Category: GWV Rebels

High stakes training: Vic prospects take the field ahead of draft day

VICTORIAN AFL Draft prospects hit the track one last time before draft day, strutting their stuff at Highgate Reserve in a one-off training session on Wednesday. The meet served as a final chance for recruiters to survey the talent available in this year’s pool, just a week out from draft day on December 9.

Players who earned Draft Combine invites in September were split into two major groups, initially separating those from country and metropolitan regions, before being divided even further into small drill groups of five to seven participants. Among those on display were potential number one picks Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Elijah Hollands, the latter of which participated in a running program amid his recovery from a preseason ACL tear.

Draft Central analyst Ed Pascoe was on hand in Craigieburn to recap all the action and give an insight into how things panned out.

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RECAP:

By: Ed Pascoe

A sense of irony came over me walking into Highgate Reserve, the same ground I last got to watch a lot of these young players back on March 15, right before Covid derailed the Victorian football season. It was a Northern Knights vs. Oakleigh Chargers trial game on that day and the ground was bustling with keen onlookers, many the same faces I would see today and it was great to see the development of some of these players. One of the big matchups in March was Nikolas Cox vs. Jamarra Ugle-Hagan which looked to be a clash we would see if the National Championships went ahead. Fast forward a few months and both players have bulked up, looking as sharp as ever in the lead up to the most important time of their lives.

To start the day it was the Vic Metro based players who were split into four training groups with the following participants:

Group A

Ewan Macpherson
Reef McInnes
Bailey Laurie
Archie Perkins
Will Phillips
Conor Stone

Group B

Cody Brand
Nikolas Cox
Josh Eyre
Liam Kolar
Ollie Lord

Group C

Jake Bowey
Josh Clarke
Connor Downie
Max Holmes
Finlay Macrae
Corey Preston

Group D

Matthew Allison
Lachlan Carrigan
Luke Cleary
Eddie Ford
Liam McMahon
Fraser Rosman

Injured Group

Max Heath
Campbell Edwardes

Vic Country players would later take the field and were split into three main groups:

Group A

Cameron Fleeton
Zach Reid
Josh Treacy
Jamarra Ugle-Hagan
Henry Walsh

Group B

Ryan Angwin
Will Bravo
Jack Ginnivan
Charlie Lazzaro
Zavier Maher
Blake Reid
Harry Sharp

Group C

Dominic Bedendo
Sam Berry
Tanner Bruhn
Clayton Gay
Oliver Henry
Seamus Mitchell
Nick Stevens

Injured Group (Laps)

Elijah Hollands
Charlie Ham
Noah Gribble

There were four main drills conducted after a warm-up; with ground balls, marking, kicking, and handballing the respective focus areas. The ground ball drill involved taking half volleys, running towards the loose ball coming from behind them, taking on the bump bag and finally working in pairs to pick the ball up cleanly under pressure from a teammate.

The marking drill was changed slightly as the day went on but the main focuses were receiving a high ball before getting called to a certain colour cone to run to, turn, and then meet at the drop zone of the ball. Contested marking was the final focus, with two players coming from either the back or front to contest a mark. This drill was certainly the most competitive and one of the drills players had the most fun in, with plenty wanting just ‘one more go’.

The kicking and handballing drills were fairly standard with a three-man weave, and a short to long stationary handball among the handball drills. The kicking drills consisted of kicking to a stationary target often 45 degrees to another player, and finally a drill which involved kicking to a leading player which really separated the better kickers on the day – especially in the notoriously windy conditions at Highgate Reserve.

Overall, it was a great day for the players to get a run while bonding with some former teammates and potentially future teammates. It was also a nice little refresher for scouts and recruiters as well, who got to see how some of these players have progressed both in their football and in their body. It is hard to gauge who would be considered the ‘standouts’ from this training session but most players put in the effort required and it was also good to see some really get involved with coaches and looking for advice in certain drills, showing their commitment to getting the best out of themselves.

In Contention | Outsider AFL Draft prospects to consider: Vic Country

COME the end of a year like no other, there is likely to be a greater amount of hard luck stories and near misses than ever before, especially after the recent cuts to AFL list sizes. But for all that doom and gloom, the 2020 AFL Draft intake is also poised to provide some of the best stories of positivity as elite level hopefuls rise from the adversity this year has put forward.

In Draft Central’s newest series, we take a look at some of the draft prospects who remain in contention to fulfil their draft dreams despite missing out on invites to their respective states’ draft combines. These combine lists are often the best indicators of clubs’ interest in players, with at least four nominations required for those who were not selected in the two national Under -17 showcase games last year. Outsider talent from the Vic Country regions are next to go under the microscope, and there are plenty around the mark despite missing a full year of football.

Below are pocket profiles of some players to watch, which will also feature in our upcoming annual AFL Draft Guide.

>> 2020 AFL Draft Pool
>> AFL Draft Whispers: 2020 Edition
>> Power Rankings: November Update

BENDIGO PIONEERS:

Sam Conforti | Midfielder/Small Forward
15/03/2002 | 174cm/72kg

The diminutive mover quickly established himself as a mainstay in Bendigo’s lineup last year, going on to average 17.3 disposals across 16 games. He played mostly on the wing but was looking to develop as a hard-running, creative small forward.

Aaron Gundry | Ruck
17/02/2001 | 200cm/84kg

A player who could have benefitted greatly from another year in the NAB League system, Gundry is a mobile ruckman who has also enjoyed stints up forward. The 19-year-old’s clean hands and upside are his strengths, but he has some filling out to do.

