Author: Michael Alvaro

2021 AFLW Preview: GWS Giants

GWS has been one of the competition’s most consistently solid teams since inauguration, without really breaking through and joining the elites. Last year, the Giants took a massive step towards that status with the club’s first ever finals appearance in its winningest campaign to date. In 2021, the foundation side will again look to match it with the best and go one step further with a postseason victory.

2020 RECAP

Not much was expected of the Giants in 2020, but they broke through for their most successful season yet with four regular season wins and a maiden finals appearance. Unfortunately, their run came to a heartbreaking end at the hands of Melbourne, who beat them by three points in a dramatic come-from-behind effort at GIANTS Stadium.

Earlier in the year, the Giants went win-for-loss in the first five rounds before breaking through for consecutive victories on the eve of finals, placing them second in Conference A at 4-2 overall. A redemptive Round 6 win over Adelaide and one-point opening round thriller against Gold Coast were the highlights, as GWS became a side able to win the games expected of them while remaining just a step off the absolute contenders.

NEW FACES

Former Melbourne youngster Katherine Smith was GWS’ sole trade signing, joining the orange and charcoal on a two-year deal and promising to add some versatility to the squad. While predominantly known as a defender, the Victorian is also able to play as an inside midfielder and is in a good age bracket for her new side’s direction. She spent all of 2020 on the sidelines after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) but should make a return this season.

With Yvonne Bonner out of action in 2021, the Giants picked up another Irishwoman in Brid Stack, who unfortunately suffered a serious neck injury in the club’s preseason hitout against Adelaide. The Giants took on a trio of players at the draft and one undrafted free agent in 34-year-old former basketballer, Erin Todd. Queanbeyan product Tarni Evans headlined the crop at pick nine, a dynamic forward/midfielder who is one of the most talented teenagers around the nation. She could slot straight into the Giants’ starting line-up in her debut season.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

A 2018 All Australian, Erin McKinnon is the Giants’ player to watch this season. She dipped a touch below the lofty standards she had previously set last year, but at just 22-years-old, the 189cm ruck has plenty of scope to come on quickly and dominate for years to come. McKinnon is a monster in the hitouts, averaging over 22 per game across her first three seasons and directing plenty to the advantage of her midfielders. With the potential to move forward and impact more with contested marking, McKinnon could take hold for the Giants this year.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

The Giants have long been lauded for their consistency and the stability of their list overall, which proved a large factor in them exceeding expectations in 2020. With Alicia Eva at the helm of an unchanged leadership group, Alyce Parker quickly becoming a top five player in the competition and a solid spine forming, there is no reason why the Giants cannot continue to perform at a high level.

QUESTION MARK

With a finals spot earned last year, the Giants have been assigned a relatively tough fixture and after a series of challenges over the last six to 12 months, starting well will be the priority. However, Fremantle and Melbourne make for two formidable opponents among the opening fortnight of action, and will help answer the question of whether GWS can truly hang with the top sides.

FINAL WORD

The Giants have a strong core of experienced leaders who should again help them account for the bottom sides, but breaking through to beat those in premiership contention lingers as the next big step for this team. Expect another run to the finals, with the target of a postseason win in both GWS’ sights and the realm of possibility.

Image Credit: Jason McCawley/Getty Images via AFL Photos

2021 AFLW Preview: Gold Coast Suns

GOLD COAST achieved a finals berth in its inaugural AFL Women’s campaign, exceeding expectations and setting a promising base for its second go-around at the elite level. With a new set of co-captains and a bumper draft crop, the Suns will be hoping to shine just as bright in 2021 and again feature in the postseason.

2020 RECAP

A one-point loss in a two-goal game served as Gold Coast’s AFL Women’s introduction and the Suns did not have to wait long for their maiden win as they trumped fellow newcomer, Richmond in Round 2. The competition’s first Q-Clash resulted in a thrilling draw at Metricon Stadium, with fans and pundits alike taking note of the side’s tenacity and youthful exuberance. Back-to-back losses pegged back Gold Coast’s momentum, but a second win against another expansion side in West Coast ensured the Suns would qualify for a surprise finals appearance. The undefeated Fremantle saw that the glory would be short-lived, trouncing the Queensland side by 70 points in the first postseason round.

NEW FACES

Former North Melbourne and St Kilda midfielder Alison Drennan was Gold Coast’s lone trade signing, promising to provide another strong body and some experience among the Suns’ engine room. The draft was where Gold Coast did most of its work, nabbing some strong local talent at bargain value and completing a haul of eight fresh faces.

Annise Bradfield was the first Queenslander called out on the night and looms as another midfielder who could crack the starting lineup straight away. The Suns nabbed Maddison Levi at pick 50, a steal at that range with Brisbane out of draft calculations. The tall forward should add some strength to her new side’s front half alongside Sarah Perkins, who was snapped up at pick 23 and slotted straight into the leadership group.

