Walsh v Stack: The Rising Star race is on
Their journeys to AFL stardom could hardly have been more different. Yet when the AFL Rising Star for 2019 is announced, Sam Walsh and Sydney Stack could be standing side-by-side.
Sydney Stack has much more rough-and-tumble about him.
He could so easily have fallen through the cracks after a difficult family upbringing, a torturous path to the big time and a draft where every single club ignored him.
Walsh effortly cranks out 16km games while Stack couldn't stop throwing up all summer on the training track.
RESILIENCE: SYDNEY STACK'S JOURNEY TO THE BIG TIME
Together these polar opposites should be dead even for the Rising Star betting.
Stack's stunning foray forward saw him dragged in to $4 from $8 last week, then hours later Walsh peeled off another 30-possession, eight-tackle game.
It was the perfect ammunition for the Carlton army who went nuts on Twitter about suggestions Stack might the man to win the increasingly prestigious award.
But in truth nothing Stack does denigrates Walsh's performance in any way.
It just means it sets up a knock-em-down, drag-em-out contest to the line with eight rounds remaining.
You could use the stats or Champion Data relative ratings to measure them against each other, but they play such different roles you can just use your eye.
Walsh is a phenom, a gifted ball winner who always takes the right option as a surging runner who has barely played a bad game in his 14 matches so far.
He is an elite contested and pressure player with barely a flaw in his game.
What do you think? Is Walsh or Stack the current Rising Star leader? ⭐️ https://t.co/6CIAFk6PT0— SuperFooty (AFL) (@superfooty) June 30, 2019
But what makes this race so interesting is that Stack's brilliance combines with a stunning level of consistency for someone so young.
Consider his last four games - 107 ranking points against Geelong (24 possessions at 81 per cent efficiency), 70 ranking points against Geelong, 103 ranking points against Adelaide (22 possessions), then four goals 98 ranking points and eight score involvements against St Kilda.
He was quiet second-up against Port Adelaide - 11 possessions, 40 ranking points, still went at 83 per cent efficiency - yet in every other game he has found a way to shine.
He is hard as a cats head, he barely wastes a possession, he is incredibly versatile, he is a flawless kick, he chooses tough options and he is now a goalkicker.
And if the Rising Star judges have an ounce of theatre about them they could be swayed by his incredible story.
Either would be a worthy winner.
Last year Jayden Stephenson was awarded the most votes ever polled - 52 - in a runaway victory, so regardless of your choice this year's presentation should be mouth-watering.
For me Stack's story echoes everything good about this game - a recruiter who refused to quit on him, a coach who took him into his home, a player prepared to do the hard work, a precocious talent unfolding in front of our eyes.
That alone isn't enough to win the Rising Star, but his week-in and week-out performances are, which is why he is my Rising Star after 15 rounds.