Tag: grace mcrae

2021 AFLW Under 18s Ones to Watch

NOW the curtain has closed on the 2020 AFL Women’s off-season period, we turn our attention to the next group of budding stars across the country who will be vying for a spot on an AFL Women’s list. We have named 25 players who have already shown some great signs in their bottom and middle-age seasons, as well as a number of others to watch out for in 2021.

Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

A name that has been circulating for a number of years now, it is hard to believe the all-round talent was robbed of what she could potentially do in her middle-age year. She looked more than comfortable at the level in her bottom-age year as a 16-year-old and caught plenty of attention with a seven-goal haul against Greater Western Victoria Rebels. Taller than her sister – AFL Women’s league best and fairest winner Madison – Prespakis is hard at it, has great athleticism and is ridiculously strong one-on-one. A highlight-reel package nearly any time she steps out on the field, Prespakis is a future star and could play just about anywhere, but expect her to play inside midfield and rest forward.

Teagan Levi (Bond University/Queensland)

The sister of recently drafted Gold Coast Suns’ talent Maddison, Levi is 11cm shorter and plays onball rather than forward. Her athletic traits are similar to that of Georgia Patrikios in the way that she can seamlessly get herself out of trouble by wrong-footing and side-stepping opponents with ease. Not only is she able to beat them in congestion, she can run and take the game on down a wing, and then when the opponent wins it, she is the first to lay a strong tackle. Similar to Prespakis, Levi has so many weapons and is as effective defensively as she is offensively, and is the standout Queensland prospect for next year and in the clear top few talents running around.

Courtney Rowley. Picture credit: Owen Davies / Peel Thunder

Courtney Rowley (Peel Thunder/Western Australia)

A player who has been building very nicely over in Western Australia over the past two seasons and then was the most impressive of the middle-agers in the WAFL All-Stars game. A really smooth mover, Rowley often plays off a wing and knows how to distribute the ball so well, winning Peel Thunder’s League best and fairest last year as a 16-year-old competing against senior opponents including AFL Women’s talents. Whilst she had more support in 2020 as the Thunder rose from wooden spooners to premiers in a remarkable turnaround, it is hard not to admire what the talented midfielder could be in her top-age season next year.

Zoe Prowse (Sturt/South Australia)

The standout ruck prospect in next year’s draft, Adelaide will have another promising talent on their radar in Prowse. Winning Sturt’s best and fairest award this year, Prowse was just about the best in nearly every game she played for the Double Blues, particularly in the second half of the season. Despite standing at just under 180cm, Prowse has ridiculous athleticism with a high vertical leap and is almost like a fourth midfielder. She can get down and apply second and third efforts to ground level players, and is one who could also play forward if required. With great ruck nous, she can outwork her opponents around the ground, and it was easy to see why she was the sole South Australian AFL Women’s Academy member in her middle-age year.

Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)

An absolute star in the making. Capable of playing midfield or forward, Rowbottom just knows how to set scoring opportunities up in transition. The sister of Sydney’s James, Rowbottom has similar ball-winning abilities and defensive attributes, but has a lot to offer offensively as well. She showed in the Chargers’ win over Tasmania that she is not only able to hit the scoreboard herself – kicking two goals – but set up a number of chances for her teammates. One that will really surprise in 2021 as a leader for the Chargers.

Charlie Rowbottom. Picture credit: Solstice Digital & Photography

Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers/Vic Country)

With quite a few tall defenders in this year’s AFL Women’s Draft, Slender would be putting her hand up as potentially the pick of the bunch. Her intercepting capability and reading of the ball in flight is exceptional, and while she did miss her middle-age year, Slender is one who could catch the attention pretty quickly. Having played alongside some Vic Country representatives in the past – and playing at Under 16s level for her state – Slender is good in one-on-ones and looms as a key lynchpin for the Pioneers. It would also not be too surprising to see her take a similar transition to Isabelle Pritchard and move into the midfield given she has the traits to slot right in there.

Makaylah Appleby (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)

Class personified. Appleby has managed to catch the eye on more than a few occasions over the past few seasons despite playing in such a stacked team at the Northern Knights. She often played off a wing or provided run on the outside like during the 2019 NAB League Finals Series. Appleby is now the top prospect at the Knights for the upcoming season as a member of the AFL Women’s National Academy, and as a damaging ball user, Appleby is one that teammates want to get the ball in the hands of in order to create scoring opportunities up the field.

Charlotte Thomas (Subiaco/Western Australia)

A dangerous forward half player with clean skills and a nous for goals, Thomas is the other AFL Women’s Academy member from Western Australia in her middle-age year along with Rowley and has a big future. Playing in an experienced team like Subiaco, Thomas was able to still stand out, regularly hitting the scoreboard. Standing at 175cm, Thomas has good size and good hands and having made her League debut in 2020, big things are predicted for 2021 with a lot of AFL Women’s talent, and more experienced heads around her.

Nyakoat Dojiok. Picture credit: Draft Central

Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)

A player who is not afraid to take the game on and really take it to the opposition is GWV Rebels’ Dojiok who has been developing year-on-year over the last few years. Playing as a 15-year-old a few years back, Dojiok is one who when she gets going is hard to contain, and she has that rich blend of power and speed. She is utilised best as that outside runner, playing off half-back or along a wing, but is eye-catching in the way she plays and the way she can bring teammates into the game. Entering her top-age year, expect her to see even more midfield time as she has some seriously great traits.

Elizabeth Dowling (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)

A player who might be flying under the radar that has some casual NAB League Girls watchers reaching for the team lists next year is Dowling. An incredible talent who showed progression in her two games this year, she has only managed to fly under the radar due to the enormous amount of talent coming out of the Falcons’ football factory. She played in defence as a bottom-ager then got time more up the field last year, and expect her to play through the midfield in 2021. She can play anywhere, at that hybrid 171cm-plus size and can be too athletic for talls and too strong for smalls, Dowling is one who should not be forgotten when talking about Vic Country prospects.

Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers/NSW-ACT)

The standout NSW/ACT prospect for 2021, Morphett is the sole AFL Women’s Academy member from her state. The developing 189cm-plus ruck is one who improved from her bottom-age season and it would have been fantastic to see her going up against the Melbourne-drafted Maggie Caris if their teams had met in the NAB League Girls before the season ended. She is commanding overhead and able to drift forward if required, Morphett is one of the few NAB League Girls prospects to play this year. Representing Belconnen Magpies in the AFL Canberra League, Morphett finished second in the league best and fairest, and then won best on ground in the Magpies’ premiership win. Not bad for a 17-year-old and she is one anticipated to take a huge step in 2021.

Maggie Harmer (Maroochydore/Queensland)

Stood tall at senior level in the QAFL Women’s competition for the Roos and is one of a remarkable three players in the AFL Women’s Academy from the side. Harmer showed in the Queensland All-Stars game that she looms as a strong prospect in 2021 with her overhead marking, read of the play and powerful kicking standing out in a tight game. A member of the Brisbane Lions Academy, Harmer is 170cm and could play at half-back as that intercepting rebounder, or through the middle, seemingly able to break down opposition defences on transition by getting in the way and then pumping it long.

Maggie Harmer. Picture credit: Deion Menzies, Highflyer Images

Amy Franklin (Claremont/Western Australia)

If we are talking upside, then Franklin, not too dissimilar to her West Australian namesake, has plenty of that for the future. A tall marking forward, Franklin has speed that makes smaller opponents envious, and standing at 180cm, she is big enough to outmark most opponents. Still quite raw and lightly built compared to more experienced WAFL Women’s defenders she came across, Franklin is one that once the ball gets goalside, you can almost put the glasses down. Terrific athleticism and one who is threatening to be an even bigger threat in 2021, she is yet another exciting tall forward to come out of Western Australia.

Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

If you are talking upside and potential in next year’s AFL Women’s Draft crop then take 186cm Gillard as an example. Only turning 17 in December this year, the key position utility can play in all three lines, starting off as a key defender, spending time up forward and has the size if required to play ruck. For a player of her size, Gillard is so good at ground level and able to create something out of nothing. While she is still a raw and developing talent, she is another from the Cannons’ program who has already had plenty of NAB League Girls experience that will only make her better.

Ella Friend (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)

A second GWV Rebels player making the list, Friend did not get many chances this season to show what she is capable of, but what she did in that short space of time was quite remarkable. Another member of the AFL Women’s National Academy, Friend looked comfortable in the tight contest against the Western Jets back in Round 3, racking up a ton of the ball – 19 touches – and having a real influence in the forward half. Not only that, but she iced the game for the Rebels with a match-winning goal, and provided as much offence (six inside 50s) and defence (five tackles) to suggest she is a gamechanger and one to look out for next season.

Jorja Livingstone (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)

Made her debut in the NAB League Girls competition and just has that X-factor about her that makes you sit up and take notice. Elite acceleration out of the stoppage and some really top-end traits, Livingstone came into the Ranges’ midfield and assimilated easily that it was hard to believe she was not a top-ager. Behind the experienced Olivia Meagher and Tarni Brown, Livingstone was the next biggest performer onball, and with another preseason behind her, it will be exciting to see just what she can produce with her athletic traits and ability to get forward and look dangerous.

Emelia Yassir (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

Yassir is just a fierce competitor who can play through the midfield or as a small forward. Standing at just 161cm, Yassir defies her size and is not afraid to take on bigger opponents, laying multiple tackles and is a contested ball winner. She stood up during Calder’s NAB League Girls finals series as a bottom-ager in 2019, and started strongly in 2020. She will have a bigger role in 2021 and has a bucketload of talent that will have opposition players wary of when she is in the zone.

Mikayla Pauga (Maroochydore/Queensland)

Another small forward and member of the AFL Women’s Academy, Pauga might just stand at 161cm like Yassir, but packs plenty of punch as a damaging forward. The second Maroochydore player in this list, Pauga finished second in her club’s goalkicking with 13 majors in 14 games, and was a clear standout. With an eye for goal and a large endurance base that sees her outwork opponents, Pauga is one who could step up again in 2021 and will be one to watch at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships having shown her wares at senior level in the QAFL Women’s already.

Zoe Venning. Picture credit: SANFL

Zoe Venning (West Adelaide/South Australia)

A hard-nosed midfielder/forward from West Adelaide, Venning came on in leaps and bounds throughout her second season in the red and black. She became a crucial member of the Bloods’ midfield, playing between wing and forward, though her attack on the ball shows she can easily translate into an inside midfielder. Providing great assistance to equal league best and fairest winner, Rachelle Martin as well as young talent Abbie Ballard, Venning is one who is dangerous around goals. She is still developing some areas of her game such as her kicking, but her work rate and intensity in play is superb.

