Tag: AFLW

2021 AFLW Preview: St Kilda Saints

ST KILDA’S inaugural AFL Women’s campaign produced some notable highlights as the Saints brought football back to Moorabbin, with solid building blocks now in place for an improved second season. Another promising draft crop and handy additions during trade period will only add to the Saints’ emerging squad, which will again look to knock on the door of finals in 2021.

2020 RECAP

As one of the better performed expansion sides, St Kilda finished fifth in the stronger Conference A at 2-4. Losses in the first two rounds were quickly forgotten as the Saints upset foundation club, Melbourne by five points to open Round 3, making for a memorable maiden win. A heartbreaking one-point loss to Fremantle followed, but showed that the Saints could hang with the best on their day.

They would be rewarded for competitive form with another victory in Round 6 after keeping Richmond goalless, capping off a very respectable first crack at the top flight. Leading goalkicker and joint best and fairest, Caitlin Greiser was the sole Saint to earn All Australian honours, also finishing one spot ahead of fellow first year gun Georgia Patrikios (equal-third) in the Rising Star voting.

NEW FACES

Having already formed a solid foundational core, the Saints picked up another couple of established players to accompany their exciting draft hand. The dynamic Bianca Jakobsson was a terrific coup, but has recently undergone surgery to repair a broken collarbone sustained in a scratch match on the eve of season proper. Jayde Van Dyk was the other trade acquisition, set to help shore up the defence after crossing from Carlton.

Tyanna Smith headlined St Kilda’s draft effort and will likely prove an absolute steal at pick six. The Dandenong Stingrays graduate adds to the Saints’ exciting young midfield with her searing pace and capacity to play both inside and outside. Father-daughter selection Alice Burke was another value pick at 24, again bolstering her new side’s engine room with toughness and great tackling pressure.

The versatile Renee Saulitis was another shrewd selection, able to add some spark going forward and allow the Saints’ second year guns to perhaps spend more time in midfield. Southern Saints recruit Jacqueline Vogt rounded out St Kilda’s draft hand, with Tahlia Meyer taken after the fact and Jess Matin getting her chance in place of Irishwoman, Clara Fitzpatrick.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

Prized draftee, Smith is one to watch for St Kilda, especially after the level of performance from the likes of Patrikios, Molly McDonald, and Isabella Shannon in their debut seasons. Smith represents the next generation of talent which has taken over the competition of late and only adds to St Kilda’s exciting young depth. Her athletic traits blend nicely with high-level skill and good balance in midfield, pointing towards the kind of upside which could see her prove to be one of the top two players of her draft class.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

The Saints are fierce and love to compete. Headed by a strong, established leadership group and backed by competitive youngsters with plenty of class, the Saints are well balanced in terms of their squad profile and have plenty of players who can come in and push highly-fancied opposition. Peta Searle‘s side suffered a season-high loss of 25 points in 2020, while also going down by just 13 points to the reigning premier and a single score to the undefeated Fremantle. If they can continue to rattle established teams and lean on the experience of year one, these Saints could well exceed expectations.

QUESTION MARK

A relatively heavy turnover of players means the Saints will be tested for squad cohesion and depth, but they have proven strong in the face of such challenges thus far. Scoring may be an area of concern with not much in the way of firepower aside from Greiser and the 30-mark cracked just once last season – against the winless Richmond. Kicking a winning score will be key to not just competing with the top sides, but getting the better of them on any given day.

FINAL WORD

St Kilda showed up in its maiden AFL Women’s season and proved plenty of doubters wrong with strong performances each week. A couple of wins is a solid base to work off and notching at least one more in 2021 would be a decent pass mark with finals contention in the Saints’ sights. Should they again bind together to overcome injury disruptions, this exciting young unit could cause a few big upsets.

Image Credit: AFL Photos (Retrieved from St Kilda FC)

2021 AFLW Preview: Richmond Tigers

RICHMOND entered a baptism of fire in its maiden AFL Women’s campaign, but will be hoping for marked improvements in each department after a busy offseason. The Tigers were granted concessions and used them to trade in established players, while also laying claim to pick one in a highly talented draft. After a winless start, the only way is up for last year’s expansion side.

2020 RECAP

The Tigers will remain on the hunt for their first set of premiership points in 2021 after failing to register any last time around. Year one did not exactly go to plan for Richmond, at all, starting with a 34-point drubbing at the hands of Carlton to open the season. While they got within two goals of fellow expansion team, Gold Coast a week later, the newcomers were trounced by over six goals in three of their final four outings. A high-scoring encounter with Geelong in Round 4 yielded 45 points but the Tigers were otherwise impotent in attack, restricted to two goals or less on every other occasion – including a goalless return against St Kilda in the final home-and-away round.

NEW FACES

Importantly, Richmond was able to bring in some experience with means beyond the concessions afforded by the AFL at season’s end. Pick 15 was used to snare inaugural Blue Sarah Hosking, who slots straight into the leadership group. She promises to bring some competitiveness and a hard edge to the Tigers’ midfield, which is heavily dependant on one or two players.

