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The 2018 Rising Star predictions

Alex Witherden, Hugh McCluggage and Eric Hipwood pose alongside fellow 2017 rising star nominees.

This Friday the 2018 AFL Rising Star will be announced and with plenty of speculation around who will be named this year's Rising Star, AFL Media's reporters have taken a look at the most likely contenders.

Alex Witherden became only the eleventh player to ever be nominated twice for the Rising Star award when he was nominated in Round 9 earlier this year, the first time being back in Round 17, 2017.

There continues to be much speculation around Witherden's chance of taking out the award with AFL Media's reporters naming him amongst the three most likely players to be named the 2018 AFL Rising Star of the Year. 

Meanwhile, No. 1 Draft pick and Lions' first-year Cam Rayner is also a likely competitor for the award, having shown impressive signs of whats to come when he was awarded the Round 15 nomination following a win over Fremantle in Perth.  

While the final award is determined by a panel of experts this Friday, AFL Media reporters have named the two Lions amongst the four hottest contenders for the title. 

Here's a look at who AFL Media believe could be most likely:

Riley Beveridge

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Tom Doedee (Adel)
3. Alex Witherden (Bris)
2. Jack Higgins (Rich)
1. Oliver Florent (Syd)

Why should he win?
Stephenson burst onto the scene with a five-goal haul against Adelaide in Round 4 and never looked out of place on the AFL stage after that. When a teenager kicks 34 goals and consistently produces in a top-four side, he's worthy of the Rising Star award. Doedee and Witherden were fantastic, but Stephenson had the biggest impact on his side's success.

Sarah Black

5. Alex Witherden (Bris)
4. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
3. Tom Doedee (Adel)
2. Cam Rayner (Bris)
1. Jack Henry (Geel)

Why should he win?
A calm defender with good skills playing in a lower-ranked side, Witherden's intercept marking skills have shone through. Averaging 22 disposals, seven marks and five rebound-50s from 21 matches this year.

Nick Bowen

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Cam Rayner (Bris)
3. Tom Doedee (Adel)
2. Oliver Florent (Syd)
1. Ed Richards (WB)

Why should he win?
Stephenson hit the ground running in his round one debut and did not stop. A game-breaking talent with his blistering speed and keen goal sense, he played every game in 2018 and kicked 34 goals. Starred with five goals against Adelaide in round four and four against Melbourne in the Queen's Birthday blockbuster. Has the ability to turn a final for the Magpies this September. 

Ashley Browne

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Tom Doedee (Adel)
3. Ed Richards (WB)
2. Oliver Florent (Syd)
1. Harry Morrison (Haw)

Why should he win?
Stephenson is an excitement machine who has brought speed and flair to the Magpies. They needed to shake things up at the end of last season and his form this year is a tribute to recruiters who ignored the white noise and a coaching staff who didn't hold him back. Doedee has allowed Adelaide fans to consign their Jake Lever posts to the dustbin, while Richards plays with the composure of someone beyond his years. Florent has tailed off a touch, but was great through the first half of the season, while Morrison has been among the most consistent performers in a top-four side all season.

Mitch Cleary

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Tom Doedee (Adel)
3. Alex Witherden (Bris)
2. Jack Henry (Geel)
1. Cam Rayner (Bris)

Why should he win?
When Nathan Buckley is opening the forward 50 to a player with fewer than half a dozen games under his belt, he is the man. When that player kicks 34 goals in a side earning a double chance for the first time since 2012, there is no other choice.

Ben Collins

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Alex Witherden (Bris)
3. Tom Doedee (Adel)
2. Cam Rayner (Bris)
1. Jack Higgins (Rich)

Why should he win?
The lightning-quick Stephenson has become a key member of the Magpies' game-changing 'Swoop Squad' of mid-sized forwards. Often given the responsibility of playing out of the goalsquare, he has kicked 34 goals, including 11 multiple-goal efforts.

Adam Curley

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Tom Doedee (Adel)
3. Alex Witherden (Bris)
2. Ollie Florent (Syd)
1. Cam Rayner (Bris)

Why should he win?

The Magpies have been ravaged by injury so Stephenson's effort to play all 22 games and kick 34 goals, especially when he didn't boot one in any of his first three matches, has been inspiring for the team. Blessed with speed and plenty of confidence in his own ability, the teenager's consistency has been outstanding, and he'll relish the finals stage.

Nat Edwards

5. Tom Doedee (Adel)
4. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
3. Jack Higgins (Rich)
2. James Worpel (Haw)
1. Adam Cerra (Frem)

Why should he win?
 Tom Doedee has slotted into Adelaide's back six seamlessly. He is the No.1 player among the Rising Star nominees when it comes to intercepts and one-percenters. Already he is ranked elite in the competition when it comes to spoils, contested possessions and intercept possessions. He has not looked out of place in his debut season. He reads the play well, is athletic and aerially strong. In round two, he found himself on Richmond star Jack Riewoldt at times but managed 25 disposals and six marks, while the premiership Tiger was kept goalless. It's not easy to play key position defence in your first year, but Doedee has done it brilliantly and deserves to be crowned the 2018 NAB AFL Rising Star.

