IN a new series focusing on the up and coming AFL Women’s Draft hopefuls, we take a look at some names who would be among their respective states’ top draft prospects for the 2020 AFL Women’s Draft. Next under the microscope is Geelong Falcons’ midfielder Laura Gardiner, one of the most prolific ball winners of this year’s cohort.
Laura Gardiner (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)
Strengths: Contested ball, accumulation, tackling, consistency
2020 NAB League stats: 2 games | 34.5 disposals | 2.0 marks | 11.5 tackles | 5.0 inside 50s | 3.0 rebound 50s | 0.5 goals (1)
2019 NAB League stats: 10 games | 13.1 disposals | 1.0 marks | 5.3 tackles | 1.7 inside 50s | 0.3 rebound 50s | 0.1 goals (1)
2019 Under 18 National Championships stats: 3 games | 11.7 disposals | 0.3 marks | 5.3 tackles | 2.0 clearances | 2.3 inside 50s | 0.3 rebound 50s
Like many prospects heading into their top-age seasons, Gardiner has thrived upon being unleashed in a more primary role for her NAB League side. After being utilised out on a wing and rotating through the engine room across 10 outings in 2019, Gardiner has blossomed into a bona fide elite inside ball winner – albeit from what a two-game sample size suggests.
Her form last year was enough to earn a berth in the Under 18 Vic Country squad, where she ran out thrice for the ‘Big V’ alongside a raft of fellow Falcons, averaging of over 11 disposals and five tackles per game. Again, with the likes of Lucy McEvoy almost permanently running through the middle of the park, Gardiner was made to find form in other positions.
In 2020, she and Darcy Moloney found their groove as the prime movers in Geelong’s side, returning dominant individual performances against good opposition. Gardiner’s two-way work rate was evident, able to dig in and extract her own ball, while ensuring the opposition would have little time in possession with her tackling pressure.
Against Gippsland in Round 1, the 165cm prospect racked up a round-high 38 disposals and laid 14 tackles, with a goal serving as the cherry on top as the Falcons got up by 33 points. The monster performance earned Gardiner the first Draft Central Player of the Week nod for 2020, and she backed it up with 31 touches against reigning premier, Northern in Round 3.
That kind of ball winning consistency is rare, especially within 15-minute quarters. While her ability to extract and release from the stoppages is terrific, Gardiner’s value does not just stop there, with a sound work rate and added dimension of outside accumulation making her a well-rounded midfield prospect.
Should the NAB League Girls get back on the park in 2020, expect Gardiner to be at the forefront of Geelong’s forward drive once again, picking up right from where she left off.