Levi was one of six Suns selected after pick 50, with four of them local talents and two coming from other states. Janet Baird, an NT native should deliver even more firepower to the forward half and some dash elsewhere, while Elizabeth Kearney comes in from the VFLW system.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

A surprise pick-up at the draft, no less at pick 23, was Perkins. The journeywoman key forward is the perfect addition for Gold Coast’s young side; both in terms of the role she fills and the character she brings. A former premiership player and All-Australian with Adelaide, Perkins is fresh off three appearances for Melbourne as a top-up player last year and gets a lifeline at her third club. She is well known already, but could well prove a key figure in this emerging Suns side which has previously lacked potency.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

Defence. The Suns may have lost four games last season and the last one came by 70 points, but they laid claim to the fifth-best defensive record in terms of points conceded overall. Structure from the back half is the first base good teams build in the modern game, and Gold Coast seems to have made great strides in that department early on. Youthful exuberance is another reason the Suns can go far, with their never-say-die attitude allowing them to bring it to highly fancied teams on any given day.

QUESTION MARK

Attack. Only the bottom two teams managed to score less points than the Suns in 2020, with a season-high total of 34 not exactly making for formidable reading. The Suns were also kept to just one goal twice during their maiden campaign and while they have bolstered the front half at the draft, have plenty of work to do to become a potent attacking unit.

FINAL WORD

The Suns are an exciting young side with plenty of scope to match their achievement of finals qualification in year one. There may be some downs with the ups, but this Queensland side has already shown great spirit and should only be better for the raft of inclusions they have made. Expect the Suns to ruffle some feathers and create upsets against good teams caught lacking.

Image Credit: Gold Coast Suns/AFL Photos

2021 AFLW Preview: Geelong Cats

GEELONG comes into the 2021 off a disappointing campaign which yielded two wins, both of which came against expansion sides. Under coach Paul Hood, the Cats will be itching for a return to finals and have a wealth of young talent raring to make splash on the competition. While inaugural skipper Melissa Hickey has called time on her career, the Victorian side is in good stead to improve on last season’s effort.

2020 RECAP

The Cats finished fifth at 2-4 among the weaker Conference A, meaning they missed out on backing up a surprise finals appearance in their inaugural season by half a game. After going down in their first three outings, they got on the board in a high-scoring encounter with Richmond and backed it up with another win against Gold Coast. The sting of good form came to an abrupt halt at the hands of North Melbourne thought, seeing Geelong’s season ending on the sour note of a 44-point drubbing.

Green shoots appeared in the form of best and fairest winner Olivia Purcell, with the 20-year-old midfielder establishing herself as one of the premier ball winners in the competition. She was the only Cat named in the final All Australian team. Rebecca Webster was a big improver and 2021 skipper Meghan McDonald showed her class upon an early injury return, while Nina Morrison gave a glimpse into her talents before another heartbreaking ACL tear in the closing stages of the season.

NEW FACES

Geelong was again able to extract great value from the draft with a terrific haul headlined by outstanding local talent. Darcy Moloney was the Cats’ first choice at pick 10 and was followed by fellow Geelong Falcons product Laura Gardiner at number 20. Both showed terrific appetites for finding the ball as juniors and promise to add great balance to Geelong’s emerging midfield, while also taking a load off Purcell at the coalface.

Dynamic tall Olivia Barber was another high-value country selection, with the Murray Bushrangers graduate nothing short of a steal at pick 21. Able to rotate through the ruck from her usual key forward post, Barber is an athletic type who can not only take over in the air, but has clean hands and skills at ground level. Electric forward Stephanie Williams hails from the Northern Territory but was somewhat another local pick having attended Geelong College, while former Falcon Carly Remmos also joined through the draft, coming from an elite basketball background.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

While a second ACL tear sustained late in the 2020 season will again hamper her campaign, Nina Morrison remains the one to watch for Geelong. Fans were able to catch a good glimpse of her last year and she looms as a crucial midseason inclusion this time around. The Cats are taking somewhat of a cautious approach with their young star and have ruled out a Round 1 appearance despite her strong progress, so expect the 20-year-old to come in raring to go. Having mostly been employed on the outside, Morrison has the flexibility to remain there or provide some spark at the centre bounces, with plenty of stock in support to help make her return as smooth as possible.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

Youthful exuberance. The Cats have some of the best young talent going around and have only added to it at this year’s draft. The likes of Moloney and Gardiner should be knocking on the door early and will take a good amount of heat off Purcell through the middle, while Barber is another who can impact early and provide a focal point.

Millie Brown settled into the defence well in 2020 and Webster came on leaps and bounds, with the best yet to come from Morrison and the returning Denby Taylor. That’s not to mention Sophie Van De Heuval, who is primed to have a big impact in her third season. There’s young talent around the ground, all of which are game winners capable of taking Geelong all the way.

QUESTION MARK

With so much youth at their disposal and their inaugural captain now retired, are the Cats too inexperienced to make a real finals impact? Purcell is already arguably their best player at just 20-years-old, while much is also expected from the returning Morrison and Taylor. Improvement is another expectation, with hopes high on Van De Heuval and Rene Caris one who should be looking to soon take over the primary ruck post. Geelong has some established leaders in new skipper, McDonald, Aasta O’Connor, and Renee Garing, all of which will have plenty on their plate in aiding the on-field development of these young stars.

FINAL WORD

Many fans will be high on Geelong given just how well the Cats have drafted each year, with the pieces of the puzzle seeming to come together nicely heading into 2021. Their young guns have some good experience under their belt and while it may not quite be enough yet, expect the hoops to push for finals this season and better challenge some of the top sides.