Kasey Lennox (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

A reliable key defender for the Cannons, Lennox is a fourth member of the Calder side to make this list, and shows just how strong their top-age group will be next season. Lennox is one who is good at ground level for a taller player, being one of the most dominant rebounders in the competition to start the 2020 NAB League Girls season. As a player who stood out on the big stage of the 2019 NAB League Girls Grand Final, Lennox is not afraid of big moments, and will team up well with Gillard as a couple of talls in a really strong Cannons outfit.

Amy Prokopiec (Clarence/Tasmania)

The sole Tasmanian prospect in the AFL Women’s National Academy, Prokopiec became one of the standout defenders for Tasmania Devils, albeit in just a handful of games in her bottom and middle-age years. As she showed with Clarence in the TSL Women’s competition this year and in the Tasmanian All-Stars game, Prokopiec is capable of playing at either end, and becoming that versatile tall utility. As a long kick and strong overhead, she is a crucial cog in the both the Roos and Devils sides, and will be hoping for a full season next year to test herself against the best in the NAB League Girls.

Amy Prokopiec (right). Picture credit: Solstice Digital & Photography

Gypsy Schirmer (South Adelaide/South Australia)

There are quite a few talls in this list with potential, and Schirmer is another one who just has that look about her that she could be in for a big 2021. In her middle-age season with reigning premiers South Adelaide, she acquitted herself well and while she did have some really outstanding performances, even when she was quieter, there was always a moment or two within games where you could see she was capable of kicking a couple of goals and winning the match for her side. Not far off 180cm, Schirmer can push up to a wing or even in defence, but she always looks damaging inside 50 and a real target for her teammates to kick to.

Eliza James (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)

A good size and capable of hitting the scoreboard, the 176cm James is a damaging prospect. She showed in her two games this year how she has developed both her offensive and defensive traits, and even as an Under 16s player for the Chargers, stood up in nine games and booted five goals. As one of a number of Chargers who were able to provide support to the top-end talent this year, James is another leader in the group to standout in her own top-age year in 2021.

Alana Lishmund (Norwood/South Australia)

Was a prominent member of the Norwood side in her debut SANFL Women’s season, then really stepped up as one of the best in the All-Stars match last month. She is predominantly a forward talent who can push up the ground into the midfield, and then play high or deep forward when required. A reliable kick for goal, she has that X-factor about her inside 50 and can be a leading or crumbing target, playing taller than her 166cm size, and one who will be another South Australian jostling for a spot as one of the more prominent talents in the state.

Alana Lishmund. Picture credit: AFL Media

Jaide Anthony (Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country)

A multi-sport talent for the Stingrays, Anthony also has that something special about her game playing as a forward. She can play at either end, and has progressed through the pathway from V/Line Cup to the NAB League Girls. One who has shared her football journey with cricket duties – she has only managed the five games for the Stingrays – she knows how to hit the scoreboard and provide a presence. Despite standing at just 166cm, Anthony plays like a taller forward and finds space, and will be a top talent to watch out for from the Stingrays in 2021.

Others:

Maroochydore’s Bella Smith is another member of the AFL Women’s National Academy who stood up for Maroochydore this season in the QAFL Women’s, whilst Georgia Hutton and Caitlin Thorne are a couple of Gold Coast Academy members who showed some top-end traits during the All-Stars match.

The South Australian group has been sensational with plenty having senior experience, led by South Adelaide’s Lauren Clifton who stood out in the All-Stars match up forward. Central District’s Madison Lane, North Adelaide’s Kate Case, Glenelg’s Brooke Tonon and Woodville-West Torrens’ Jamie Parish are others who have been ones to watch at SANFL Women’s level this season.

Over in the west, Chloe Reilly remains a dangerous forward option for East Fremantle with her work at ground level and around goals, whilst Swan Districts’ Emma Nanut, and South Fremantle trio, Tayla Whincup, Taylah Cruttenden and Poppy Stockwell are also great talents.

Looking to the NAB League and there are plenty of names to throw up, but a few in the mix include Mikayla Jones (Murray Bushrangers), Jemma Radford (Dandenong Stingrays) and Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons) who have shown to be natural players in their respective areas. From the Vic Metro perspective, Peppa Poultney (Calder Cannons), Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers), Caitlin Sargent (Western Jets) and Tarrah Delgado (Northern Knights) were terrific this year, while a host of middle-age Sandringham Dragons got their starts and will no doubt produce a number of surprise packets alongside their elite bottom-age talents.

Perri King is another Tasmanian prospect behind Prokopiec to watch, making history as the Devils’ first goalkicker last season and will be keen to build on that again. From Northern Territory, there is a heap of great young talents coming through from 2022 onwards, with one 2021 draft prospect being Georgia Johnson, a 160cm talent from Waratah who stood out in the NT All-Stars match last month. Playing in defence, she was one to take note of as she regularly mopped up and got the ball down the field for Team Hewett.

Alongside the top-age talents, a number of over-age talents who missed out on being drafted this year will no doubt be trying to stake their case against be it via the NAB League or state leagues, including Brooke Hards, Jemma Finning and Annabel Strahan (all Bendigo Pioneers), Zoe Hill, Abbey Jordan and Jess Matin (all Dandenong Stingrays), Ash Snow and Maeve Chaplin (both Northern Knights), Amber Micallef (Oakleigh Chargers), Olivia Meagher (Eastern Ranges) and Grace McRae (Gippsland Power) who all received AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites but were unlucky to miss out.

In Western Australia, Maggie MacLachlan (Subiaco), Brianna Hyde and Mikayla Hyde (both Swan Districts) head into 2021 as over-agers, while mature-agers Ella Smith and Jess Low (both Claremont), Rosie Walsh (East Fremantle) and Sarah Wielstra (Swan Districts) are others who missed out on the AFL Women’s Draft but will remain ones to watch.

Elsewhere, Northern Territorian Mattea Breed continues to develop for Norwood in South Australia, whilst Abby Favell (Murray Bushrangers), Jayde Hamilton (Queanbeyan Tigers) and Kiara Beesley (Southern Power) were draft combine invitees from NSW/ACT.

In Queensland, Beth Pinchin has shown great resilience as a mature-ager coming back from multiple injuries, while Courtney Bromage and Brooke Spence are other mature-agers who caught attention this year. Christine Okesene, Ebony Peterson, Laura Blue, Chloe Gregory and Madison Goodwin were also in the mix this year with Draft Combine invites so will be kept on close watch in 2021. The other two players to receive AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites but miss out were the exciting Freda Puruntatameri (Calder Cannons/Northern Territory) and Charlie Vandenberg (Wynyard/Tasmania) who have plenty of development left in them.

2020 AFL Women’s Draft preview: The next crop of young stars to find homes tonight

TONIGHT up to 61 players will live out their AFL Women’s dreams when the 14 clubs select the players to fill out the 2021 lists at the 2020 AFL Women’s Draft. Like most years, the AFL Women’s Draft still has state-based selections with Adelaide (South Australia) and GWS GIANTS (New South Wales) having sole priority to players that nominate that state. In Queensland (Brisbane and Gold Coast) and Western Australia (Fremantle and West Coast) the teams will split the players, whilst the remaining 10 teams will fight over the Victorian pool. The one major change is that there is only a Victorian pool, not split into Metropolitan and Geelong, so the Cats do not have priority on those from the region.

Richmond holds the all-important first pick in the draft which is expected to kick off from 7pm. There are a number of players the Tigers could select, but the frontrunner is Northern Knights’ star Ellie McKenzie, an inside midfielder who can play just about anywhere on the field and has been a proven talent for a number of years now.

[ … Ellie McKenzie feature … ]

Western Bulldogs traded up from Pick 3 to Pick 2 to ensure they could nab the second best player in the draft, with Tyanna Smith high up there in contention. The Dandenong Stingrays’ star has very few flaws in her game and has elite acceleration and a match-winning ability. The other one in contention if the Dogs opt to go tall could be another Northern Knights’ star in Alyssa Bannan as another forward option, as she can play tall or small and even push up into the midfield.

[ … Tyanna Smith feature … ] | [ … Alyssa Bannan feature … ]

Also in the mix for the top Victorian picks are Sandringham Dragons’ Sarah Hartwig, a rebounding defender who could fill the need at Melbourne with Pick 5. Whichever player is left of the trio, expect the Saints to pounce on with Pick 6 in what showcases the elite top-end talent of this year’s group. Another possibility for the pick could be Northern Knights’ Jess Fitzgerald if the Saints choose to add extra midfield class to their side.

[ … Sarah Hartwig feature … ] | [ … Jess Fitzgerald One to Watch  … ]

West Coast and Adelaide also have top five picks coming in at picks three and four, with the Eagles having a decision to make whether they go high-flying Shanae Davison from their own aligned-Academy or if they look at someone like Sarah Verrier, a Peel Thunder talent with a great blend of inside-outside traits or Bella Lewis a hardened midfielder who has been sensational this year. The Crows are expected to be a little more predictable, with Teah Charlton the standout prospect, though given they have a monopoly on the South Australian nominees, they can select anyone in any order.

[ … Shanae Davison feature … ] | [ … Sarah Verrier feature … ] | [… Bella Lewis … ] | [ … Teah Charlton feature … ]

Gold Coast becomes the first Queensland team into the draft at Pick 7, and with players still able to nominate the Gold Coast and Brisbane zones, a Suns Academy member such as Annise Bradfield, Daisy D’Arcy, Maddison Levi or Beth Pinchin could be among those in consideration. For the Lions a pick later, Zimmorlei Farquharson looms as the standout youngster in the group.

[ … Annise Bradfield … ] | [ … Daisy D’Arcy feature … ] | [ … Maddison Levi feature … ] | [ … Zimmorlei Farquharson feature … ]

The final pick inside the top 10 is Geelong and they have the most interesting selection with the top group likely off the board, it is an even balance of players they could choose from. If they opt to go local – knowing they do not have priority – then perhaps the skill and class of Falcons’ Darcy Moloney could be an option. If they want to go a little taller, then Isabelle Pritchard could head down the highway from the Western Jets and provide a strong inside presence, or they could look to a proven big-game performer in Northern Knights’ Fitzgerald.

