.
Other contenders: Trent Rivers (11 games), James Jordon (two games), Jake Bowey (yet to debut), Bailey Laurie (yet to debut) - Riley Beveridge
Best chance: Tom Powell
Taken with pick No.13 in last year's NAB AFL Draft, Powell has made a terrific start to his senior career. The strong midfielder won 19 disposals and kicked a goal on debut against Port Adelaide, backing up that effort with 16 touches and another major against Gold Coast last week. He's got time in congestion and fantastic hands to win clearances, which often puts him in the thick of the action. Expect fellow draftees from last year, Will Phillips and Charlie Lazzaro, to also make an impact for North Melbourne this season. But, at this stage, Powell is the standout youngster for the Kangaroos.
Other contenders: Atu Bosenavulagi (three games), Charlie Lazzaro (two games), Will Phillips (yet to debut), Charlie Comben (yet to debut) - Riley Beveridge
Best chance: Mitch Georgiades
The young forward shot to the front of the Port pack after a four-goal performance in round two, taking his chance after replacing Todd Marshall. The young West Australian entered the season with seven games to his name and is among the most exciting young key-position talents in the AFL. Mobile, with brilliant hands and a smooth set shot kick, he could be among the frontrunners if he locks down a permanent spot in the Power's forward line this season. Has kicked 12 goals in his eight games, including returns of three and four.
Other contenders: Miles Bergman (two games), Lachie Jones (yet to debut) - Nathan Schmook
Best chance: Riley Collier-Dawkins
Richmond has high hopes for Collier-Dawkins, who joined the club as a first-round pick in 2018. He has yet to make his way into its line-up for an AFL debut given the strength of the all-conquering Tigers' midfield, but played in the AAMI Community Series and showed his wares. He's a ball-getter and clearance-winner and remains eligible for the award in his third season after only turning 21 in February.
Other contenders: Thomson Dow (two games), Hugo Ralphsmith (yet to debut) - Callum Twomey
Best chance: Jack Bytel
The 21-year-old midfielder certainly looks up to AFL quality, now it's just a matter of winning a spot in the Saints' best side. Bytel impressed in the round one win over Greater Western Sydney – his fifth AFL game – with six clearances and 10 tackles to go with 13 disposals. However, he made way for Zak Jones in the starting 22 against Melbourne on Saturday night and came on late as a medical substitute. With Brad Crouch to return from suspension in round three and Dan Hannebery still coming back from an ongoing calf complaint, it's going to be a tough ask for Bytel. The Saints only have four players eligible on their entire list after Max King played too many matches last season.
Other contenders: Ryan Byrnes (one game), Leo Connolly (yet to debut), Matt Allison (yet to debut) - Mitch Cleary
Best chances: Errol Gulden and Braeden Campbell
The Swans Academy graduates were both outstanding in the first two rounds, and have shared the nominations so far – the first time that players from the same club have received nominations in rounds one and two. Errol Gulden has averaged 21 touches in his first two games, and kicked four goals, making the most of his footy smarts as a small forward. Braeden Campbell was steady in round one but sensational against Adelaide, picking up 25 disposals including 21 kicks – for more than 700 metres gained – which showed the impact his elite kicking is likely to have on the competition for many years to come. The toughest call for the Rising Star judges this season might be deciding between the best mates.
Other contenders: Logan McDonald (two games), Chad Warner (four games), Dylan Stephens (eight games) - Martin Pegan
Best chance: Xavier O'Neill
The midfielder is in his third AFL season but remains eligible after entering the year aged 20. He broke into the Eagles' 22 in round one after five games in 2020 and is clearly an improved player. Has shadowed Luke Shuey extensively to grow as a midfielder and his best assets are burst from stoppages and neat ball use. Will continue to improve as he grows more comfortable at the top level, but opportunities once the Eagles' midfield is at full strength could be his biggest hurdle when competing for this award.
Other contenders: Bailey Williams (three games), Zane Trew (yet to debut), Harry Edwards (one game) - Nathan Schmook
Best chance: Jamarra Ugle-Hagan
The Bulldogs are taking a patient and long-term approach with Ugle-Hagan and may not blood him at senior level for some time. But Ugle-Hagan is a natural and noted goalkicker who won't take long to catch the eye of Rising Star judges once he breaks into the Dogs' line-up, even if it is some weeks down the track. The club's prized No.1 selection at last year's NAB AFL Draft booted five goals in a recent VFL practice match.
Other contenders: Rhylee West (eight games), Cody Weightman (three games), Lachie McNeil (two games) - Callum Twomey