Sarah D’Arcy and Sarah Dargan crossed from Collingwood, along with former-Dee Harriet Cordner in a three-way trade which again bolstered Richmond’s stocks. D’Arcy is likely to be somewhat reinvented as a defender in the yellow and black, while Cordner will rotate through the defence and ruck, and Dargan provides some spark moving forward with the potential to play midfield.

First pick, Ellie McKenzie headlined the Tigers’ draft haul and is another who should move straight into the starting side. A tall midfielder/forward with terrific speed, overhead marking and x-factor, McKenzie is a future star of the competition and was long touted as the best player in her draft class. Renowned basketballer Tessa Lavey was selected with pick 43 and Luka Lesosky-Hay got her chance after being overlooked in last year’s intake. Hannah McLaren, the daughter of former AFL umpire Scott, also gets her chance as a replacement for Holly Whitford.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

McKenzie would be a relatively easy choice in this category, as is our selection in Hosking. The former Blue is yet to miss an AFLW game and will be exactly the kind of player Tigers fans warm to immediately. She is a tenacious midfielder who runs hard and loves to get her hands dirty, setting a standard which Richmond largely lacked last year.

Should she be thrust into the centre bounce mix, Hosking will inevitably take a load off Monique Conti in the ball winning stakes and can also work to shut down the opposition’s best midfielder. Should she play on the outer or up forward, her defensive pressure will help lock the ball in Richmond’s attacking half, another area which lacked in 2020. The Tigers’ most high profile signing in the offseason will be looking to repay the faith in full, especially as part of her new side’s leadership group.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

After a lacklustre maiden campaign, it would be easy for other teams to overlook Richmond heading into 2021. The Tigers have added well to their squad and should be far more competitive as a result, potentially allowing them to fly under the radar and sneak up on some highly fancied teams who become complacent. The experience and class of Conti, Hosking, and a fully fit Katie Brennan in midfield will count for a lot of that competitiveness, while some much-needed spark up forward comes through McKenzie and the defence will be bolstered by Cordner. A handy spine is forming for Richmond and is something which could see the second-year side get some wins on the board.

QUESTION MARK

The Tigers were severely ineffective in the forward half last season and while a stronger group further afield will help their cause, the attacking movers have plenty to do to help Richmond kick winning scores. Bar a flash in the pan seven-goal game against Geelong, the Tigers failed to boot over two goals in 2020 and were too reliant on too few. That in itself is another factor which the Tigers will have to address, but more experienced heads will help ease pressure on their top-class talent.

FINAL WORD

Snaring a win will be the primary goal for Richmond in 2021 and from there, the sky should be the limit. It is likely the Tigers will be more competitive throughout games and the season as a whole this time around, with some solid talent added to the squad and greater depth beginning to emerge. Like any good Richmond side, fans will undoubtedly like to see some fight from this emerging team which is now better placed to produce exactly that.

Image Credit: Richmond FC

2021 AFLW Preview: North Melbourne Kangaroos

PERENNIAL premiership contender, North Melbourne will be hoping to bounce into consecutive finals series’ after its promising 2020 run was cut short. The Roos managed to maintain much of their strong core heading into this season and have added even more quality – not just to the overall squad, but also to the starting lineup with a star returnee. Under new head coach, Darren Crocker, expectations will be high at Arden Street.

2020 RECAP

A shock opening round loss to Melbourne could have derailed North Melbourne’s season before it even started, but instead served to emphatically kick the Roos into gear. The Roos got on the board with a steady three-goal win over GWS in Round 2 and never looked back, notching three victories of over 40 points among a fearsome undefeated run heading into finals. After finishing top of Conference A at 5-1, North was very nearly handed another upset loss in the postseason, but narrowly accounted for Collingwood to qualify for the would-have-been preliminary finals round. Skipper Emma Kearney was named vice-captain of the All Australian squad, joined by fellow midfielders Jasmine Garner and Ash Riddell in the side as outstanding individual performers. Kaitlyn Ashmore finished as leading goalkicker with 10 goals, one major ahead of Garner in the most potent side competition-wide.

NEW FACES

A handful of draftees were joined by emerging former-Richmond midfielder Grace Campbell in finding their way to Arden Street, adding some spark and plenty of potential to the Roos’ squad depth. 25-year-old Campbell is a raw talent who brings plenty of speed and tenacity to the engine room, making the squeeze for spots all the more tight after five appearances in her debut AFLW season.