[ … Darcy Moloney feature … ] | [ … Isabelle Pritchard feature … ]

Western Bulldogs become the first team to make their second selection at Pick 11, which is effectively Pick 6 from the Victorian draft. If they went Smith in the first selection, they could look to go taller here and look to someone like Bulldogs’ supporter Pritchard or perhaps consider Murray Bushrangers’ key forward Olivia Barber. If they went for Bannan with their second selection, perhaps Fitzgerald is one to join the ranks as yet another Knight, whilst the likes of classy forward Bella Eddey or outside mover Mimi Hill could come into consideration through the first round.

[ … Olivia Barber feature … ] | [ … Bella Eddey feature … ] | [ … Mimi Hill feature … ]

Carlton enter the draft at Pick 12, and the names already raised in Fitzgerald, Hill and Eddey could be around the mark, though if they want to add an inside midfielder, then perhaps Falcons’ Laura Gardiner could be a suggestion. North Melbourne are next up and will also be keen to add another midfielder to the ranks, and try and predict what Melbourne (Picks 15 and 17) and Western Bulldogs (Pick 16) are going to do. If the Dees did not end up with Hartwig, then they could look at Dandenong Stingrays’ Zoe Hill with a selection, or if Pritchard has somehow slid, she is another defensive option.

[ … Laura Gardiner feature … ] | [ … Zoe Hill feature … ]

The West Australian teams squeeze in between the Victorian ones, with Fremantle likely to grab one of Verrier or Bella Lewis at the pick. Both are Fremantle-aligned and the Dockers know they can have an immediate impact in last year’s unbeaten side. The Eagles could look to Davison – if not already taken – or the classy Mikayla Morrison with this selection, or go for the ready-made Nyra Anderson at Pick 18.

[ … Bella Lewis feature … ] | [ … Mikayla Morrison feature … ] | [ … Nyra Anderson feature … ]

The last team to enter the draft is Collingwood with Pick 19 the Magpies’ first selection. Expect that to be Tarni Brown because on talent alone she is a top 10 pick, so the black and white army will gladly use their first pick on the Eastern Ranges’ jet. They will look to add some more midfield options, and she adds some extra speed and class to the team. Expect Alice Burke to be read out at the Saints’ Pick 24 – again great value – otherwise anything else is a bargain.

[ … Tarni Brown feature … ] | [ … Alice Burke feature … ]

The draft crop becomes so even outside of that top 20, with so many talented players fighting for spots on AFL Women’s lists. Ash Woodland and Georgia Nanscawen are readymade prospects who can impact immediately at AFL Women’s level, whilst Alana Barba, Shanara Notman, Nikia Webber, Amber Ward and Mattea Breed are all talls who have an extra year of experience as over-agers. Not holding a Draft Combine invite per say, South Australian duo Rachelle Martin and Matilda Zander would be a couple of others on clubs radars as ones who can make an immediate impact.

Some former basketballers who have crossed to football in the last 12-18 months are Amelia Velardo, Annabel Strahan and Carly Remmos, whilst Jess Matin (cricket) and Charlie Vandenberg (hockey) are among others who have forced high-level careers in other sports. Queenslanders, Christine Okesene, Brooke Spence, Laura Blue and Lucy Single are others who have transferred from various codes over the years.

From a Victorian perspective, among other names in various midfield positions are outside midfielder, Abbey Jordan and Joanna Lin, inside midfielders, Brooke Hards, Olivia Meagher and Winnie Laing, balanced midfielders Eliza McNamara, Megan Fitzsimon and Maeve Chaplin. Meanwhile the standout ruck is Maggie Caris.

Up forward, Renee Saulitis is the most dangerous small forward, whilst Isabella Simmons is a taller option, and Abbi Moloney a rapidly improving player. In defence, Ash Snow has great speed, while the likes of Jemma Finning, Mietta Kendall and Amber Micallef have all produced great seasons. As some raw talents, Alice O’Loughlin and Alice Astbury have had glimpses in the few games they have played, whilst Grace McRae and Daisy Walker have been valuable across multiple positions though predominantly in the middle.

From South Australia, Indy Tahau is the other star top-ager who is likely to join her South Adelaide teammate Charlton at the Crows, whilst for NSW/ACT,  Murray Bushrangers’ Abby Favell, midfielder-defender Emily Pease and surprise packet Kiara Beesley were among the Draft Combine invites. From the Northern Territory, top-ager Stephanie Williams leads the charge and has nominated Victoria, while Freda Puruntatameri – who played some games for Calder Cannons – and mature-ager Janet Baird have all caught the eye.

Out west, mature-agers Sarah Wielstra (25 years-old) and 20-year-olds, Ella Smith, Rosie Walsh and Jess Low all earned combine invites. Meanwhile from the top-age group, twins Brianna and Mikayla Hyde have impressed moving into the midfield this season, while leading forward Maggie MacLachlan is another player in contention to be drafted.

[ … FOR FULL FEATURES ON MORE THAN 80 PLAYERS HEAD TO OUR AFLW FEATURES PAGE … ]

TEAM-BY-TEAM PICKS:

Adelaide: 4, 45, 47
Brisbane: 8, 37, 38
Carlton: 12, 28, 36
Collingwood: 19, 25, 26, 31, 33
Fremantle: 14, 30, 46
Geelong: 10, 20, 21, 27, 39
Gold Coast: 7, 23, 50, 54, 57, 58, 60, 61
GWS: 9, 29, 42
Melbourne: 5, 15, 17, 35, 41, 48
North Melbourne: 13, 22, 44, 49, 55
Richmond: 1, 43, 52
St Kilda: 6, 24, 34, 40, 51
West Coast: 3, 18, 32, 53, 56, 59
Western Bulldogs: 2, 11, 16

Surprised McRae loving footy journey

WHEN she first started football, Grace McRae and her father had to “sneak around” behind her mother’s back in order to play the new sport. Eventually her mother caught on and everyone was on board, and now it is hard to keep it a secret after the Gippsland Power midfielder was invited to the AFL Women’s Draft combine. Whilst the combine will not go ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it showed there was enough interest in the teenager that her father made the right choice.

“My friend, it was a local club in Inverloch and they didn’t have enough players and she was playing with them currently, so I asked my dad because I knew my mum wouldn’t let me play,” McRae said. “So I asked my dad if I could fill in for them and play for them for a few games.”

“So me and my dad, he was sneaking me around to go play footy, then eventually my mum found out and then my local coach said ‘hey do you want to play? You’ve been nominated to go play interleague’ and then I went and played interleague that my local coach was my interleague coach and he said ‘Gippsland Power are looking at you’ and then I got an invite to Gippsland Power.”

Having come from a basketball and netball background, McRae enjoyed juggling the sports up until recently, representing Dalyston in the netball right until the most recently completed season, and basketball up until she started at Gippsland Power. It took some work to manage her time, but McRae got it done.

“Netball would clash on the same weekend as Gippsland Power. My local football club, which was Dalyston,” McRae said. “They, the netball club let me (play football) if I had a football game on the same day because Gippsland Power varies from Saturday to Sunday. So if Gippsland Power was on Saturdays, I just said sorry I couldn’t play that game. I’d give them a lot of time, like a heads up so they could find another player to fill in.”

“But luckily for me, most of the games where on Sunday. “So my local club, I just have to give them a lot of notice of what games would be clashing. “And then, yeah, they were happy for me to go play footy because they know that’s sport. I really, really love.”

As for juggling other commitments such as studies or work, McRae said it was all about time management and sticking to it.

“You have to definitely designate your certain times like you have trainings at certain times for different sports,” McRae said. “So you gotta make sure like I have free’s at school. “I have to make sure I really use them if I need to stay in at lunch time at school. “That’s what I had to do. “I designate, like, after school times that I know I didn’t have training or work and all games, and I’d make sure I sit down and do that.”

Looking back on her journey through the junior elite pathway, McRae said she has loved every moment and would not change a thing.

“The pathway has been amazing,” she said. “I didn’t expect it. “Honestly, I thought I was just going to play local footy. “So to actually go through the ranks of interleague and then Gippsland Power has been awesome. “They clearly show that you can have a pathway as well, like they say you can from Gippsland Power. “You can get nominated or you go play these kind of like the pathways and they are clearly highlighted to players, which is absolutely awesome.”

McRae is a predominant midfielder who showcases clean hands and hard running, but most of all a competitive spirit. In recent times she has been thrown forward and back throughout games to increase her versatility, but the inside midfielder loves being at the coalface of the contest. Still hoping to develop her kicking – after all she has only 10 games at NAB League level – the AFL Women’s Draft hopeful still has a chuckle about the first training session she had with the Power.

“I was holding the football wrong apparently the whole time when I came into Gippsland Power,” McRae said. “So they helped me fix that. “And yeah, my kicking definitely has improved, but I know I can approve it further.”

An honest conversation with Gippsland Power Female Talent Manager Chelsea Caple and senior coach Scott Armour helped lift McRae’s intensity in her draft year as she set her sights on the elite level.

“I wasn’t expecting like, named into the combine or anything, but I had a chat with Scotty and Chelsea at Gippsland Power and they asked me what I wanted to do and I said, ‘I definitely want to give getting drafted a crack’, but I’d mostly just wanted to have fun. “Enjoy it because it, like it, just goes too fast. “So my goal is definitely to get drafted. “But also just to have fun.”

Having reached the national championships for basketball, won a couple of Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards in the sport, as well as a league best and fairest in the Under 17s despite being two years younger in the age group, it would have been easy for McRae to see her potential in those codes. Instead, she looked to another former netballer who has made the transition into Aussie rules as her inspiration.

“I’m going to say Sharni Layton just because she’s been in netball pretty much a whole life,” McRae said. “And then just to do a 360 and go into footy and just like challenging yourself, I think that that really inspired me just because she she wasn’t 100 per cent sure of footy but she just gave it a crack. “And she’s, she’s loving it, and I I feel like that’s what I look towards as well.”

McRae certainly is loving her football and remembers her debut fondly, marking it as her favourite football memory. In scorching heat at Frankston Oval, the Power went down to Oakleigh Chargers by 50 points but McRae went on to have nine touches and lay an equal game-high eight tackles in the process. She went from strength to strength and has loved the journey.

“The playing group at Gippsland Power, through both years have been excellent, and I think that’s what’s really helped me,” McRae said. “(I) really enjoy … that environment of Gippsland Power and the players I was playing with, we got along as well and it was amazing.”

