A podium of rookies

Three rookies finishing in the top-three of a Best & Fairest count is something that had never seen before until Monday night.

The podium-finishing trio of Jack Sinclair, Callum Wilkie and Rowan Marshall turned that unseen quirk into a pleasing reality at the 2023 Trevor Barker Award earlier this week, each making their own slice of history in the club’s milestone year.

Taken at pick No. 1 in the 2015 Rookie Draft after being overlooked in his draft year, Sinclair has revolutionised his game into that of one of the game’s most brilliant half-backs, earning two consecutive All-Australian blazers to complement his pair of Trevor Barker Awards, both won in the same seasons as his All-Australian nods.

2023 Trevor Barker Award

Prior to his runner-up placing behind Jack Steele in the 2021 Trevor Barker Award, Sinclair had never even finished in the top-10 of a Saints’ Best & Fairest count.

Wilkie, plucked from the SANFL with pick No. 3 in the 2019 Rookie Draft, has only gotten better in his ascendancy to unheralded rookie to All-Australian full-back and St Kilda vice-captain, while Marshall’s standing flies in the face of his pick No. 10 selection in the 2017 Rookie Draft.

Rookie pick-ups who have defied the odds are certainly not new amongst the competition, or St Kilda.

Goalsneak Stephen Milne is arguably the most successful of the bunch with 574 goals from his 275 appearances to his name, Jarryn Geary captained the club for five seasons as one of the last picks of the 2007 Rookie Draft, while the three recent finishers on the dais are carving out similar legacies of their own.

Young guns, with the numbers to prove it

Although just shy of the podium, it’s impossible to look past the profound seasons of Mitch Owens and Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, whose second seasons at the highest level ended with a fourth and fifth placing respectively.

The pair couldn’t be separated when it came down to deciding who took home the Best Emerging Player Award, with the two sharing the honour for the first time in club history.

While the influence on-field was unmissable between Owens’ contested prowess inside-50 and through the middle or Wanganeen-Milera’s near-effortless composure off half-back, the numbers speak far greater volumes.

When adjusted to exclude pre-clearance stats and more accurately measure his general play statistics, Owens ranked fifth in the competition for contested possessions (143) behind Charlie Curnow, Christian Petracca, Aaron Naughty and Isaac Heeney. On top of that, the 20-year-old’s 58 post-clearance tackles were more than any of the above players.

Owens also ranked fifth for key forwards in the AFL Player Ratings and fifth for front-half contested possessions (his 14 in Round 4 the highest in a single game since 2011), while his combined contested possessions plus tackles per 100 minutes  (8.8) the highest in the league.

For Nasiah, his cleanliness by foot and class stood in a league of its own. 

The No. 7 was ranked fourth behind Sinclair, Errol Gulden and Luke Ryan for kicks (419) and more impressively, was in the competition’s top-20 for metres gained and was the only player in that list under 21 years of age.

Additionally, Wanganeen-Milera’s ability to find space was reaffirmed with his 144 uncontested marks for the season (ninth in the competition) and 24 running bounces; the most of any player from St Kilda this season.

First-timers, long-timers

Moving outside the top-five still comes packed with his fair share of intrigue.

In that sixth-to-tenth bracket are four Best & Fairest awards, two of which are owned by Jack Steele and the others coming from Bradley Hill and Brad Crouch during their respective tenures at Fremantle and Adelaide. When combining Sinclair's two Trevor Barker Awards, the top-10 of this year's count share five Best & Fairest accolades.

Both Hill and Crouch have finished on equal footing twice in 2021 and 2023, with the pair also finishing inside the Trevor Barker Award top-10 for the past three seasons straight.

Jack Higgins’ eighth-placed finish marks his first top-10 charting in his six seasons between Richmond and St Kilda, while Josh Battle has also polled inside the top-10 for the second consecutive season.