Jack Tillig | Half-Back
07/03/2002 | 186cm/84kg

Tillig could have been one to surprise this year with a full NAB League season, set to return to the Pioneers after representing GWV while boarding at St Patrick’s Ballarat for school. He is a solid rebounder who also intercepts well at half-back.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS:

Henry Berenger | Key Defender
31/01/2002 | 193cm/86kg

One who contributed a solid bottom-age campaign consisting of 15 games, Berenger showed he was capable of playing a key defensive role. His athletic profile does not jump off the page, but the 18-year-old is a readymade and versatile rebounder.

Blake Kuipers | Key Defender/Ruck
25/07/2001 | 197cm/82kg

A former high-level volleyballer, Kuipers is a player with plenty of upside who featured at last year’s Under 18 National Championships. He is quite raw, but very athletic and can fill key position posts at either end or in the ruck. Was poised for a big 2020.

Deakyn Smith | Outside Midfielder/Forward
22/08/2002 | 179cm/68kg

Part of Melbourne’s Next Generation Academy, Smith is a lightly-framed outside midfielder who can also rotate forward. He has good speed and plenty of raw talent, but is working on adding polish and consistency to his overall game.

Bayleigh Welsh | Midfielder/Forward
19/01/2002 | 180cm/82kg

Dandenong players and staff alike rate Welsh as a talent who was poised to make a real impact in 2020. He averaged a tick under 12 disposals across 14 NAB League games last year and was set for a more permanent midfield role.

GEELONG FALCONS:

Gennaro Bove | Midfielder/Small Forward
14/01/2002 | 177cm/78kg

One of two Geelong Falcons co-captains for 2020, Bove is a clean and agile small midfielder who can also get his hands dirty on the defensive end. His size and smarts bode well for development as a small forward in future.

Darcy Chrigwin | Inside Midfielder
25/07/2001 | 191cm/89kg

Another player who was poised to shift back to his native region in 2020, Chirgwin was also unlucky not to be picked up last year. The 19-year-old has grown to 89kg and would be a readymade choice as far as inside midfielders go.

Jay Dahlhaus | Small Forward
21/05/2001 | 172cm/71kg

Currently plying his trade with Southern Districts in the NTFL, Dahlhaus is an exciting small forward who brings terrific creative energy and defensive pressure to the forward half. Injury curtailed his top-age season last year and he was set to impact as a 19-year-old in 2020.

GIPPSLAND POWER:

Jai Newcombe | Inside Midfielder
02/08/2001 | 184cm/85kg

Was poised to stake his claim as one of 2020’s feel-good stories, having finally made the cut at Gippsland after being overlooked in multiple preseasons. He is an inside bull who proved hard to tackle at this year’s trials and the Power were certainly high on his potential as an over-ager.

GWV REBELS:

Isaac Wareham | Outside Midfielder
24/12/2001 | 186cm/77kg

Another who was unlucky to be overlooked last year, Wareham looked set to put injuries behind him and build on a top-age season which saw him represent Vic Country. He has plenty of development left as a December birth and makes things happen with ball in hand, playing into his overall upside.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS:

Ethan Baxter | Key Defender
31/01/2002 | 193cm/82kg

A Richmond Next Generation Academy member, Baxter was an Under 16 All Australian in 2018 and had some development left to make in 2020. He is a strong key defender who can hold his own in the back 50, especially in one-on-one and aerial contests.

Kade Chalcraft | Outside Midfielder
28/03/2002 | 182cm/79kg

Chalcraft was touted for some more time on the inside this year having already showed his worth as a creative outlet on the outer. He is an evasive small-medium type who played 16 games as a bottom-ager.

Sam Durham | Balanced Midfielder
09/07/2001 | 185cm/77kg

One of last year’s state combine invitees, Durham missed out on being drafted as a top-ager but garnered interest with his speedy adjustment to the code as a multi-sport athlete. He moves well and has good skills, but would be working on his game sense and consistency.

2020 AFLW Draft review: St Kilda Saints

NOW the AFL Women’s Draft is over, we take a look at each club, who they picked and what they might offer to their team next year. We continue our countdown with St Kilda, a team that showed promising signs in its inaugural season and will be on the rise in 2021 after being one of the most impressive performers through the draft.

St Kilda:

#6 – Tyanna Smith (Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country)
#24 – Alice Burke (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#34 – Renee Saulitis (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)
#40 – Jacqueline Vogt (Southern Saints VFLW)
#51 – Tahlia Meyer (South Adelaide)

Every club is a winner post-draft, but St Kilda’s draft hand is one to celebrate and leave the red, white and black supporters really excited. Three young guns who were steals in the draft, followed by a couple of mature-agers including one already in the Saints’ program and another underrated talent in the SANFL Women’s, this is a side to watch in 2021.

Tyanna Smith was one of only a few who could challenge as the best player in the AFL Women’s Draft crop, so to see the Dandenong Stingrays star land at pick six and join former Stingrays’ teammates Molly McDonald and Isabella Shannon at Moorabbin is a coup in itself. She is arguably the most complete player from the Under 18s, with elite athleticism, great skills, terrific decision making and a big-game player. She will complement Georgia Patrikios in there and the two will almost be uncatchable.

Alice Burke is one the fans would have been tracking for a little while given the men’s team has not had too many father-sons over the years. The daughter of club legend and now Western Bulldogs’ coach Nathan, Burke is a tenacious midfielder who has also spent time at half-back. Coming from a soccer background, Burke would have been a top 15 pick in an open draft, so again like Smith, represents value. With her defensive pressure and dual-sidedness, Burke is a massive inclusion to the Saints’ outfit.

Renee Saulitis was the premier pure small forward in the draft, and while she showed over the last 18 months she could play in defence or midfield, she is most at home in a forward pocket. Oozing X-factor and goal sense, she is another who could come straight in and cause all sorts of damage at the feet of Caitlin Greiser, and is one to watch as a quick developer. She provides a niche little role in there, and cannot be left alone inside 50.