Lee Gaskin

5. Tom Doedee (Adel)
4. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
3. Alex Witherden (Bris)
2. Cam Rayner (Bris)
1. Jack Henry (Geel)

Why should he win?
Doedee's ability to read the play, come off his man and take intercept marks has been a highlight of the 21-year-old's season. Look no further than Doedee's desperate chase-down of Fremantle flyer Michael Walters as an example of why he's slotted so seamlessly into the Crows' backline.

Ben Guthrie

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Tom Doedee (Adel)
3. Alex Witherden (Bris)
2. Jack Henry (Geel)
1. Oliver Florent (Syd)

Why should he win?
Stephenson has had an exceptional first season, bringing elite speed and a touch of class to a Collingwood forward line that needed an injection of both. A tally of 34 goals for the season highlights the impact Stephenson has had on his finals-bound team.  

Travis King

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Cam Rayner (Bris)
3. Alex Witherden (Bris)
2. Tom Doedee (Adel)
1. Adam Cerra (Frem)

Why should he win?
It is exceedingly rare for a first-year forward to step into a side and almost immediately have a profound impact quite like Stephenson. The lanky and lightning-quick Pie didn't kick a goal in his first three games but then lit up Adelaide Oval with a bag of five against the Crows, and finished the season with 34 majors in a top-four team. If Collingwood's dynamic forward line is going to be dangerous in September then Stephenson will have to play a key role. It's a fair effort from a 19-year-old to be so integral so soon and he deserves the Rising Star award.

Rayner receives his first Lions guernsey from Browny before his Round 1 debut.

Marc McGowan

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Tom Doedee (Adel)
3. Alex Witherden (Bris)
2. Cam Rayner (Bris)
1. Jack Higgins (Rich)

Why should he win?
Stephenson is one of four Pies with 30-plus goals this year – an incredible feat given how impotent their forward line was in recent seasons – and the third player ever to kick that many majors and lay at least 60 tackles in their debut season.

Dinny Navaratnam

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Tom Doedee (Adel)
3. Alex Witherden (Bris)
2. Cam Rayner (Bris)
1. Jack Henry (Geel)

Why should he win?
Stephenson edged out Doedee because it's harder to play forward than back. His big performance on the road against the Crows in round four was a huge factor as well, when he slotted five goals.

Jennifer Phelan 

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Tom Doedee (Adel)
3. Alex Witherden (Bris)
2. Cam Rayner (Bris)
1. Jack Higgins (Rich)

Why should he win?
How does he not? Has played every game this season and kicked 34 goals, which has been timely for the Pies given their need to rework their forward line on the run because of injuries. He's fourth at the club for goals and has become renowned for his pace, his chase and his general enthusiasm to be involved in the play. Not bad for a teenager overlooked by some clubs because of a genetic heart condition. Doedee will be a deserving runner-up after seamlessly filling the role vacated by Jake Lever at the Crows.

Callum Twomey

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Alex Witherden (Bris)
3. Tom Doedee (Adel)
2. Jack Higgins (Rich)
1. Cam Rayner (Bris)

Why should he win?
Stephenson has been a key element in changing the way Collingwood plays. His 34-goal season has been a testament to the impact he's had in his debut season and he's settled in seamlessly despite being handed big responsibility deep in attack. Beats out Witherden, who is Brisbane's chief playmaker out of defence and a classy ball-user with a big future.

Michael Whiting

5. Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
4. Alex Witherden (Bris)
3. Tom Doedee (Adel)
2. Cam Rayner (Bris)
1. Oliver Florent (Syd)

Why should he win?
Last season Collingwood was criticised for its lack of forward options, and in just his first year Stephenson has helped transform the Magpies into a devastating attacking force. Carrying the burden of being a second or third option in the forward 50 is not an easy one, yet the 19-year-old has carried it with class, kicking 34 goals. Witherden has been exceptionally consistent, but Stephenson's prominence in helping his team rise to the top-four should not be undersold.

Leaderboard based on AFL Media's predictions

77 – Jaidyn Stephenson
59 - Tom Doedee
44 - Alex Witherden
25 - Cam Rayner
10 - Jack Higgins
9 - Oliver Florent
7- Jack Henry
4 – Ed Richards
2 – James Worpel
2 - Adam Cerra
1 – Harry Morrison

 

To be eligible for the Rising Star award, each year's nominated players must be under the age of 21 at 1 January and have played no more than 10 AFL games to start the season. 

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs