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The class of 2012

THERE is always an element of “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to the non-Victorian teams. It is a product of the Victorian public's insatiable appetite for the game and the exhaustive media coverage we are afforded in this state.

That's not to say we are any more parochial or passionate than our interstate friends and colleagues, but with 10 of the 18 sides playing in the competition based here, we can easily satisfy our appetite for all things football without necessarily extending that focus beyond our borders.

The NAB Rising Star winner will be announced on Wednesday, and once again we have been blessed with an outstanding list of candidates. The fact that 13 of the 22 candidates play with non-Victorian clubs demands that we take a far more “nationalistic” view than we may otherwise have.

Adelaide's super-impressive centre half-back, Daniel Talia, is a perfect case. He has been on a slow build here in Victoria, in terms of recognising what has been a superb season.

With Nathan Bock deciding that life on the Gold Coast held more appeal than life in Adelaide, and Phil Davis following suit the next year, preferring a new home with Greater Western Sydney, the Crows all of a sudden had a gaping hole in the defensive post.

Ben Rutten continued to provide great service at full-back, but he needed support, and with Bock and Davis absconding, Talia was given an opportunity and he has not looked back.


After injuring his Achilles in his first year, he managed to work his way back into the Adelaide side and played the last eight games in 2011. This year he has played every game and has emerged as the brightest key-position defender in a long time.

The modern era has seen a complete midfield domination come awards season at the end of the year. The Brownlow Medal, best and fairests, AFLPA Most Valuable Player awards, even the coaches' association's best player. The lack of recognition for anyone that plays outside of the centre square has been quite alarming in recent times.

We have such a fascination and predilection for statistics that we all, and I am guilty as well, fail at times to look beyond the number of possessions won. And at a time when it is easier than ever to rack up big numbers, with the focus on maintaining possession, extra numbers in the back half and the terribly lop-sided nature of some games, it is even more imperative that we look to dig a little deeper than that.

Which is why I have Talia as my Rising Star this year. At 20, and in just his second season, he has gone out each week and played one-on-one football against the best key forwards in the competition. And on the majority of occasions he has emerged victorious.

There is nowhere to hide when you are playing in one of the key defensive posts. You don't get the luxury of pushing into the back half for easy possessions. Of being on the end of an exceptional passage of play that hands you a goal.

You are effectively rated on your ability to quell the influence of the opposition's most damaging and talented footballers. You know that they are going to be the target of most forward thrusts; you know it is going to be a test of strength, will and endurance, and you know you are going to be tested from the opening bounce to the final siren.

Talia has stood next to, and beaten or broken even with, such players as Nick Riewoldt, Sam Reid, Jack Riewoldt, Michael Hurley, James Podsiadly, Chris Dawes and fellow rising star contender, Jeremy Cameron.

His finest performance may well have been against current Coleman Medal favourite Matthew Pavlich. The Pav was in a rich vein of form, and was coming off bags of five, six, seven and eight goals in the previous four rounds, with the latest tally notched against arch-rival West Coast.

Talia was outstanding that day, keeping him to just two goals, and prompting Crows coach Brenton Sanderson to declare after the game that “he just wins” the Rising Star award.

I first sat up and really took notice of him in the Crows' gutsy win over St Kilda back in round 12. There has been no harder-working centre half-forward in the past 10 years than Nick Riewoldt, but on this night Talia ran with him every step of the way, keeping him to nine possessions and two goals.

It was his athleticism and ability to run past Riewoldt on one occasion that gave you a sense you were watching a pretty special athlete in action. His powers of concentration, composure and willingness to compete define him as a footballer and should see him crowned just the second key-position defender to win the award in the 19 years since its inception.

Here are the rest of my top five picks:


Freakish talent who is still working out just how good he could be. Only started playing football at age 15 and in his first year at senior level kicks 29 goals and does some things that only the truly gifted are capable of. His marking was a delight to watch and considering that he spent most of the year as the Giants' primary forward target, his ability to overcome the odds against the very best opposition stamps him as a star of the future.


Have really admired the way this young man carries himself and he stands out as a leader at this club in just his second year of AFL football. He has been able to maintain a very high standard in a team that has struggled for most of the year, and despite the ugliness of the scoreboard at times, his approach hasn't wavered.

Has shown a distinct appetite for the harder aspects of the game and that is evident in his tackle and contested-possession numbers. Has a wonderful role model in Matthew Boyd to learn from, and in a couple of years I expect him to be leading the way in the middle for the Dogs — and continue for many years to come.


Was absolutely delighted to see the development of this young man as the season progressed. Has been an elite talent throughout his junior football days, but the move to GWS was always going to be a challenge for him. His back half of the year demonstrates a growing maturity and understanding of what it takes to succeed at this level, and in the past five weeks or so he has elevated himself into the “very good” category of AFL midfielders. If he continues to work hard, and educate himself in the art of modern footy, this will be the tip of the iceberg for him.


With the injury to Travis Varcoe, a spot opened up in the Geelong forward line and Motlop, having played four games last year, grabbed it. Has genuine pace and a tricks bag that was always going to entertain once he became more established. But it's not that which will determine how far he goes as a footballer. It's his attention to the things that don't come easy or natural to him that won him his place and will become so critically important in the next couple of weeks. The ability to lay tackles and put pressure on in the Cats' forward 50 is what the senior players at Geelong love. The 25 goals this year have been a very nice bonus.