2021 AFLW Draft Positional Analysis: Tall/Medium Forwards

AFTER announcing the inaugural AFLW Draft Power Rankings Victorian Pool, Draft Central is starting a new series – Positional Analysis. It takes a look across the nation and those players within a certain position, and the impact they have. Next up is tall and medium forwards, where the forward position is the more prevalent area for utilities (ie Ella Friend is a forward/wing, whereas Charlie Rowbottom is a midfielder/forward) and we have just looked at those above 160cm. Some forwards who are considered utilities will be in other AFLW Draft Positional Analysis such as Sophie Locke. All opinions are of the individual author.

>> AFLW Draft Positional Analysis: Rucks

#1 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)
30/12/2003 | 175cm
Tall Forward/Wing

Key strengths: Contested marking, mobility, upside, penetrating kick

The top contested marking player in the draft crop, Friend will be a highly sought after talent for her ability to not only clunk the big grabs, but use her penetrating left boot in both the midfield and forward lines. Transitioning from centre half-forward to a wing in the second half of the season, Friend showcased her mobility and her knack for for winning the ball in multiple areas of the field. Only two days away from being a bottom-ager, expect Friend to have plenty of upside left in her and would be a great target for a team needing a key target up forward who can also work hard up the ground. She averaged the 16.0 disposals, 4.3 marks and 2.9 tackles per game in the 2021 season, and slotted two goals on debut for the Western Bulldogs’ VFLW side. A good size at 175cm to play anywhere on the ground.

#2 Amy Franklin (Claremont/Western Australia)
04/02/2003 | 177cm
Tall Forward/Tall Defender

The AFL Women’s Academy member is in contention for West Coast’s top selection given her versatility and ability as the standout tall in her state. Franklin is capable of playing at both ends, but is more dominant as a forward, and has some traits that point to serious upside. With athleticism – in particular speed – that is rare in a player of her size, Franklin is also someone who can clunk contested marks and move well around the ground. She does not need to win a lot of the ball to have an impact in the game, often kicking a couple of goals in a quarter as she did a couple of weeks ago for Claremont against Subiaco in the WAFL Women’s. At the AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships, Franklin predominantly played back for 10.5 disposals, 2.0 marks and 3.0 rebound 50s, though did kick a goal when swung forward.

#3 Mikayla Pauga (Bond University/Brisbane Lions Academy/Queensland)
10/04/2003 | 161cm
Medium Forward/Midfielder

Key strengths: Clean hands, footy IQ, forward craft, disposal

It might be considered a stretch at 161cm to call Pauga a medium forward, but her traits – such as her strength in the air and ability to be a focal point in transition – allow her to play taller than she is. Capable of going into the midfield and having an impact, Pauga is most damaging as a high half-forward, used as a link-up player to get the ball inside 50. Now at Bond University having come from Maroochydore, the Brisbane Lions Academy member has enjoyed a great QAFL Women’s season, and is a classy ball user. The work she does off the ball is just as impressive, but her clean hands – and ability to dish off in a split second – are what can create plays and scoring opportunities and why she is a member of the AFLW Academy.

#4 Jess Doyle (Manly/Sydney Swans Academy/Allies)
15/09/2003 | 170cm
Medium Forward/Midfielder

Key strengths: Overhead marking, speed, one-on-ones, X-factor

One of the more exciting talents in the AFLW Draft pool, Doyle captained the Sydney Swans Academy this year and showed why she is a member of the AFLW Academy. Whilst a raw talent, Doyle looked natural up forward with her speed off the mark, leap, overhead mark and goal sense making her a damaging player when inside 50. She also pinch-hit in the midfield and used her one-on-one ability at both ground level and in the air, to match it with more experienced players and win her fair share of the ball. The talented medium-tall is the top prospect out of NSW/ACT and whilst the Swans might not have a team at this stage, Doyle is sure to make an impact at the top level and be exciting for years to come.

#5 Gabbi Featherston (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)
12/11/2003 | 169cm
Medium Forward/Ruck

Key strengths: Vertical leap, penetrating kick, aggression, upside

Standing at 169cm you would not expect someone to be listed as a ruck, but such is Featherston’s leaping ability that she has indeed become a secondary ruck at NAB League Girls level. Pinch-hitting in there to average 4.3 hitouts per game, Featherston is at her most dominant around the half-forward line where she can lead out, clunk grabs and show great courage in the air or at ground level. Whilst she could improve her composure around goal – she had plenty of chances that were opportunities which went begging – her ability to have so many chances and create opportunities is impressive. She is a raw talent with plenty of upside, and with a long, penetrating kick and strong hands, she is a valuable addition to any forward line.