Image Credit: Geelong Cats

2020/21 NTFL Women’s Premier League weekly wrap – Round 14

THE TOP three Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Women’s Premier League sides earned wins in Round 14, while seventh-placed Palmerston picked up its third set of premiership points after trumping the winless Tracy Village. Competition frontrunner Pint remains undefeated after another crushing victory, putting the Queenants three games clear of St Mary’s and Darwin, who both triumphed by under 10 points. That, and more in our weekend wrap.

PINT | 7.1 | 11.3 | 15.6 | 22.9 (141)
WANDERERS | 0.0 | 1.0 | 1.1 | 1.1 (7)

GOALS:

Pint: K. Streader 5, J. Hewett 4, J. Baumer 3, A. Chittick 3, C. Morris 2, K. Smits 2, J. Downey, C. Fabris, R. Hicks.
Wanderers: S. Mauboy.

BEST:

Pint: N/A
Wanderers: R. Fecht, J. Crawshaw, C. Ormsby, S. Mauboy, I. Schober, M. Johnston

Pint’s undefeated season continued with a 134-point victory over Wanderers at DXC Arena on Saturday, extending the Queenants’ winning streak to 13 games. An 11-goal to one opening half set the tone, with Wanderers failing to register another major after the main break while conceding another 11 thereafter. Pint’s conversion was a key feature of the win as 22 of its 31 scoring shots found the big sticks, with Katie Streader and Jasmyn Hewett combining for nine goals. Amy Chittick and Jessie Baumer added three apiece to bolster Pint’s individual goalkickers list of nine players. Sophia Mauboy claimed Wanderers’ lone major score in the second term, as Rhiannon Fecht and Jada Crawshaw were named the Muk Muks’ best players in the heavy loss.

TRACY VILLAGE | 0.1 | 0.1 | 0.2 | 1.2 (8)
PALMERSTON | 2.0 | 4.2 | 7.4 | 8.4 (52)

GOALS:

Tracy Village: I. Hughes.
Palmerston: N. Turner 2, H. Davey 2, J. Huddleston, C. Browne, E. Conway, T. May.

BEST:

Tracy Village: Z. Clarke, E. Irving, M. Wylie, L. Toner, M. Druery, K. Marschall
Palmerston: D. Creed-Wray, J. Guthridge, V. Mounsey, T. May, S. Leedie, I. Ronberg

Palmerston snapped its five-game losing streak with a 44-point drubbing over the winless Tracy Village, improving to a 3-10 record six points outside of the top six. The Magpies split their eight goals evenly across either half, all while keeping Tracy Village goalless until the final term. Indianna Hughes booted the Razorbacks’ sole goal of the game as Zhoe Clarke and Meagan Wylie were unsurprisingly among their side’s best players. Nicole Turner and Hayley Davey each snared two majors for Palmerston, while fellow goalkicker Tabitha May was named among the best behind Daysia Creed-Wray.

WARATAH | 1.1 | 2.1 | 2.2 | 3.3 (21)
DARWIN | 0.0 | 1.3 | 2.5 | 3.7 (25)

GOALS:

Waratah: L. Miceli 2, E. Straford.
Darwin: N/A.

Darwin secured its fifth-consecutive win in dramatic fashion on Saturday night, overcoming Waratah by four points with a goal after the siren. Melinda Taylor was the Buffettes’ hero after they relinquished the lead in final term, popping up to take back the lead and live out every player’s childhood dream. Earlier, the Double Blues were made to fight back from behind in the low-scoring slog, leaning on the same qualities later on to secure victory. Twin talls Tania Dhu and Molly Althouse were both among the winners’ best afield, providing for the Buffs’ midfielders and rotating well through the engine room. Lisa Miceli finished with two of Waratah’s three goals, matching her effort right before the mid-season break. Tahs still sit a game and a half safe in the top six despite the result.

NIGHTCLIFF | 2.1 | 2.3 | 2.7 | 3.10 (28)
ST MARY’S | 3.0 | 6.0 | 6.1 | 6.1 (37)

GOALS:

Nightcliff: L. Gooden 2, J. Puautjimi.
St Mary’s: J. Anderson 3, J. Anderson, A. Melnikas, K. Dann.

BEST:

Nightcliff: N/A
St Mary’s: J. Anderson, J. Anderson, M. Williamson, A. Melnikas, S. Peris, I. Porter

St Mary’s put in the work early to set up a nine-point victory over Nightcliff on enemy turf, ensuring the Saints remain locked into second spot for another week. The visitors managed just seven scoring shots to Nightcliff’s 13 throughout the contest but were far more effective in front on goal, doubling their opponents’ tally of majors and holding onto to win despite a goalless second half. Jasmine Anderson was instrumental in the result for St Mary’s, booting three goals and claiming best afield honours in front of fellow goalkickers J’Noemi Anderson and Ashlea Melnikas. Lauren Gooden found two of Nightcliff’s three majors as the Tigers look all the more destined for a fifth place finish.

Featured Image: Melinda Taylor booted the winning goal for Darwin in Round 14 | Credit: Felicity Elliott/AFLNT Media

2020/21 NTFL Men’s Premier League weekly wrap – Round 14

BLOWOUTS were balanced by a couple of close contests in Round 14 of the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League, with the mixed bag of results going a long way to confirming the top five with four rounds left to play. Waratah and Darwin shut the door on the top three with important wins, while Wanderers notched its highest-ever score and St Mary’s remained in the race for top two status. All that, and more in our weekend wrap.

