Already favourite for the AFL’s Rising Star award, Collingwood forward Jaidyn Stephenson could be a major weapon in September as the Magpies march towards a finals berth.
Stephenson had another big game on Saturday night as the Magpies climbed to fifth on the ladder with a 31-point win over Brisbane at Etihad Stadium.
The 19-year-old gathered a career-high 25 disposals to go with two majors in a versatile performance that should give the Pies plenty of options come September.
Stephenson’s work up the ground allowed coach Nathan Buckley to utilise Jordan De Goey (four goals) in a deep-forward role on return from a stress injury in his lower leg.
“He played up the field a little bit more with Jordy in that striking role and still kicked a couple of goals himself,” Buckley said.
“You get worked out a little bit early in your career. You come in with strengths and then the opposition have a little bit more of a look at you and try to work you out.
“I think Jaidyn’s been able to take strides through a couple of those stages throughout the year and continually impact for us.”
Stephenson’s ability to play every game in his debut season, booting 30 goals, has been particularly valuable given the Magpies’ significant injury toll.
“We thought that we would have to manage him through the year and we have … probably through the week, and the mid-season bye helps,” Buckley said.
“But he just keeps backing up, and if he has a quiet one he generally pops up the next week and comes back to normal.”
Stephenson is a strong favourite to take out the Rising Star award but Brisbane coach Chris Fagan was keen to make a case for Lions half-back Alex Witherden.
The second-year Lion had 30 disposals against Collingwood and is averaging 23 touches and seven marks per game.
“They’re the sort of numbers that get people selected in All-Australian teams from time to time,” Fagan said.
“He’s been elite over the course of two seasons.
“It’ll be an interesting battle, I reckon, between those two. Both deserving winners. Bucks sees his boy every week and I see Alex every week and he’s been fantastic.”