Shanara Notman – Grasping opportunity through adversity

GIPPSLAND Power prospect Shanara Notman is somewhat of a coach’s dream; versatile, raw, hard-working, and made of leadership material. The 19-year-old narrowly missed out on being drafted last year, and had pegged her 2020 campaign as one which would help garner the experience and game sense required to make the step-up to an AFL Women’s list.

Setbacks have come thick and fast for Notman and her fellow draft hopefuls in a rollercoaster year, but the talented tall has formed a habit of making good on each opportunity to arise across her young footballing career.

She hyperextended her knee five minutes into last year’s NAB League season, but recovered in time to warrant selection in the Vic Country Under 18 squad. It was during the weeklong carnival in Queensland where Notman thrust her name into draft contention, swinging up forward and even through the ruck after cutting her teeth off half-back for Gippsland.

Being overlooked from those dizzying heights would have put many AFLW hopefuls on the back foot, but not Notman.

“Straight after the draft I quickly contacted Chelsea Caple, our talent manager at (Gippsland) Power,” Notman said. “Less than an hour after the draft, my permit for the 2020 season had been approved for Power, so I was going to go in as a 19-year-old. We had an awesome preseason this year and I put in so much effort to get there.”

The effort looked to be paying off, as Notman, with VFLW and representative experience under her belt, returned a couple of outstanding performances at the start of this year’s NAB League competition. But with that season, along with every other league across Victoria written off in due course, Notman found herself facing yet another hurdle.

“We got two games in this year, we had an awesome camp run by our coach, Scotty (Armour)… but since the news about not playing anymore, then hopefully playing later in the year, which obviously got cancelled too, it’s been a bit heartbreaking,” she said.

Notman (left) in action for Vic Country during the 2019 AFLW Under 18 National Championships

Notman is a talented multi-sport athlete, though the art of hurdling has become more of a mental battle in such “chaotic” times.

“To stay motivated, it’s been full of ups and down this year,” she said. “I’ve been fully committed to going to the gym or going for a kick with a few mates who are local and play VFL with us (in line with COVID-19 lockdown regulations of the time). “But it’s an incredibly difficult time, especially because you’ve got to rely on yourself, not your teammates and coaching staff to keep you motivated.”

With lockdown restrictions eased in regional Victoria in mid-September, Notman says she “can’t wait” to get back to some form of normality and group training as soon as possible.

“I find it easier to train with a group of girls than to train by myself, it just keeps you more motivated,” she said. “I’m lucky enough to have one of my best mates, Breanna Pratt, she plays with me at VFL and she lives really close-by so I can go for a kick with her. I’ve got a home gym set up just to keep fit, too.”

“I’m a really social person… I always chat to the Power girls, just helping out the younger ones. “I’m looking forward even in the future to going back down to Power, helping out there and doing whatever I can to help the girls out.”

As the second-eldest member of Gippsland Power’s current squad, Notman has naturally become a leader among the group – despite only featuring in the elite footballing pathway for two years. Having leant on the likes of Daisy Pearce and Gippsland Power graduate, Tyla Hanks during her time at the Casey Demons, the youngster was especially driven to set an example at the start of her over-age NAB League campaign. Earning the vice-captain tag only made it official.

“I was lucky enough to be named the vice-captain of Power this year alongside Grace McRae, who was our captain,” she said. “I was really putting in with that leadership role as I was (one of) the oldest girls on the team – me and Leyla Berry were the over-agers. I was putting in the effort to lead the girls because we’ve got some 15-year-olds and a pretty young group. It was a really exciting time.”

“Girls like Tyla Hanks from the Power, she’s awesome… I trained with the Melbourne girls at the start of the year, with Daisy Pearce and that. They’re great leaders and they help all the NAB League girls come through. They’re just amazing.”

Shanara Notman in action for Gippsland Power. Source: AFL Media

Given Casey’s ties to Melbourne’s AFLW side, Notman has jumped on the Demons’ bandwagon in support of her VFLW teammates, as her beloved Hawthorn does not yet lay claim to a women’s team. But it’s not just players who have mentored Notman throughout her path less travelled by, as the aforementioned Caple, Armour, and former Gippsland Power stalwart, Peter Francis have also played big roles in seeing her through to this point.

“I’m always in contact with Chelsea Caple and Scotty Armour,” she said. “They’re really good mentors for me, they’ve always been there for the last two years and they’ve really encouraged me to be my best… staff like Peter Francis really helped me get into footy, he was a big help at (Gippsland) Power.”

“At Casey I’ve got our assistant coach Troy Hemming, he’s from Warragul so I’m always giving him a call to go for a kick here and there and just catch up.”

As for the ideal path forward, Notman is looking to harness her versatility and play as high a level of football as possible. There lies somewhat of a Plan B as well, as the 19-year-old plies her trade full-time as a support trainee at Drouin Secondary College in the PE and sport and recreation realms.

“The ideal path will obviously be to start playing footy again next year. But my overall goal will be to one day just play footy at the highest level possible and just enjoy footy,” she said.

“I feel like my best position would be running off half-back. Especially at the Power this year, that really benefitted me… (but) it’s really exciting to be versatile and just play wherever the coach wants you to play.”

“If the draft doesn’t go as I hope this year, hopefully VFL actually goes ahead next year and I’ll just keep playing at Casey because I’m really enjoying that.”

At the time of writing, the 2020 AFLW combine testing and All-Stars game in Victoria were cancelled, leaving the October 6 draft as Notman’s next major point of call.

2020 NAB League Girls team update: Gippsland Power

WHILE the NAB League Girls competition is on break, we take a quick recap of each team, how the first three rounds have panned out for them and who has already stood up in the short time. In this edition we look at one of the sides to have only played the two games to-date, having been competitive in patches, but still losing both matches, Gippsland Power.

2020 RESULTS:

R1: lost to Geelong Falcons by 33 points
R2: Bye
R3: lost to Sandringham Dragons by 52 points

While the season has been cut short for the Power players, their first round loss to Geelong Falcons was brave outside the scoreboard. There were times where the Power was able to sustain the forward thrusts by the 2018 premiers, and have control themselves. A slow start against Sandringham cost the Power, but full credit to them winning the second half of that contest.

FIVE STRONG STARTERS:

Matilda Van Berkel (16.0 disposals, 5.5 marks, 27.5 hitouts, 4.0 tackles, 2.5 inside 50s, 2.5 rebounds)

The talented tall was the best Power player across the two games, thrust into the ruck duties due to injuries to other players, and not only did the key position player tick the required boxes, but she thrived. Van Berkel dominated the hitouts with 27.5 per game, and worked hard around the ground to provide a target for her teammates to finish with 16.0 disposals, 5.5 marks, 4.0 tackles, 2.5 inside 50s and 2.5 rebounds. She was often the link in the chain between defence and offence and the fact the season ended early would be frustrating as she looked like one of the biggest improvers for her top-age season.

Megan Fitzsimon (19.5 disposals, 2.0 marks, 6.0 tackles, 4.0 inside 50s, 1.5 rebounds, 2 goals)

The sole Gippsland Power AFL Women’s National Academy member, Fitzsimon continued where she left off last season, and was okay in the first round before really taking control in Round 3. She was best afield for the Power in their loss to the Dragons, and in 2020 showed off her defensive pressure (six tackles per game) to go with his ball-winning abilities (19.5 disposals). Fitzsimon has also been able to get the ball forward with four inside 50s per game, as well as get on the end of a couple of majors with two goals to her name.

Grace McRae (15.5 disposals, 2.0 marks, 6.5 tackles, 4.0 rebounds, 1 goal)

The tough inside midfielder thrives on the contested side of the game and showed signs in her middle-age last year before taking on a bigger role again in 2020. She averaged the 15.5 disposals and 6.5 tackles per game to kick off the season, and most importantly she works hard defensively to help out her teammates. In two games she averaged four rebounds a game, but also got forward to kick an important goal back in Round 1, which helped keep her team in the game.

Shanara Notman (12.5 disposals, 2.5 marks, 1.0 hitouts, 2.0 tackles, 1.0 inside 50s, 3.5 rebounds)

After missing out on being drafted last year, Notman returned to the side as an overager and did not miss a beat, impressing in the opening round and being a terrific interceptor in the defensive 50. Injury curtailed her 2019 season, but did not stop her having a late impact and making the Vic Country squad where she played up the other end as a key forward, who could also float through the ruck. The talented tall was back inside defensive 50 to start the NAB League Girls season this year, where she averaged the 12.5 disposals, 2.5 marks and 3.5 rebounds, starring in the opening round of the season.

Leyla Berry (10.0 disposals, 1.0 marks, 6.5 hitouts, 1.0 tackles, 2.5 rebounds)

Having not played since her middle-age year back in 2018, another overager who showed her experience in the early stages of the season was Berry who helped out with the ruck duties. She averaged the 6.5 hitouts, but was often stationed off half-back where she can find the ball and run with it down the field. She gets to the right positions and averaged the 10 disposals and 2.5 rebounds per game as she was the fifth Gippsland Power player to find plenty of the ball in the opening rounds.

Others who have stood out: Holly Booth, Sunday Brisbane, Alexei Guy-Toogood, Lily-Rose Williamson

The Power have a lot of talented youngsters that could fit into this group, some of which have played in previous years and others that are coming through the program and are at NAB League Girls level for the first time. Booth had good experience last year playing six games, but has already doubled her ball-winning ability, playing in the back half of the ground and able to run through the midfield. Brisbane and Guy-Toogood are both smalls who never back down and win the ball with the former running along a wing and the latter deep in defence. Given all three are middle-agers, expect to see them again in 2021 if the rest of the season does not commence. The fourth player to raise is bottom-ager Williamson who shone through the V/Line Cup and was only allowed the one game last year, but is one to keep an eye on in the coming years as a high-potential player through that midfield, who will often come off half-back and use her speed and skill to advantage.

2020 NAB League Girls Team of the Week: Round 3

EASTERN Ranges’ big win over Tasmania Devils has seen the side earn the most players in our Draft Central NAB League Girls’ Team of the Week with four representatives from Round 3. Other winners, Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels, Northern Knights and Sandringham Dragons had three apiece, as did the Western Jets. Calder Cannons put in an even team performance to record two players, alongside Round 4 losers, Bendigo Pioneers and Dandenong Stingrays. Gippsland Power and Tasmania Devils both had one apiece, with the latter recording their first ever player in our Team of the Week.

