Author: Julia Montesano

Playing for Western Australia a “dream come true” for Mikayla Bowen

WESTERN Australia (WA) Under-18 representative, Mikayla Bowen always wanted to be an elite athlete.

Now in her second year of the state program, Bowen is well on her way to achieving her dream, playing in an elite environment against some of the best female footballers in the country. She is ecstatic to be doing this in WA colours.

“Ever since I did start (playing footy), even prior to that, I’ve always watched football in a men’s competition knowing that at my age the women’s competition wasn’t even around,” Bowen said. “Having it around now and being a part of an elite level is just insane and it’s definitely a dream come true for me and for all the rest of the team as well. “I’m sure they’re all looking forward to the draft. “It’s a pathway that’s been set down for us that we can pursue. “It’s really exciting.”

Bowen is only in her third year of football and has already represented her state twice, and made the All Australian squad of 48 after a stellar AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships this year. The 17 year-old was originally inspired by her brother to take up the sport, and is now succeeding in following his footsteps.

“Having my brother as one of my biggest inspirations, he’s played football ever since he was a little tacker, so I’ve been going down to his game every Sunday and watching him play and develop as a player,” Bowen said. “Where he is now really inspired me to head down to Bassendean three years ago now and take out the first tryouts in that. “Ever since then, we’ve just kept stepping up.”

Bowen originally joined Swan Districts in Bassendean with state teammates, Mikayla and Brianna Hyde, and has thrived on the spectacular football community at the club.

“At Swan Districts, the club to me is like a family,” the 17 year-old said. “I went down there on the first day, I was treated like literally they were all my sisters, the coaches were all my family. “It’s such a welcoming environment and I think that no matter how skilled you are or how passionate you are or how long you’ve been playing the game, everybody just loves each other. “It’s a really good environment to be around.”

She admits that the travel was initially difficult but now says it is all worth it, after seeing big progress being made in her team.

“I did live in Darlington originally which is about half an hour away and not having my license, my mum is busy running her own business and I do have a younger sister as well so I wasn’t personally able to get around much with her so I was more reliant on public transport,” Bowen said. “So training started at 4.30 so I’d finished school at 3, would have to run to the bus stop or to the train station and then catch the train all the way up to Bassendean station. “It was a bit of a trek for but it was all worth it really to come and see what we did then to where we are now, every part of it was worth it, it wasn’t really a hassle in the end.”

Bowen plays in teams that are constantly improving, and would like to continue that trend individually, highlighting some skills that she would like to work on.

“I just admire how well the girls can read the play,” the WA representative said. “That’s definitely one of my key points to work on, is knowing where the ball is going to go, where i need to position myself. “I’ve looked up to a couple of girls which I’m now playing against which is really interesting because being on the field with them, they kind of drag you towards the ball and you learn where you need to be when the ball’s there, where you need to be for your teammates and it’s really just learning and living the life of an elite athlete so it’s definitely a dream come true for me.”

Away from football, Bowen hopes to put her hands-on attitude into practice, admitting that a trade would be her preferred choice of career.

“I was originally planning to go to uni and then footy did pick up for me so university didn’t seem to interest me as much when my passion for football came but I don’t take that as a negative, I really personally love hands-on stuff,” she said. “I’d probably die if I was sitting at a desk all day, that’s kind of why I play football.”

AFLW season previews: Western Bulldogs

THE reigning premiers will come into 2019 hoping to go back-to-back for the first time in the AFLW competition, having picked up a wealth of experienced players to join their side this year. But with the loss of last year’s Best and Fairest, Emma Kearney to North Melbourne and leading goalkicker, Brooke Lochland to injury for the majority of the season, their Bulldogs’ plans could be skewed.

Last season: 1st – five wins, two losses.

Changes:

In: Belinda Smith, Eleanor Brown, Aisling McCarthy, Kate Bartlett, Selena Karlson, Jessie Davies, Tessa Boyd, Celine Moody

Out: Daria Bannister, Jenna Bruton, Emma Kearney, Aasta O’Connor, Jess Anderson, Rachel Ashley, Laura Bailey, Kim Ebb

With a lot of experience lost in the off-season, the Bulldogs opted to do a straight swap in the draft, opting for more experience over youth. Paul Groves and his assistants would’ve followed the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition closely, picking up four players who had experience in that league. Classy midfielder, Eleanor Brown had the honour of adding TAC Cup Girls and Vic Metro experience to her VFLW experience last year, proving she has what it takes to shine at AFLW level. Brown can play an inside or outside role in the midfield and can roll across to the half-back line, which she did successfully in the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships in July. Brown came up against a clever forward in Kate Bartlett during those championships, who she will now play alongside at the Dogs. Bartlett played for Western Australia as a 19 year-old last year, working hard to earn a chance to play AFLW alongside another ‘KB’ in Katie Brennan.

Area of strength: Forward line

The Bulldogs have one of the most attractive forward lines in the competition. This is of course headlined by Brennan, who is a class above with her marking and goal kicking ability. If she can stay injury and suspension free this season, she will be a key part in taking the Bulldogs to the top again. She will also have Kate Bartlett inside 50 to complement her. The Western Australian forward is also strong overhead and has a great goal sense under pressure, playing as a deep or high forward. AFLW fans were starved of seeing Isabel Huntington reach her potential last season due to her heartbreaking Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury. While she had another knee scare in the off-season, the 2016 number one draft pick will be ready to go in 2019, and she will certainly be one to watch with her prowess in the air and long kick. Add in the best on ground in the Grand Final, Monique Conti and the Bulldogs have a dangerous forward line that combines dominance in the air and speed on the field.

