Rising star, rising farce

19 May 2011

Written by: Khairun Hamid

In the 18-year history of the AFL’s Rising Star Award, only three of the winners have ranked among the top two rookies for both disposals and tackling throughout the course of a season: Paul Hasleby in 2000, Sam Mitchell in 2003, Joel Selwood in 2007.

Those three were not only deemed the competition’s best first-year player in their respective seasons, but demonstrated an incredible ability to both gain possession and do everything in their power to get it back. In short, the perfect combination of midfield attack and defence.

In season 2011, the Bulldogs’ Tom Liberatore is only the fourth rookie in nearly 20 years to qualify for this elite category. He’s ranked second among rookie players for possessions (20) and tackles (six). He’s first among his peers for average Supercoach score (91), goal assists (five) and is ranked in the league’s top 10 for driving the ball inside his team’s forward 50 metre arc (18).

Yet after eight rounds of football, ‘Libba’ is still waiting on a call to just be nominated for the prestigious award, let alone installed as favourite.

Of the eight players to have so far received nominations, only Essendon’s Dyson Heppell is among his own club’s top ten for both disposals and tackles. At the Bulldogs, there are just seven players averaging more disposals than Liberatore, while not one has performed better where tackling is concerned.

Consider for a moment the league’s most recent Rising Star nominee, Hawthorn’s Shane Savage. Definitely a good young player, but one who at the same time is ranked just 17th among first year players for possessions and just 25th for tackles. His numbers paint a similar picture when put into the context of his own club’s playing list. An excellent contributor? Yes. An indisputably integral part of the Hawks? Hardly.

In Liberatore’s case, to have a player come in and be so effective, so immediately, has been remarkable. Add to that the reputation of entering the competition as the 18 year old son of a former Brownlow Medallist, coupled with the intense competition for a place in the Bulldogs’ midfield, and his achievements are even more impressive.

To still be waiting for a Rising Star nomination after two months of football is truly scandalous.

Tom Liberatore, like his father, isn’t the type to be concerned by external perceptions but rather how his on-field efforts are measured by his teammates and coaching staff. However, like any professional doing a damn good job, a little industry appreciation wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

It really is about time he received some.

James Rosewarne is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University. You can read more of his work on his blog, Sporting Letters.