TIWI BOMBERS | 1.2 | 3.5 | 6.8 | 7.9 (51)
WANDERERS | 10.4 | 19.11 | 26.15 | 37.19 (241)

GOALS:

Tiwi: D. Munkara 2, H. Puruntatameri 2, S. Puruntatameri, N. Hooker, A Mungatopi
Wanderers: B. Eddy 9, S. Bates 6, S. Mannagh 5, J. Cubillo 4, E. Simpson 3, M. Totham 2, J. Motlop 2, B. Hodgson 2, S. Tipiloura, J. Erlandson, D. McFarlane, D. Thompson

BEST:

Tiwi: H. Puruntatameri, D. Munkara, J. Monigatti, P. Heenan, J. Puruntatameri
Wanderers: S. Mannagh, D. McFarlane, B. Eddy, S. Bates, B. Hodgson, E. Simpson, J. Cubillo

A 190-point blowout saw Wanderers signal its intent heading into the pointy end of the season, with the club’s highest-ever score of 37.19 (241) making for formidable reading against Tiwi’s 7.9 (51). The Muk Muks burst out of the blocks with 10 goals to the Bombers’ one in the opening term, before adding no less than seven in each of the remaining quarters to build the fearsome final margin. Brett Eddy was the main destroyer, helping himself to his second haul of nine goals for the season and backed well by partner-in-crime Simon Bates (six). Midfield guns Shaun Mannagh and Josh Cubillo also combined for nine majors, while fellow engine room operator Dane McFarlane was at his dominant best. Combined, they easily outclassed a young Tiwi side which lacked raw starpower. Dion Munkara and Harley Puruntatameri booted two goals apiece as the best Bombers afield, with bigman Jack Mongiatti also continuing his rich vein of form despite the Bombers’ 13th-straight defeat.

WARATAH | 5.2 | 11.8 | 17.13 | 24.18 (162)
PALMERSTON | 2.3 | 2.4 | 3.5 | 5.6 (36)

GOALS:

Waratah: A. Ankers 5, K. Kantilla 3, R. Turnbull 2, B. Orval 2, B. Carroll 2, A. Kirby 2, T. Mosquito 2, H. Kerinaiua 2, J. Sutton, M. Blake, J. McGrath, J. Simson
Palmerston: M. Rankine 3, J. Harvey, S. Lampton

BEST:

Waratah: R. Turnbull, C. Searle, T. Mosquito, H. Kerinaiua, A. Moloney
Palmerston: E. Guthrie, S. Brock, K. Annand, A. McAdam, T. Lui

Waratah stood up at both ends to easily account for Palmerston, riding home to the tune of 130 points at TIO Stadium on Saturday. The Warriors have somewhat gone under the radar in their top five tilt but made a statement with the 24.18 (162) to 5.6 (36) victory, proving their scoring prowess and the killer instinct to run their opponents into the ground. A potent Waratah midfield was spearheaded by Abe Ankers, who booted a game-high five goals in the winning effort. Robert Turnbull was also outstanding through the middle while Callum Searle went to work on the rebound and Kim Kantilla notched three majors as part of Tahs’ 12 individual goalkickers (eight multiple). Matthew Rankine was Palmerston’s main source of scoring with three goals, accounting for half of his side’s total. Eric Guthrie proved typically solid as young defenders Sandy Brock and Tyrrell Lui were kept busy in the heavy loss.

SOUTHERN DISTRICTS | 2.3 | 4.4 | 6.6 | 9.10 (64)
DARWIN BUFFALOES | 4.1 | 6.3 | 8.6 | 11.10 (76)

GOALS:

Districts: L. Ogden 2, J. Dahlhaus 2, J. Sexton 2, B. Rolfe, K. Jones, J. Ross
Darwin: M. Campbell 6, B. Foster 3, R. Pendlebury, S. Ahmat,

BEST:

Districts: J. Clark, L. Ogden, J. Sexton, J. Dahlhaus, J. Ross
Darwin: M. Campbell, R. Pendlebury, B. Foster, K. Kossack, C. Atkinson

Darwin all but sealed the top five with a month left to play after downing Southern Districts by 12 points, putting the Buffaloes three games clear in the finals places. The two-goal margin was established early on and remained consistent throughout the scrappy contest, as the Double Blues answered every challenge to run out 11.10 (76) to 9.10 (64) victors. Veteran Buff Matt Campbell continues to thrive up forward and notched six goals to be the best player afield. Brodie Foster again proved his reliability inside 50 with another three majors, while Lionel Ogden, Jay Dahlhaus, and Jack Sexton all snared two for the Crocs in a more even spread of contributors. Ryan Pendlebury was another important figure for Darwin and found a scoring opportunity, also featuring among the best players alongside 100-gamer Kayle Kossack.