Jacqueline Vogt comes out of the Southern Saints program where she performed as a versatile forward. Strong and not afraid of the contest, the mature-age Vogt could slot into the side straight away if required following her consistent 2019 VFL Women’s season.

Finally, the Saints picked up slick ball user Tahlia Meyer with the extra pick they opted to pass on draft night. The South Adelaide prospect was one of the most underrated players in the SANFL Women’s competition, but hardly put a foot wrong with her disposal and vision going inside 50 a treat to watch. It seems to be a running theme with the Saints – good ball use and decision making – and Meyer fits the bill and is also readymade to have an impact at senior level.

Overall the Saints included some serious X-factor and talent to their line-up with fans likely to see them continue to rise up the ladder and worry some more experienced teams next season.

Picture: St Kilda Women’s Twitter

2020 AFLW Draft review: Melbourne Demons

NOW the AFL Women’s Draft is over, we take a look at each club, who they picked and what they might offer to their team next year. We continue our countdown with Melbourne, a team that made finals for the first time in the Demons’ history last season but have looked to rebuild through the draft.

Melbourne:

#5 – Alyssa Bannan (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)
#15 – Eliza McNamara (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#17 – Maggie Caris (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)
#35 – Megan Fitzsimon (Gippsland Power/Vic Country)
#41 – Mietta Kendall (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)
#48 – Isabella Simmons (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)

Melbourne’s draft hand was perhaps the most unique of the lost, with no two players the same in terms of their role or style. In some cases there might be some cross-overs in roles or styles, but the uniqueness of the haul makes the Demons a real unique group that can fill some important holes around the field.

Picking up Alyssa Bannan at Pick 5, the Demons get a readymade key forward who can also roam through the midfield. Expect her to start deep and cause all sorts of issues for defenders with her athleticism, overhead marking and goal sense. While many tall forwards are out of the contest after the marking contest, Bannan can also play the role of small forward and create something out of nothing from ground level.

Eliza McNamara is a hard-nut through the middle who can play in multiple positions. Traditionally the pocket rocket is an inside midfielder, but spent time on the outside and even up forward at times to increase her versatility. Possessing terrific athletic capabilities and a fierce attack on the ball, McNamara will be a player Dees fans can’t help but like.

Another midfielder brought into the club is Gippsland Power’s Megan Fitzsimon. The balanced midfielder can also play at half-back or half-forward, but has that elite burst and is able to use the ball well going inside 50. She is so balanced and can win the footy and distribute it by hand or foot out of a stoppage and is taller than McNamara. Clean and precise is a way to describe Fitzsimon.

Also likely to front up onball is Maggie Caris, although the 189cm-odd talent will be tapping it down to her teammates. The standout ruck in the AFL Women’s Draft class, Caris is good around the stoppages with clean hands and a strong work rate. She is developing some areas of her game coming from an elite netball background – that she still competes in – but has some unique traits thanks to her size and skillset.

Caris’ junior teammate in Isabella Simmons is not much smaller at 184cm, but instead she is predominantly a half-forward who can push up onto a wing. She might seem like a key position forward at that size, but her mobility and desire to run in transition makes her a perfect role for further up the ground. She is someone who has one of the highest upsides in the draft with very few players of her height able to move the way she does.

Finally, Eastern Ranges’ Mietta Kendall joined the club with the reliable defender having a consistent 2019 and a really strong start to 2020. She loves the contested one-on-ones, able to win the ball in close and distribute out, and can play an anchor role in defence, or even a shutdown role if required. A no-frills player, Kendall is one who you can guarantee will play her role each and every week.

Melbourne fans should be excited by the players the club has brought in, filling quite a number of holes across the field and setting up the red and blue for the future.

2020 AFLW Draft review: Club-by-club picks

THE dust has settled on the exciting 2020 AFL Women’s Draft. Over the next week we will be delving into each club’s selections and detailing more information about those players who earned places at the elite level. Below we have listed each club’s selections from last night’s draft if you are waking up to check out who your newest stars are.

Adelaide:

#4 – Teah Charlton (South Adelaide/Central Allies)
#45 – Rachelle Martin (West Adelaide)
#47 – Ashleigh Woodland (North Adelaide)

Brisbane:

#8 – Zimmorlei Farquharson (Yeronga South Brisbane/Queensland)
#37 – Indy Tahau (South Adelaide/Central Allies)
#38 – Ruby Svarc (Essendon VFLW)

Carlton:

#12 – Mimi Hill (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
#28 – Daisy Walker (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#36 – Winnie Laing (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)

Collingwood:

#19 – Tarni Brown (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)
#25 – Amelia Velardo (Western Jets/Vic Metro)
#26 – Joanna Lin (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
#31 – Abbi Moloney (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#33 – Pass

Fremantle:

#14 – Sarah Verrier (Peel Thunder/Western Australia)
#30 – Mikayla Morrison (Swan Districts/Western Australia)
#46 – Tiah Haynes (Subiaco)

Geelong:

#10 – Darcy Moloney (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)
#20 – Laura Gardiner (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)
#21 – Olivia Barber (Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country)
#27 – Stephanie Williams (Geelong Falcons/Darwin Buffettes)
#39 – Carly Remmos (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)

Gold Coast:

#7 – Annise Bradfield (Southport/Queensland)
#23 – Sarah Perkins (Hawthorn VFLW)
#50 – Maddison Levi (Bond University/Queensland)
#54 – Janet Baird (Palmerston Magpies)
#57 – Lucy Single (Bond University)
#58 – Elizabeth Keaney (Southern Saints VFLW)
#60 – Daisy D’Arcy (Hermit Park/Queensland)
#61 – Wallis Randell (Bond University)