The Ranges’ quartet is spread across the three areas of the ground, with defender Bridget Deed, midfielders Tarni Brown and Olivia Meagher, and forward Isabella Khoury all named in this week’s team. For the opposition team in the Ranges’ win is Tasmania Devils’ Amy Prokopiec who was named at full-back in the team becoming the first Tasmanian to make the starting side. Also in the defence is Sandringham Dragons’ Sarah Hartwig, who is in the team alongside five-goal forward, Abbi Moloney and captain, Winnie Laing. Alice Burke and Eliza McNamara were both close to making it a massive five players in the side, but narrowly missed out and were named as emergencies. Gippsland Power’s AFL Women’s National Academy member, Megan Fitzsimon also made the side after an impressive performance, with Matilda Van Berkel named as the third emergency in the team.

Up in Ballarat, the game between the GWV Rebels and Western Jets had a combined six players make it into the side, with three from each team. Debutant, Alice Astbury and fellow mid-forward, Ella Friend made the 24-player side, as did ruck, Maggie Caris. Her opponent, Amelia Velardo made it into the side along with Montana Ham in defence, and Isabelle Pritchard through midfield. The last remaining team with three players represented was the Northern Knights, as co-captains, Jess Fitzgerald and Ellie McKenzie both slotted onball, while Alyssa Bannan was named at centre half-forward yet again.

The remaining six players come from the Bendigo Pioneers, Calder Cannons and Dandenong Stingrays, with Draft Central Player of the Week, Georgie Prespakis leading the way for the winning Cannons, along with teammate Grace Dicker. Pioneers’ Jemma Finning and Elizabeth Snell were named in the side, as were Stingrays, Tyanna Smith and Jessica Matin. There were a couple more Stingrays among the unlucky players to miss out, with Jemma Radford the last omission from the 27 total named, while Amber Clarke was also considered. Eastern duo, Mietta Kendall and Matilda Hardy, GWV Rebels’ Lilli Condon, Gippsland Power’s Grace McRae, Sandringham Dragons’ Daisy Walker, Calder Cannons’ Freda Puruntatameri, Bendigo Pioneers’ Dakota Villiva and Tasmania Devils’ Perri King.

BACKS:

Bridget Deed (ER) – 21 disposals, 2 marks, 3 tackles, 1 inside 50, 5 rebounds
The Eastern Ranges utility had a huge first term, picking up nine touches, before holding up the fort deep in defence and repelling a number of key attacks. Deed ended up totalling 21 disposals for the match, as well as five rebounds and was one of a number of Ranges who really impressed in their first game at Kilsyth.

Amy Prokopiec (TD) – 11 disposals, 2 tackles, 6 rebounds
The sole Tasmanian player to make the side, the AFL Women’s National Academy member held up in defence well. In a week where a lot of the top defenders were more half-backs, Prokopiec was strong on the last line, rarely losing one-on-ones and being strong at ground level. Prokopiec saved a number of goal-scoring opportunities in a Devils outfit that improved on their week one output and the middle-age defender was a vocal leader in that side.

Sarah Hartwig (SD) – 11 disposals, 2 marks, 6 tackles, 1 inside 50, 2 rebounds
Not as many disposals as in past weeks, but Hartwig played a terrific team game, laying an impressive six tackles throughout the match as she is experimented further up the ground. She still had 11 touches, a couple of marks and got back for a couple of rebounds, but was one of a number of Dragons who stood out in the win over Gippsland Power.

HALF-BACKS:

Tyanna Smith (DS) – 21 disposals, 3 marks, 6 tackles, 3 inside 50s, 7 rebounds
The Dandenong speedster makes our Team of the Week again after being another strong performer through the Dandenong Stingrays midfield against the Northern Knights. Given she was able to work back into defence and repel the ball seven times, Smith has earned a spot off half-back, and would do well in the position back there. She also set up an early goal for the Stingrays up the other end.

Montana Ham (WJ) – 19 disposals, 3 marks, 5 tackles, 2 inside 50s, 7 rebounds, 1 goal
Similar to Smith, Ham played through the midfield but often camped back a kick behind the ball at times to assist the defence on a windy day at Mars Stadium. She was a consistent four quarter performer, and also amassed a round-high seven rebounds after kicking the first goal of the game from just inside 50. A traditional utility who can slot in anywhere on the field and is still a bottom-ager.

Jemma Finning (BP) – 20 disposals, 6 marks, 6 tackles, 4 rebounds
Finning continued her promising form with another important defensive role in an under-siege Bendigo back five, positioning expertly to intercept and rebound with surety. The 165cm defender collected personal season-highs in marks, tackles, disposals, and rebounds – a good measure of the way she went about repelling Calder’s attacks. Not only did Finning compete well in the air, but she also chased hard to lay tackles at the fall of the ball, while also keeping tabs on the dangerous Freda Puruntatameri inside defensive 50.

CENTRES:

Tarni Brown (ER) – 28 disposals, 4 marks, 6 tackles, 4 inside 50s, 1 rebound, 1 goal, 1 behind
A terrific performance from Brown who was a standout from the first bounce to the final siren, the potential Collingwood father-daughter selection had a match-high 28 disposals, four marks, four inside 50s and a goal, using her skill and awareness to win the ball in close and slow time as she would sidestep opponents and hit targets going forward. A playmaker in the front half with ball-in-hand.

Jess Fitzgerald (NK) – 28 disposals, 3 marks, 4 tackles, 4 inside 50s, 1 rebound, 2 goals
A dominant player on the ground working with co-captain Ellie McKenzie, Fitzgerald shone in her best game of the year so far, racking up 28 disposals, three marks, four inside 50s and booting two goals from the midfield to really apply pressure in a tight game to be one of the key reasons the Knights were able to run away with the win in the second half.

Georgie Prespakis (CC) – 32 disposals, 8 tackles, 7 inside 50s, 2 rebounds, 2 hitouts
An absolute lock for this week’s team given she also earned a Player of the Week nod, Prespakis put on a typically brilliant display of her best skills. The 17-year-old is one of, if not the best exponent of the handball going around, but also penetrates by foot when given the space to burst clear and deliver. Her 32-disposal effort was made even more remarkable by the fact she sat out a quarter of the game after being crunched in a marking contest, which failed to deter her from getting first hands on the ball.

RUCKS:

Maggie Caris (GWV) – 15 disposals, 1 mark, 1 tackle, 4 inside 50s, 33 hitouts
The dominant GWV Rebels’ ruck racked up a round-high 33 hitouts making the most of her height advantage against her opposition rucks. She also amassed an impressive 15 disposals and had four inside 50s during the match and while she was caught holding the ball after raising it above her head, she was a class above in the air around the contest.

Isabelle Pritchard (WJ) – 25 disposals, 4 marks, 11 tackles, 2 inside 50s, 4 rebounds, 2 hitouts
One of three Jets’ midfielders to make the side, Pritchard was instrumental early and then kept up her intensity even when the scoreboard was mounting up against her side later in the game. She had 25 touches and laid a round-high 11 tackles in the game, showing her defensive approach as well, rotating with Ham a kick behind play when the Rebels were attacking. Pritchard’s work in the air and reading of the play helped her propel the ball forward.

Ellie McKenzie (NK) – 28 disposals, 6 marks, 4 tackles, 7 inside 50s, 1 hitout, 1 goal
The Knights’ co-captain was best on ground in the Knights’ come-from-behind victory over the Stingrays and makes her way into the side once again. She racked up the equal second most of any player disposals over the weekend with 28, and also had a round-high seven inside 50s and booted a goal. McKenzie has been as consistent as anyone so far this season and makes her way into the side for a third consecutive week.

HALF-FORWARDS:

Alice Astbury (GWV) – 15 disposals, 3 marks, 1 tackle, 6 inside 50s, 2 goals
Rarely does a debutant win best on ground honours, but that is exactly what Astbury did against the Western Jets at Mars Stadium. The midfielder had an influence through the middle and then spent time forward, booting two critical goals later in the game during a low-scoring contest. Astbury also had six inside 50s and created for her teammates, including one to Ella Friend late in the game to ice the match.

Alyssa Bannan (NK) – 18 disposals, 5 marks, 4 tackles, 2 inside 50s, 2 hitouts, 2 goals
Another player who has earned a place in our Team of the Week for all three rounds of the NAB League Girls season, Bannan booted another two goals to her total for 18 touches and five marks. Bannan also provided defensive pressure in the game to lay four tackles, but her work on the lead and in the air was as good as anyone’s going around on the weekend.

Megan Fitzsimon (GP) – 23 disposals, 2 marks, 6 tackles, 4 inside 50s, 2 goals, 1 behind
The AFL Women’s National Academy member was the top Gippsland Power player during their loss to Sandringham Dragons, notching up 23 touches, four inside 50s and two goals for her side. While she was solid in the first week without being outstanding, Fitzsimon lifted her game to another level in Round 3 and really made her impact felt across the ground.

FORWARDS:

Isabella Khoury (ER) – 12 disposals, 3 tackles, 3 inside 50s, 3 goals
A forward target for the Ranges during their win over Tasmania, Khoury ended up booting the second most goals of any NAB League Girls player last weekend. She had her fair share of touches working hard up the ground with 12, and pumped the ball inside three times, setting up teammates or going long, but Khoury made her most impact felt on the scoreboard with three majors.

Abbi Moloney (SD) – 12 disposals, 4 marks, 6 tackles, 2 inside 50s, 5 goals, 2 behinds
The Dragons forward backed up from her impressive game last week to boot another five goals this round and be in the top two for goalkicking behind Bannan. Her total of eight this season has been a strong start to her top-age year, and with four marks and six tackles – as well as seven shots on goal – Moloney is certainly providing a scoring target close to goal.

Jessica Matin (DS) – 19 disposals, 3 marks, 5 tackles, 5 inside 50s, 1 goal
The classy forward who roams up the ground was able to put together another strong game, kicking just the one goal, but applying five tackles and pumping the ball inside 50 on five occasions. She also won the second most touches of any Stingrays’ player during their loss to Northern, and continued to provide a presence in the forward half.

INTERCHANGE:

Alice Burke (SD) – 23 disposals, 4 marks, 10 tackles, 3 inside 50s, 4 rebounds
The potential St Kilda father-daughter selection was at her best when she laid a whopping 10 tackles laid during the Dragons’ win over Gippsland Power. Burke played through the middle and worked hard around the ground to pick up 23 touches and keep pushing throughout the game to apply pressure to the opposition.

