Sport’s best new faces of 2023: Breakout stars, talented teens and tons of talent among rookie class

With the end of the calendar year nearly upon us, The Roar is looking back at the sporting highlights, lowlights and moments that mattered for 2023 in Australia and beyond. 

After intense debate at Roar HQ, we’ve nutted out the best new faces of the past 12 months.

Sport has a never-ending cycle of the next generation of talent coming through the ranks to replace the champions of the past and the sky is the limit for these rising stars.

We can’t name them all – who did we miss? Let us know in the comments below.

Best new faces of 2023

AFL – Harry Sheezel: The 18-year-old Kangaroo played all 23 games in his debut campaign after being selected with pick No.3 in last year’s draft. Originally a forward, he was used at half-back by coach Alastair Clarkson and impressed with his skills, smarts, temperament and class.

Football – Kyra Cooney-Cross: While she’s been earning her stripes in the W-League for a few years, the 21-year-old rose to national attention with the Matildas’ World Cup campaign on home soil in August. The midfielder is short in stature but she covered an incredible amount of ground for Australia, defending like a demon and setting up her attackers up front. And an Arsenal contract was waiting for her after the tournament as just reward.

Kyra Cooney-Cross vs West Ham

— Laura Veen Comps Specialist (@veencomps) November 26, 2023

Rugby – Max Jorgensen: The fleet-footed teenager made his Waratahs debut at the start of the year and after 11 impressive appearances was selected in the Wallabies’ World Cup squad. However, a broken leg in training ended his season early but Australian rugby fans are banking on the 19-year-old to be part of a much-needed revival for the sport.

Football – Nestory Irankunda: The 17-year-old Tanzanian-born prodigy is the hottest young talent in Australian footbal and the young winger now has the world at his feet after completing a transfer from Adelaide United to one of the biggest clubs on the planet in Bayern Munich. He has already registered plenty of highlights even though Adelaide have taken a cautious approach to his development.

NRL – Jahream Bula: The poor old Wests Tigers haven’t had much to write home about after being lumped with the wooden spoon the past two years but they unearthed a star of the future in this speedy young fullback. Bula scored five tries in his 18 appearances and gave frustrated Tigers fans hope for the future that they have finally found a fullback they can rebuild their team around. 

Cricket – Phoebe Litchfield: Tipped to be the next big thing in Australian women’s cricket since being identified as a precious teenager, the 19-year-old, who made her Australian debut last December, has quickly established her spot in the star-studded line-up, highlighted by an unbeaten 106 in an ODI against Ireland in July.

Football – Alejandro Garnacho: The 19-year-old Argentinian is becoming a fan favourite at Manchester United for his skilful play down the left wing. He set up the winning goal in the Manchester derby earlier this year and last week unveiled an acrobatic bicycle kick which will be a strong challenger for EPL goal of the season.

Cricket – Todd Murphy: The bespectacled off-spinner quickly made a name for himself at Victoria and announced himself on the world stage with seven wickets in his Test debut at Nagpur. The 23-year-old played all four matches on the Indian tour and two more in the Ashes to bag 21 wickets at 25.42 in a very promising start to his international career.

Motor sport – Oscar Piastri: The young Australian has just completed his first season in the Formula 1 and the McLaren rookie ending up ninth, highlighted by two podium finishes – a third in Japan and runner-up at Qatar. The 22-year-old Victorian has re-signed with McLaren for three more years.

NBA Victor Wembanyama – You have to see the French phenom to believe him. A 7’4” centre with the skills of a guard, a reliable outside shot and elite defensive capabilities. The 19-year-old rookie is producing jaw-dropping highlights nearly every time he steps on the court for the San Antonio Spurs.

Victor Wembanyama. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Swimming – Mollie O’Callaghan: Although she collected three medals at the 2021 Olympics for her efforts as a heat swimmer in the relays, O’Callaghan emerged as a star in her own right at this year’s World Championships, also in Japan. She won the 100m and 200m freestyle finals and also pocketed three relay golds. The 19-year-old Queenslander will be one to watch at next year’s Paris Olympics.

Cricket – Rachin Ravindra: The big names came out to shine at the recent World Cup but one player who was virtually unheard of beforehand was the young Kiwi left-hander who was the breakout star of the tournament. He finished fourth in the run-scorers with 578 at 64.22, striking at 106 and smacking three tons and two half-centuries along the way.

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