GWS GIANTS:

#9 – Tarni Evans (Queanbeyan Tigers/ACT)
#29 – Emily Pease (Belconnen Magpies/Eastern Allies)
#42 – Libby Graham (Manly Warringah Wolves)

Melbourne:

#5 – Alyssa Bannan (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)
#15 – Eliza McNamara (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#17 – Maggie Caris (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)
#35 – Megan Fitzsimon (Gippsland Power/Vic Country)
#41 – Mietta Kendall (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)
#48 – Isabella Simmons (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)

North Melbourne:

#13 – Bella Eddey (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#22 – Alice O’Loughlin (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
#44 – Georgia Hammond (Darebin Falcons VFLW)
#49 – Brooke Brown (Launceston)
#55 – Amy Smith (Aberfeldie)

Richmond:

#1 – Ellie McKenzie (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)
#43 – Tessa Lavey (WNBL)
#52 – Luka Lesosky-Hay (Geelong Falcons/Richmond VFLW)

St Kilda:

#6 – Tyanna Smith (Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country)
#24 – Alice Burke (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#34 – Renee Saulitis (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)
#40 – Jacqueline Vogt (Southern Saints VFLW)
#51 – Pass

West Coast:

#3 – Bella Lewis (Claremont/Western Australia)
#18 – Shanae Davison (Swan Districts/WA)
#32 – Julie-Anne Norrish (East Fremantle)
#53 – Andrea Gilmore (Claremont)
#56 – Pass
#59 – Pass

Western Bulldogs:

#2 – Jess Fitzgerald (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)
#11 – Sarah Hartwig (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#16 – Isabelle Pritchard (Western Jets/Vic Metro)

Simmons excited by future possibilities

KNOWING the possibility of reaching the elite level is potentially within reach on Tuesday, Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels’ Isabella Simmons is excited by the prospect. It has been a long road to this point for the tall midfielder/forward who has developed her game over the years coming through the Vic Country and AFL Women’s National Academy. When thinking about the chance of playing at the elite level and what it would mean to her, there was no doubting Simmons’ excitement.

“It would just turn my world around really,” Simmons said. “It depends, getting drafted would be amazing and so wonderful, there’s really no words I would be so happy and over the moon if I got drafted. “I think that would mean pack up and move down to Melbourne if I’m drafted by a Melbourne team, but right now there’s a lot of uncertainty, I’ve still got to sit exams and still got to get into uni to pursue a primary teaching course but I don’t know where I want to go because it will pend with footy and where I get drafted.

“It would be awesome, because who would have thought 10 years ago that there’s an AFLW and with AFLW competition,” she said. “It’s grown so much and the girls, their skills are so much more elite compared to the first season when they played. “It’s so much more exciting to watch and I’m really excited to see how it goes in the next five years because it’s going to be massive. “Girls have only been playing since they were young and now there’s so much more opportunities, great time to become a part of footy because it’s moving so quickly and growing. “It’s really just so awesome to get drafted and makes me so happy.”

Like many female footballers coming through the pathways now, there was not always the opportunity a decade ago so they looked to other sports. In Simmons’ case, this was a variety of sports, but her love for Aussie rules did not wane.

“When I was younger I always had a footy in my hands, I always loved footy,” Simmons said. “We live on 40 acres out of town, there was plenty of paddocks and land I was able to kick the footy around and I had two brothers so I would normally kick with them. “But there was really no opportunity with the girls footy, I played netball and basketball and I did athletics when I was younger through to 12-years-old when I had to stop.”

Living in western Victoria, Simmons first had the opportunity to play football when she was 14-years-old, joining the local boys team. After spending a season there, she moved into the Ararat Storm Football Club where a number of current GWV Rebels had honed their craft. She played in a premiership in her first season, and alongside now AFL Women’s talent Georgia Clarke, moved on to the GWV Rebels from Ararat.

“We weren’t like best friends, but I was a bottom-age player and she was a top-age player and she played for Ararat Storm for a couple of years and I just remember watching her what she did and then when I played Rebels when I was 16, when it was my first year for them, she was in the leadership group for Rebels,” Simmons said. “It was just nice to have a familiar face around the club because I was bottom-age and it was a bit daunting, but she made it seem like I was just playing for the Ararat Storm. “Then from there my local Ararat Storm team, a lot of opportunities with these GWV Rebels girls, I played interleague and V/Line Cup and then was lucky enough to be in the National Academy for two years and that’s where I am now.”

Simmons spent a lot of time on the road, not just for football, but for other sports such as Little Athletics where she travelled to places like Horsham and Warrnambool. Despite needing to travel 90 minutes to attend training in Ballarat, Simmons said it was not a bother and instead would have loved an additional training session a week if it was possible.

What the Rebels’ talent loves about footy is the fact that there are so many people working towards the one goal and sharing the same passion. It has allowed her to travel to places such as Queensland (AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships) and Darwin (AFL Women’s Academy), which she said handed her experiences she “didn’t think could be possible”.

“With athletics doing growing up it was an individual sport, there was a lot of pressure because it was all on you,” Simmons said. “I love that it’s (footy) a team sport and you’re all on the same team. “I’m a team player so I just love being a team player who’s apart of a group of girls who are passionate about the same thing. “We all love footy and we all have a connection with that. “The new friends you meet, I’ve met so many new people just in football and it’s really opened me up, it’s just a whole other world out there.”

Admittedly when she was invited to the AFL Women’s Academy, Simmons had no idea what it was. Once she began doing some research, she found out just how important it was, and some of the experiences she was about to partake in. Simmons said the Rebels had given her great foundations for building a career, and then the Academy had taken it to another level again with the training and coaching.