Area of weakness: Midfield

The Bulldogs lost a key midfield duo in the off-season to North Melbourne, waving goodbye to Kearney and Jenna Bruton. While Aasta O’Connor mainly plays in defence, she was often a key cog in the ruck for the Bulldogs in seasons gone by, meaning she is another loss in the middle of the ground for the reigning premiers. The Bulldogs are fortunate that Ellie Blackburn has still stuck around, as she and Kearney combined to be a lethal duo last season. Blackburn has been elevated to the club’s co-captain alongside Brennan this season, allowing her to relish her on-field leadership as well as her obvious talent. Sandringham Dragons product, Brown could be the one to combine with Blackburn this season, as Blackburn’s great hands and precise kicks have given opposition midfields headaches in past years.

Players to watch:

Isabel Huntington

Huntington’s debut game was cruelly halted in the first half when she ruptured her ACL against Brisbane, not even getting to complete a full game in her debut appearance for the side. Now having been cleared of another ACL rupture after an innocuous training incident, Huntington is on track to play her debut game for the Bulldogs in Round 1, and if last year’s glimpse is anything to go by, she will be a dominant force inside 50. Huntington’s overhead marking is elite and she is strong in the contests. Combine that with her long kick, and she is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Naomi Ferres

Ferres had a brilliant season in the VFLW for the Western Bulldogs, taking out the club’s Best and Fairest at the end of the season. Despite only playing seven matches, Ferres was named in the best in each game, averaging 17.4 disposals per game. This included finishing off her season with three consecutive games in which she racked up 20 disposals per game. Clearly, Ferres is one that knows how to find the football and is clever both by hand and by foot, which will make her a key cog in the Bulldogs’ 2019 midfield, given the loss of Bruton and Kearney.

Eleanor Brown

Brown was one of the most composed players in the TAC Cup Girls competition last year, winning the ball with ease in the midfield. She was often able to clear space with her long kick or create space with her outside running, making her one of Sandringham’s key players across the season. Brown was named in the TAC Cup Girls Team of the Year at half-forward for her efforts, highlighting her versatility across the field. In the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships, she found herself at half-back on the last day of the Gold Coast tournament, and was a key playmaker, racking up plenty of disposals and acting as an anchor across the back line. She made the Under-18 All-Australian team because of this game and her efforts across the tournament for Vic Metro.

2019 prediction: 1st in Conference A

Despite some key losses in the off-season, the Bulldogs should still be the ones to watch when it comes to the premiership race. A forward line containing Brennan, Huntington, Conti and Bartlett, a defence containing the likes of Hannah Scott, Libby Birch and Lauren Spark and a midfield which consists of bona-fide stars in Blackburn, Brown and Ferres still makes the Bulldogs a highly talented team. Considering their success last season, they do have one of the harder draws in the 2019 season, facing off against Adelaide and the two new expansion teams in Geelong and North Melbourne, and hosting a Grand Final rematch against the Lions in the first four rounds of the season. If the Bulldogs can win at least two of those games, they will be well on track for another premiership berth, as they have an easy draw after that, facing off against Fremantle, Melbourne and Carlton in the last three rounds of the season.

AFLW season previews: North Melbourne

NORTH Melbourne’s recruiting strategy was a bold one, poaching players from all sorts of AFLW clubs. As a result, the Kangaroos did not do much damage in the draft, but still picked up some handy players to go with their experienced line-up.

List: Emma Kearney, Jasmine Garner, Jamie Stanton, Jess Duffin, Danielle Hardiman, Tahlia Randall, Jenna Bruton, Katherine Gillespie-Jones, Maddison Smith, Brittany Gibson, Daria Bannister, Ash Riddell,  Georgia Nanscawen, Elisha King, Kaitlyn Ashmore, Moana Hope, Emma King, Emma Humphries, Jasmine Grierson, Sophie Abbatangelo, Jessie Williams, Taylor Mesiti, Alison Drennan, Jess Trend, Nicole Bresnehan, Libby Haines, Chloe Haines, Courteney Munn, Daisy Bateman, Beth Lynch

The North Melbourne list has a total of four former Collingwood players, four Brisbane players, three Western Bulldogs players, two Carlton players and two Melbourne players. Out of their 30-player list, 15 players have already played AFLW, which will give the Kangaroos plenty of confidence heading into the season. They have also sourced some talented players from the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition, with Sophie Abbatangelo, Ash Riddell, Jess Trend, Courteney Munn, Alison Drennan and Beth Lynch, adding further depth to their talent pool. Top that off with some exciting Under 18 talent in Daisy Bateman, Chloe Haines and Libby Haines and North Melbourne has one of the strongest lists in the AFLW without even playing a game as a team.

Area of strength: Forward line

North Melbourne has recruited some big names in its forward line, led by former Collingwood forward, Moana Hope. This will be a big year for Hope who has copped criticism from her past two years of AFLW. Interestingly, she played no VFLW in the off-season so she comes into this AFLW season with fresh legs. She will be joined by Abbatangelo, who is arguably just as dangerous. She was dominant for Melbourne University in the VFLW and also knew how to rack up the disposals. Jasmine Garner is also likely to play inside 50, but has versatility to go back in defence as well. Add in Daisy Bateman, who came second in the TAC Cup Girls’ goal kicking, and kicked six goals for Collingwood’s VFLW side in 10 games, and North Melbourne has a pretty exciting line-up inside its forward 50.

Area of weakness: Defence

It is quite hard to find a weakness in North Melbourne’s line-up, but the structure of their defence is quite interesting. The Kangaroos have a lot of running defenders but could struggle when it comes to matching up on dangerous forwards such as Sabrina Frederick-Traub. Garner is a good-sized defender but inexperienced in the backline after spending half a season there for the Pies last year. Kate Gillespie-Jones has the strength to match up on a key position player, but her skills can sometimes disappoint. Tahlia Randall is the one who could potentially play that role but is also inexperienced.

Players to watch:

Sophie Abbatangelo

Abbatangelo was one of the first players recruited to North Melbourne and it’s not hard to see why. From eight games for Melbourne University, she averaged 15.6 disposals and also kicked four goals. Her best game came in Round 1 when she racked up 20 disposals against Geelong. Abbatangelo creates real excitement with the ball in hand and can excel both in the midfield and up forward. Given North Melbourne’s stacked midfield, Abbatangelo is likely to be used up forward for the 2019 season.

