Tonight, AFL and Carlton fans alike will get their first look at prized No. 1 pick Sam Walsh with the Blues confirming he’s a certain starter against Richmond. I don’t want to put any pressure on the kid’s shoulders, but his debut is one of great anticipation, with some dubbing him a Brownlow chance (keep a lid on it) before the season has even begun. It got me thinking though, with plenty of fresh faces set to chalk up the first game of their careers this weekend, which players have had the best performances in their first AFL contest since 2000?
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Paul Haselby v Geelong, Round 1 2000
THE NUMBERS: 30 disposals, 7 clearances, 1 goal
In typical early 2000’s fashion, Paul Haselby’s first game of footy came in a Dockers loss. Haselby himself could hold his head high though with the former No. 2 pick recording 30 touches against Geelong way back at the start of the 2000 season. Haselby’s high possession style of play was a feature of his game throughout his Rising Star award-winning season, and he continued it for 208 games in purple before hanging the boots up in 2010.
Martin McGrath v Western Bulldogs, Round 17 2003
THE NUMBERS: 12 disposals, 5 marks, 5 goals
You could be forgiven for not remembering Martin McGrath. The cousin of 200+ game Brisbane veteran Ash, Martin’s AFL career lasted just four games, but his first match was something special. Not only was it the only win he played in, McGrath kicked an unreal five goals from 12 touches in the Tigers’ triumph against the Western Bulldogs. His heroics earned McGrath a game in the next three rounds, where he combined to record just 19 possessions and one goal.
Ben Rutten v Fremantle, Round 16 2003
THE NUMBERS: 7 disposals, 4 marks, 3 goals
While most AFL fans will remember Ben ‘Truck’ Rutten for his All-Australian defensive days his debut match in 2003 was something quite the opposite. Lining up in attack Rutten is part of a unique club having managed to kick three goals with the first three kicks of his career. As well all know, Rutten served as a key defensive pillar for the Crows until his retirement in 2014, but with nine goals (including one with his last kick in footy) to his name from 229 games, his first three kicks are something Rutten won’t forget anytime soon.
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Andrew Walker v West Coast, Round 5 2004
THE NUMBERS: 26 disposals, 9 marks, 4 tackles, 1 Brownlow vote
Andrew Walker reached great heights (pun intended) during his 204-game career at Carlton. The high-flying forward who was taken second overall had to wait until Round 5 to make his AFL debut, but he wasted no time playing a pivotal role in the Blues’ second win of the season. Walker nearly took a Mark of the Year contender on Andrew Embley’s shoulders in that game too, highlighting every exciting aspect of his game from the moment he stepped onto the field.
Dean Polo vs. Essendon, Round 6 2006
THE NUMBERS: 28 disposals, 6 marks, 3 goals, 3 Brownlow votes
There aren’t many players that can claim they were the best player on the field in their first AFL game. Dean Polo is one such player. After spending a few seasons on Richmond’s list Polo finally broke through for his debut match in the famous ‘Dreamtime at the G’ clash against the Bombers during the 2006 season. He starred under the bright lights with his third and final goal of the game putting the Tigers in front with just a few minutes remaining. They held on to claim a two-point win and Polo took home three of five career Brownlow votes.
Bradd Dalziell v West Coast, Round 16 2008
THE NUMBERS: 32 disposals, 7 marks, 5 tackles
At the time, Bradd Dalziell’s 32 touches were the most ever recorded in an AFL debut. The WA-born prospect had to toil to break into the Lions’ side, but he was rewarded with seven straight games late in the 2008 campaign going on to average over 26 touches in those matches. His first game against the Eagles – who picked up Dalziell a few short years later – was something to marvel at though recording more touches than then teammates and greats of the game like Luke Power and Simon Black in his first pro outing.
Michael Barlow v Adelaide, Round 1 2010
THE NUMBERS: 33 disposals, 6 marks, 4 tackles, 4 clearances, 2 goals
Dalziell held the disposals record for less than two years before another mature-aged player stole his thunder. Michael Barlow looked composed beyond his years against the Crows to start 2010 as he effortlessly chalked up 33 touches, becoming a Freo fan favourite from day one. It’s hard to make a case against Barlow’s game as the best AFL debut since the start of the century and he didn’t slow up recording 34 disposals the very next week against Essendon.
Toby Greene v Sydney, Round 1 2012
THE NUMBERS: 27 disposals, 5 clearances, 5 tackles
Your first AFL game is a pretty monumental occasion, but Toby Greene’s debut was different from others. Not only was he playing the first game of his career, but his debut coincided with the first game in GWS Giants history. He was a key contributor in the Giants’ first AFL season, illustrating his talents from day one as he tied for the second most touches for his side in an expectedly ugly loss to the Swans.
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