IT WAS supposed to be between just three. 

Jason Horne-Francis, Nick Daicos and Josh Rachele

But 10 rounds into 2022, there is a new leading contender for the NAB AFL Rising Star Award.

This time last year Jai Newcombe was still playing for the Box Hill Hawks – with only six VFL games next to his name - yet to be taken by Hawthorn at pick No.2 in the Mid-Season Rookie Draft.

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Now Newcombe is the name on everyone's lips after the midfielder producing another standout performance to help Hawthorn upset Brisbane in Launceston on Sunday.

The 20-year-old collected 27 disposals, 14 contested possessions, 12 score involvements, nine clearances, six tackles, one goal, 664 metres gained and 10 coaches votes in the five-point win at University of Tasmania Stadium.

Newcombe was Sam Mitchell's man at Box Hill City Oval last year, quickly winning over the coach during the pre-season to earn a contract at Box Hill after arriving from Poowong in south Gippsland hoping to earn a shot at VFL level.

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Now Newcombe has become Mitchell's man again, this time at AFL level – attending the most centre bounces of any Hawk in 2022 – averaging 22.5 disposals, 6.2 score involvements, 4.3 inside 50s, 4.2 tackles and 497.7 metres gained from the first 10 rounds of 2022.

Since spending more time in the midfield from round four, Newcombe has reeled off seven games above 20 disposals, including the 31-touch dazzling display in the Easter Monday win over Geelong at the MCG, polling coaches votes three times in that stretch.

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NAB AFL Rising Star: Jai Newcombe stars in round five

Watch the highlights and find out why Jai Newcombe gets the NAB AFL Rising Star in Rd5

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There was a feeling at Hawthorn during the pre-season that Newcombe was overtaking other midfielders and that became evident by round one. It wasn't just one Brownlow Medal winner who was a fan, with new assistant coach Robert Harvey arriving from Collingwood and quickly becoming enamoured by the inside bull.

Those inside Waverley Park have been thrilled by the way he has gone about his business. The same humble, hardworking, resilient kid that turned up at Box Hill City Oval in late 2020 arrives at Hawthorn Football Club every day looking to establish himself as an AFL player.

If returning star James Sicily isn't leading the Peter Crimmins Medal right now, Newcombe would be in the conversation, along with Dylan Moore. That's how good his start to 2022 has been.

Player

AFL Player Ratings

Disposals

Contested Poss.

Uncontested Poss.

Metres Gained

Clearances

Tackles

Score Inv.

Goals

Jai Newcombe

12.3

22.5

8.0

15.5

498

3.6

4.2

6.2

0.3

Jason Horne-Francis

7.8

18.4

10.6

8.6

287

4.8

3.2

2.6

0.2

Nick Daicos

7.0

24.5

5.4

17.5

340.6

2.0

1.7

1.5

0.1

Nic Martin

10.5

21.0

5.0

16.0

262

2.0

1.1

6.2

1.2

Josh Rachele

8.2

12.5

5.3

7.3

218

1.5

1.7

5.1

1.5

Jack Ginnivan

10.2

11.1

4.9

6.5

263

0.5

1.5

5.5

2.4


Daicos has been even more consistent than Newcombe and will take some beating in the Rising Star Award, arriving at the elite level precisely as advertised.

The son of Collingwood icon Peter Daicos is averaging 24.5 disposals, playing off half-back and through the midfield, proving Nathan Buckley's proclamation that he could have played AFL last year right. 

00:34 Mins
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Magpie Army erupts as Daicos drills his first goal

Nick Daicos is surrounded by teammates after delivering his first major in the AFL

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Horne-Francis has played all but one game and been one of the few positives at Arden Street this year, averaging 18.4 disposals and 10.6 contested possessions per game.

Rachele burst out of the blocks with 12 goals in the first five rounds, including five goals on debut against Fremantle, but the No.6 pick has only kicked three goals in the past five rounds and was substituted out of Saturday night's game against St Kilda with a corked quad.

Like Newcombe, Jack Ginnivan got a taste of AFL football in the second half of last season, playing the final five games after making his debut in round 19, before exploding unexpectedly in the first half of 2022. 

The Collingwood rookie has kicked 19.10 from eight games – kicking at least a goal in each game – including five in an Anzac Day Medal winning performance against Essendon on round six. Charlie Cameron (26 goals), Zac Bailey (21) and Tyson Stengle (20) are the only small forwards to kick more goals than Ginnivan this year, while midfielder-forward Shai Bolton has 20 on the board. 

03:53 Mins
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Ginnivan boots five and puts on a show to earn special Anzac Day Medal

Young Magpie Jack Ginnivan is awarded the Anzac Day Medal after an electric afternoon in front of a packed MCG

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Similar to Horne-Francis, Nic Martin has been a rare highlight amid a dismal start to the season at Essendon. The pre-season supplemental selection signing has proven to be a steal, averaging 21 disposals across nine games to go with 11 goals, after he booted five goals from 27 touches in a stunning debut against Geelong in round one. 

Sam De Koning has emerged as a star of the future in the past month to put his name in this conversation.

Daicos, Horne-Francis and Rachele have already shown they are going to be household names in this game, but the shaggy-haired mid-season recruit from Poowong might have the Ron Evans Medal around his neck by September.

And it's not only the Rising Star conversation that Newcombe should be front and centre in after 10 rounds.

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When it comes to the most improved players in the AFL from 2021 to 2022, Newcombe features just behind North Melbourne ruckman Tristan Xerri and Fremantle recruit Will Brodie, narrowly ahead of Carlton midfielder George Hewett, according to Champion Data.

Newcombe famously laid 14 tackles in his debut game against Sydney at the SCG, nine days after being signed in the mid-season rookie draft, before adding six more appearances to complete a whirlwind year. It is thought that taste of League football, ignited his desire for much, much more in 2022.

Right now, that 30-month contract Hawthorn list manager Mark McKenzie put in front of Newcombe 12 months ago looks like a very shrewd piece of business.

AFL Player Ratings increase 2021 - 2022

Player

2021 Matches

2021 Avg.

2022 Matches

2022 Avg.

Rating Diff

Tristan Xerri

8

1.7

7

11.1

+9.4

Will Brodie

5

5.0

10

14.3

+9.3

Jai Newcombe

7

4.8

10

12.3

+7.5

George Hewett

21

9.3

8

16.7

+7.4

Ben Long

15

2.9

8

9.6

+6.7

Thomson Dow

5

2.7

5

8.8

+6.1

Jordan De Goey

20

9.2

9

15.1

+5.9

Tim English

22

10.0

5

15.7

+5.7

Tom Green

18

9.7

10

15.4

+5.7

Heath Chapman

6

4.4

8

9.7

+5.3