Alison Drennan

Alison Drennan was the equal winner of the Southern Saints’ Best and Fairest, along with Rhiannon Watt. She managed to rack up the disposals week in, week out, and used it well both by hand and by foot. A clever footballer that dominates on the inside, Drennan will be a key force in the North Melbourne line-up. She averaged 22.4 disposals per game, and racked up more than 20 touched on nine occasions.

Daisy Bateman

Daisy Bateman scored 14 goals in seven games for the Oakleigh Chargers in the TAC Cup Girls competition. Her best game came against the Bendigo Pioneers where she scored five goals. Bateman then went on to play for Collingwood in the VFLW and scored three goal on debut, proving she has what it takes against the bigger bodies. When representing Vic Metro, Bateman provided a great target up forward and read the ball well, often running out the back for a quick major, which is a trademark of her game.

2019 prediction: 3rd in Conference A

Although North Melbourne has a ready-made AFLW list, it’s always very hard for a new team to go straight into the finals in its first season. The Kangaroos do have a chance to get off to a good start, hosting the first ever AFLW match at Hobart against the Blues to open the season. Following that, they face the Giants, Bulldogs and Melbourne, which may prompt a wake-up call. Expect North Melbourne to be a high-scoring team with some firepower up forward, while the Haines twins should cause some havoc through the midfield and defence.

AFLW season previews: Melbourne

THE Demons have been one of the stronger sides in the AFLW during the past two seasons. But with a big loss of players in the off-season, we will see a new-look Melbourne outfit on the park in 2019. Perhaps the biggest loss of the season was losing star midfielder, Daisy Pearce, which will undoubtedly challenge Mick Stinear to change his game plan heading into 2019.

Last season: 3rd – four wins, three losses.

Changes:

In: Maddison Gay, Talia Radan, Tyla Hanks, Madeline Brancatisano, Jordann Hickey, Shelley Heath, Chantel Emonson, Shae Sloane, Casey Sherriff, Ashleigh Woodland

Out: Richelle Cranston, Melissa Hickey, Erin Hoare, Anna Teague, Jasmine Grierson, Emma Humphries, Laura Duryea, Maddie Shevlin, Alyssa Mifsud

Melbourne’s list changes have seem to go under the radar compared to the likes of the Collingwood and Brisbane lists. Geelong caused the most havoc to the Melbourne line-up, taking Richelle Cranston, Melissa Hickey, Erin Hoare and Anna Teague to Kardinia Park. The other expansion team, North Melbourne took two Tasmanian natives in Jasmine Grierson and Emma Humphries, leaving a gap in Melbourne’s defence. However, the Dees have covered this quite well with the recruitment of Talia Radan and Shelley Heath, who are handy defenders who can run or play on a key player. They have also boosted their midfield stocks with the loss of Pearce and Cranston, recruiting Under-18 representatives, Tyla Hanks and Madeline Brancatisano, who are two midfielders with great agility.

Area of strength: Midfield

Melbourne’s midfield has always been one of the strongest in the competition, but they will be without Daisy Pearce and Richelle Cranston this season. A recruit who has not been talked about much is Maddison Gay from the Blues. Gay was voted the Best First Year player when she was Carlton, and is a smart midfielder who is clever with the ball in hand. She should help to assist Elise O’Dea and Karen Paxman, who have always been consistent in the middle of the ground for the Dees. Add in Brancatisano and Hanks, and Melbourne has a good core group of midfielders. Katherine Smith and Kate Hore are also set for a good season after finding some consistency for the Casey Demons in the VFLW season.

Area of weakness: Forward line

The Demons are lacking some numbers in the forward line. While they boast the likes of Tegan Cunningham and Aliesha Newman, the list does not go much further than that. Jordann Hickey is a crucial pick-up for the Dees to rectify this issue. She will be a key target up forward thanks to her solid hands and accurate kick. Eden Zanker should be set for a good year as well, finding some form in the Casey Demons VFLW side, but she was starved of opportunity last year, so she will also be pretty new to the AFLW environment.

Players to watch:

Tyla Hanks

Tyla Hanks has made the All-Australian Under 18s side two years in a row and is a force to be reckoned with in the midfield. On the inside, she is sharp with her hands and can clear congestion with her forceful kicking. She co-captained the Gippsland Power in the TAC Cup Girls competition, so is no stranger to being an on-field leader. Hanks can also float up forward and make an impact to steady the ship for her team, highlighting her ability to be versatile in a Melbourne line-up that lacks forward depth.

Jordann Hickey

Originally from Alice Springs, Hickey made her mark on the 2018 VFLW season with 14 goals for the NT Thunder. From her 14 games, she also averaged 8.25 disposals per game, with her season-high coming against Richmond, where she racked up 16 disposals and also kicked two goals. Hickey managed to kick goals in seven of her games for the Thunder, showing great consistency across the season. She fought hard inside 50 and provides a tall target, which will be pivotal for the Demons.

Eden Zanker

Zanker got to play some consistent football again for the Casey Demons in the VFLW, after only playing three games for the Demons in the AFLW last year. She kicked nine goals from her 14 games with Casey and was named in the best four times. Zanker has a calm run-up and a precise kick, and is also great at winning the ball inside 50. She was the Demons’ first selection in the 2017 draft so Melbourne will have high hopes for her to show why she was selected so high in the draft.

2019 prediction: 4th in Conference A

Despite a strong midfield, the Demons could struggle in their 50s, making for a difficult run in a difficult conference. However, they could get off to a good start with Fremantle and Collingwood looming as their first opponents of the season. It then gets a whole lot harder with Brisbane, North Melbourne and Greater Western Sydney (GWS) to come. When the Demons’ defence comes up against a powerful forward line like North Melbourne’s, and their forwards go head-to-head against Brisbane’s A-grade defenders, it could spell trouble for them.