“Being a bottom-ager for the Academy, our first trip was to Canberra, and that was the best camp I’ve ever been on,” she said. “I just loved everything, it was just amazing to be able to be a part of something. “Of the girls who couldn’t be part of it, I was lucky enough to have that opportunity, I feel super lucky and grateful for that, being able to be part of the Academy for two years now and I feel like it’s made me a better person and opened me up to new things. I’ve met so many new people and it also took my footy to the next step.”

Standing at about 184cm, most people would assume Simmons plays through the ruck or at full-forward. Instead, she quite often plays on the wing, or at half-forward. While she admits she has the size to play through the ruck, the fact Maggie Caris has “dominated” there has allowed her to play in her more preferred wing/half-forward role.

“I love playing on the wing because when I was little I did athletics, I just had that natural ability to run and I love playing on the wing because you get more involved in the action and you’re around it a bit more,” Simmons said. “But if you’re versing a team and they’re absolutely pumping you, and I’m in the forward line you don’t get a lot of action, but it’s just wherever the team needs me.

“I love playing forward too, I don’t like full-forward because I feel like you’re a bit restricted to where you go because you’re only in the goalsquare, but I love the high-forward, centre half-forward, half-forward flank,” she said. “I’m able to run a bit more and this year was meant to be the year where I use my left foot being on a high flank and be able to wheel and go and hit up people on the short lead.”

Simmons rates her left boot which can be penetrating and effective, adding that in her opinion, “leftys are better than rightys”. Boasting a number of super athletic traits, Simmons has great upside for the future because of her size but ability to play as a smaller player. As for her improvements, it was about getting into the dangerous positions, admitting on some occasions she might lead too early and the ball go over her head, so it was further learning her leading craft which could round out her game.

Having spent so much time on the road over the years, Simmons credited her mother with being her main source of inspiration, as well as an international cricketer she has always looked up to throughout her life.

“I think probably my mum because she’s always been there for me through growing up, she was always there, always encouraged me so my mum definitely (is an inspiration). “But also I love Ellyse Perry, she’s an Australian cricketer, she’s been really inspirational for me because she’s so modest, and I think we have a lot of connections. “We both put the team first and just all the little things.

“But also, and she’s also not just a successful cricketer, she’s got a good character and she’s just herself and she’s got so far with that,” she said. “I think she’s been pretty inspirational and a great leader for me because we have those connections and I think that she’s not a footballer, she’s a cricketer and it’s a different sport. “I think she’s pretty cool.”

As someone no stranger to awards over multiple sports including basketball and athletics, Simmons has more accolades than most, but admits she would rather play her best to help her team, rather than herself. Looking back on her career, her choice to take up football was a brave, but now ultimately rewarding one.

“I’m just really grateful when I moved, it was a huge move with under 14 boys then moving to the girls team my first year was daunting with the Ararat Storm,” Simmons said. “That was a huge move and I’m just so grateful that I did that and the memories that I had with those girls was pretty awesome and it was just awesome.”

Now Simmons waits to hear if her world can be turned around following the 2020 AFL Women’s Draft on Tuesday night.

Caris hopes to follow sister into AFL Women’s

GREATER Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels’ Maggie Caris is on the verge of following her sister Rene into the AFL Women’s competition, after the AFL Women’s National Academy member received a Draft Combine invitation earlier this month. While the lockdown period that ended her top-age year might have worried the talented ruck, she was grateful to have her sibling alongside her back in Quantong.

“It’s really been handy, especially having Rene home in lockdown just to train with and she gives me some insights which I’m really happy to have,” Caris said. “Going through the pathway and the Academy and things. “I think she’s given me some insights that if I didn’t have her I wouldn’t have known, so I’m really happy to have someone with information that she has.”

“My sister (is my inspiration),” she said. “It’s great to see how she’s improved just from her time and just how she’s been able to make her way through the pathway which I think has been really awesome for her.”

Caris in her own right is an incredibly talented sportsperson, making every Victorian state netball team since 2016 across the age groups of Under 15s, Under 17s and Under 19s, as well as retaining her place in the Australian Junior Netball Team over the past few years, currently in the Under 21s national squad.

The 189cm draft prospect is fairly new to football compared to most, joining the local competition in Horsham – which is only 15km east for Quantong – and then enjoying a successful era with Ballarat Grammar where she boarded. But prior to her boarding, Caris had specifically focused on round ball sports.

“Originally in my very junior days I was a bit of a basketballer and a netballer,” Caris said. “Just the usual sports kid trying everything, as you do. “I started playing footy when the female football league in Horsham started up at my local club, one of the first clubs to form a team. “So that was really exciting and to be part of the inaugural Deakin Female Football League here. We ended up winning the premiership which was really exciting.”

Between that and playing the one game of girls footy at school a year, that’s sort of where my interests started,” she said. “Then my sister started playing football and she eventually started playing for Geelong so obviously I just started following in her footsteps and when I moved down to boarding school in Ballarat Grammar, the interest really started to develop there as they have a really big culture there in Ballarat. “The GWV Rebels have a team which I trialled for and eventually got into. From then on, I just started to develop my football and that’s how I sort of got to there.”

At Ballarat Grammar, Caris played first in a losing Herald Sun Shield Grand Final at GMHBA Stadium, before winning last year’s final at Highgate Recreation Reserve. As many dual-sport athletes try to do, Caris has been juggling both her football and netball with great success.

“It all comes down to communication and just trying to keep a balance which it can be difficult at times,” Caris said. “But I’m really lucky to have really great coaches in both programs and S&Cs (strength and conditioning) that are able to structure my programs so I’m able to maximise my training in both areas to allow for as much development as I can in each respective sport. “I don’t have hours as such, more just allocated times and making sure I’m not overdoing it with too much here and there. “I’m really lucky to have really great support staff around me.”