Grace Dicker (CC) – 20 disposals, 1 mark, 3 tackles, 4 inside 50s
Second only to Prespakis in terms of impact on the weekend, Dicker set the tone from midfield with her attack on the ball and willingness to take the game on. Under a bright pink helmet, the 19-year-old was hard to miss in her clear-best game for the season to date, lighting up the corridor with bursting pace and a hard edge going the other way.

Ella Friend (GWV) – 19 disposals, 4 marks, 5 tackles, 6 inside 50s, 1 rebound, 1 goal
Provided a strong presence at half-forward and working through the middle to help set up her teammates inside 50 before finishing off with a goal of her own in the game. She clunked a number of really strong marks and was able to pump the ball into the forward 50 six times on her way to an impressive 19 disposals and four marks.

Olivia Meagher (ER) – 27 disposals, 2 marks, 2 tackles, 2 rebounds
The Eastern Ranges captain had a bruising encounter at Kilsyth on Sunday, leading from the front with her pressure and teamwork. Whilst only two tackles were attributed to her, it was Meagher’s hardness at the contest and pressure on the ball-carrier that really stood out. She laid a fair front-on bump on an opponent early in the game and then won a few frees for fierce tackles, but fought through it on her way to an impressive 27 disposals, most of which were in close.

Elizabeth Snell (BP) – 17 disposals, 2 marks, 10 tackles, 5 inside 50s, 1 rebound, 1 behind
The diminutive Pioneer is an absolute workhorse in midfield, and dug in against bigger-bodied opponents to have an impact going both ways. While her ability to find the ball – 17 times – was handy, it was Snell’s 10 tackles which truly saw her make an impact as she showcased her tenacity at the stoppages. You cannot fault her effort, and a big leap into the back of Georgie Prespakis almost put her out of the game, such is the ferocity of Snell.

Amelia Velardo (WJ) – 25 disposals, 2 marks, 8 tackles, 2 inside 50s, 4 rebounds, 5 hitouts
The Western Jets’ ruck might be undersized compared to others – and certainly compared to Caris – but her athleticism around the ground is a real danger to the opposition. Not only does she move well around the contest, but she does all the defensive things as well, laying eight tackles in the game, getting back to help out the defence and then providing an option in midfield to either kick long or open up the play with a quick handball to a teammate.

EMG:

Winnie Laing (SD) – 21 disposals, 2 marks, 2 tackles, 1 goal, 1 behind
A Dragon who earned a spot in the side amongst a host of top ball winners, the captain was outstanding with her attack on the footy and work on the inside. She led from the front and even got on the scoreboard with a major. The Dragons are not short of players to make this week’s team and her leadership is terrific.

Eliza McNamara (SD) – 15 disposals, 4 marks, 6 tackles, 4 inside 50s, 1 rebound, 2 goals
The Dragons’ small plays a perfect game at half-forward and through the midfield with her defensive pressure and ability to hit the scoreboard at the same time, a real benefit for her team. She booted two goals from 15 disposals, four marks and six tackles, while also getting the ball inside 50 four times. Having a great start to the season.

Matilda Van Berkel (GP) – 17 disposals, 5 marks, 4 tackles, 2 inside 50s, 3 rebounds, 27 hitouts
Enjoying a really strong start to the season through the ruck with another 27 hitouts from 17 disposals, five marks and four tackles. Van Berkel is a target around the ground and provides clean hands when leading or when tapping down to her teammates at stoppages. The Power tall can be utilised anywhere on the ground but is playing well through the ruck role.

DRAFT CENTRAL NAB LEAGUE GIRLS TEAM OF THE WEEK: ROUND 3

B: Bridget Deed (ER) – Amy Prokopiec (TD) – Sarah Hartwig (SD)
HB: Tyanna Smith (DS) – Montana Ham (WJ) – Jemma Finning (BP)
C: Tarni Brown (ER) – Jess Fitzgerald (NK) – Georgie Prespakis (CC)
HF: Alice Astbury (GWV) – Alyssa Bannan (NK) – Megan Fitzsimon (GP)
F: Isabella Khoury (ER) – Abbi Moloney (SD) – Jessica Matin (DS)
R: Maggie Caris (GWV) – Isabelle Pritchard (WJ) – Ellie McKenzie (NK)
INT: Alice Burke (SD) – Grace Dicker (CC) – Ella Friend (GWV) – Olivia Meagher (ER) – Elizabeth Snell (BP) – Amelia Velardo (WJ)
EMG: Winnie Laing (SD) – Eliza McNamara (SD) – Matilda Van Berkel (GP)

Dragons overpower Gippsland for second-straight win

THE Sandringham Dragons have emerged victorious against the Gippsland Power by a thumping 52-point margin after a dominant first half display. Despite travelling to Morwell for the encounter, the Dragons looked right at home from the opening bounce and kept the Power scoreless for the entire first half.

The stoppage work of the Dragons was second-to-none as the visitors managed to get more numbers around the ball and attack with speed. The likes of Winnie Laing and Abbi Moloney proved to be potent goal threats in the early stages, with the latter finishing with five on the day. While the Power struggled to clear their defensive 50 at the best of times, any threat eventually making it toward Sandringham’s defence was dealt with by the poised Pia Staltari in the first term. However, it was the forward line pressure and midfield of the Dragons which was the highlight of the quarter. Bridie Hipwell was a key contributor for the visitors, with nimble footwork and penetrating use of the ball making her a threat.

In comparison, Gippsland lacked the same structure and at times were overwhelmed by Sandringham’s running power. A boundary thrown-in at the eight-minute mark of the term was emblematic of the quarter for the Power, as miscommunication allowed the Dragons three unmarked players surrounding the stoppage in the centre of the wing. Luckily, the dogmatic pressure of Gippsland’s Megan Fitzsimon saved the Power from another penetrating Dragons attack on this occasion. Fitzsimon continued this fighting spirit throughout the contest and finished with 23 touches and two goals in a valiant display in midfield. In combination with the dominant ruckwork of Matilda Van Berkel, Fitzsimon managed to provide the Power with almost their only forward movement of the half, with two impressive centre clearances early in the second term.

Yet these were easily repelled, as the Power were unable to lay a finger on the rebounding potency Sandringham again in the second stanza. At times it looked like circle work for the visitors as their midfield dominance was put on full display. Sandringham finished the term dominating in almost every statistic, including holding a 25 to six advantage in marks over the Power, outlining the control and time given to the Dragons midfield. Alice Burke started to impose herself on the contest during the quarter, with her damaging kicking being put to good use as she finished the match with three inside 50’s and four rebound 50’s along with 23 touches and 10 tackles. Eliza McNamara kicked both of her two majors in this quarter as she proved to be a handful for the Gippsland backline. Moloney was also the grateful recipient of some easy goals thanks to the work of Hipwell and Laing. The former impressively burst forward from the centre in early stages of the term and unleashed a damaging kick inside 50 into the waiting arms of Moloney. Laing’s highlights were more based around terrific tackling pressure up forward, creating chances for her teammates. At the main break, the Dragons held a crushing 53-point advantage.

In the second half, the Power were more competitive and managed to win the third quarter as the likes of Grace McRae and Sunday Brisbane stepped up to help the fighting efforts of Van Berkel and Fitzsimon. Fitzsimon received reward for her effort as she booted two goals in the half, while Van Berkel dominated the hitouts to give Gippsland a 35 to 12 advantage by the end of the match.

Despite being beaten in the third on the scoreboard by seven points, the Dragons still found some bright spots. Daisy Walker had 15 of her 22 touches for the match in the quarter and Sofia Hurley won some contested ball in midfield. In the fourth, Sandringham again showed their class to finish a more limited number of chances. Moloney capped off an excellent performance with her fifth major on the back of a strong mark up forward. Burke and Laing again spent much of the term proving themselves to be a class above, with Burke controlling stoppages with poise and Laing causing havoc up forward with pace and tenacity.

As the final siren sounded in Morwell, the Dragons had recorded 82 more disposals than the Power and controlled the tempo for most of the affair. Moloney’s five goals and 90 fantasy points make her appear as a likely contender for best-on-ground for the Dragons, yet many of her majors were relatively straightforward finishes. Burke’s game-high 23 touches puts her in contention, however, when the game was there to be won in the first term, Laing proved to be key in breaking the game open for the victorious Dragons, while Sarah Hartwig was busy once again across the ground.. Despite a crushing first half, a competitive second half will give Gippsland hope for the rest of the season.

GIPPSLAND POWER 0.0 | 0.0 | 2.2 | 3.4 (22)
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 3.3 | 8.5 | 9.6 | 11.8 (74)

GOALS:

Gippsland: M. Fitzsimon 2, J. Sochackyj.
Sandringham: A. Moloney 5, E. McNamara 2, W. Lang, B. Hipwell, K. Lynch, N. Borg.

ADC BEST:

Sandringham: A. Burke, A. Moloney, W. Lang, S. Hartwig, B. Hipwell, D. Walker
Gippsland: M. Fitzsimon, M. Van Berkel, G. McRae, S. Brisbane, S. Notman

DC Medal:

5 – Alice Burke (SD)
4 – Abbi Moloney (SD
3 – Winnie Laing (SD)
2 – Megan Fitzsimon (GP)
1 – Sarah Hartwig (SD)

NAB League Girls preview: Round 3 – Undefeated sides clash on Saturday

A COUPLE of undefeated games open the weekend in a top three clash between Northern Knights and Dandenong Stingrays at RMIT Bundoora, before the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels tackle the Western Jets in Ballarat. The Sunday trio of games has a couple of sides searching for their first wins of the season with Calder Cannons and Bendigo Pioneers going head-to-head and Eastern Ranges hosting Tasmania Devils, while Gippsland Power returns from a week off to face the breakeven side of Sandringham Dragons.

NORTHERN KNIGHTS v. DANDENONG STINGRAYS

Round 3 – 14/03/2020
11:00am
RMIT University Bundoora

A top three clash between the second placed Dandenong Stingrays and third ranked Northern Knights opens the round with the Stingrays having had impressive wins over Eastern Ranges (50 points) and Calder Cannons (18). The Knights also knocked off the Cannons the week before (six points) before enjoying a more comfortable win over Geelong Falcons (25). Both sides have made a number of changes, with Saige Bayne returning to the side after a long layoff, while Georgia Grimmer and Jemma Radford are also back into the side up opposite ends of the ground. The Knights have also made a number of changes to the side in anticipation for the clash with at least four confirmed changes and an additional three added to the extended bench. Already the head-to-head that could decide the result is between in-form forward, Alyssa Bannan (seven goals) and reliable defender, Zoe Hill inside the Knights’ forward half. An equally eye-catching matchup will be Knights’ co-captain Jess Fitzgerald going head-to-head against Dandenong star, Tyanna Smith with the pair sharing similar skill and footy IQ making it a must-watch clash. Abbey Jordan has been thrown around a bit this season but now the Stingrays captain is in attack to potentially lock the ball in at every opportunity, while Maeve Chaplin‘s ability at half-back should provide some good run. In the midfield, Ellie McKenzie and Ash Snow will provide power onball, while Amber Clarke and Emily Shepherd have added speed to run the ball down the field. The Knights will be favourites but the Stingrays have shown an ability to run the ball and not back down from a challenge.

GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS v. WESTERN JETS

Round 3 – 14/03/2020
11:30am
MARS Stadium

In a second game between undefeated sides, fourth placed Western Jets travel to Mars Stadium to meet the sixth placed GWV Rebels from 11.30am. Both these sides have some great young talent coming through and the Jets have had a win against Bendigo Pioneers and a draw with Murray Bushrangers over the first two rounds, whilst the Rebels’ come-from-behind victory against Sandringham Dragons in Round 1 was their only game so far this season following a bye in Round 2. Renee Saulitis proved the get-out-of-jail free card in Round 1 with a couple of last quarter goals to sink the Dragons, and she has been named back in her damaging position inside 50. Fellow AFL Women’s National Academy member, Isabella Simmons is also in the forward half, while Maggie Caris will look to take advantage of the height difference over the Jets’ smaller ruck division. Amelia Velardo has the athleticism to get the job done at ground level even if she does not win the tap and provides a “fourth midfielder” around the stoppages. Alongside her is top-age AFL Women’s National Academy member, Isabelle Pritchard who is coming off an impressive 25-disposal game last week, as is Charlotte Baskaran who plays off half-back but can push up the ground to impact the midfield. In the middle of the ground is fellow bottom-ager Montana Ham who has been the Jets’ best across the two games this season. Caitlin Sargent has been a target inside 50 for the Jets, while she will likely have Rebels’ Crystal Summers for company after the defender was a star in Round 1 for the Ballarat-based side. The Rebels’ half-back line is quite strong with Nyakoat Dojiok providing speed and dare out of defence, while Lilli Condon impacts the game through the midfield and up forward. At home the Rebels have an advantage, but both sides have an entertaining brand of end-to-end football.

GIPPSLAND POWER v. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS

Round 3 – 15/03/2020
12:00pm
Morwell Recreation Reserve

With three games on Sunday, the first is a clash between Gippsland Power and Sandringham Dragons at Morwell Recreation Reserve after the game was moved from Churchill. The Power will be well rested after a spirited fight against Geelong Falcons in the opening round and a bye in Round 2. The Dragons on the other hand let slip a real chance in Round 1 with inaccurate kicking to go down to the GWV Rebels, before bouncing back with an impressive win over Bendigo Pioneers last week. Back at home, the Power showed their have a number of strengths through the ruck and in defence, and if they are able to quell the Dragons’ scoring or force them into making mistakes, then they are a real chance of victory. Sandringham impressed last week and have plenty of ball-winning midfielders who step up when required and if they convert their chances inside 50, then they will go a long way to taking home the points in the contest. Matilda Van Berkel was best-on for the Power in their Round 1 win over Geelong Falcons and will look to take advantage against the Dragons. The key for the Power will be to try and win the clearances against an experienced Dragons midfield, as captain Winnie Laing, Alice Burke and Bella Eddey round out a strong starting core. Megan Fitzsimon is the Power’s sole AFL Women’s Academy member, but Grace McRae is another player not afraid of winning contested ball, while Lily-Rose Williamson is a bottom-ager to watch over the coming years. Shanara Notman is a strong overhead mark and will look to chop off any Dragons forward thrusts, while Leyla Berry had a successful return in Round 1 after taking the 2019 season off. Sarah Hartwig has been named on the wing for the second successive week, while Eliza McNamara provides forward pressure inside 50, and key target Abbi Moloney booted three goals in the Dragons win last week and could be one to watch.

BENDIGO PIONEERS v. CALDER CANNONS

Round 3 – 15/03/2020
1:00pm
Epsom Huntly Reserve

Calder Cannons hits the road to face Bendigo Pioneers from 1pm at Epsom Huntly Reserve on Sunday. Last year’s grand finalists are yet to get a win on the board, but have had a tough draw to open the season, falling to reining premiers Northern Knights, and a vastly improved side, Dandenong Stingrays in the first fortnight. The Pioneers are also yet to taste victory with losses to Western Jets and Sandringham Dragons in the opening couple of rounds. Given the loss of co-captain Brooke Hards for the clash, Bendigo will be up against it taking on a determined Calder side that could well have won its two games had it had a bit more luck. The Pioneers do welcome back Elizabeth Snell into the fold with the midfielder/forward adding some class and skill to the midfield group, while Annabel Strahan has pushed up into the midfield after being a reliable source in the back 50 last week. Tara Slender and Jemma Finning provide good intercept and rebounding capabilities, while Madeline Marks has had an impact through the ruck this season. The Cannons have a strong combination named at the key defensive posts with Kasey Lennox and Tamsin Crook, while Crook is also able to rotate with AFL Women’s National Academy member, Tahlia Gillard who will start forward as both can play at either end. Georgie Prespakis, Laura Cocomello and Jessica Zakkour have all been in good form this season, while Emelia Yassir is a clever forward who can push into that midfield rotation. Calder should breakthrough for its first win, but the Pioneers do have the home ground advantage which counts for something.

EASTERN RANGES v. TASSIE DEVILS

Round 3 – 15/03/2020
1:00pm
Kilsyth Recreation Reserve

At the same time as the Bendigo game, two sides searching for their first win battle it out at the newly renovated Kilsyth Recreation Reserve. The Eastern Ranges will enjoy playing where they train and welcoming the less-familiar Tasmania Devils will give them a huge confidence boost. The Devils were overwhelmed by a rampaging Oakleigh side that could well contend for this year’s NAB League Girls flag in Round 2, marking a tough initiation to their first full-time season. The Ranges had a bye in Round 2 after a 50-point defeat at the hands of another undefeated side in Dandenong Stingrays. Given the experience the Ranges have at the NAB League level – making the finals last season and pushing the Northern Knights in the preliminary finals – they should have the wood over the competition newcomers, though the Devils’ defensive pressure was impressive despite the heavy Round 1 defeat. Olivia Meagher and Tarni Brown provide hardness and class in equal measure on the inside, while Jorja Livingstone showed impressive athleticism bursting out of stoppages in the Round 1 loss. Key target, Jess Grace has been named at full-forward, while three players will make their debut in the game for the Ranges. Amy Prokopiec could not have done much more at full-back last week, saving a number of goal-scoring opportunities for the Chargers, and she along with Camilla Taylor provided some composure in the match. Jemma Webster provided some speed out of defence in Round 2, while Kara Hennessy rotated through the ruck and could be a target inside 50 for the Apple Isle based side.

Falcons down Power in strong showing

IN a relatively one-sided affair, Geelong Falcons defeated Gippsland Power by 33 points at RMIT Bundoora in the first round of the NAB League Girls competition. Though inaccuracy plagued the Falcons at times who struggled to make the most of their opportunities in front of goal with 10 behinds, credit must be given to the Power’s defence, for the most part holding up across three quarters. Seven scoring shots to none in the final term extended the winning margin out to 33, but it was a strong hitout for both teams this early in the season.

It did not take long for Geelong to get on the board, and although it was a point at the hands of Renee Tierney it helped to set in motion what was to come – a barrage of scoring opportunities. Poppy Schaap kicked off her 2020 campaign in style with the opening goal for the Falcons and while the Falcons seemed to control the flow of play, over-ager Shanara Notman was a calming influence down back. Notman was everywhere in the first 15 minutes of the game popping up here there and everywhere to stop any forward forays and using her football nous to try and propel the ball back down the field. Despite her best efforts, Notman could not contain the Falcons forwards, with Zoe Garth bobbing up for her first major thanks to her ability to get out the back and bang one through the middle helping to extend Geelong’s lead.

The Power failed to register a score in the opening half, but strong efforts from the likes of Megan Fitzsimon and Matilda Van Berkel did not fall by the wayside. Fitzsimon was a real workhorse across the ground winning plenty of the footy and using her tackling ability to disrupt the flow of Geelong. Although the Falcons had their chances in front of goal they were unable to capitalise and punish their opposition with the likes of Elizabeth Dowling showing her skill inside 50 bringing down a big mark but just missing. Dowling was not afraid to put her body on the line going in hard to rip the ball out of congestion and plough it forward. With points aplenty, Carly Remmos made her set shot count, converting an important goal to add to the Falcons’ tally. Laura Gardiner continued to find her groove with her high intensity out of the middle, hunt for the footy and clean hands all on display. She was never far from the pack, constantly lurking around the footy and using it effectively while her read out of the ruck was second to none getting on the move and banging it forward credit to her skill and general smarts.

With pride on the line, the Power came out with a different intensity and hunger for the footy shutting down any easy ball movement by the Falcons and instead looking to change the course of the game. Only three goals down, Gippsland hit the scoreboard thanks to a big goal from Grace McRae, with players running from everywhere to join in on the celebration. The Power seemed to dominate the play in the third holding the ball inside their attacking 50 and searching for opportunities to create more chances. Leyla Berry was running hot in the third working hard at the contest and using her hands to flick the ball out to teammates. Darcy Moloney continued her merry way for the Falcons throwing her weight around and using her quick hands in tight to dish off to teammates in space. Although Geelong failed to hit the scoreboard throughout the third, the work they did defensively to only limit their opponent to a goal was impressive with bottom ager Ashleigh Van Loon leading from the front with her physicality and desperation with 10 tackles for the match. Mia Van Dyke also had a strong quarter for the Falcons highlighting her clean hands with a couple of marks.

Thanks to a relatively slow third term the Falcons turned it on in the fourth to nail two goals and ultimately seal the deal against a trying Gippsland side. Ingrid Houtsma was the first to add six points to the Falcons total in the final term and while she did not find a heap of the footy she struck it nicely. Gardiner capped off a stellar performance in the last term with a big goal to end the stream of points and well and truly romp the win home for the Falcons. She starred from the opening minute of the game winning a heap of the footy and showcasing her versatility in terms of disposals with an even split of 19 kicks and 19 handballs to finish with a whopping 38 touches. It was a stats filling outing for Gardiner who also showcased her physicality laying 14 tackles and recording five inside 50s. Schaap finished with 1.2 in front of goal along with 24 touches while Moloney recorded 28 disposals. Top performers from Gippsland included Fitzsimon with 16 touches, six tackles and four inside 50s with Berry and McRae collecting 14 possessions apiece.