AFLW season previews: GWS GIANTS

THE GIANTS had a consistent season in 2018, going from finishing eighth in the AFLW’s first season to fourth last year. The side will again be led by Amanda Farrugia in 2019 as she sets her sights on being the longest serving AFLW captain. The new recruits will also be looking to make a big impact in the new conference system.

Last season: 4th – three wins, three losses.

Changes:

In: Christina Bernardi, Alyce Parker, Brittany Perry, Lisa Whiteley, Ingrid Nielsen, Renee Tomkins, Delma Gisu, Haneen Zreika, Ebony O’Dea, Yvonne Bonner, Taylah Davies

Out: Maddy Boyd, Phoebe McWilliams, Renee Forth, Melissa Freckleton, Rebecca Privitelli, Alex Saundry, Pippa Smyth

The GIANTS lost three of their most experienced players in Maddy Boyd, Phoebe McWiliams and Renee Forth over the off-season, which left a gap in key positions on the field for the GIANTS. But to fill the hole in the ruck, Greater Western Sydney (GWS) picked up Ingrid Nielsen, who is a premiership played with the UNSW-ES Bulldogs in the AFL Sydney competition. To cover the X-factor of McWilliams, the GIANTS picked up Christina Bernardi, who is almost a straight swap for McWilliams, as both players possess smarts inside 50 as well as accurate kicks. Renee Forth has been a harder one to replace for the GIANTS, as her versatility was pivotal for them during the last two seasons. Given she can rotate through the midfield and the forward line, Alyce Parker is probably the closest player in terms of position to Forth, as she can play a role in the forward line if her team is on the back foot. The Thurgoona midfielder is as exciting as it gets, with a booming kick and a set of football smarts that are second to none, meaning she is a very important pick-up for the GIANTS.

Area of strength: Midfield

The GIANTS have incredible midfield depth heading into 2019, with the usual stars in Alicia Eva, Courtney Gum, Jessica Dal Pos and Rebecca Beeson being joined by the likes of Alyce Parker, Brittany Perry, Haneen Zreika and Phoebe Monahan. Parker had a standout Under-18 year last year, being named captain of the All-Australian team and the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for both New South Wales and the Eastern Allies in the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships on the Gold Coast. Monahan had a similar influence for Richmond in the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s season, being among the highest disposal-getters each week for the Tigers. Zreika is likely to add that X-factor that the midfield needs, as she has speed to burn and is a tenacious midfielder that should excite all GWS fans. She was on the GIANTS’ rookie list last season but has now been moved into the primary list for 2019.

Area of weakness: Defence

There’s not too much to worry about here for the GIANTS, as they have skilful defenders that can all play a role on dangerous forwards. With new recruits coming in, Alan McConnell will have to decide who fits where, as he has an extensive list of defenders on his hands. Renee Tomkins is likely to take the opposition’s leading forward, with Pepa Randall and Tanya Hetherington there to assist with other forward targets. Amanda Farrugia, Ellie Brush and Elle Bennetts will play as a running defenders. The problem comes into the equation if one of these players has to sit out a game, as the depth doesn’t expand much further than that in the GIANTS’ defensive 50.

Players to watch:

Haneen Zreika

Zreika was on the rookie list last season for the GIANTS and did not get to make her AFLW debut, but she will be a good chance to do so in 2019. She has exciting breakaway speed that is vital in a clogged midfield. Zreika is also a player that can break the lines and tackle aggressively, making her a complete player in the midfield. She played for Auburn-Penrith in the AFL Sydney competition during the off-season, being named in the best nine times from 12 games.

Phoebe Monahan

Monahan was one of Richmond’s leading players in the VFLW season, finishing equal third in the Tigers’ Best and Fairest count. She is a ball magnet and uses it well both by hand and by foot. Monahan played 11 games for the Tigers and was named in the best five times. She averaged 20 disposals per game last season and stood out amongst a struggling Richmond side.

Alyce Parker

Alyce Parker is one of the most talented players out of last year’s Under-18 crop. Just last year, she was named the All-Australian captain, the MVP for the Central Allies and New South Wales, played in a premiership for the Thurgoona Bulldogs and was named the best on ground in their victory. She’s received all these accolades because she is a smart midfielder who has a long clearing kick, giving her an advantage in the clearances. She tackles hard and has good hands as well, making her an all-round talent. Parker matched it with the bigger bodies when playing for Thurgoona, so she should fit right in to the AFLW.

2019 prediction: 1st in Conference B

This may be the GIANTS’ year, as they boast a strong list with plenty of depth. They are also in the easier conference, and with Brisbane losing a lot of talent over the off-season, GWS should be favourites heading in. Geelong may also be another team to contend with, but the GIANTS’ experience from the first two seasons should hold them in good stead. They have a couple of big tests in the first two rounds of the season, taking on Brisbane and North Melbourne. However, if they are to drop any of those games, they have an opportunity to bounce back against the Pies and Blues. If the GIANTS’ list can stay healthy, they will definitely be a side to watch in 2019.

AFLW season previews: Geelong

THE Geelong Cats are one of the two new sides entering the AFLW competition this year, and rather than finding players from other clubs, they have largely focused on adding local talent to their line-up. The Cats received the first two picks in the draft and snapped up two of the most exciting players in Nina Morrison and Sophie Van De Heuvel, who will certainly turn heads as the competition goes on.

List: Rene Caris, Danielle Orr, Hannah Burchell, Cassie Blakeway, Jordan Ivey, Julia Crockett-Grills, Mia-Rae Clifford, Kate Darby, Nina Morrison, Georgie Rankin, Meghan McDonald, Renee Garing, Maighan Fogas, Aasta O’Connor, Olivia Purcell, Georgia Clarke, Melissa Hickey, Rebecca Webster, Phoebe McWilliams, Madaleine McMahon, Elise Coventry, Madeleine Boyd, Sophie Van De Heuvel, Denby Taylor, Richelle Cranston, Hayley Trevean, Anna Teague, Rebecca Goring, Madeline Keryk, Erin Hoare

Local talent dominates this list, with 20 players featuring in Geelong’s 2018 Victorian Football League (VFLW) side. The Cats made the Grand Final and came up short against the Hawks, but showed what they are capable of with their list. Add experienced spearheads like Aasta O’Connor, Melissa Hickey and Phoebe McWilliams to the side and Geelong has a very potent line-up.

