Ones to Watch: AFLW Draft eligible surprise packets

EVERY year players produce some out-of-the-box games, but occasionally, those performances stick and become the new norm, helping certain talents put their best foot forward towards the AFL Women’s Draft. In this special edition, we have highlighted 10 players to keep an eye on after piecing together some impressive 2021 seasons.

Tahlita Buethke (South Adelaide/South Australia)
23/01/2002 | 167cm
Balanced Midfielder

Only managing the three games last year in her 18th year, Buethke became a regular fixture in the South Adelaide squad, to not miss a game when she was available – outside state representation – and really have more of an influence on games. For the first half of the SANFL Women’s season, Buethke might have had a quiet first half, then exploded, but once she returned from the AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships, Buethke went from a wing position onball and had 17 clearances in four weeks to show she was more than capable of standing up in any midfield role. Her burst of speed and athleticism as a whole are among the best in the draft crop, and she is building her consistency more with each game.

Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)
23/12/2003 | 163cm
Inside Midfielder

The inside midfielder produced a remarkably consistent season in 2021, averaging more than 21 disposals, as well as four marks and four tackles per game for the Geelong Falcons in the NAB League Girls. She won the club best and fairest, and was a standout performer for Vic Country as well, consistently cracking in on the inside and clearing the ball from danger. One of the top inside midfielders in the draft crop this year, Craven certainly shot up this year having averaged the seven touches from two games in the limited 2020 season, but showed with her ball use and decision making, that she can have a real impact on the game in the forward half.

Dana East (Swan Districts/Western Australia)
10/06/2002 | 167cm
Inside Midfielder

Another inside midfielder but this time as a top-age (almost) 19-year-old, East has come on in leaps and bounds in 2021 with her slick hands and contested ball-winning abilities. East was previously playing local football in Western Australia, but since stepping up to the WAFL Women’s and developing rapidly within the State Academy, the talented midfielder has been one of the most consistent players in the competition. Not only does she extract the ball well from the stoppages, but she can go forward and hit the scoreboard, often able to grab the ball at full speed and have the composure to execute by hand or foot quickly which makes her so damaging.

Abby Hewett (Wilston Grange/Queensland)
12/04/2003 | 162cm
Midfielder/Forward

Unfortunately due to various lockdowns and COVID-19 scares, Queensland players have not been able to play as much representative football against the states as they would have liked, but one draft-eligible player who has impressed in the recent weeks has been Wilston Grange’s Hewett. The small, tough midfielder was fierce against Vic Country, clearly one of the standouts and racking up eight clearances, eight tackles and 16 disposals to be the premier clearance player on the day. What stands out with Hewett is her versatility, given that in the Queensland side’s win over Coorparoo, she played predominantly forward and showed great goal sense and footy nous to kick a couple of goals and then work hard up the ground at different times.

Ella Maurer (Tasmania Devils/Allies)
01/02/2002 | 169cm
Balanced Midfielder

In terms of boosting numbers, Maurer is one of a number of players symbolic of their team’s rise, standing up to put together a really consistent season in conjunction with the Devils’ rise to the finals. Only averaging the five touches and three tackles last year, the now 19-year-old became a household ball-winner in the NAB League Girls competition, picking up 16.8 disposals and laying 4.8 tackles, as well as more than two inside 50s, and one rebound 50 per game. She then went to the Under 19s Championships where she was again one of the more impressive midfielders, and has already gained two games experience in North Melbourne’s VFL Women’s team, not looking out of place against senior opponents. A ray of consistency in 2021 and has not put a foot wrong this year.

Keeley Sherar (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)
29/10/2003 | 170cm
Balanced Midfielder

There were plenty of players who came on incredibly well in 2021 compared to their 2020 seasons, and after only managing the one game for Eastern last year, Sherar really stepped up and became a huge feature for the Ranges midfield. She averaged the 14.8 disposals, 2.2 marks and 4.8 tackles this year, and just made things happen with ball-in-hand. A creative forward half player who was best suited to winning the ball at the contest and putting it inside 50 – something she did an average of 3.4 times a game – Sherar was trusted with ball-in-hand and set up scoring opportunities for her teammates. In a side with plenty of consistent performers, Sherar certainly did her draft chances no harm with a call-up to Vic Metro and not missing a beat in the NAB League.

Aurora Smith (Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country)
13/12/2003 | 165cm
Wing

Very similar to Craven but from an outside sense, Smith was arguably the most dominant wing in the NAB League Girls competition. A ray of consistency all season even early on when the Bushrangers were struggling, Smith averaged just under 21 disposals, and more than three tackles and three marks per game. Her best work was in her metres gained though, winning the ball on the outside and bursting away with her athleticism to go inside 50 four times a game. At the AFLW Under 19 Championships, Smith spent some time on the inside to add that string to her bow, but expect the wing to be a player who catches the eye of a number of clubs given her 2021 season compiled bigger numbers than her previous two put together. A huge rise and outstanding talent.

Brooke Tonon (Glenelg/South Australia)
19/09/2003 | 166cm
Defender/Midfielder

After playing forward and back in patches last year, the 17-year-old Tonon really stepped up in her second season at SANFL Women’s level. Having come through the State Academy program and been a leader at Under 16s level, the Glenelg youngster really put together an outstanding year and show what she has to offer. Playing in a team that reached the grand final this weekend, Tonon held her spot every week she did not have state representation, and averaged the 14.8 disposals 2.5 marks, 3.2 tackles and 2.5 rebound 50s, kicking at a high-level 76 per cent efficiency. More impressively was the consistency not to drop below double-digit disposals, and it earned her a place in the Team of the Year.

Makaela Tuhakaraina (South Fremantle/Western Australia)
23/08/2003 | 158cm
Utility

A really raw player coming from a rugby background, South Fremantle’s Tuhakaraina is the definition of eye-catching. Possessing elite speed and agility, the talented utility who can play through the midfield but can slot in anywhere including forward, Tuhakaraina is hard to stop when she gets going. A powerful athlete who is still building other areas of her game, she has the tools that clubs can work around and with the development she has already made, it one to keep an eye on. The fact she is sub-160cm will not matter considering her athletic traits and ability to get out of trouble by gaining separation on her opponents.

Brooke Vickers (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
06/03/2003 | 171cm
Defender/Wing

Playing in the premiership team, Vickers did a really impressive job of still catching the eye amongst a host of other talented players. Whilst she was often stationed at half-back and then pushed up to a wing at times, Vickers was able to use the ball well coming off half-back and remain balanced and composed with ball-in-hand to deliver the ball inside 50. After averaging the eight disposals in her bottom-age year from the two available games – also big wins – Vickers stepped up to average the 13.5 disposals, and around two inside 50s and rebound 50s, as well as 3.3 tackles. She was a consistent feature for the Chargers, and while some others might have racked up bigger numbers, Vickers was a reliable player to produce transitional running.

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