NIGHTCLIFF | 3.1 | 4.3 | 4.6 | 5.10 (40)
ST MARY’S | 0.4 | 2.9 | 3.11 | 3.13 (31)

GOALS:

Nightcliff: L. Holt-Fitz 2, S. Wilson, R. Mu, J. Butcher
St Mary’s: J. Calder, B. Tedcastle, J. Williams

BEST:

Nightcliff: T. Boyd, J. Peris, A. Jorgensen, S. Wilson, P. Wills, B. Filo
St Mary’s: D. Landt, S. Edwards, J. Calder, K. Parnell, M. Wilkinson, T. Saunders

Only eight goals were kicked between Nightcliff and St Mary’s as the Tigers adapted best to run out 11-point winners in a rain-effected contest on Sunday night. The reigning premiers brought their typically skilful style in the opening term to build a defining three-goal lead before the heavens opened and both teams were made to get their hands dirty. Despite scoring pressure from the Saints, Nightcliff held on to win 5.10 (40) to 3.13 (31) in the low-scoring slog. Tom Boyd was instrumental for Nightcliff as the dependable Shaun Wilson and Phillip Wills also played their part, while Liam Holt-Fitz finished as the game’s sole multiple goalkicker (two). Dylan Landt continued his excellent season for St Mary’s, named best afield in front of the likes of Shaun Edwards and Tylah Saunders. Jackson Calder was another to stand up in difficult conditions, finding the big sticks on one occasion.

Featured Image: Waratah were big winners over Palmerston in Round 14 | Credit: Felicity Elliott/AFLNT Media

2021 AFLW Preview: Carlton Blues

CARLTON proved its rise from wooden spooner to grand finalist was no flash in the pan, establishing itself as one of the competition’s powerhouses with another strong campaign in 2020. This year, the Blues are primed for another premiership tilt under much-loved coach Daniel Harford, starting with a season-opening blockbuster against traditional rival, Collingwood at Princes Park.

2020 RECAP

2020 ended as a ‘what if’ season for each preliminary finalist, but the Blues looked like a side daring to dream after their surprise grand final appearance the year before. Having finished second in Conference B at 5-1, Carlton fended off a pesky Brisbane outfit in the first week of finals to cap a five-game win streak at the ideal time.

A first-ever loss to fierce rival, Collingwood in Round 2 came as a shock but only seemed to click the Blues into gear thereafter as they answered every challenge with aplomb. Harford’s Blues became known for their fighting spirit, stringent yet dynamic structures, and the ability to take over games when it mattered.

Madison Prespakis was among those to enjoy stellar individual seasons, taking out the AFLW best and fairest award in just her second campaign. Spearhead Tayla Harris and co-captain Kerryn Harrington earned All Australian honours alongside the star midfielder, showcasing Carlton’s strength through the spine and just why the Blues remain bonafide premiership contenders.

NEW FACES

The acquisition of Elise O’Dea, one of the competition’s premier midfielders, headlined a bumper trade and draft period for the Blues. Their squad depth, particularly through midfield is among the best in the league and O’Dea will work to take a load off Prepakis in the engine room.

Another former Demon in Maddy Guerin looks to be past her injury troubles having come through a preseason hitout unscathed, with her pace something the Blues valued before she landed at Princes Park. Charlotte Hammans, formerly of the Gold Coast was the third in-league signing, again bringing some dash and dare on the outer and up forward. Those kind of traits were clearly ones the Blues targeted heavily at the trade and draft tables.

Carlton welcomed a trio of Victorian guns through the draft too, adding to the already fearsome dynamism and versatility of its midfield group. Mimi Hill is already one of the coach’s favourites credit to her work ethic and adaptability, making her a chance to feature in the senior side early on. Daisy Walker has also taken well to senior level and fellow Sandringham Dragons graduate Winnie Laing is an exciting runner who, like Hill, captained her NAB League team.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

Carlton players and staff alike have lauded the condition Abbie McKay has returned in for season 2021, with the league’s maiden father-daughter selection set to take on some added responsibility in her third senior campaign. Expect to see even more of her through the Blues’ star-studded midfield; with her work-rate, conditioning, and hardness at the ball all traits which bode well for dominance at the contest.

Darcy Vescio is an established name but could take the competition by storm as she spends more time in the engine room, and livewire Georgia Gee is another who is looking to do the same. Inaugural Blue Jess Hosking will take on a new role as well having trained with the forwards during preseason.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

The Blues have become renowned for their ability to adjust to different gameplans under Harford, who has such a dynamic squad at his disposal. The versatility of Carlton’s crop makes it a scary proposition for all opposition coaches and players, able to flick a switch on gameday and play to a range of styles. In the midfield mix alone, the ball winning prowess of Prespakis, O’Dea, and Grace Egan will be complimented with the x-factor of Vescio and Gee, with a heap of moving parts able to impact at the coalface. While other teams excel in one style, the Blues can triumph in a range of ways and that is exactly why they can win it.

QUESTION MARK

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? The Blues are so strong through midfield and have a raft of options who can move through there when needed, but it raises the potential problem of overchoice. While versatility and adaptability are key strengths of this Carlton side, it could be a factor which works in the opposite way at the selection table or in crunch moments. Premiership teams are typically steady and know the exact structure which yields a winning formula, so does that leave Carlton with too many makeups? We may find out in 2021, especially with some of the added depth.

