The Most Dazzling Debuts in Sports

Talk about making an impression.

Tigers hooker Harry Grant has been dubbed a Queensland legend following his heroics in last night’s Origin decider that saw the Maroons walk away with the shield in a 2-1 series victory at Suncorp.  

Grant’s outstretched efforts to find the line in the 62nd minute was enough to see Wayne Bennett’s side home in their 20-14 victory, which has now left most of the NRL world reflecting on what was arguably one of the greatest Origin debuts of all time.

After watching Grant put the Maroons on his back, it inspired us to dive through the archives to uncover some of the other great debuts the sporting world has offered up.

From LeBron James to Sonny Bill, here’s a look:

Wilt Chamberlain

The writing was on the wall nice and early for Wilt Chamberlain when the future four-time MVP put up a casual 43-point double-double on debut against the Knicks in 1959.

If you could actually bet on sports back then, Chamberlain would have been the $1.05 favourite to win Rookie of the Year, which he went on to claim in an absolute canter as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors.

LeBron James

The hype was certainly there, but could the rookie live up to it?

Only months removed from playing on his high school court at St Vincent-St Mary’s, LeBron burst onto the NBA scene with 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds in his rookie debut against the Kings.

Cleveland actually lost that game, but LeBron was the real winner becoming the first player in Cavs history to earn Rookie of the Year honours.

Tim Kelly

There aren’t many players that can lay claim to having 27 touches in their AFL debut, but Tim Kelly can.

Geelong’s former second-round pick made an impact right away in the Cats’ Round 1 victory over the Demons back in 2018 that eventually led to Kelly being named Best First Year Player by the Player’s Association.

Cam Newton

Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton drew his fair share of criticism after being selected first overall by the Panthers back in 2011, but it didn’t take long for the Auburn stud to silence his doubters.

Cam was named starter heading into Carolina’s Week 1 game against the Cardinals, but little did anyone know he would go on to complete over 64% of his passes, throw for over 400 yards and also two touchdowns.

The rest of Cam’s career his been up and down to this point, but it’s fair to say he still holds the award for the most impressive rookie debut in NFL history.

Andrew Walker

Andrew Walker really gave Carlton fans something to cheer about long before his famous speccy in 2011.

As a rookie, Walker burst onto the scene in 2004 where he racked up 26 touches, nine marks, four tackles and three clearances against West Coast.

Of course, this masterpiece is what he’s most known for…

LaDainian Tomlinson

2001 was a forgettable year for the San Diego Chargers, but at least it began on a high note with first round pick LaDainian Tomlinson rushing for over 100 yards and two scores in his rookie debut against Washington.

LT lucked out to Bears running back Anthony Thomas in Rookie of the Year voting, a result that still makes Chargers fans fume to this day.

Tomlinson finished with the last laugh though earning MVP honours in 2006 as well as a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Starlin Castro

Top prospect Starlin Castro was the breath of fresh air the struggling Chicago Cubs desperately needed back in 2010.

Having lost 18 of their 33 games through the first week of May, Castro opened his big league account on May 10 with a three-run home run, a triple and 6 RBIs in Chicago’s 14-7 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

Bob Massie

The last Ashes series to end in a draw occurred way back in 1972, and that’s in large part thanks to the heroics of Australia’s medium-pacer Bob Massie during the Second Test.

After missing out on a selection in the First Test through injury, Massie was named to play the Second Test at Lord’s to help Australia level up the series.

Massie took eight wickets in the first innings and another eight in the second, helping Australia to a comfortable eight-wicket win.

Stephen Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg was drafted first overall by the Washington Nationals in 2009 and was arguably the most hyped prospect heading into his debut.  

 Fortunately for Nats fans, Strasburg didn’t let them down.

The right-hander became the first pitcher in Major League history to strikeout more than 11 batters and issue zero walks on debut.  

Auston Matthews

Plenty of first round picks turn out to be a bust in the NHL, but not Auston Matthews.

The Leafs center made his debut back in 2016 during Toronto’s season-opener against the Senators where he scored not two, not three, but four goals against Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson.

Matthews became the first player in modern NHL history to score four goals in his NHL debut, and not surprisingly, his jersey was named the highest seller not long after.

Scott Cummings

Cummings made his AFL debut for the Bombers back in 1994 in a game that would forever cement his spot in the history books.

Cummings booted a massive eight goals in the win against the Swans and, not surprisingly, went on to win the Coleman five years later.

Ryan Poehling

Only hardcore hockey fans would know the name Ryan Poehling, but he’s still worthy of a spot on this list following his heroics last year on debut for the Canadiens.

In the final game of the regular season, Poehling scored a hat-trick of goals in his rookie debut against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs, before scoring the shootout winner to cap Montreal’s season off on a high note.

Sonny Bill Williams

Who can forget Sonny Bill’s bright-eyed debut for the Bulldogs way back in 2004?

At just 18 years of age, Williams made an immediate impact setting up two tries whilst also crossing the line himself in a victory over the Parramatta Eels.

He went on to become the youngest ever player to be named to a Test side, before capping things off with a Premiership all in the same year.

Anderson Silva

Obviously Anderson Silva wasn’t a rookie when it came to professional fighting, but his UFC debut in 2005 at Ultimate Fight Night 5 is still a sight to behold.

At 30 years of age, it only took 49 seconds for Silva to knock out the previously undefeated Chris Leben with a devastating knee.

Now regarded as one of the greatest to ever set foot in the octagon, let’s just say the rest is history.

Billy Slater

Like so many others on this list, it seems Slater was always destined for greatness right from the word go.

The future star fullback made his debut for the Storm way back in 2003, although things did get off to a rocky start with Melbourne trailing the Sharks 22-0 in the early stages.

In what was also Craig Bellamy’s first game as head coach, the Storm managed to fight back to win 36-32.

Slater played a crucial part scoring a try on debut before adding two more a week later against Penrith.

Paulo Wanchope

Paul Wanchope may not be a household name to some, but if you’re a fan of Derby County, the man is practically a god.

The Costa Rican superstar made his English debut for the Rams back in 1997 where he single-handedly defeated Manchester United with a late go-ahead strike.

The goal was later voted the greatest goal in Derby County history by the fans, earning Wanchope a spot in Rams folklore.  

Izak Rankine

Matt Rowell stole the show this season for the Suns, but don’t forget Izak Rankine’s flawless three-goal debut against the Demons back in Round 6.

Anthony Martial

On a similar note to Paulo Wanchope, Manchester United striker Anthony Martial also made a bang in his Premier League debut.

Martial signed with the Red Devils for a very casual £36 million and it didn’t take long for him to make an impact against club rivals Liverpool in a famous 3-1 victory back in 2015.


The door, the flames, Vince’s famous one-liner.

Hands down the greatest debut in professional wrestling and a great way to end this list.

Tips, recommendations and commentary are for entertainment only. We provide no warranty about accuracy or completeness. You should make your own assessment before placing a bet.