Swans NAB AFL Rising Star class of 2017

The AFL announced on Monday night that the final 2017 NAB Rising Star nomination - for round 23 - was awarded to Will Hayward from the Sydney Swans.

His debut season was capped by another impressive 3-goal haul against Carlton, his third for the season, and he joins Swans defender Lewis Melican who receive a nomination in round 18 for his tremendous shut-down effort on Nick Riewoldt.

Will Hayward

The 18-year-old's impressive 3-goal game against Carlton was enough to gain the final vote of the season, amongst a future star-studded crowd, including Sam Powell-Pepper and Andrew McGrath.

The first-year player - originally from Adelaide - was taken with pick 21 in last year's NAB AFL Draft, and played 17 games in his debut season.

While his maiden season has been successful, kicking multiple goals on 7 occasions, 22 for the season, his pre-season was anything but, delayed by plantar fasciitis.

The reward for his impressive debut season, kicking three goals on three separate occasions, was two-fold: the Swans booking an elimination final from an impossible 0-6 position, and the round 23 rising star nomination.

"It feels good and it was pretty surprising, given I had three kicks this week, but it’s nice to receive the nomination," he said.

"But it's not really about that for me, with obviously having a pretty slow start to the year, then to be where we are now. I definitely have moments where I pinch myself, especially considering the likes of the people I play with – we've got a team full of stars."

The rangy 185cm forwards' education started before he was recruited by the Swans, drawing the attention of veteran recruiter Kinnear Beatson by the time the 2016 NAB AFL Under-18 Championships ended.

Beatson gave Hayward advice before he was picked up by the Swans, although only those two know the exact words, "naive" was one of them, after Beatson told him that he had to work harder.

"He just told me I needed to work harder and that it was not going to come easy in the AFL," Hayward recalled.

"He probably saved me a bit and gave me the kick I needed."

Longmire was delighted to get Will Hayward through the draft, and has been suitably impressed with his development this season.

"We were really happy to get Will in the draft. Looking at the vision during his draft year, we thought he was a real competitor and had great speed," Longmire said.

"That’s exactly what we saw from the first moment he trained with the team after a delayed pre-season … he’s a great athlete, a real competitor, a terrific mark and has a fantastic temperament for AFL football.

"He’s really easy to coach, he takes and receives feedback really well, and acts on it – he’s had a wonderful first year."

Forming a formidable partnership with Gary Rohan and Tom Papley, the 18-year-old shapes as a key player for the coming years as he develops his skill and builds his body.

2017 Season

Averages per game

Games played17 Average metres gained177m
Disposals9 Contested3
Uncontested6 Turnovers2.3
Goals1.3 Behinds0.8
Score Involvements3.6 Goal Assists0.5
Marks3 - Inside 501
Inside 50s2.1 Pressure acts15.1
Tackles2.6 - Inside 501.1

Lewis Melican

Lewis Melican's standout performance against Saints legend Nick Riewoldt in round 18 earned him the NAB AFL Rising Star nomination for the round.

Lewis's start to his career is certainly no different to the well-worn path of many Swans stars before him, picked up in the 2014 NAB AFL Rookie Draft with pick 52nd.

His relaxed and calm on-field persona certainly extends into his personal life, as he lay in a Gold Coast pool during Schoolies 2014, so relaxed he was that he set his draft alarm 30 minutes late.

It wasn't until his phone was ringing off the hook that he realised the Swans had taken him with the 52nd selection in the second-chance draw.

"It was exciting and I think it was a pretty good way to do it, to not be expecting anything," the 20-year-old told AFL.com.au.

"There are so many people around the country who want to do it, and some of them get told early on there are heaps of teams looking at you and their head inflates a bit and they expect to get picked up.

"There was no real chance of disappointment for me, because if it didn’t happen, it was what I was expecting, anyway."

The 193cm defender's path to the AFL wasn't anything like his peers; he missed the Falcon's under-16's cut, was a non-playing development squad member the following year, then played every TAC cup game in 2014.

He eventually crept on the Swans radar, according to Melican the only club to show any interest, given he missed out on an invite to the state draft combine.

For some clubs, the rookie list is desolate place of missed opportunities, where players struggle to make an impact, or even be seen, but not at the Swans, fitting in alongside Heath Grundy, Dane Rampe, former captain Kieren Jack, Jake Lloyd, Nick Smith, Nic Newman, Tom Papley and Sam Naismith as success stories elevated to the senior list.

"You don’t really think of them as rookies anymore, after the experiences most of them have, but they all started the same place I did," he said.

"I hadn't really looked into it too much (when I was drafted), but I remember people telling me that if I was to go to any club, Sydney is the right one to be at."

He impressed enough to play a pre-season game in 2015, only to be struck down by significant setbacks over the next two seasons, including a cracked pelvis, broken thumb and hamstring tears.

Continue he did, working hard and diligently through the 2016 pre-season and playing regularly in the JLT series, standing out amongst the other rookies and development players as one to watch for the future.

It wasn't until round 5 that he had his first taste of AFL football in the Sydney derby against Greater Western Sydney, taking the opportunity after long term injuries to several senior members elevated him to the senior list.

His versatility allowed him to blossom in a premiership contending defence, loaded with talent including Dane Rampe, Heath Grundy, Aliir Aliir and Nick Smith.

Melican's 2017 season has impressed all the right people, including his coach John Longmire who said that Lewis was "very coachable".

"He’s taken on some big challenges and played on some of the competition’s best forwards, and we’ve got confidence in him that he can do that," Longmire said.

"He’s a terrific country boy who is a fairly quiet, respectful kid and he’s getting more confident every week with the more football he plays."

A strong NEAFL campaign early in 2017 ensured that when he had his chance to play AFL he was ready, and as his confidence grew, so did the quality of his performances, culminating in a contract extension until 2020, lifting him on to the senior list in 2018.

Melican has been a permanent fixture of the Swans team, missing just one game since debuting in round 5, and has been rarely beaten by his opponents.

"I never really thought I'd get anything like this (Rising Star nomination), especially as a defender – it doesn't feel like a rewarding job sometimes," he said.

2017 Season

Averages per game

Games played17 Average metres gained197m
Disposals11.9 Contested4.9
Intercept5.3 Turnovers1.8
1 percenters4.8 Rebound 50s2.8
Marks3.6 Contested0.6
Tackles1.8 Score involvements1.9
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Justin Mitchell

Justin is a passionate AFL and Sydney Swans supporter, and football blogger since 2016. All articles are of his own opinion. You can reach him by twitter and Facebook at @theswansblog

Melbourne, Australia http://theswansblog.com

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