Area of strength: Midfield

The Geelong midfield is stacked with talent, led by Geelong Best and Fairest winner, Richelle Cranston. Cranston consistently racked up high numbers of disposals for the Cats during the VFLW season, and was complemented by a core group in Cassie Blakeway, Maighan Fogas and Hannah Burchell, who stepped up each week and are likely to do so again in the AFLW. Add in Geelong Falcons premiership duo, Nina Morrison and Olivia Purcell, who both also played in the Grand Final for the Cats. Morrison’s chase-down speed is unbelievable, and she has shown that she can come up against bigger bodies, having to deal with a Meg Hutchins tag in the VFLW Grand Final. Purcell is a tackling machine and led the way for both the Falcons and the Cats with her ferocity, so expect 2019 to be much the same from her.

Area of weakness: Defence

While Geelong has plenty of exciting forwards, its defence may come under pressure with the attacking forward lines that a lot of sides boast. Georgia Clarke will come into the mix as a calm and composed defender, and will have to work with the likes of Elise Coventry and Bec Goring, who were mainstays in the Cats’ defence in the VFLW. While Coventry is a consistent player, she often goes missing in the disposal count, so she will need to work on that coming into the AFLW season. Rebecca Webster is likely to be a key part of Geelong’s defence, even though she can play through the midfield too. Webster has a booming kick and strong hands, so if she floats into the midfield, it could leave a big gap in the defensive 50.

Players to watch:

Nina Morrison

Being the number one pick comes with a lot of pressure, but Morrison knows how to handle it. Having only picked up a football in a competitive environment three years ago, Morrison had a ripper 2018, sharing the TAC Cup Girls Best and Fairest and the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award at the Under 18 Championships. Her outside run is incredible, and her take-off speed is really something to watch. She is a precise kick and has shown that she can use it anywhere, having spent some time up forward for the Falcons last year in the TAC Cup Girls competition. Expect her to get a Rising Star nomination this season.

Olivia Purcell

The Geelong Falcons Best and Fairest was one of the most fierce tacklers in the TAC Cup Girls competition. She’s also a great clearance player, and knows how to hack it out of congestion with ease. She thrived in the Geelong VFLW environment, having played alongside players like Richelle Cranston. Purcell represented Vic Country in 2018 as well and was one of the leading disposal-getters in every match, highlighting her ability to find the footy with ease.

Maddy Boyd

A player that already has experience in the AFLW, Boyd will be a pivotal player for the Cats this year. She thrived in the ruck and through the forward line for Geelong’s VFLW side, taking big grabs and kicking crucial goals when needed. With plenty of ruck support in the team in the form of Aasta O’Connor, Kate Darby and Rene Caris, expect Boyd to spend some time up forward, as her marking prowess will give defenders massive headaches.

2019 prediction: 3rd in Conference B
The Cats certainly have the line-up to turn a few heads this season. With all the focus on North Melbourne’s star-studded line-up, the Cats’ has largely gone unnoticed, which the side will not mind at all. With Melissa Hickey leading the brigade as skipper and VFLW Grand Final coach, Paul Hood at the helm, it is hard to see where the Cats could go wrong in 2019. Gelling together will be the main challenge, as it always is for a new side. They have a hard draw to start off with, taking on the AFLW’s two premiership teams in Adelaide and the Bulldogs in the first four weeks, but those games are bookended by matches against Carlton and Collingwood. Expect Geelong to come out firing in 2019 and turn a few heads.

 

AFLW season previews: Fremantle

PRIOR to the inaugural AFLW season, Fremantle was touted as a premiership favourite. But the Dockers have struggled in the competition, and will be hoping to improve with a new coach at the helm. They opted for experience over youth in the draft, hoping to fast-track their development and experience a taste of success.

Last season: 7th – three wins, four losses.

Changes:

In: Jasmin Stewart, Sabreena Duffy, Philipa Seth, Courtney Stubbs, Parris Laurie, Laura Pugh, Matila Sergeant, Ebony Dowson, Katie-Jayne Grieve

Out: Stacey Barr, Kirby Bentley, Jade de Melo, Beatrice Devlyn, Lara Filocamo, Tiah Haynes, Emily McGuire, Belinda Smith, Lisa Webb, Jodie White, Amy Lavell

Some tough calls were made by the Dockers at the end of the off-season, with a Rising Star-nominated player in Emily McGuire, consistent defender, Lara Filocamo and the experienced Kirby Bentley being shown the door. Fremantle also farewelled some experienced players with Amy Lavell and Lisa Webb departing for the coach’s box, after Lavell chose to hang up the boots and Webb was delisted. On the bright side, the Dockers have included two exciting young talents in Sabreena Duffy and Matilda Sergeant. Both players have represented Western Australia, with Duffy in particular making inroads as a five-time All-Australian.

Area of strength: Defence

Despite the loss of Kirby Bentley and Lara Filocamo, the Dockers still have a good enough defence that can challenge the opposition. Former Western Australian captain, Sabreena Duffy will slot straight into the backline, and as shown in the Under 18 Championships in 2018, she is able to do most of the kicking in and do it precisely as well. Expect her to be joined by Sergeant, as well as new draftee, Laura Pugh, who hails from the West Perth Falcons. Ebony Dowson will also slot into the backline after a consistent year for the Peel Thunderbirds, while the ever consistent Ebony Antonio will run around again in 2019, looking to punish forwards with her intercept marking and defensive pressure at the contest.

