The seven best rookie-listed players of all time

After the retirement of champion West Coast ruckman Dean Cox yesterday, I thought I would take a look at the best rookie-list selections of all-time.


Cox will go down as one of the greatest ruckman of all time after revolutionising the position over the past decade. The Eagles legend has enjoyed a decorated career since debuting in 2001. His career has included being named in the All-Australian side on six occasions, winning a West Coast best and fairest and playing in the 2006 premiership. Cox had the luxury of tapping the ball down to a superb midfield unit, which accentuated his ability in the tap outs. But Cox was most damaging when linking up across the ground. His skill and general football nous for a man of his stature was remarkable and it often gave opposition coaches plenty to think about when deciding which players to shut down.


Coming in second on the list is the man you either love or hate, or perhaps love to hate, the mercurial Stephen Milne. The St Kilda small-forward had an incredible knack of knowing exactly where the goals are. His 574 career goals put him amongst an illustrious group of footballers and he particularly excelled at Docklands Stadium, where he still holds the total goals record. Milne won St Kilda’s leading goal kicker award on four occasions and has twice been selected in the All-Australian side. At the peak of his powers he was an extremely reliable shot for goal and he once booted 11 goals without a miss against the Brisbane Lions in 2005.


The biggest man to ever play the game comes in at third place on this list. Despite an injury prone last couple of seasons, Sandilands has the ability to dominate games purely due to his size and brute strength. His ability to accumulate the hit outs is a given, due to his 211cm and 120kg frame, but what sets him apart from other giant ruckman is his ability to make an impact around the ground. The deceptively athletic Sandilands has been selected in the All-Australian team on three occasions and has won a Fremantle best and fairest.


The big-bodied defender from Papua New Guinea has claimed the scalps of many gun forwards in his 238-game career across three clubs. He is most notable for being the lynchpin in defence during Brisbane’s premiership winning years in the early 2000s. Michael started his career at Collingwood before moving to the Lions where he was one of the best “one-percent” players in the competition.


The son of rugby league legend Gary, Kieren Jack has been an integral member of a star-studded Sydney midfield for many years. Jack’s tackling and running ability has placed him in the top echelon of midfielders in the game. At only 27 years of age, it is highly likely that Jack will add to his list of accolades before he calls it time on his career.


When watching Boyd, it is easy to see why he was passed on in the draft by 16 AFL clubs. The typical blue-collar, workmanlike footballer, Boyd lacks the polish with his skills of many star midfielders. Boyd is an absolute ball-magnet and brings other players into the game with his work rate and ability to extract the ball from stoppages.


Kirk is another that has gotten the most out of his limited natural talent. Often regarded as the spiritual leader of Sydney, Kirk captained his beloved Swans for four years and led the way with his on-field actions in the form of ferocious tackling. Kirk won Sydney’s best and fairest award in their drought-breaking premiership year of 2005 and again in 2007.


TWITTER – @jclark182

About Jackson Clark

Born and bred in Darwin, Northern Territory, I am a young, aspiring football writer that lives and breathes the game of Australian Football. I'm also a keen player and coach.


  1. Dave Brown says

    As a Crows man, Jackson, I would tender Ben Rutten and Nathan Bassett. Both All Australians with more than 200 games under the belt.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Ditto above by Dave , Ruttens record on the big key forwards such as , Brown and ,
    Tredrea is second to none both him and, Bassett used there body superbly were good decision makers with good disposal skills . Milne for me falls away with his finals record in particular the gfs were he wasn’t worth a burnt crumpet
    Big games and finals in my opinion must be used as the defining factor thanks , Jackson

  3. Good topic Jackson (was going to be this week’s Q?!).
    How about having a go at selecting a team from Rookies – from the backline, of course?

  4. [player from team I support] has clearly been overlooked in your hastily compiled list.

    Nah, good work Jackson. Shout out to Spud Firrito, Patch Adams, and Josh Gibson. Nick Maxwell probably deserves a mention, and Podsiadly’s achieved a fair bit from a late start.

    In ten years’ time we’ll all be marvelling at how Kayne Turner got through to the rookie draft in 2013.

  5. Oh, and Sam Gibson going from rookie list to leadership group within 3 seasons is a good get by my mob, even though he’s not likely to rise to the heights of any of your list.

  6. Keiran Croker says

    I’d be adding Heath Grundy and Nick Smith from the Swans. Pyke is getting close to 100 games as well.

  7. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Nick Maxwell must be right up there and a great idea to pick a team from rookies may be v a team of draft choices after choice 50 ?

  8. Skip of Skipton says

    You could pick three or four good teams from the Rookie Draft.

    Here’s a team of players taken at pick 50+ in the National draft since 2000.

    B- C Newman B Lake C Hooker
    HB- G Johncock S Fisher N Malceski
    C- D Cassisi D Cross M Rischitelli
    HF- R Gray J Westhoff M Stokes
    F- L Thomas J White P Medhurst
    R- B Hudson C Bird D Swan

    I/C- A Schneider J Gwilt D Jackson P Puopolo

  9. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good side Skip the weakness is a gun ruckman and 1 key forward thoughts folks ?

  10. Rulebook

    On current form, let’s insert Mike Pyke, pick 101, for Ben Hudson as your gun ruckman.

    Taylor Walker as your key forward, at pick 75 , maybe for White? Or the J Pod at pick 58 for Westhoff?.

    It’s a good side when I can’t squeeze in Matt Suckling (pick 70) or Tyson Goldsack at pick 63

    Nice work Skip

  11. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good up date Sean geez hard 1 if we were picking a side to play this week
    Westoff prob shades , Jpod and Suckling in front of Newmann , Walker even a tad out of form still shades , White bloody good side

  12. Skip of Skipton says

    I didn’t pick Tex Walker because he came via a NSW scholarship pick. I left out S Tuck and J Patfull because they were previously in the system as rookies at other clubs. Suckling was a rookie promotion at pick 70. As were others like Pyke and Pods etc.

    Eddie Betts was a pre-season draft pick and could probably be included. Plenty of good small forwards taken late.

  13. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Simon Goodwin and Tyson Edwards also qualify in that regard being pre season draft choices

  14. Skip of Skipton says

    I only picked players drafted in the 2000s Malcolm. Heaps of guns taken late in the ’90s drafts. Less intelligence, screening and testing back then.

  15. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good point Skip my fault

  16. Rick Kane says

    Good thought provoking article Jackson. Of the 7 listed I would put Mal Michael No.1. Best backman since Chris Langford. A couple left off the list worthy of consideration (says Hawks fan) are Brad Sewell and Gibbo. Cheers

  17. Keiran Croker says

    Another one for the 50+ side is the forgotten Alex Johnson with a premiership medal. Hopefully for the Swans he can get back after three knee regos in less than two years.

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