GEELONG FALCONS 2.2 | 3.5 | 3.5 | 5.10 (40)
GIPPSLAND POWER 0.0 | 0,0 | 1.1 | 1.1 (7)

GOALS:

Geelong: P. Schaap, Z. Garth, C. Remmos, I. Houtsma, L. Gardiner.
Gippsland: G. McRae.

BEST:

Geelong: L. Gardiner, D. Moloney, P. Schaap, E. Dowling, M. Van Dyke
Gippsland: M. Van Berkel, S. Notman, G. McRae, M. Fitzsimon, A. Guy-Toogood

DC Medal:

5 – Laura Gardiner (GF)
4 – Darcy Moloney (GF)
3 – Poppy Schaap (GF)
2 – Matilda Van Berkel (GP)
1 – Shanara Notman (GP)

NAB League Girls preview: Round 1 – New talent to shine in opening round of action

NAB League Girls action is back on the agenda this weekend with a grand final rematch among a host of expected tight contests with all sides back on level pegging at 0-0 to start the season and hoping to kick-off their seasons with wins.

NORTHERN KNIGHTS v. CALDER CANNONS
Saturday, February 29, 10:15am
RMIT University Bundoora

The first game of the round is a fitting opener to the new NAB League Girls season, with Northern Knights hosting Calder Cannons at a refurbished RMIT University ground in the 2019 Grand Final rematch. The Knights had five players drafted last year, with the remainder signed up for state league level football in 2020, while the Cannons just had the two, but had a number of players on the periphery. Both these sides have plenty of talent with the Knights potentially a year ahead in development, finishing runner-up in 2018 before winning last year, while the Cannons made the grand final last season, and will be hoping to build on that this year. The Knights have five players in the National AFL Women’s Academy, led by Ellie McKenzie and last year’s grand final best on ground medallist, Jess Fitzgerald who are both amongst a strong midfield core. Fellow Academy member, Maeve Chaplin is also named onball, while Maykaylah Appleby will run down the wings as the sole middle-age Academy member. Alyssa Bannan is a leading target and strong overhead named at centre half-forward, and a battle with the likes of key backs, Tamsin Crook and Tahlia Gillard – the latter of whom is in the AFL Women’s Academy too will be a match-up to watch. The name that will always catch the eye is Georgie Prespakis, a 2021 draft prospect and sister of Carlton Rising Star, Madison. She is capable of anything and her battle with McKenzie will be intriguing. The Cannons also have some serious depth at their disposal, with Emelia Yassir and Kasey Lennox another couple of youngsters who made their debuts last season and looked at home. With Freda Puruntatameri playing with Palmerston in the NTFL Women’s competition up forward for the Cannons, there is plenty of X-factor there too.

GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS v. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS
Saturday, February 29, 11:30am
City Oval Ballarat

Up in Ballarat, the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels host the Sandringham Dragons in a battle between two sides who should improve on their 2019 placings. Both sides have a number of AFL Women’s Academy member with the Rebels (five) and the Dragons (three) both having some serious top-end talent. The Rebels have a strong spine with Maggie Caris likely to be the top ruck in the competition this year with her height and tap work causing problems for the opposition. Renee Saulitis has played up forward and down back, but is named in the middle, with her athleticism and ability to sidestep opponents a feature of her game. Along with Isabella Simmons who has also been named through the midfield, all three Academy members are very different and add varied elements to the game style. They will face an equally impressive midfield of Dragons’ captain Winnie Laing, potential St Kilda father-daughter selection, Alice Burke and Bella Eddey who provide a real hard edge to the onball brigade. Sarah Hartwig is one of a couple of premier rebounding defenders, reading the ball in flight so well and able to create a lot of offensive run while nullifying her opponent defensively. Playing at half-forward is Eliza McNamara who is a tackling machine and elite runner, who will work her opponent over, while Abbi Moloney lines up at full-forward to try and clunk a few grabs by outmuscling her opponent one-on-one. The Rebels will look to run the ball out of defence through Nyakoat Dojiok who is a 2021 draft prospect in the Academy, while Chloe Leonard has been named at full-forward for the Rebels who will look to have a spread of goalkickers rather than a dominant target.

GEELONG FALCONS v. GIPPSLAND POWER
Saturday, February 29, 12:00pm
RMIT University Bundoora 

After its first finals loss last season, Geelong Falcons return to the NAB League Girls with a hunger to get back to the heights of 2018, starting off the 2020 season with a clash against Gippsland Power. The Power have a lot of players who were able to run out last season and will be more experienced in 2020, so they will no doubt look to push the Falcons who have plenty of young players themselves. Geelong’s duo of Darcy Moloney and Laura Gardiner will be damaging through the midfield as the Falcons’ two AFL Women’s National Academy members. Joined in the middle by basketballer Carly Remmos, the Falcons have a strong foundation to continue the success of past years. Elizabeth Dowling is a name that will be raised over the next couple of years, and along with Renee Tierney as targets up forward and Poppy Schaap‘s defensive pressure, the Falcons are in a good shape going forward. Mia Van Dyke is one of a number of prospects who have come through the club’s V/Line Cup program and despite being just three days away from being a 2023 draft eligible prospect (only turned 15 in December), she is one of a number who have come through the pathway with some high wraps from the coaching staff. Gippsland has some familiar names in its line-up, led by midfielder and AFL Women’s Academy member, Megan Fitzsimon. She, along with Grace McRae forms a strong midfield duo in there, and will compete strongly for the contested ball. In defence, Shanara Notman returns as a 19-year-old named at centre half-back and will provide some good rebound there, right alongside Leyla Berry who played for the Power back in 2018. On the other flank is a familiar Power name with Yasmin Duursma (sister of Port Adelaide’s Xavier), while when talking about bottom-age talent, Lily-Rose Williamson is one who will be a standout along a win having starred for the club through the V/Line Cup in past years.

BENDIGO PIONEERS v. WESTERN JETS
Saturday, February 29, 12:50pm
Queen Elizabeth Oval 

Turning the attention to Bendigo, the Pioneers host Western Jets in a curtain raiser to the AFL Women’s clash between Richmond and Geelong. Bendigo has the one official AFL Women’s National Academy member in key defender Tara Slender, but have a midfield that will trouble opposition onballers. Brooke Hards and Annabel Strahan have both been named onball and the co-captains will provide a hard-edge to the midfield and be difficult to beat there. Along with Maeve Tupper who has some impressive athletic skills and great goal sense when up forward, the midfield is a strength for the Pioneers. Jemma Finning has been named at half-back to provide some run out of defence with Slender, while up forward, Hannah Stewart is a target inside 50 as a 19-year-old. The Jets have opted to throw rebounding defender, Isabelle Pritchard into the midfield to counteract the Pioneers’ onball and develop her game even further. Along with bottom-age tall, Montana Ham and Nikita Wright in the middle, the Jets have some good height and ball-winning ability in there with upside. A highly rated bottom-ager with Ham is Charlotte Baskaran who is considered elite with her foot skills and decision making, so will be one to watch coming off half-back where she has been named. Both these sides are going to go close to winning in this tight contest with a fair few bottom-agers on show, though Bendigo should be more prepared after their top-agers had consistency through the team as middle-agers last season.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS v. EASTERN RANGES
Sunday, March 1,  11:00am
Holm Park Recreation Reserve 

In a rewind to 2018, Dandenong Stingrays and Eastern Ranges return to Holm Park in Beaconsfield to open their seasons on Sunday. While both played different opponents on that day two years ago, they will both be hoping for more ideal temperatures than the 37 degrees on that day. The Stingrays are coming off a solid season in 2019. just missing out on finals, while Eastern reached the post-season series and pushed eventual premiers, Northern Knights all the way in the preliminary final clash. The Stingrays’ standout prospect in 2020 is Tyanna Smith, with the AFL Women’s National Academy member having the combination of speed and strength in the middle, which she will use to burst out of the stoppages and create scoring opportunities for her team. Abbey Jordan showed last season she can win the ball through the middle, while young talls, Jaide Anthony and Georgia Grimmer up forward provide a glimpse into the future for the Stingrays having come through the V/Line Cup program. Down back, the ever-reliable Zoe Hill is alongside Jemma Radford, while Serene Vudiniabola comes highly rated as an overager who played school footy last year and is tied to Old Haileybury. Eastern Ranges pack a punch in the midfield as well, with Olivia Meagher and Tarni Brown the club’s two AFL Women’s Academy members. With ruck, Jess Grace likely to get first hands to them more often than not, the contested ball-winning Meagher and slick Brown will give their forwards some nice feeds inside 50. Matilda Hardy has been named at half-forward as one to watch, while Mietta Kendall is a reliable source of calmness in the back pocket, and Lily Peacock named as one to watch with her run along the wing.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS v. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Sunday, March 1, 1:00pm
Norm Minns Oval 

The final game of the round is another curtain raiser, this time for the Collingwood and Richmond AFL Marsh Series clash at Wangaratta. A big crowd is expected in attendance for the game, with two teams expected to improve in 2020 to battle it out. Murray Bushrangers and Oakleigh Chargers both had some superb performances last season, but had to iron out some consistency issues at times. Both having a number of talents coming through the ranks this season, the Bushrangers had a lot of middle and bottom-agers last season who have progressed through to the next year of their youth careers. The Charges had five players drafted and will be looking to replace them through a team approach. The Chargers have three players in the AFL Women’s National Academy with captain Mimi Hill and middle-ager Charlie Rowbottom named on-ball to rove the work of ruck, Kalarni Kearns. Also in the midfield is Joanna Lin on the wing, working the ball forward to an even front six. The Bushrangers have a two-pronged tall attack with AFL Women’s Academy members, Olivia Barber (top-age) and Ally Morphett (middle-age) rotating between ruck and forward. Abby Favell is a natural ball winner and will rotate between midfield and forward, while Kate Adams is another player who can be slippery around the stoppages and find the goals when inside 50. Keeley Skepper showed last season in the Under 16 Championships that she has a lot of upside, while a number of players on both teams loom as surprise packets in what could be one of the games of the round.