Area of weakness: Forward line

After delisting known goalkickers, Emily McGuire and Stacey Barr, as well as losing Amy Lavell, the Dockers did not really patch up these holes in the draft. They instead opted for midfield and defensive depth, which will hold teams in good stead, but will not win games. The delisting of Kira Phillips at the end of the 2017 season could come back and hurt the Dockers, as she was the leading goal scorer in the Western Australian Women’s Football League (WAWFL). Ashley Sharp is a player that will need to stand up if she plays forward, as she has the potential to dominate, having shown that for Swan Districts.

Players to watch:

Sabreena Duffy

Duffy is a wonderful on-field leader who leads by example. She was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for Western Australia in the 2018 Under 18 Championships, after having played a massive role through the midfield and the back line. A player with solid hands and composed under pressure, expect Duffy to control the back line with her finesse and precision with the ball in hand.

Matilda Sergeant

Matilda Sergeant is a hard nut who just knows how to find the football. Featuring prominently in the midfield for Western Australia, she attacked the ball hard and used her clean hands and smart kicks to get her teammates out of trouble. She can also play a support role in the defensive 50 if needed, adding versatility to the Fremantle line-up.

Dana Hooker

The club’s 2018 Best and Fairest winner will be raring to go again in 2019. She only just finished short of winning the league Best and Fairest, proving how important she is in the Dockers’ midfield. Her clean hands and precise kicking has been what has held Fremantle in good stead so far, and expect no different in 2019.

2019 prediction: 5th in Conference A  

The Dockers just do not have enough star-power to compete with the might of the other clubs in Conference A. In the first three rounds of the season, they will have to come up against two of last year’s top four teams, which will be a massive challenge. They may have a chance against the Pies in Round 3, but meet Adelaide the week after. The Dockers will also give themselves a chance at home, as they have been consistent over the past two seasons. They will play four home games this season in the hope that they can take home four wins, but the task will not be easy.

 

AFLW season previews: Carlton

THE Blues did not see much success last season, finishing on the bottom of the ladder for the first time in their AFLW history. However, this result gave them some high-end picks in the draft, and they recruited quite well to fix the gaps of players lost. With new coach, Daniel Harford at the helm, Carlton is set for a big year, testing out its new-look line-up and coaching panel.

Last season: 8th – two wins, five losses.

Changes:

In: Amelia Mullane (nee Barden), Madison Prespakis, Abbie McKay, Jayde Van Dyk, Charlotte Wilson, Emerson Woods, Rhiannon Watt, Jess Edwards, Kirby Bentley, Brooke Walker, Chloe Dalton

Out: Maddison Gay, Lauren Arnell, Danielle Hardiman, Kate Gillespie-Jones, Maddy Keryk, Sarah Last, Laura Attard, Kate Shierlaw, Tiahna Cochrane, Katie Jayne-Grieve

Carlton’s defence was dealt a big blow with experienced trio, Lauren Arnell, Danielle Hardiman and Kate Gillespie-Jones all departing the Blues. They also made the interesting decision to let go of talented midfielder, Madeline Keryk, which could come back to bite them. Inaugural Best First Year player, Maddison Gay has also left a hole in the midfield with her departure to Melbourne. But Carlton has seemed to sew up those gaps in its midfield, picking up Vic Metro gun duo, Madison Prespakis and Abbie McKay. Prespakis was the equal winner of the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships Most Valuable Player (MVP) and TAC Cup Girls’ Best and Fairest, while McKay was pre-selected by the Blues due to a interest from other clubs. In defence, Charlotte Wilson and Jayde Van Dyk help fill the void of Gillespie-Jones, Hardiman and Arnell. Wilson was the co-captain of the Eastern Ranges in the TAC Cup Girls competition while Van Dyk won the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s Rising Star award and Hawthorn’s Best and Fairest after a stellar 2018 campaign.

Area of strength: Midfield

Carlton’s midfield depth is quite threatening, as at any given time, it could contain the likes of Prespakis, McKay, Amelia Mullane, Sarah Hosking, Jess Hosking, Katie Loynes, Tilly Lucas-Rodd, Georgia Gee, Shae Audley and Natalie Plane. Not only does it contain plenty of talent, but the Blues have also managed to combine its experience and youth quite well. Coming across from Collingwood, Mullane should be a great addition as she has already worked under Daniel Harford, and adds valuable experience. Loynes will be raring to go after her Best and Fairest year last year, while Jess Hosking and Lucas-Rodd both enjoyed some key minutes in the Blues’ VFLW midfield.

Area of weakness: Forward line

It is hard to imagine that a forward line containing Darcy Vescio and Tayla Harris could be an area of weakness for the Blues, but it certainly was last season. Carlton finished miles below any other team in percentage, racking up just 54.1 per cent, with the next worst being Fremantle with 89.8. While Vescio and Harris are dangerous, they will require more support in the 2019 season if Carlton is to surge up the ladder. Emerson Woods is one player who could provide assistance, as she floated up forward and through the midfield for both the Eastern Ranges and the Hawks in the VFLW season. Being a member of the AFLW Academy, Woods has had plenty of experience at a high level, and is also an athletic machine. Carlton may also utilise Alison Downie up forward, as she can take a big mark and is an accurate kick. Thanks to the ruck support of Breann Moody and Rhiannon Watt, she may not be required in the middle as much, and can make herself a target inside 50.

Players to watch:

Madison Prespakis

If players were not able to select which region they wanted to go to, Prespakis would have seriously contended Nina Morrison for the number one pick. Prespakis led the Calder Cannons this year and also had a stint captaining Vic Metro in its rotating captaincy during the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships. She is a fantastic on-field leader, as she demonstrates ferocity and a desire to win the ball. Prespakis has one of the most damaging kicks from the Under-18 draftees and is a genuine ball magnet. Carlton supporters should be excited to see her in the navy blue.

Jayde Van Dyk

Van Dyk had an outstanding year for Hawthorn in 2018. Not only did she take out Hawthorn’s Best and Fairest and the VFLW Rising Star award, she was also named in the VFLW Team of the Year and played in the Hawks’ historic premiership. She was a mainstay in the Hawks’ backline, often taking the most dangerous opposition forward. Her run and carry is something to be excited by and her football smarts are second to none. Strong in the air and on foot, Van Dyk should provide some serious presence in the Blues’ defensive 50.

