At 18 years of age, Matt Rowell played with the experience of a seasoned veteran and skill of a Brownlow medalist. Cruelly, injury denied the footy world of a first year season that was going to smash every record in existence. The silver lining? The laws of the Rising Star award could be defied, with a feat its founders never saw possible.
Matt Rowell has played just five AFL games, really four when you take away that fateful game against Geelong in which he only played a few minutes before sustaining his season-ending shoulder injury.
In just his first four games of AFL however, Rowell had already accomplished what Brownlow medalists couldn’t. He became the first player since a 24 year old Josh P. Kennedy in 2012 to poll three straight tens in the AFL Coaches Association (AFLCA) Champion Player of the Year voting – viewed by greats as the most credible of any post season award.
Three straight games of both coaches unanimously agreeing he was the best on ground. Think of the calibre of superstars in our game over the last eight years; Dusty, Fyfe, Danger, Cripps, Bont, Grundy, Gawn. None of them able to do it. Rowell did in his second, third and fourth AFL games.
After his last full game, Rowell was sitting second in the AFLCA votes, that was back in round four. At the conclusion of round seven, he was still equal third.
In his five games, it’s probably worth noting the 30 AFLCA votes Rowell accumulated was superior than that of the last two Rising Star winners over their entire seasons. In 2018, Jaidyn Stephenson won with seven votes. In 2019, wonderkid Sam Walsh – whom many considered the best first year player we’d seen in a long time – acquired 26 votes over the whole season. Rowell’s already blown them out of the water.
After round four, Rowell sat third in the Brownlow betting with odds of just $8. It’s safe to assume he will finish with nine Brownlow votes at seasons end, and that will be more than any of his draft class colleagues.
A shoulder injury won't stop Rowell from having fun
Last year, Sam Walsh recorded six Brownlow votes over the whole season, and that was the most of any Rising Star winner in the last decade.
Of course, we still have 10 rounds of footy left and there’s plenty to unfold. Izak Rankine has shown all the hallmarks of a future superstar, and looms as a serious breakout contender to win the award. Then there’s Noah Anderson, who’s been trapped in his best mate’s shadow and could emerge in his absence, people quickly forget he’s a number two draft pick. Connor Budarick has been another bright spark at the Gold Coast.
St Kilda tall Max King has kicked 10 goals, and sits just five off the pace in the Coleman Medal. GWS prospect Tom Green is another midfield bull who’s impressed and could be a real contender. Unfortunately Round One nominee Sam Sturt will have to overcome an injury affected season if he is to put his name in the conversation.
There’s still the unnominated prospects including Melbourne duo Kysaiah Pickett and Luke Jackson, North’s Curtis Taylor, Sydney’s Dylan Stephenson, Brisbane’s Tom Berry and Port’s Mitch Georgiades. A smokey struggling to break into the senior side could yet emerge from the chaos of the upcoming fixture cluster and turn the race on its head.
If Rowell played a full season, he would’ve won by a country mile. Now that he’s played just five games, the race is as open as it could be. Considering he’s achieved, he can’t be ruled out.
As for the concept of a dual Rising Star winner, Rowell is still eligible for the award next year. He’s played less than 10 games and will be under 21 years of age. You can be nominated in multiple seasons – 11 players have – so there’s no reason you can’t win it in multiple seasons. Assuming he plays a full season in 2021, you can pencil him in to take it home.
It’s a long shot, but if there’s ever going to be a dual Rising Star winner, Matt Rowell is the man.
If the AFLCA Champion Player of the Year, and Brownlow Medal, were exclusively contested by Rising Star nominees, Rowell would win them both this season. In five games, he’s already achieved more than previous winners of the award.
To those that vote on the Rising Star, consider what he achieved, not how many games he played.