Bella Eddey headlined the Roos’ draft haul at pick 13 and is aptly nicknamed ‘Silk’, credit to her wonderful skill on the ball. The 18-year-old will likely start forward alongside fellow NAB League graduate Alice O’Loughlin, but both have the potential to move through midfield in future. Also among the fresh faces are surprise father-daughter selection Amy Smith, VFLW coup Georgia Hammond, and Tasmanian Brooke Brown. North VFLW product Katelyn Cox was also given a chance through unlisted free agency after Elisha King‘s season-ending hamstring injury.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

Fans of all clubs will likely be looking forward to seeing what Jess Duffin can produce upon her return in 2021, with the former Magpie ready to add to her seven outings in the blue and white during 2019. An All Australian that season, the 31-year-old is far from finished in the top flight and will slot straight back into the Roos’ defensive setup. Her clean skills will only aid North’s ability to move the ball efficiently via foot, only raising her side’s potential to hurt the opposition going forward. With stars aplenty already littered across the Roos’ starting side, Duffin looks primed to serve a reminder of her own talents.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

Kearney, Garner, Riddell, Jenna Bruton – the list goes on. This North Melbourne side is stacked through the midfield and as has already been showcased, the Roos are as lethal as any side going forward. Dominating out of the middle goes a long way to doing exactly that on the scoreboard, which is the most significant factor in North’s premiership potential. Kearney and Garner can find the goals, there’s Emma King rotating forward through the ruck, Kate Gillespie-Jones standing tall, and the dynamic duo of Ashmore and Daisy Bateman inside 50 – all of whom prove that North has the stock to capitalise on its engine room prowess.

QUESTION MARK

It is difficult to find a fault with this North Melbourne side on paper, but one may ponder whether the Roos have missed the boat. 2019 may have been their inaugural season, but the Roos missed finals despite looking like a top two contender. Their run was cut short last year through no fault of their own, so can they maintain that level of performance for a third year running? Other teams like Fremantle and Carlton are only getting better, while Adelaide will be hungry to bounce back from a down season. The Roos have the stock and have only added to that, but the pressure will be on.

FINAL WORD

One of the competition’s powerhouse teams will surely accept nothing less than another finals win in 2021, with the chance for a maiden AFL Women’s premiership beckoning. The Roos’ stars are aligning and there are very few weaknesses to be exploited across the ground, making Crocker’s side one of the teams to beat once again. A tough early-mid-season fixture will truly test North’s credentials.

Image Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

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

2021 AFLW Preview: Collingwood Magpies

COLLINGWOOD is on a mission to go deeper in the AFL Women’s finals after a promising first season under a new head coach, bouncing back from a last placed finish in 2019.

2020 RECAP

After a disastrous 2019 season which saw the club handed the wooden spoon with just one victory to their name, new coach Steve Symonds turned it around in 2020 for the black and white to play finals for the first time. Brianna Davey lived up to all expectations crossing from arch rivals Carlton, having an impact throughout the season, while Jaimee Lambert had an unbelievable season to win the club best and fairest. Had in-form defender Ash Brazill not torn her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) against Melbourne, it is not against the realms of possibility to suggest Collingwood could have gone even deeper than falling to North Melbourne by a kick in the elimination finals.

NEW FACES

The Magpies lost a couple of key players over the off-season, particularly Sarah D’Arcy and Sarah Dargan who both headed to Richmond, while Aliesha Newman (Melbourne) and Abbey Green (North Melbourne) came to the club. Whilst not like-for-like, the Magpies targeted size and speed in the 2020 AFL Women’s Draft. Father-daughter selection, Tarni Brown, and Joanna Lin provide the outside class and skill, while Amelia Velardo, Abbi Moloney and Bella Smith add height to the side. Talented sports star Imogen Purcell also joined the club to add natural athleticism to the mix.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

There are plenty to keep an eye on, but perhaps none more exciting than the versatile Chloe Molloy. Expected to return forward like she did in her junior days and in her return season off a long-term injury in 2020, Molloy will be better for the run last season and expected to continue her form from her debut season. Now four preseasons in at the Magpies, the high X-factor marking talent has all the ability to tear games apart and will be crucial in hitting the scoreboard regularly.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

The Magpies showed rapid development from 2019 to 2020, even with the loss of Brazill midway through the season, and Molloy returning from injury having missed so much football. The likes of Sharni Layton, Sarah Rowe, Mikala Cann and Alana Porter all made huge strides last season, and throw in career-best seasons from experienced duos of Brittany Bonnici and Steph Chiocci, it is little wonder why the Magpies could get it done.

QUESTION MARK

Consistency is the big question mark for the Magpies in 2021. Their best was by far good enough to challenge the best sides, as shown by their upset of Carlton, and pushing Fremantle and North Melbourne all the way in finals. Unfortunately it was more lapses within games that cost them, having had chances to win those close ones, and then having the disappointing outing against Melbourne in Round 4. If they can iron out that consistency, particularly four quarter consistency, then they are a side to watch this season.

FINAL WORD

Collingwood is more than capable of challenging the big sides in 2021, and while D’Arcy in particular will be a massive loss for the black and white, they have recruited and drafted well, and will hopefully be at full strength again for a finals tilt.

Picture credit: Kelly Defina/Getty Images

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