Hailing from the Horsham region Victoria’s west, Caris has to hit the road for long periods of time which has meant plenty of travel over the years, but she is thankful her family are on board and supportive.

“I’ve been playing for state netball and things since I was about 12-years-old,” Caris said. “Me and mum used to drive to Melbourne to do a 800km round trip from my home town of Quantong which is 15km west of Horsham. “We’ve been doing trips there up to Melbourne and back for many years now so moving to Ballarat made things a lot more easier and a little bit less travel which was nice. “Travelling to Melbourne for training is obviously there, and we have lots of national competitions so I’ve gone to Adelaide and Queensland so yeah it keeps me busy.”

A number of AFL Women’s talents have dual sports they balance across the year, and Caris hopes to do the same with her netball coexisting alongside her footy.

“That would be the ideal situation to play both for as long as possible,” Caris said. “I really feel that netball and football both together provide different opportunities that allow me to develop in ways that I haven’t before and I think ever since I started playing football my netball’s developed and I think there’s some components of netball which really helped me to advance my football as well. “I think the pair work really well together so I hope that in the future whatever happens that I might be able to compete in both sports.”

Caris has been able to transition some areas of her netball game into her football, such as rebounding on the court, to her ruck work on the field. Standing at 189cm, Caris was the tallest player in the NAB League Girls and dominated the hitouts all season. Furthermore, being a member of two elite pathway programs, she has been able to build a wealth of knowledge.

It is no surprise that Caris is able to use her height to advantage and it being one of her strengths in her game to get first hands to the ball in stoppages. The Rebels’ ruck’s running ability has also been a feature of her game for her height, and has been a steady improvement over the past few seasons with the NAB League side. While her kicking is her self-proclaimed improvement, Caris is slowly building to have more and more impact around the ground.

Her improvement over the years earned her a place in the 2019 AFL Women’s National Academy, and then again in her top-age year this year, something that “shocked” Caris considering the quality of her cohorts.

“When I first found out in 2019 it was really exciting just to be named alongside girls like Lucy McEvoy and Millie Brown who are obviously exceptional players so to be in the group with them, I was very shocked,” Caris said. “Coming to the next year it was obviously really exciting to be around the plethora of players who are just so talented. “It was a bit unfortunate that we only got to go to one camp but I think just the fact that we did just get the one camp, it showed how talented the girls were and how much more that they have to give.”

Caris is a goal-setter who aims to improve with little facets of her game whether it be football, netball or otherwise. While the NAB League Girls’ abrupt end to the season was disappointing, Caris made the most of her long off-season at home.

“In a game of football or netball, setting myself little targets just little things to tick off every single time,” Caris said. “How many intercepts in netball or footy or how many marks can you spoil, how many hitouts you can get and deliver to your teammates just little ones at a time. “Once I’m settled in something, I set up some longer term goals. “But mostly shorter term goals, especially at home with all the fitness I’ve got to do and skills acquisition.”

Caris thanked the GWV Rebels staff for all their support over the years not just for her, but her family, and enabled her to follow her passion alongside her netball. Now it is a waiting game to see if she can follow her sister into the AFL Women’s next week.

One game enough for talented Astbury

NOT many aspiring footballers receive an invitation to the AFL Women’s Draft Combine. Even fewer have only played one elite junior game of Australian rules football. In fact, that exclusive club belongs to one player – Alice Astbury.

The Greater Western Victoria (GWV) over-age talent recently tuned 19 over the break and was not expecting too much. After being on the list in 2018 as a middle-ager but not playing a game, and then taking the 2019 season off, Astbury only has the 2020 season form to go off.

In theory, that sounds fine. In practice, a concussion ruled the 172cm talent out of the first two games of the season, and Astbury squeezed in one game – against the Western Jets – before the global pandemic delayed and ultimately cancelled the NAB League Girls season. It is fair to say the 19-year-old was a little surprised when she received word that she had interest from AFL Women’s clubs and had a Draft Combine invitation.

“I was 100 per cent shocked,” Astbury said. “I did not in a million years think that I would be invited at all. “I thought after the Rebels season was cancelled I kind of thought to myself, it would be great, it would be awesome to be in that position to be able to go to the combine, but I knew that it’s hard for clubs obviously with little footage and knowledge about my game and stuff like that about my game. “It’s hard to take me on and they might see that as a risk.”

“So when I did get the invitation it was so exciting. “(I thought) How has this happened? It’s so amazing. “It took me a few days to wrap my head around it and now I have it’s awesome.”

Rewinding back to the start of her football journey it is not too far, just a few years ago when she started boarding at Ballarat Grammar. Following in the footsteps of her older sisters, Astbury joined the football team and went on to win Herald Sun Shields in 2017 and 2019, and also came runner-up in 2018.

“I started playing Year 10 at Ballarat Grammar for my school,” Astbury said. “I just played for three years for all three years that I was at Grammar in the school footy team and Year 11 I was asked to play for Rebels. “I trained with the team and everything but I actually didn’t end up playing a game that season. “I think I played one game practice match for the development team in Year 11. “But yeah didn’t end up playing with the squad.”

“Year 12 I took a year off Rebels,” she said. “I didn’t play in Year 12. “I started to focus on study. And then it was at the end of Year 12, the current Rebels coach Rhys Cahir called me up and he just basically said ‘look we think you’d fit in well with the team and have a real chance of going somewhere with your footy if you want to do that, so we want you to be our 19-year-old if you’re willing to play’ and yeah that’s probably when I decided I would play, so I did that.”

Originally hailing for her local high school in Ararat – Marian College – Astbury played a few one-day tournaments, but with the matches only lasting 20 minutes, the teenager said it was not really a major sport in the area. She grew up playing netball and was only introduced to the oblong-shaped ball game at boarding school. It was from that moment that a new sport appeared on the horizon as more and more of her cohort began getting involved in the sport.

