That 22-disposal effort highlighted by a crafty goal on his non-preferred right boot announced Serong’s arrival to the AFL and earned his Rising Star nomination, his class and evasiveness evident to the judges.
All-Australian gongs for WA stars
West Coast had an equal league-high three players in the final All-Australian team also announced on Thursday night, while cross-town rivals Fremantle had one.
Eagles Liam Ryan, Brad Sheppard and Nic Naitanui were named in the starting 18, while fourth-year Docker Luke Ryan earned his first nod after a superb intercept role in defence as fellow key backmen succumbed to injury.
Naitanui was picked as first ruck, eight years after his one and only other All-Australian selection, while Ryan also earned his first selection after kicking 25 goals and creating many more for his teammates in 2020.
Dockers captain and 2019 Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe missed out on a fourth nod, as did teammate and first-time nominee Matt Taberner and Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury, .
Geelong superstar Patrick Dangerfield was named captain of the 2020 side after earning selection for an eighth time, and sixth in succession, in his 13th AFL season.
Travis Boak may no longer be captain of Port Adelaide but his brilliant season was capped with selection as vice-captain in the centre.
Brownlow favourite and former Docker Lachie Neale, who won the evening’s AFLPA best player award, and Demon Christian Petracca, were named ruck-rover and rover respectively.
Serong, who co-captained Vic Country last year, was drafted from Gippsland and debuted in round four against Gold Coast, one of the club’s three top 10 picks with Hayden Young (7) and Liam Henry (9).
He started his junior footy with the Warragul Colts Junior Football Club after moving from Inverloch at age 11 and made his senior debut for Warragul four years later before joining Gippsland in the NAB League, where he averaged 24 disposals, seven clearances and a goal per game in 2019.
That excellent year was capped when Serong co-captained Vic Country at the Under-18 National Championships, winning that representative side’s MVP award and being selected in both the Under-18 All Australian side and Team of the Year.
Serong was honoured to be recognised for his outstanding debut season.
“There are some great players who have gone on to do some great things in football and it’s nice to be recognised with those guys and it’s truly humbling and a massive honour,” he said.
“My biggest goal at the start of the year was to play AFL footy and to make my debut, ideally to just keep my spot in the team.”
Serong trained with his younger albiet taller brother Jai during the season lockdown, when he steeled himself to break into Fremantle’s improving first 22.
“I think I set a few goals from the shutdown period just to initially debut and once I made my debut I didn’t want to give up my spot in the team,” he said.
“Ever since I was four or five I wanted to play AFL footy. I just wanted to run around the backyard, kicking the footy, that was just always my dream.
“My family have always been there to support me and I love them very much and thank them.”
Fremantle’s first-year coach Justin Longmuir said Serong should be proud of his outstanding debut season.
“He deserves it. He’s been a really solid contributor … on the field he’s done a great job with all the challenges we’ve thrown at him, he’s been asked to play on some really good players and done it extremely well while being able to win his fair share of the ball as well,” he said.
“It’s his competitiveness and the strengths he brings to the table that gave us the confidence as a coaching group to give him those challenges.
“He prepared for a challenge really well, did his homework, and was able to execute most of the time. He’s had a really great year and we’re looking forward to seeing so much more from him in the years to come.”
2020 NAB AFL Rising Star Voting:
1st – Caleb Serong, Fremantle – 48 votes
2nd – Noah Anderson, Gold Coast SUNS – 39 votes
3rd – Max King, St Kilda – 28 votes
4th – Izak Rankine, Gold Coast SUNS – 16 votes
5th – Will Day, Hawthorn – 12 votes
David writes about sports and lifestyle for WAtoday.