L-R: Sam Darcy, Will Ashcroft, Mattaes Phillipou. Pictures: AFL Photos

BRISBANE young gun Will Ashcroft is the raging hot favourite to win the 2023 AFL Rising Star, but a handful of fellow draftees and second-year players could challenge the father-son Lion for the crown of the best young player in the game.

After Collingwood's Nick Daicos stormed to the 2022 Rising Star after a stunning debut season, many are expecting Ashcroft to have a similarly dominant season for the Lions, with eight of the 18 club captains backing the 18-year-old to win the award.

But it's not just those in Ashcroft's draft class who will challenge him for the title. A host of impressive youngsters who were on AFL lists last year still meet the eligibility criteria of having played 10 games or less and being 21 years or younger at the start of this year.


Chief among them are Western Bulldogs giant Sam Darcy and Greater Western Sydney teenager Finn Callaghan, who both had injury-interrupted campaigns last year but are set to feature heavily in 2023.

Other eligible second-year players who are expected to play senior football in 2023 include West Coast pair Jai Culley and Campbell Chesser, Melbourne forward Jacob Van Rooyen and Richmond's Tyler Sonsie, while Fremantle duo Neil Erasmus and Jye Amiss are both eligible but might struggle for regular game time in a stacked Dockers team.

And it's not just second-year players; former No.7 pick Elijah Hollands is still eligible having had his debut year at Gold Coast ruined by injury, while fellow 2020 draftee Luke Pedlar has been backed to have a breakout season at Adelaide.

But recent history suggests a first-year player like Ashcroft will take the award. Of the past 10 Rising Stars, Luke Jackson (2021) and Jesse Hogan (2015) are the only players to win after their first year.

Among Ashcroft's draft class, the main challenge is likely to come from North Melbourne's Harry Sheezel, Hawthorn's Cam Mackenzie, St Kilda's Mattaes Phillipou and West Coast's Reuben Ginbey, who are all expected to get plenty of game time in young sides, while Gold Coast's Bailey Humphrey, Carlton's Ollie Hollands and Geelong's Jhye Clark also look ready for AFL level.

DRAFT HUB Click here for the latest draft news

No.1 pick Aaron Cadman is also expected to feature for the Giants this year but his role as a key forward could count against him; in the 30-year history of the award, St Kilda's Justin Koschitzke (2001) is the only first-year key forward to win it.

Top draftees Elijah Tsatas and George Wardlaw are expected to be eased into senior football due to injury, so could still be eligible next year.

Elijah Tsatas at Essendon training at The Hangar on February 14, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Leading contenders for the 2023 AFL Rising Star

New players
Will Ashcroft (Brisbane), Harry Sheezel (North Melbourne), Cam Mackenzie (Hawthorn), Reuben Ginbey (West Coast), Mattaes Phillipou (St Kilda), Bailey Humphrey (Gold Coast), Aaron Cadman (GWS), Elijah Hewett (West Coast), Ollie Hollands (Carlton), Jhye Clark (Geelong)

On a list in 2022
Finn Callaghan (GWS), Sam Darcy (Western Bulldogs), Elijah Hollands (Gold Coast), Jai Culley (West Coast), Jye Amiss (Fremantle), Mitch Owens (St Kilda), Neil Erasmus (Fremantle), Campbell Chesser (West Coast), Jacob Van Rooyen (Melbourne), Luke Pedlar (Adelaide), Tyler Sonsie (Richmond)