FINAL WORD

Carlton is arguably one of the top three premiership contenders in 2021 and will fancy itself to book in another finals appearance, with a postseason win the marker of a successful campaign. Given the lofty standards set, the Blues will hope to go even better than that mark and gun for the ultimate prize, something well within their reach.

Featured Image: Madison Prespakis breaks with ball in hand | Credit: Michael Klein

2021 AFLW Preview: Brisbane Lions

BRISBANE made a surprise finals appearance last season and will again be reaching for the stars under coach Craig Starcevich in 2021. Having continually undergone a wealth of list changes, the Lions’ squad is relatively young but more settled now and has the backing of brilliant leaders who look poised to continue their quest in proving the naysayers wrong.

2020 RECAP

The Lions were far and away the biggest surprise packet early last season, going undefeated across the first four rounds and setting the base for eventual finals qualification. A drawn Q-Clash in Round 3 was the only blemish on Brisbane’s record in that time, until a top-of-the-table clash with Fremantle sparked a string of three losses. Having gone down to the Dockers and Collingwood to end the regular season, Brisbane put up a fight against Carlton come finals time, but ultimately fell away in a game indicative of its season as a whole.

At the end of it all, the Lions had a third place finish in Conference A to show for their efforts as stalwart defender Kate Lutkins was named her side’s sole All Australian representative. The likes of best and fairest winner Emily Bates and spearhead tall forward Jesse Wardlaw enjoyed breakout seasons, helping form a good springboard for the Lions to leap off heading into 2021.

NEW FACES

Another promising draft crop should put the Lions in good stead in terms of squad depth, with a good mix of talents entering the den. Zimmorlei Farquharson headlined Brisbane’s intake at pick eight, putting her behind Gold Coast’s Annise Bradfield as the second Queenslander selected overall.

The speedy half-forward/winger is a threat on the attack; impacting both in the air and at ground level while also applying her pace going both ways. She represented her state at the Under 18 National Championships in 2018 and 2019, impressing as an under-ager and going on to win this year’s QAFLW premiership with the Yeronga Devils. The Lions Academy graduate has great versatility, a trait consistent with the remaining draftees.

Indy Tahau was the next taken at pick 37, another athletic type whose dynamism suits a range of roles. The South Adelaide tall has family ties to the Sunshine State and has already played senior football, promising to bring great competitiveness across all levels for the Lions. Mature-age recruit Ruby Svarc, the sister of 2020 standout Cathy, is another promising inclusion. The former Essendon VFLW dasher plays much like her sibling with terrific run-and-carry, moving the game forward aggressively. At 27-years-old, her readymade status suits the Lions’ upward trend.

Elsewhere, Brisbane’s only trade action saw Taylor Smith recruited from Gold Coast. The developing Suns Academy product is a tall with good athleticism and upside. Courtney Hodder was a rookie selection, while Beth Pinchin finally gets her shot at the top level as a replacement player, as Sharni Webb sits out the 2021 season due to pregnancy.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

Listed at number five in Draft Central’s AFLW 10 Under 10 to watch series, Nat Grider is one to keep an eye on this year. The 20-year-old is poised to enter her third season of top flight football and after playing just twice in her maiden campaign, will be full of confidence having cemented her spot across all seven games in 2020.

The versatile 171cm defender went from strength to strength last year and now has some solid experience under her belt, making her a dependable option when shutting down opposition forwards, intercepting or rebounding out of the back half. With the potential to also play through midfield, Grider has some promising upside and came into the competition as a highly touted junior. Should she continue her upward trajectory, she could be a key player in Brisbane’s push for consecutive finals berths.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

Most point towards Brisbane’s youth upon first glance at its list, but make no mistake that the famed ‘foundation eight’ will be at the centre of their side’s premiership quest. The crew of inaugural Lions will be shaved down to seven this year with Webb’s absence, but are well represented in the leadership group with skipper Emma Zielke flanked by vice-captain Breanna Koenen, 2020 All Australian Lutkins, Shannon Campbell, and Bates. Fellow foundation members Ally Anderson and Jess Wuetschner are also set to go around once again and have proven their class across multiple seasons. Should these unmistakable leaders continue to bind together and support the Lions’ exciting youth, they could climb to the top of the tree in years to come, if not now.

QUESTION MARK

A lingering theme surrounding Brisbane’s 2020 campaign was its steep fall-off after the halfway mark. The Lions were able to lean on their mix of hardened leaders and youthful exuberance to go undefeated across the first four rounds, but came up short against some stiff opposition thereafter. Capturing greater consistency across the whole season will be key and the growing experience levels of the squad as a whole should put Brisbane in good stead. But having arguably overachieved in 2020, the question remains; will the Lions fall away again in 2021?

FINAL WORD

Brisbane is beginning to look like a settled squad after bearing the brunt of expansion, with the building blocks of a finals contender now set. Experience will count for a lot as the Lions strive to become more consistent and set the standard for a raft of promising youngsters to work towards. A better-than-expected finish in 2020 will perhaps bring some unwanted expectation, but this is a side capable of fighting and causing upsets against highly fancied teams caught lacking. Finals should again be the goal, but it will be tough.