“It was watching my older sisters play their first games for the school and I think it was just this ‘woah women can do this too, it isn’t just for men’ and it was kind of really intriguing and as soon as I saw them play that’s when I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Astbury said in regards to what attracted her to football.

Despite now finding her feet in the game, Astbury still wanted to set her priorities on family and studies, choosing to forgo a place at the Rebels in her top-age year and instead spend the weekends playing netball for her local club, Tatyoon Hawks while doing her best in her final year of high school.

“After Year 11 they asked me again to come back and play for Rebels but I knew that I would want to be home because I was boarding at Ballarat,” Astbury said. “I knew that I would want to be home on most weekends if I could. “Then obviously there was the study as well, so I kind of waited as well. “If I know I want to be home and I’ll be studying, then there’s probably a lot of other girls wanting that opportunity rather than me going in half-heartedly knowing that “I’ve still got a lot of study that I need to be doing, so that’s why I took the year off in Year 12. “I didn’t even really think about the fact that I would even have the opportunity to play this year.”

Her first Herald Sun Shield was a memorable experience, running out on the MCG and winning a title. It still stands as her favourite football memory as “you can’t beat winning a grand final on the MCG”.

Astbury’s choice to get into football was not only aided by her sister’s taking up the sport, but by her father’s support, something she said has helped as the biggest inspiration for her career.

“I think that he was also very new to the fact of girls playing footy when my eldest sister started playing at Grammar,” Astbury said. “I was probably very unsure of it at the start. “Ever since we all started playing we’ve been really enjoying it, he’s always there with the comments before the game. “Helping us improve the things we need to and he definitely isn’t scared to tell us what he thinks or what we need to improve. “But he’s also good at helping with that improvement instead of just saying we need to improve it.”

Astbury said her greatest strength is “not fearing the outcome”, while she is keen to improve her kicking and technique as a relative newcomer to the game.

“I’ve always sort of thought that my biggest strength was not fearing the outcomes,” Astbury said. “My dad has always drilled it into me, you go in hard for the footy and you get it out fast so I think I probably show not too much fear when I go into hard contests, which is something maybe a lot of other people struggle with and steer away from. “Probably just that and I’m a bit stronger than I look to be, so those are what I’m best at.”

Her technique is something she has been working on during the off-season break, as well as her fitness while contemplating her options. Not 100 per cent set on her exact course, Astbury is looking to get into the health field and where she studies could be dependent on next week’s AFL Women’s Draft. Whatever happens, it is safe to say the former netballer is now hooked on footy and is keen to follow that passion wherever she goes.

“I haven’t thought much about it,” Astbury said. “Next year has probably been a big question mark for me because I haven’t had a big idea where I wanted to live or what I wanted to do at uni so footy might help with that if I get drafted to like Geelong, that might make my decision on which uni or where to stay a bit easier. “But I think I would definitely like to continue to play footy whether it’s for a uni team or for a local club.”

Saulitis rides wave of success on the back of hard work and determination

WHEREVER South Warrnambool’s Renee Saulitis goes, generally premierships follow. She tasted success at Ararat Storm, then at Lake Wendouree, and at Ballarat Grammar in the Herald Sun Shield. Now the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels prospect is hoping that all those long treks from the Shipwreck Coast to the Goldfields will pay off at next month’s AFL Women’s Draft.

The natural small forward who has played in multiple positions across the field, had a relatively straightforward pathway to the elite junior levels of Australian rules football, but it was not without a heap of dedication.

“I started with Auskick level back in the day when I was about five,” Saulitis said. “My brother was playing as well and was playing with a few others and that was really good fun. “Then I moved up with the boys in the Under 12s and Under 14s and then moved on with the girls with South Warrnambool and then Ararat Storm which was in the Ballarat league. “I’m from Warrnambool so we had to travel there, but that was a more developed league and found my footing there and now that I’ve started boarding at Ballarat Grammar I started with Lake Wendouree. “That was really good.”

“But then I’ve also played with the Rebels for a few years now and was a rookie back in the day and we used to just travel to trainings but didn’t actually have the opportunity to play games because I was too young. “So I’ve come through and obviously represented Vic Country and Team Vic a couple of years so that’s been really good.”

Travelling regularly from Warrnambool up to Ballarat, Saulitis said it was a lot of hours in the car for her parents, but everyone was onboard and supportive of her determination to reach the elite level.

“Yeah it was tough for my parents I think but we did for the love of it,” she said. “They loved doing it for me as well so was really thankful for that. “But I think we got used to it, but in the end travelling to Rebels trainings and stuff when I wasn’t in Ballarat and to games. “We did sort of get used to it and sometimes I didn’t travel to training to Ararat, I just did my own stuff here in Warrnambool or trained with South Warrnambool to help with that.”

When Saulitis ended up boarding in Ballarat it saved plenty of travelling, but it also opened the door to a whole new football competition – the Herald Sun Shield – where she enjoyed the title playing last year, after coming runner-up in 2018.

“Yeah that was really exciting because I came from Warrnambool College and there really weren’t any footy teams so when I got up there it was really exciting having a really successful team,” Saulitis said. “Obviously making a few grand finals and winning a few as well. “It was a really good group of girls through those years and we were just really disappointed we couldn’t see what we could do this year as well.”

Alongside her school football commitments, Saulitis was making inroads at the Rebels and earned a place in the Vic Country side at Under 16s level a couple of years ago and played as a middle-ager at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships last year. The talented small said she loved going up to the Gold Coast and playing in a multitude of roles.

