Almanac Footy: Caleb Serong reveals the challenges he overcame to win the Rising Star Award







by Max Hatzoglou



Fremantle youngster Caleb Serong jumped many hurdles before winning this year’s AFL rising star award.


The country Victoria product from Gippsland averaged almost 17 disposals a game from his 14 AFL matches in 2020 but it was not all easy going for the 19-year-old.


Two weeks before the start of the season Serong knew he would be left out of the Round 1 team after having limited game time in the club’s last preseason match.


“I didn’t got too much time in the last JLT game. I only played like 20% game time. I was on the bench for most of the time and JL (Justin Longmuir) just came up and gave me a bit of feedback and I really wanted some feedback about where I needed to improve to be out there more,” Serong said.


Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir told Serong he needed to improve his spread from stoppages and running around the ground.


Serong described the feedback as “a bit of an eye-opener” and when the news came to him that he would be an emergency for the Round 1 game against Essendon, he looked for the positives.


“I just kind of took that as a way I knew I was next in line,” Serong said.


Following this game was the unforeseen news that the 2020 AFL season would come to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


Serong described the extended break where the majority of AFL players stayed at home for up to two months as a “blessing in disguise”.


“I was like ‘this next five or six weeks is going to be another preseason for me’ so I trained really hard, got a gym set up at home and I trained with my two brothers. They pushed me really hard. I pushed them. It was really good. Really high-intensity training.”


Serong was lucky to have his two younger brothers Jai and Liam, who also play footy, to train with over the lockdown period.


“I’d be running three times a week and I kind of came back and I was the fittest I’ve ever been,” Serong said.


When Serong arrived back in Perth after the break his improvements over the time at home were starting to show on the training track.


However, another hurdle was facing him as fellow midfielder David Mundy was coming back into the team for Round 2, taking another midfield spot away.


At this point, Serong knew he had to prove to the playing group that he was worthy of an AFL debut so he went in full steam ahead.


“I was like, I’m just going to keep training the house down until they pick me. Like any match sim we would get, any kind of contest stuff we get, I’m just going to go hell for leather and I’m just gonna make them pick me.”


From this point on Serong went on to show his footballing prowess which led to an AFL debut and award-winning season.


Before Serong’s debut for Fremantle, coach Justin Longmuir praised his hard work during the lockdown period in a mid-week press conference.


“He’s a player that during the shutdown went away from the club and came back a better footballer. He clearly worked on his running. He’s just a competitive animal and he’s got a real thirst for contact and that’s probably something we’ve been missing a little bit those bigger harder bodies that love to crash and bash,” Longmuir said.


“He’s worked on all aspects of the game since he’s been at the club. His strengths are his efforts around the ball and that’s been shining at training and in the games he’s played.”


When the moment came where Serong received the news of his AFL debut, his coach Longmuir reminded him of the work he’d put in over the lockdown.


“You’re going to play your first game this week and to be honest it’s been impossible to leave you out and its through your attitude. You used your shutdown to get better, fitter, stronger and you’re training the house down since you’ve been back,” Longmuir said in a video capturing the announcement of his debut on


Serong took a few lessons away from the lead up to his debut selection.


“In the end, it was just me trying to do everything on the training track which eventually got me picked so I think that was a good lesson for me.”


“Everything you do on the training track like just go, try and improve every minute on the track. That helped me a lot to try and change that mindset of training is not just a chore or whatever, it’s something you got to get through and put your best foot forward for.”


“So that was what sort of got me picked in the end, kind of just force my way in there rather than just get gifted a game”


“It was really good for my confidence because I knew that I kind of worked for it and didn’t just get given it.”


Serong recalls coming back from the COVID break and training in a smaller group with one of the fittest players at the club, Andrew Brayshaw, where he kept up with him in the running.


Later that day, he received a phone call from the Fremantle strength and conditioning coach, Peter Bell, who was surprised and excited by Serong’s fitness performance and asked if he would come in to be weighed when he got back to the club.


Serong had lost around two kilograms and realised the difference his running at home had made when he got back to training with his teammates.


Reflecting on his successful season, Serong put it down to the hard work he endured at home in the lockdown period.


“Every time I speak to JL about my season now, it kind of always goes back to the shutdown period and how well I handled that.”


While acknowledging the “tough time” the lockdown period was for everyone in Victoria Serong described it as a “blessing in disguise” for his football.


Following his fantastic first season where he won the Rising Star award, Serong is determined to go on and achieve more in his AFL career.


“The biggest thing that I took away from it like yeah it’s a great award, I’m incredibly honoured to win it but I don’t want to be that rising star winner that goes downhill after he wins the award.”


“I want to be that kind of guy that ‘yeah he was the rising star winner but he went onto bigger and better things’.”




Max Hatzoglou is a first year Monash Uni student. He has recently quarantined in Darwin to be able to move to Adelaide where he and his brother Peter have made a great start to the district cricket season playing for Prospect. Max and Caleb are friends from their school days.




The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE



To return to our Footy Almanac home page click HERE.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?

And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help things keep ticking over please consider making your own contribution.



Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE.

One-off financial contribution – CLICK HERE.

Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE.





  1. Well done Max.

    Would you be able to establish if Caleb is a relation to the great Bill Serong, who played for Collingwood and North Melbourne. He was runner-up for the 1959 Brownlow.

    Have not heard any references from the commentariat about any connection…
    but they’re generally lazy with this stuff anyway.

    I’d like to have heard where in Gippsland he’s from?
    What was the footy club he played for – as opposed to a TAC Cup team.?
    Footy 101

  2. Great to have you involved Max.

    Caleb certainly caught the eye during the year. He must have been some schoolboy/junior footballer.

    Dr Rocket, I have a feeling he is Bill’s grandson, but not confirmed. Max might know.

  3. Peter Fuller says

    Caleb is listed in the AFL Season Guide as from Warragul/Geelong Grammar/Gippsland Power.
    Like you, I was curious about a possible relationship with Bill, and JTH’s speculation is the nearest to a confirmation that I have heard; I’m interested in any further information which Max (or anyone else) might have.

  4. Max Hatzoglou says

    Caleb does have a relation to Bill Serong and from memory, I think it is Caleb’s grandfather. Caleb is originally from Inverloch and then moved to Warragul. He played for Warragul FC during his late junior years.

    Pleasure to be involved on the Footy Almanac! Caleb was a star in the winter on the footy field and just as good in the summer on the cricketing field! Played Vic under 12’s and 15’s cricket.

Leave a Comment