#6 Lauren Breguet (Central District/South Australia)
14/02/2003 | 164cm
Medium Forward

Key strengths: Explosiveness, speed, overhead marking, forward craft

An exciting forward with plenty of eye-catching traits, Breguet has showcased her numerous athletic capabilities in the SANFL Women’s competition this year. Able to clunk some strong marks, then burn off opponents to create goal-scoring opportunities, Breguet has plenty of upside for the future. In her seven games at SANFL Women’s level this year, Breguet averaged the 10 disposals, 2.4 marks, 3.0 tackles and slotted four goals. Whilst it might not sound like a lot, her impact with ball-in-hand is what stands out, such as her 14-disposals, four-mark, four-tackle, one-goal game against North Adelaide in Round 6. At the AFLW Under 19 Championships, she averaged a similar 10.7 disposals and 5.0 tackles, slotting a goal and showing glimpses of her talent.

#7 Ashanti Bush (NT Thunder/Allies)
18/08/2002 | 162cm
Medium Forward

Key traits: Forward craft, evasion, footy smarts, goal sense

The sole Northern Territory member of the AFL Women’s Academy, Bush has a lot of potential as a deep forward, causing all sorts of headaches to opponents one-on-one. She is smart with her positioning and recovery, either able to take the mark, or bring the ball to ground, then apply scoreboard pressure. She knows where the goals are, and showed that during the Thunder’s clash with GWV Rebels in the NAB League Girls, kicking two goals in as many minutes to win the game for her side. Not a huge ball-winner, Bush is able to hit the scoreboard consistently, already booting three goals in two games for Hawthorn VFL Women’s side in her two games, whilst kicking a goal in her sole match against Western Australia at the AFLW Under 19s Championships.

#8 Ashleigh Richards (Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country)
22/10/2003 | 167cm
Medium Forward/Midfielder

Key strengths: Goal sense, defensive pressure, footy smarts, competitiveness

A nice versatile talent, Richards is capable of playing deep forward, high forward or even through the midfield which can be a point of difference for many goal-scoring types. Earning a place with Vic Country, Richards slotted a goal and averaged 11.5 disposals from her two games, backing up a really solid NAB League Girls season. In six games, she averaged the 12.2 disposals, 2.3 tackles and booted seven goals – 1.2 per game – which showed her ability to regularly hit the scoreboard. That form carried into the VFL Women’s where, playing forward, Richards has already booted three goals in three games, averaging 83 disposals and 2.0 marks, able to find space inside 50 against bigger bodies.

#9 Chloe Reilly (East Fremantle/Western Australia)
12/10/2003 | 163cm
Medium Forward/Medium Defender

Key strengths: Versatility, overhead marking, powerful kick, one-on-ones

When you watch Reilly for the first time, you do a double-take at the listed 163cm height, because whilst she might be smaller than her opponents, quite often she is able to either leap higher than them, read the ball better than them, or clunk grabs better than them. Her one-on-one ability is quite impressive as is her overhead strength. Couple these traits with her powerful kicking, and Reilly has enough about her to suggest she could play at either end, which she has done this season at WAFL Women’s level for East Fremantle. Primarily a forward though, Reilly has great aggression at the ball and does not take a backwards step, almost having the chance to win the game for Western Australia against Vic Metro after the siren, and whilst that did not work out, Reilly still had a solid carnival, booting two goals and averaging 11.3 disposals, 2.0 marks, 1.7 inside 50s, 2.0 rebound 50s and kicking a couple of majors in an all-round effort.

#10 Jemima Woods (Western Jets/Western Bulldogs VFLW)
28/05/2003 | 174cm
Tall Forward/UTILITY

Key strengths: Forward craft, athleticism, clean hands, upside

The talented tall forward has come on in leaps and bounds this season, developing her game to play further up the ground in season 2021, and even pinch-hitting in the ruck. At 174cm she is able to compete well one-on-one with a high work rate and clever leading patterns to find the ball inside 50 thanks to her athleticism. More often than not though, Woods has found herself being the first target in the forward half, then looking for options inside 50, with more than three inside 50s per game to go with her four goals from eight matches. Averaging almost 12 touches per game at NAB League Girls level, Woods burst onto the VFLW scene with three goals on debut for the Western Bulldogs, and whilst the going has been tougher since, still has some great upside for the future.

OTHERS:

The three other tall or medium forward talents identified to fit under the category with AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites are Oakleigh Chargers’ Eliza James, Casey Demons’ Imogen Milford and Claremont’s Tessa Doumanis. James is an exciting type who creates plenty of opportunities inside 50, Milford is the tallest on this list at 179cm and a huge chance to take out the leading goalkicker award in the VFLW, while Doumanis is a clever forward with a potent left foot. A couple of other talents without Draft Combine invites include Collingwood’s Imogen Barnett and Tasmania Devils’ Amy Prokopiec who have both found the big sticks plenty in the VFLW and NAB League Girls respectively this year. From a non-Victorian perspective, South Australia’s Jade Halfpenny and Queensland’s Lily Tarlinton are both capable as tall options.

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