“Yeah that was a really good experience, I really enjoyed that,” Saulitis said. “We started off by playing in the forward line and they gave me a game in the backline so that was a really good experience. “It was a really great group of girls where I made some really good lasting friendships and those friendships will continue forever.”

Off the back of that and her performance throughout the 2019 NAB League Girls competition, Saulitis was invited to the AFL Women’s National Academy, something she admits she was not expecting.

“Yeah having that first camp was really exciting,” she said. “I was kind of shocked to see my name get called out for that because last year I obviously wasn’t in it and it was really exciting to have an opportunity to go on three camps but only having one. “It was a little bit disappointing seeing as though the first camp was really awesome and I learnt a lot of things.”

Earlier this year Saulitis put in a match-winning performance against Sandringham Dragons, booting two goals in the final term to help her Rebels side get over the line in a close match.

“I started off as a high forward and playing as the sixth rule that Rhys (Cahir, Rebels coach) wanted me to, which was moving up and being more of a midfielder which is good to see my hands on the ball and get into the game early,” Saulitis said.

“I think he saw I was in the game, but when it came down to that fourth quarter I got thrown into the forward pocket. “I was sort of hoping that the ball would come down and it did so I was able to have an impact so that was really exciting to kick those two goals.”

Among Saulitis’ strengths are her goal sense, kicking, running and agility with the small forward often being the one turned to in order to create something out of nothing inside 50. She has been working on her fitness lately and wants to be able to have a bigger defensive game, especially applying pressure inside 50. Unfortunately that aspect was cut short by the season’s cancellation.

“Yeah I was kinda disappointed having being a vice-captain and we had a really good Rebels side this year compared to other years and obviously we were quite successful this year,” Saulitis said. “So yeah it was sort of disappointing, but I guess you could see it coming and it was a bit of a shock as well. “I wasn’t sure that could actually happen, that it could get cancelled but it did so it was a bit of a shock. “We’ve just got to cop it on the chin and move on because it’s something we can’t control.”

Saulitis said she preferred her forward pocket role and being able to impact the scoreboard, but also liked testing herself across the ground and being as versatile as possible. While she cannot remember exactly when she wanted to reach the elite level, she has certainly set her sights on it since the AFL Women’s was founded.

“I can’t really remember exactly what I thought when I was younger,” Saulitis said. “But even playing on the MCG and all those stadiums when you were younger with the Auskick stuff. “It was really awesome running out in front of the crowd, so yeah I definitely think it was something I strived for, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do because there wasn’t the women’s competition at the time.”

Helping her along the way was her inspiration and Rebels teammate now Tiger, Sophie Molan.

“Playing along people like Sophie Molan, who has definitely been a mentor of this time and I can chat to her whenever I feel like it and you know when I was in Ballarat I was able to kick the footy with her and just chat to her about everything and what’s coming up and really good to lean on,” Saulitis said.

While her season has not been able to be as consistent as she hoped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Saulitis showed enough over the past few seasons to earn a AFL Women’s National Draft Combine invitation.

“This year I just really wanted to play consistent games and make sure I put myself out there and tried to have an impact in each game and working on that,” she said. “But also the end of the year goal was definitely just to get drafted for sure.”

Draft Central All-Star Team matchup: Geelong Falcons vs. GWV Rebels

OUR next All-Star Team battle is between two Victorian regions in the Geelong Falcons and Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels – formerly known as North Ballarat. The two captains voted in by the public as the All-Star Players of the AFL Draft era were Gary Ablett Jnr (Geelong) and Adam Goodes (GWV).

TEAMS:

These clubs are seeded second (Geelong) and 15th (GWV) respectively, forming another Round of 16 clash in our draw. Geelong was one of two teams to enjoy a bye in the Round of 32. The winner will qualify for the quarter finals, set to face the victor of the Claremont vs. South Fremantle tie.

STRENGTHS:

Both sides are absolutely stacked. There are Brownlow medalists, premiership players, and All Australians scattered across either lineup, which is to be expected come this stage of the tournament. There is some serious depth at play here.

Geelong is particularly adept in each area, boasting a formidable spine and a midfield which has pushed the likes of Ablett, Patrick Dangerfield, and Shaun Higgins out into the forwardline. Not many goals would be conceded against a back six which includes Matthew Scarlett, Nick Maxwell, and Luke Hodge, but plenty of majors are to be scored up the other end via Jonathan Brown and Scott Lucas. Add the class and grunt of Jimmy Bartel, Cameron Ling, and Travis Boak through the middle, and you have one hell of a team.

The Rebels lay claim to an even squad too, with a versatile defensive mix and a two-punch key forward combination of Drew Petrie and Jeremy Cameron. The midfield mix is another highlight, with Matt and Brad Crouch among the engine room alongside Brad Sewell, while the extremely versatile Sydney Swans legend, Goodes skippers the side as its starting ruck.

WEAKNESSES:

There is not much in the way of true weaknesses, per se across either lineup, but perhaps more structural tweaks to be made. Geelong’s back six is a touch tall, with four players over 192cm and able to play in key position posts, while Hodge can also contribute aerially and Matt McGuire remains on the bench. In saying that, there is not much in the way of ruck depth, meaning Matthew Primus takes the reins solo.

The one small area of concern for GWV could prove its lack of a true small forward, with Tom McDonald making it three key position forwards in the front six mix, while Shaun Grigg, Liam Picken, and Tim Notting fill out the line as players who arguably all plied their best trade further afield.

SUMMARY:

It is hard to look past Geelong in any clash, and this one is no different. The Falcons have produced a multitude of AFL stars and have them scattered across each line in this team. They will go deep in this tournament. The Rebels are one of the most prolific regions too, but just boast a touch less depth against the second-seeded side.

Which All-Star Team are you picking?
Geelong Falcons
GWV Rebels
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