Featured Image: Lions skipper Emma Zielke leads her side out | Credit: Brisbane Lions/AFL Media

2021 AFLW: All the practice game results

AFL WOMEN’S sides got their first taste of competitive action for 2021, with a series of scratch matches played behind closed doors around the nation and giving a glimpse into what to expect from the upcoming season. We go around the grounds to bring you the results and key points out of each game as Round 1 edges closer.

AROUND THE GROUNDS

Saturday January 16:

West Coast 4.3 (27) def. by Fremantle 5.7 (37) @ Lathlain Park

Fremantle edged local rival, West Coast in a Western Derby sighter at Mineral Resources Park, despite a hot start from the Eagles. The two sides could not have finished any further apart among Conference B in season 2020, but West Coast showed promising signs of improvement by bolting to an Aisling McCarthy-inspired lead in the first half. The former Western Bulldogs Irishwoman booted three of her side’s four goals for the match, all coming within the opening term. In the end, Freo’s experience and depth across the field won out in the 10-point victory, a result which was expected of the premiership contender. Star midfielder Kiara Bowers was at her typical best, while the Eagles looked solid through midfield as prize draftee Bella Lewis got her first taste of senior football.

Geelong 5.4 (34) def. by Melbourne 8.7 (55) @ Kardinia Park

Melbourne shook off some preseason cobwebs with a 21-point win over Geelong on the road, overcoming a hefty first term deficit to run over the top of the Cats. The home side bolted out of the gates with four-straight majors, but saw its lead quickly dissolve as Melbourne piled on five goals in the second term. Geelong only managed one more major thereafter, seeing Melbourne ride home a reasonably comfortable victory. The return of young gun Denby Taylor will buoy Cats players and fans alike, while fellow 2018 draftee Tyla Hanks starred for Melbourne as she looks to nail down a spot in midfield. Her development looms as all the more important as lynchpin Karen Paxman nurses a leg injury sustained on the day, with Meg Downie (sprained ankle) another unfortunate casualty.

Carlton 6.4 (40) def. St Kilda 5.8 (38) @ Princes Park

A late Breann Moody goal saved Carlton’s blushes against St Kilda, helping the Blues come away with a two-point victory at Princes Park. The two sides shared spurts of momentum throughout a closely-contested game, with Carlton leading by eight points at the main break before falling behind and eventually fighting back to claim a last gasp win. St Kilda’s young talent was on full show with speedy midfielders Georgia Patrikios and Tyanna Smith returning good shifts opposed to the dynamic Georgia Gee and Darcy Vescio, who will look to push into the engine room this year. Tayla Harris watched on from the sidelines, but Carlton unveiled its boom recruit in Elise O’Dea alongside Maddy Guerin and Charlotte Hammans. Bianca Jakobsson suffered a broken collarbone in a big blow to the Saints on the eve of the season, though Tarni White made a strong return from her long-term knee injury.

Richmond 3.11 (29) def. by Western Bulldogs 6.7 (43) @ Punt Road Oval

Five final term goals saw the Western Bulldogs roll Richmond by 14 points at Punt Road Oval, as the top two 2020 draftees went head-to-head in their new colours. The young pups trailed at every break before an inspired last dig produced the desired effect, with skipper Ellie Blackburn chiming in from a more forward-oriented role and prized draftee Jess Fitzgerald showing her wares through midfield. Fellow Northern Knights graduate Ellie McKenzie was also promising for the Tigers, while Bulldogs father-daughter gun Issy Grant was unleashed after missing her entire maiden season. As promised, 2020 Rising Star Izzy Huntington featured up forward in the red, white, and blue but was contained by a well-drilled Richmond defence, though there was no stopping Monique Conti as she dominated in the yellow and black.

Gold Coast 4.2 (26) def. by Brisbane 6.7 (43) @ Metricon 2

Brisbane came out on top in its preseason Q-Clash with Gold Coast, creating a greater wealth of opportunities to come away the 17-point victor. Away from home up at the Metricon Stadium facilities, the Lions’ scoring effort was led by Greta Bodey (two goals), who finished as the game’s sold multiple goalkicker. Prolific young forwards Jesse Wardlaw and Kalinda Howarth also found the big sticks for the respective sides. The Suns named surprise coup Sarah Perkins for her first game in new colours, while another former Saint in Alison Drennan also made her maiden appearance for Gold Coast. While Brisbane young gun Lily Postlethwaite was not named, exciting draftees Zimmorlei Farquharson and Indy Tahau were among the squad which took home a solid win ahead of Round 1.

Sunday January 17:

Collingwood 7.5 (47) def. North Melbourne 5.5 (35) @ Princes Park

Collingwood picked up an upset victory over North Melbourne at Princes Park on Sunday, signalling even more improvement to build on that of 2020. The Magpies were left a couple of talls short after Sharni Norder (late withdrawal, finger) and Erica Fowler (cheekbone) sustained injuries, but conjured enough fluency away from the midfield battle to run away 12-point winners. The magnets were shuffled a touch as Bri Davey spent some time up forward, where fast-developing draftee Amelia Verlardo booted two majors. Father-daughter coup Tarni Brown impressed further afield in her first outing, while usual suspects Emma Kearney and Jasmine Garner were among North’s best. Returning star Jess Duffin (adductor) was a late out for the Roos, but looms as a high-level inclusion this season.

