TAC Cup Girls preview: Northern Knights

AFTER an impressive first season, the Northern Knights welcome some fresh eyes to the TAC Cup Girls’ program, with a new female talent coordinator, and coach for the 2018 season. Last year the Knights finished fourth overall, winning four of their five games, and have already made some big inclusions for the upcoming season, with Diamond Valley College’s sports academy coordinator Zoe Slatter appointed as female talent coordinator, and Marcus Abney-Hastings as coach. Abney-Hastings is familiar with the Knights program, having served as the defensive line coach for the boys’ squad in 2017.

Last year’s AFLW National Draft saw one Northern Knight selected, as Maddy Guerin headed to Melbourne after winning the Knights’ best and fairest award, and being selected in the 2017 TAC Cup Girls Team of the Year. Guerin has already impressed at AFLW level, holding her own at Casey Fields in the Demons’ tight victory over GWS Giants in round one.

The Knights have a number of impressive prospects heading into 2018, headlined by bottom-ager Gabby Newton, who is a member of the 2018 AFLW Academy. Having come from a basketball background, Newton has a touch of class and smarts about the way she plays and is one to watch this year. With 18 months of development still left in her before she is eligible to be drafted, Newton could emerge as one of the top 2019 draft prospects with a good season this year.

Of the top-agers to watch, Madeline Brancatisano is the first name to come to mind after impressing in the TAC Cup Girls competition last season. She covers the ground well and is a well-rounded player who predominantly plays through the midfield and is used as a link-up player in transition from defence to attack. In 2017, she was named in the best on three occasions, including a best on ground performance in a narrow two-point win over Eastern Ranges. Leadership also runs in Bracantisano’s blood with older sister Lily selected as the Knights’ inaugural captain last season.

Another player to watch from the top-agers is Alexandra Pronesti, who also played every game last season and impressed. In the Knights’ final-round win over the Dandenong Stingrays, she booted two goals and was named in the best . From her bottom-age year, Pronesti looks to be a smooth mover with a good combination of strength and speed, and can be damaging when coming off the half-back flank.

Britney Gutknecht is another bottom-ager, but burst onto the scene in 2017, playing all five games despite being two years away from being drafted. She collected a best on ground against Dandenong Stingrays in the final round, and was one of the best in the Knights’ loss to the Geelong Falcons in round one. Gutknecht managed to boot two goals last season and is a determined player who is among the most consistent in the league.

Northern also recently enjoyed training alongside the girls’ AFLW heroes when they ran through their paces with Carlton last week.

Heading into the 2018 campaign, the Northern Knights take on the Dandenong Stingrays in Beaconsfield on Saturday as part of a TAC Cup Girls’ double header, before measuring themselves against the 2017 benchmark in the Calder Cannons on March 18.

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