THE Demons have been one of the stronger sides in the AFLW during the past two seasons. But with a big loss of players in the off-season, we will see a new-look Melbourne outfit on the park in 2019. Perhaps the biggest loss of the season was losing star midfielder, Daisy Pearce, which will undoubtedly challenge Mick Stinear to change his game plan heading into 2019.
Last season: 3rd – four wins, three losses.
In: Maddison Gay, Talia Radan, Tyla Hanks, Madeline Brancatisano, Jordann Hickey, Shelley Heath, Chantel Emonson, Shae Sloane, Casey Sherriff, Ashleigh Woodland
Out: Richelle Cranston, Melissa Hickey, Erin Hoare, Anna Teague, Jasmine Grierson, Emma Humphries, Laura Duryea, Maddie Shevlin, Alyssa Mifsud
Melbourne’s list changes have seem to go under the radar compared to the likes of the Collingwood and Brisbane lists. Geelong caused the most havoc to the Melbourne line-up, taking Richelle Cranston, Melissa Hickey, Erin Hoare and Anna Teague to Kardinia Park. The other expansion team, North Melbourne took two Tasmanian natives in Jasmine Grierson and Emma Humphries, leaving a gap in Melbourne’s defence. However, the Dees have covered this quite well with the recruitment of Talia Radan and Shelley Heath, who are handy defenders who can run or play on a key player. They have also boosted their midfield stocks with the loss of Pearce and Cranston, recruiting Under-18 representatives, Tyla Hanks and Madeline Brancatisano, who are two midfielders with great agility.
Area of strength: Midfield
Melbourne’s midfield has always been one of the strongest in the competition, but they will be without Daisy Pearce and Richelle Cranston this season. A recruit who has not been talked about much is Maddison Gay from the Blues. Gay was voted the Best First Year player when she was Carlton, and is a smart midfielder who is clever with the ball in hand. She should help to assist Elise O’Dea and Karen Paxman, who have always been consistent in the middle of the ground for the Dees. Add in Brancatisano and Hanks, and Melbourne has a good core group of midfielders. Katherine Smith and Kate Hore are also set for a good season after finding some consistency for the Casey Demons in the VFLW season.
Area of weakness: Forward line
The Demons are lacking some numbers in the forward line. While they boast the likes of Tegan Cunningham and Aliesha Newman, the list does not go much further than that. Jordann Hickey is a crucial pick-up for the Dees to rectify this issue. She will be a key target up forward thanks to her solid hands and accurate kick. Eden Zanker should be set for a good year as well, finding some form in the Casey Demons VFLW side, but she was starved of opportunity last year, so she will also be pretty new to the AFLW environment.
Players to watch:
Tyla Hanks has made the All-Australian Under 18s side two years in a row and is a force to be reckoned with in the midfield. On the inside, she is sharp with her hands and can clear congestion with her forceful kicking. She co-captained the Gippsland Power in the TAC Cup Girls competition, so is no stranger to being an on-field leader. Hanks can also float up forward and make an impact to steady the ship for her team, highlighting her ability to be versatile in a Melbourne line-up that lacks forward depth.
Originally from Alice Springs, Hickey made her mark on the 2018 VFLW season with 14 goals for the NT Thunder. From her 14 games, she also averaged 8.25 disposals per game, with her season-high coming against Richmond, where she racked up 16 disposals and also kicked two goals. Hickey managed to kick goals in seven of her games for the Thunder, showing great consistency across the season. She fought hard inside 50 and provides a tall target, which will be pivotal for the Demons.
Zanker got to play some consistent football again for the Casey Demons in the VFLW, after only playing three games for the Demons in the AFLW last year. She kicked nine goals from her 14 games with Casey and was named in the best four times. Zanker has a calm run-up and a precise kick, and is also great at winning the ball inside 50. She was the Demons’ first selection in the 2017 draft so Melbourne will have high hopes for her to show why she was selected so high in the draft.
2019 prediction: 4th in Conference A
Despite a strong midfield, the Demons could struggle in their 50s, making for a difficult run in a difficult conference. However, they could get off to a good start with Fremantle and Collingwood looming as their first opponents of the season. It then gets a whole lot harder with Brisbane, North Melbourne and Greater Western Sydney (GWS) to come. When the Demons’ defence comes up against a powerful forward line like North Melbourne’s, and their forwards go head-to-head against Brisbane’s A-grade defenders, it could spell trouble for them.