Adelaide 2.21 (33) def. GWS 2.1 (13) @ Norwood Oval

Severe inaccuracy did little to stop Adelaide from picking up a confidence-boosting win over GWS on Sunday, with just two of the Crows’ 23 scoring shots resulting in majors. Despite finishing with an equal amount of goals, the Giants were comfortably adrift both in general play and on the scoreboard, going down by 20 points. Newly-named Crows captain Chelsea Randall made a pleasing return from injury in the win, but the game was cut short in the final term as Giants Irishwoman Brid Stack was taken to hospital with a potential spinal injury. Elsewhere, defender Sarah Allan was trialled up forward and returned one of her side’s two goals, pointing towards her potential versatility this year as the Crows look to bounce back to premiership contention.

Featured Image: St Kilda’s Tyanna Smith fights for a clearance | Graham Denholm/Getty Images via AFL Photos

2020 AFL Draft recap: Western Bulldogs

WITH the consensus best player available in this year’s draft tied to their Next Generation Academy (NGA), the Western Bulldogs did a heap of early work to ensure their man would arrive at the kennel, along with at least one more National Draft selection. The momentum of a bumper trade period carried on into the next intake opportunity and is set to put the Dogs in good stead for another finals push in 2021. Boasting a spine which is filling out nicely and a ridiculously deep midfield, Luke Beveridge‘s side looks primed to ascend in the coming seasons.

WESTERN BULLDOGS

National Draft:
#1 Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Country)
#55 Dominic Bedendo (Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country)

Rookies:
Lachlan McNeil (Woodville West Torrens), Roarke Smith (Re-listed)

The Bulldogs were well prepared to match a bid for NGA gun Jamarra Ugle-Hagan anywhere within the top three, and did so without second thought when Adelaide put them on the board with the very first pick. Their remaining selections were effectively wiped, leaving only a late third rounder to look forward to thereafter.

Ugle-Hagan promises to form a formidable forward combination with Aaron Naughton, adding even more aerial firepower and match-winning ability. The Oakleigh Chargers graduate is quick off the mark and has a sizeable vertical leap, making him near-impossible to stop on the lead. Despite the lack of a top-age season, he has long been pegged as this year’s first choice and could quickly become one of the competition’s elites. He should be in the frame for an early debut.

With just one more point of call in the National Draft, the Bulldogs added another raw and athletic talent in Dominic Bedendo at Pick 55. The lean Murray Bushrangers product has outstanding athleticism across the board and good versatility in the the sense that he can play either up forward or as a wingman. His ceiling is quite high, but there is plenty of development left to make and strength to be added to his 187cm frame.

The only other fresh face to arrive at Whitten Oval was 19-year-old Lachlan McNeil, taken in the Rookie Draft. After being overlooked last year, the Woodville-West Torrens midfielder remained in the conversation with a quality SANFL League campaign for the eventual premiers. His inside-outside balance and running capacity would have appealed to the Bulldogs, who admittedly now have an embarrassment of riches in the engine room.

VIDEO RECAP:

Featured Image: Jamarra Ugle-Hagan was the consensus best player in this year’s draft | Credit: Western Bulldogs

2020 AFL Draft recap: West Coast Eagles

AFTER entering last year’s draft at Pick 49, West Coast’s night opened all the way back at Pick 52 this time around as the Eagles signal their intent to stay within the premiership window. Three fresh faces entered the elite ranks overall, with some handy versatility and readymade types among the target areas West Coast identified. Having finished fifth on percentage and lost a home elimination final in 2020, the Eagles will be desperate to climb back into the top four with its strong and mature core remaining.

WEST COAST

National Draft:
#52 Luke Edwards (Glenelg/South Australia)
#57 Isiah Winder (Peel Thunder/Western Australia)

Rookies:
Zane Trew (Swan Districts/Western Australia), Daniel Venables (Re-listed)

The Eagles were put on the clock in the third and final round, selecting South Australian Luke Edwards with Pick 52. Edwards is the son of Adelaide great, Tyson, but was overlooked by the Crows as a father-son nomination and thus eligible in the open draft to other clubs.

The Glenelg product was a standout bottom-ager at last year’s Under 18 carnival and went on to gain senior experience with the Bays this year. He gets a big tick for versatility; able to play off half-back, as an inside midfielder, or even rest forward, boasting clean skills and natural footballing nous as his key strengths. A readymade choice.

Just a handful of selections later, West Coast would have been thrilled to bring in local talent, Isiah Winder, a crafty small who can also play multiple roles and has outstanding athletic traits. The Peel Thunder talent gained some good traction after blitzing the West Australian draft combine, but had also previously showed his wares on-field with eye-catching displays in the WAFL League and Colts competitions.

Having started as a small forward with good goal sense and marking ability, Winder further utilised his speed and skill in 2020 as a midfielder, while also rotating off the flanks at either end. He had long been linked with West Coast’s first pick, but should prove a great value option just a few spots down the order.

Eagles staff would have been just as content with the coup of Zane Trew as a rookie, given he was considered one of the most unlucky players to have missed out on National Draft selection. He is a handball happy inside midfielder out of Swan Districts with great extraction ability and awareness in-close, but will be hoping to get an extended run after multiple injury setbacks.

VIDEO RECAP:

Featured Image: Eagles draftee Isiah Winder trains in his new colours | Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images via AFL Photos