Natalie Plane

A player who has gone under the radar in the last two seasons, Plane is a pretty consistent player and can play a team role when required. She had a solid year for Carlton in the 2018 VFLW season, coming fourth in Carlton’s Best and Fairest. Plane achieved this feat on the back of just eight games out of a possible 14. She averaged 13.4 disposals and six tackles from those games, demonstrating her ability to make an impact in the middle of the ground.

2019 prediction: 4th in Conference B

Improving from last to a finals berth in a year is a hard feat for any team, and it is hard to see Carlton storm into the finals in its conference, considering only the top two teams go through. The Blues will certainly improve with a potent midfield and defence, but their forward line will continue to come into question if Vescio and Harris are left to do all the work inside 50. It will be interesting to see the Blues in Round 1, as they face the Kangaroos, who seem to have one of the most dangerous line-ups in the competition. If they can get the win over in Hobart, they could be set for a big turnaround from 2018. But if they don’t get the win that game, they could be in for a losing streak to start their season, with their next three games coming against Adelaide, Greater Western Sydney (GWS) and Geelong. A good start will be crucial if Carlton is any chance to surge up the ladder in 2019.

 

AFLW season previews: Collingwood

COLLINGWOOD has been hit the hardest by the introduction of the two expansion teams, losing a host of stars to North Melbourne. The Pies also lost the experience of Bree White and Meg Hutchins, as well as the exciting Caitlyn Edwards, as the trio retired at the end of the 2018 season. Collingwood had to capitalise on the draft pool and it did, selecting some exciting young talent and some Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s experienced players.

Last season: 6th – three wins, four losses.

Changes:

In: Nicole Hildebrand, Sarah Rowe, Sophie Alexander, Erica Fowler, Jordyn Allen, Katie Lynch, Lauren Butler, Mikala Cann, Maddie Shevlin, Georgia Gourlay, Jordan Membrey, Sharni Layton

Out: Caitlyn Edwards, Bree White, Christina Bernardi, Moana Hope, Jess Duffin, Jasmine Garner, Emma King, Amelia Mullane (nee Barden), Lauren Tesoriero, Meg Hutchins, Tara Morgan

Collingwood has lost seven of its top 10 in last year’s Best and Fairest, with Jasmine Garner, Christina Bernardi, Amelia Mullane, Jess Duffin, Emma King and Moana Hope all jetting off to other clubs. Add the loss of Chloe Molloy to injury and Caitlyn Edwards to retirement, and you have a depleted list. Thankfully, the Pies picked up one of most talented players in the Under-18 crop in Jordyn Allen. Allen is a known leader, captaining the Dandenong Stingrays and Vic Country in 2018, and is a pillar of strength through the midfield and the back line. To back that up, the Pies selected the powerful Katie Lynch, who thrives in the middle of the ground but can use her booming kick and strong hands to effect in the forward line. They also boast two of the most exciting new crosscoders in the league, with former Australian netballer, Sharni Layton and Gaelic footballer, Sarah Rowe, who broke a club record in the 2km trial, set to take the field in 2019.

Area of strength: Midfield

Out of all the areas left with holes by the departed players, the midfield is the least unscathed. The Pies still boast a potent midfield containing Jaimee Lambert, Emma Grant, Brittany Bonnici, Melissa Kuys and Kristy Stratton. They will also be able to add Eastern Ranges dynamo, Mikala Cann to the mix, who has intense tackling pressure and immense speed. The experience of Maddie Shevlin will also be a vital addition, as she starred for the Casey Demons during the VFLW season. There’s also some flexibility in the side, with Stephanie Chiocci able to move from defence to the midfield, while Katie Lynch and Sophie Casey can roam the forward line and move into the middle of the ground when needed.

Area of weakness: Defence

Collingwood’s defence has taken a big hit over the off season, waving goodbye to Jess Duffin, Meg Hutchins and Jasmine Garner. Although the Pies lost more forwards in the off season, they were able to fill the void quite well with the recruitment of Erica Fowler, Sophie Alexander, Jordan Membrey and Katie Lynch. However, their defence remains vulnerable, as the Pies will have a young defensive 50 leading the brigade. Darcy Guttridge and Georgia Gourlay are both a risk with injury troubles, but will be keen to play a big role for the Pies. Iilish Ross is still a developing player who has been in and out of the Collingwood line-up, but was convincing during the VFLW season. She does not often trouble the disposal count, so this could be an area where she seeks to improve in 2019. It will also be interesting to see how Lauren Butler fares in this defensive line-up with her light build. Expect the loss of Chloe Molloy to really be felt for the Pies this season as unpredictability surround their defensive make-up.

Players to watch:

Mikala Cann

It is hard to believe that this will be Mikala Cann’s second year of competitive football. Prior to 2018, Cann competed in athletics and basketball, and has brought those attributes over to Australian Rules. She has great acceleration and can tackle like no other, always willing to show her tenacity on the field. She was fortunate enough to represent Vic Metro in 2018, and played in Hawthorn’s VFLW premiership side, so she knows how to make an impact on the big stage. Nicknamed ‘the bull’ by her teammates, expect Cann to be one of the toughest players out there.

Sophie Alexander

A dangerous forward with a great leap, Alexander gave a lot of VFLW opposition defenders headaches. In her breakout game for the Pies, she kicked four goals against the in-form NT Thunder, showing she can make an big statement. She ended up with 14 goals from 14 games, and was named in the VFLW Team of the Year for her efforts. What makes Alexander stand out is her ability to rack up the disposals inside 50, which is something Collingwood will need in the 2019 season.

Sharni Layton

Sharni Layton has done it all in netball, winning a Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2014, and winning two Netball World Championships with Australia in 2011 and 2015. Having come from the Collingwood netball team, Layton is accustomed to the attitudes of the club and has been hitting the track hard, working on her running technique in particular. Her leap will be invaluable for the club as will her strength, so it will be interesting to see where she will line up on the field, as these assets are valuable in any zone. With unpredictability comes excitement through, and Layton is sure to put on a show, following in the footsteps of fellow netballer/footballer, Ash Brazill.

