Brenna Harding and Ashleigh Cummings in Puberty Blues.
When the cast list for Channel Ten's Puberty Blues was announced, there was a lot of focus on the big names. But it was Brenna Harding as Sue who ended up both making, and stealing, the show. Just 16 and with an understandably limited CV - an episode of My Place, a short stint on Rafters - she was compelling as the plainer, more contemplative, more troubled of the two best friends. Whatever she does next, we know it'll be good.
Most people recognise the face from McLeod's Daughters and the New Zealand-born actor has - like so many in the trade - been something of a ''Hey! It's that guy!'' in any number of local dramas, from Wildside to Wild Boys. But as Frank ''Tink'' O'Rourke in Underbelly: Badness, he really showed us what he could do, demonstrating a wonderful combination of toughness and vulnerability in the kind of understated performance we'd love to see more of. He's now working a two-month stint on Neighbours; next up, he's a corrections officer in the Prisoner remake, Wentworth.
Playing Miss Goody Two-Shoes - without becoming boring or repellent - is a tough gig, but Zoe Tuckwell-Smith absolutely nails it. Channel Seven is actually very good at finding relative unknowns and giving them a break, and as Bec in Winners & Losers - Tuckwell-Smith's first big role after doing the rounds of Australian dramas - she brings genuine sweetness without ever being saccharine. The depth she brings to what could be an anodyne role really impresses.
Never underestimate the talent lurking in our soaps. For a lot of people - especially the under 25s - Lincoln Younes is simply Casey Braxton. But his previous gig was as troubled teen Romeo Kovac in the classy high-concept Showcase drama Tangle. There, as the son to Ben Mendelsohn's equally troubled Vince, he beautifully embodied the sins of the father and he brings much of that combination of heartache, frustration and simmering testosterone to his current role. A genuine leading man in the making.
Although the name is not instantly familiar, you would recognise him immediately - the bald head, the quizzical, slightly pointed features, the air of quiet vulnerability. Born in England, Bell has worked extensively in Australian theatre, film and TV for more than 20 years. He's your go-to villain (Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Jack Irish) but he's remarkably versatile, moving effortlessly between comedy (The Games) and drama (Satisfaction). It'd be great to see him tackle a meaty lead role.
Best known as a stage actor and playwright, Dykstra has only occasionally appeared on TV, usually in minor roles. But two seasons of Rake has changed that. He is unforgettable as Barney, the long-suffering friend and colleague to Richard Roxburgh's insufferably unreliable Cleaver Greene. Dykstra manages to find the perfect balance between the comic, almost farcical elements of scripts and the genuine drama and pathos. Hopefully, casting agents now see him as more than just a character actor.
Nicole da Silva
Senior Constable Stella Dagostino was the wild child of Rush's rapid-response team. The ideally cast da Silva has a tomboyish athleticism that worked well for Rush, but she can do the glamour, too, as she demonstrated in Carla Cametti PD. Da Silva arrived via a multi-episode stint in All Saints, but made her mark as the reckless EC in the drama Dangerous. Her smile can light up a scene, but she excels at characters with an edge. Next she is Franky Doyle in the Prisoner remake, Wentworth.
Playing the elusive object of desire for Kat Stewart's Nat in the final season of Tangle, Dan Wyllie invested his character with remarkable depth. Chub was a smooth charmer, but Wyllie managed to suggest the murky depths that lurked beneath the well-polished surface. He has great range: he can do unsettling evil, easygoing domesticity (Puberty Blues), or goofy comedy. In Love My Way, he also showed off his leading-man credentials. He should get that chance more often.
Beth Buchanan deployed her pert, pretty face and doll-like eyes to great advantage as Rita, the quixotic, on-again, off-again girlfriend of Alex Burchill (Adam Zwar) in Lowdown. A blithe yet calculating spirit, Rita can be simultaneously infuriating and adorable and, with the role, Buchanan (Blue Heelers, Neighbours) demonstrated a light touch with comedy and a capacity to play the margins, never allowing Rita to lose her charm.
Davis burst on to the scene playing gay teenager Richie in The Slap, but in Tangle we saw the emotional maturity and adolescent awkwardness that the actor - who is about to turn 21 - could bring to the screen. Richie was Connie's friend who mistook loyalty for consequences when he disseminated an ugly lie about Hector, but it was his vulnerability rather than malice that we took away.
In The Slap, Anthony Hayes did something extraordinary. He turned Gary, the resentful father of the slapped brat Hugo, into a man who inspired empathy. Hayes gave him depth and dimension. It was a standout contribution from an actor who's served an extensive TV apprenticeship: Beaconsfield, Jack Irish and the mini-series Bikie Wars - in which he displayed a brooding, volcano-about-to-erupt quality. Hayes does menace well, excels as a knockabout bloke, and can also bring substance to a fleeting support role.
Jeremy Lindsay Taylor
If there was one thing to take from last year's Underbelly: Razor - aside from Anna McGahan's audacious turn - it was Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, playing Melbourne criminal Norman Bruhn with chilling intensity. Demonstrating his range, this year he was superb in Puberty Blues as Martin Vickers, the seemingly amiable father with a bad haircut and a wandering eye. He epitomised the show's darker side and its near-constant undercurrent of suburban angst.
Leah Vandenberg ended her stint on Play School two years ago after 250 episodes. However, after Adam Zwar's comedy series Lowdown and Agony Aunts, we now know she does Sarah Silverman-esque funny - deadpan, withering, scathing, with a touch-of-honey one-liners that leave you wincing as they register. Her reply to the date from hell who inquired when she last had sex - ''4pm'' - without batting an eyelid, remains one of the funniest TV moments of this year.
By coincidence, Aaron Pedersen has the honour of playing in a handful of underrated shows, such as the little-seen SBS drama The Circuit, MDA and Wildside. Even on the more conventional City Homicide, he brought a presence that was intense as a foot-soldier cop with a lot of unresolved anger. He made a welcomed return in the recent Jack Irish telemovies, playing Irish's loyal protector with a sixth sense for danger, untrustworthy bookies and horses. More, please.