Exciting Eleven: North Melbourne’s VFLW Tasmanian connection strong

WHEN North Melbourne’s Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s side runs out against Essendon tomorrow at Windy Hill, there will be plenty on the line in terms of finals calculations for the blue and white stripes. However beyond the fact the Kangaroos must win in order to remain a chance to play in the post-season series, they will also make history by having a record 11 Tasmanian players in the side.

More than half the team coming from the Apple Isle is an achievement at any level, and North Melbourne AFLW/VFLW list and performance manager Rhys Harwood said the connection the club had with the most southern state in Australia was special.

“We have 11 players playing this week who were born or a Tasmanian player by heritage which is cool,” he said. “It’s a combination of our AFLW players who are playing, and are from Tassie. “We have a couple of Tasmanians who have moved up here to play permanently, then we have a couple who fly up from the TSLW each or some weeks, and then we have three players who are coming up from the Tassie NAB League team, so 11 in total which is exciting.”

Harwood said while the club had played some exhibition games before which showcased a plethora of Tasmanian talent, 11 players from the Apple Isle in a VFL Women’s game for points was a record. He said the link with Tasmania had its challenges, but was “overwhelmingly beneficial” for the club and players involved. Three Tasmania Devils NAB League Girls players will run out again for the side, with AFL Women’s Academy member Perri King making her debut at VFLW level, joining Ella Maurer and Jemma Blair in the side after they debuted last week.

“She’s had a fantastic year, we’re really excited to give her the opportunity to have a run around,” Harwood said of King’s NAB League season. But the teenage Tasmanian trio were not the only ones who might be watched for a potential AFL Women’s list spot in the future.

Meagan Kiely‘s our captain, she’s had a fantastic year, I think she leads the comp in disposals, marks and a few other statistics, and she’s probably been our most consistent player across the course of the year, and played a few different roles for us as well, so she’s been pretty significant,” Harwood said.

Sarah Skinner as well has played 11 games now, she flies up most weeks, she’s had a really strong year, taking her game to another level. “Then Meg Sinclair is another one. “We’ve had a few others on the list as well who might not play this weekend but have been able to contribute as well. “It’s been good, to be honest it’s really helped us and really strengthened our on-field personnel, and obviously keeps working on that connection and relationship we have with Tassie.”

While it might be daunting for teenagers to come into the stronger state league program, Harwood said the main aim was to expose them to the higher level of football. While it might be tempting to ease them into roles, the North Melbourne AFLW list manager said the club would give them the exposure to play to their strengths, and in the roles that earned them a call-up to the level.

“Probably one of our philosophies AFLW, VFLW across the whole women’s program is to play players to their strengths and their weapons, so we’re cognisant of when girls come across is to play the roles they’ve been excelling at, and the reason they’ve been picked to come up,” Harwood said. “So Perri will start inside the centre square on Saturday and she’ll shoulder some pretty big minutes inside, Ella Maurer will play inside and go forward, and Jemma Blair will start on as a defender.

“We just want to expose to them the high level of playing similar roles that they’ve played and we think they can play going forward. “I think the thing is you need to provide them a really good opportunity to show what they can do when they’re up here, and I think they get the most out of it that way.”

While there is no doubt many of the Tasmanian players will be carefully watched by the North Melbourne recruiting team, Harwood said he suspects a number of the VFLW- listed talents would also be on opposition club radars, which is only a positive thing for the players. When asked if the club was looking to develop them into AFLW players or at least pushing for an AFLW spot in the future, Harwood was steadfast.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I think a number of the Tassie players on our VFLW list and also the girls coming up are right in the draft mix, for not only us but I assume other clubs as well. “I think that’s the type of players we look to bring into our VFLW programs, to bring up. “Players that we can expose to our system, expose to other clubs, and that we think have long-term scope to play AFLW.

“Meagan Kiely’s a great example of a player that I think has been able to put so many runs on the board this year that she would be a consideration for a number of clubs I would suspect. “Sarah Skinner the same, it’s obviously hard for a lot of clubs to see a lot of TSLW, we obviously do, but a lot of clubs probably don’t get the opportunity, so the capacity to bring her up and expose her to other clubs is great as well. “I think all of the players that we bring up or that are playing, are really pushing, and all are really keen to play AFLW. “That’s one thing we want to do is bring up players who want to take their game to the next level.”

Looking ahead to the clash with Essendon, Harwood said all the players wanted to be able to play finals, and whilst they will not only need to win their remaining games but hope other results go their way – such as Southern Saints and Western Bulldogs losing multiple games in the run home – the last few regular season games were all about development.

“I thought we had our best win on the weekend (against Hawthorn), it keeps us in the finals hunt,” he said. “We’re obviously still pushing for that and ambitious for that. But to be honest, as we go each week it’s just about improving our systems or the way we want to play. “There’s a few different things, like our AFLW players are really keen to keep giving development opportunities to, so we expose them to a few new roles and a few different scenarios.

“The NAB League girls we bring up we really want to expose them to the level and just see how they fit into our system. “Then the rest of the players as well are really pushing to keep playing finals and I feel like we have a number of players this year who have really thrown their hands up to being considered by AFLW clubs so for them it’s just about keeping on the path they’ve been going on for the last probably 12 or 13 weeks.”

Having 11 Tasmanians in the side will be something special for not only the players themselves and the club, but for their friends and family back home, and Harwood said it was a credit to Tasmania Devils’ region talent operations manager and head coach Cameron Joyce, as well as AFL Tasmania, for the way they have been able to develop the NAB League program recently.

“I thought they were one of the stronger NAB League teams, one of the more organised teams on-field, and the players are reaping the rewards of that and really pushing their names up,” Harwood said. “They’ve done a fantastic job and we’re really loving what they’re doing and wider down in Tassie as well the way they’re promoting their talent is really good, and it’s really great to be able to have a partnership with them and to hopefully get as many Tasmanians playing AFLW as we can.”

North Melbourne lock horns with Essendon from 10am tomorrow morning at Windy Hill with Essendon able to lock up a finals spot with a win, knocking North Melbourne out of the race in the process, whilst the Roos can keep their season alive with a victory.

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