2019 prediction: 5th in Conference B

Unfortunately with a list that takes a hit like that, it’s hard to see the Pies making any inroads in Conference B. They will be looking to make a statement in Round 1 against the new kids on the block in Geelong, but it will be hard to do so away from home. They could snag wins against Carlton and Fremantle in rounds three and five, but all eyes will be on the side in Round 6. Not only will they host the first ever AFLW game at Marvel Stadium, but they will be coming up against old teammates at North Melbourne, which will definitely be a challenge. Collingwood still has the players to be a top side, but gelling what is effectively a whole new team together is no easy task.

AFLW season previews: Brisbane

THE Brisbane Lions have come so close to winning an AFLW premiership, being runners-up in both years of the AFLW. They would love to go one step further in 2019, but it will be hard considering the mass exit of players to North Melbourne. They will field a new-look side in 2019 dominated by exciting youth rather than experienced guns, which has been the theme of the Brisbane line-up in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Last season: 2nd- four wins, three losses.

Changes:

In: Lauren Arnell, Paige Parker, Natalie Grider, McKenzie Dowrick, Lauren Bella, Tori Groves-Little, Jesse Tawhiao-Wardlaw, Jacqueline Yorston, Jade Ellenger.

Out: Kaitlyn Ashmore, Brittany Gibson, Tahlia Randall, Jamie Stanton, Nicole Hildebrand, Renee Cowan, Kalinda Howarth, Molly Ritson.

Brisbane was dealt with a mass exit of players with the introduction of expansion team, North Melbourne. The Lions saw four of their players head down south, as Kaitlyn Ashmore, Brittany Gibson, Tahlia Randall and Jamie Stanton opted to don the blue and white in 2019. On top of that, Nicole Hildebrand jetted down to the Pies, spending the 2018 Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s season with them, leaving a massive hole in Brisbane’s defence. But the Lions had a big advantage heading into the draft, with coach, Craig Starcevich coaching the Queensland Under-18 representative side and identifying the top talent that could slot into the Brisbane line-up. Six players from the Under 18 side made their way onto the Lions’ list after a successful Under 18 Championships campaign in which the side beat Vic Metro for the first time in its history. In addition, gun Western Australian, McKenzie Dowrick made the decision to take her footy up north, presenting a huge boost for the Brisbane line-up in 2019.

Area of strength: Midfield

Despite the loss of Ashmore, Gibson and Stanton in the middle of the ground, Brisbane drafted well enough to cover the loss. Tori Groves-Little is a clever footballer that is guaranteed to go hard at every contest. Her tackling is quite impressive, as is her run and carry. Jacqueline Yorston is likely to complement her well in the middle of the ground, as she is a natural ball-winner. Expect Jade Ellenger to also contribute, as her speed is quite impressive and will help her to burn opponents. Combine these exciting youth prospects with the experience of players like Nat Exon and Ally Anderson and Brisbane’s midfield looks quite potent. Exon had a wonderful VFLW campaign for Darebin, being named either the first or second best player on the ground in six of her seven games. Expect her to continue to turn it on for the Lions in 2019.

Area of weakness: Forward line

The Lions’ forward line still remains a problem in 2019. They’ve based their game in the past two seasons around their strong defence, which has managed to work considering the form of players like Kate Lutkins and Leah Kaslar. But they might find it difficult to play this style of football this year, with other clubs such as North Melbourne boasting potent forward lines. Sabrina Frederick-Traub has been the focal point up forward for the Lions in the past two seasons, but if she had a bad game, it would often spell trouble for her side. She will need some more assistance in 2019 if the Lions are to score more. Bella Ayre will need to return to the form that saw her get nominated for the Rising Star in 2017, while Kate McCarthy’s X factor will be even more important than ever in AFLW 3.0. The loss of the exciting Sophie Conway for the 2019 season hurts the forward line even more, as she had a sensational 2018 campaign inside 50.

Players to watch:

McKenzie Dowrick

Craig Starcevich and his coaching group would have been licking their lips when McKenzie Dowrick nominated to play her 2019 football in Queensland. Dowrick is originally from Western Australia and has played all her junior football there. A member of the AFL Women’s Academy, Dowrick hardly puts a foot wrong when she sweeps across the backline and through the midfield, as her booming left foot kick and reliable hands often got her side out of trouble. She has been a star for Western Australia in the Under 18 Championships, being named in the All-Australian side at half-back for the past two years. Expect her to add composure and class to Brisbane’s defence in 2019.

Nat Exon

Nat Exon is coming into the 2019 season off the back of some scintillating form for Darebin in the VFLW season. She came second in the Falcons’ best and fairest count despite only playing half of the season. She impressed with her ferocity at the contest for Darebin, averaging 5.9 tackles in her seven games. Her disposal average was also impressive in the VFLW, racking up an average of 18.4 disposals per game. She should be a key ball winner for the Lions in 2019, and will add some aggression to the midfield.

Jordan Zanchetta

Zanchetta showed promise in the 2018 AFLW season for the Lions after missing the inaugural season with an ACL tear. She showed good intent through the midfield and was a strong tackler. If she can match her aggression with disposals, she could be a dangerous player for Brisbane in 2019.

2019 prediction: 2nd in Conference B

The conference system becomes an interesting situation in this instance, because Brisbane certainly have the easier conference group. If the Lions were in conference A alongside teams like the Bulldogs, Demons and Crows, it would be likely that they would miss the finals. But in conference B, they sit alongside 2018 bottom side, Carlton, a depleted Collingwood outfit as well as the unknown side in Geelong. Greater Western Sydney (GWS) is likely to be Brisbane’s biggest challenge this year, with the GIANTS finishing 2018 strongly. Brisbane still has the line-up to be a strong side in 2019, despite the loss of experience.