Tag: GWV Rebels

2021 VFLW season preview: Geelong

GEELONG is not overcomplicating things when it comes to attacking the 2021 VFLW season, according to new head coach, Andrew Bruce. Taking the reigns after being appointed as assistant in 2020, Bruce says his side has worked hard to keep in shape and will try to bring an attacking brand of football to the upcoming campaign.

“We’ve had a really good preseason,” Bruce said. “Obviously most of the girls had most of the year off last year but came back in really good shape and they’ve worked really hard through the preseason. Our skill level has certainly jumped up from the start to where we are now, so we’re really comfortable with where they are.”

“We want to be nice and hard at the football and use it as best we can. It’s very much an attacking style of play where we give ourselves the best opportunity to score. We’re not overcomplicating it at all, we want the players to continue to develop in what they’re doing but also to attack the game as much as they can and try and get some good pressure on the opposition.”

“It’s a good brand of footy where the girls are really confident in what they’re doing and we’re defending really well, so we’ve kind of got both aspects of the game going okay at the moment.”

Having effectively lost a year of competitive football in 2020, the Cats are no different to many other teams in that they will enter this season with a fresh-looking list, “significantly” so in the words of Bruce. He says Geelong will field a group of mixed ages and experience levels throughout the season, with aligned AFLW and NAB League players also set to roll through the squad.

“There’s been a significant change in personnel in the playing list,” he said. “There’s still probably half-a-dozen players who have been around for a bit of time and are quite experienced.”

“Michelle Fedele, who has been with the VFLW group pretty much since it started at Geelong, she’s missed a couple of years with an ankle injury but she’s come back fully fit and is going really well, so it’s exciting to see her play.

“Jamie Woollett has also stayed around and with her experience will be really important for us – Rebecca Pearce is the same. Then we’ve got some newer players; Claudia Gunjaca, who’s originally from Geelong but the last few years has been studying up in New South Wales and played in their state league. She’s come back this year and has been absolutely fantastic for the group – can play at both ends of the ground, is a really strong mark and her leadership is fantastic.”

“We’ve got a couple of younger girls as well. Tamara Smith, who was originally out of the Murray Bushrangers and Paige Sheppard, who was going to have the year off last year anyway, but has come back to footy and has done really well. We’ve got a player who’s crossed from Germany, she was playing in the AFLW Europe League. She’s come across to try her luck here, has settled in really well with the girls and is a very good player.”

“We’ve had a few (NAB League) girls come train with us through preseason. Renee Tierney and Ava McKeegan from Geelong, Chloe Leonard from Greater Western Victoria (GWV), she’s their captain this year. We expect them to play with us at various times through the year and probably a couple of other girls as well like Tess Craven or Annie Lee from Geelong.”

“It’s really exciting for those girls, obviously playing at that high standard in their age group through the NAB League and then also getting the opportunity at different times to play in the VFLW will be fantastic for their development.”

Along with the perks of strong talent pathways, the Cats will also benefit from a green AFLW side in the same region. Brimming with young talent, five to six players from the Geelong AFLW squad will play in the state league each week should they miss out on senior selection. Bruce says the alignment has been “great” for both parties.

“Obviously with COVID restrictions there were restrictions on how many train-on players they could have from the VFLW into AFLW, however a few of the girls did get to do that for a few weeks and they came back saying how great it was, the inclusiveness of it,” he said.

“Without doubt, their training standards picked up from that point, obviously being around some more experienced players and seeing how they go about their business has really had a positive impact on the way our players do that. With the alignment, we have five to six AFLW players (depending on injuries) come back to our games.”

“Again, it’s fantastic for those players to play footy rather than having to sit out when they’re not selected, but also just to assist with the development of our players throughout the matches with direction and different advice that they can give. Both groups are a fantastic bunch of girls and they all get along really well.”

Another area which has gone relatively smoothly thus far is the injury front. Pearce (hip) and a couple of players rehabbing ACL tears are just about the only injury concerns for Geelong ahead of Round 1, with the fitness of the players also up to scratch. The Cats will face off against Collingwood on Saturday afternoon and while Bruce expects stiff opposition, he says it will be difficult to gauge how each side stacks up until competition commences.

The Cats will announce their leadership group at tomorrow night’s jumper presentation, and promise to be raring to go after showing marked improvement in their second practice game, against Hawthorn. Bruce says his troops are simply “excited to have footy back.”

“Everyone’s missed out on so much over the past 12 months,” he said. “To get some positivity through sport is fantastic for everyone; whether it be the players, staff or their supporters. It’s all really good and we’re all just very excited to get back amongst it.”

Image Credit: Sports Media Image/Marcel Berens

Rebels ready after interrupted 2020

THE GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA (GWV) Rebels are making the most of an interrupted preseason, with Talent Operations Lead Phil Partington making the most of the squad being all together when it happens, such as last weekend’s NAB League Girls Preseason Testing Day.

“This (NAB League Girls testing day) is the fifth time we’ve had our girls all together since November,” Partington said. “It’s a credit to Rookie Me and also the AFL to have a testing day like this. “To see the whole squad and girls get the whole experience of testing is fantastic for them, not only as athletes but also as people.”

Looking to optimise the players’ time as a whole squad, the Rebels had a leadership development session planned for after the testing.

“The girls haven’t really spoken too much about that sort of stuff.” Partington said in relation to leadership group selection. “We’ve got Damian Ross our leadership consultant, and David Loader, will do a two-hour session with the girls, speaking about our values of the football club and program, then they will select a leadership group for the year.”

The effects of COVID-19 were felt in the NAB League with staff allocation heavily affected across the boys and girls programs. Despite the challenges teams have been confronted with, Partington is confident in the Rebels’ coaching staff for the year ahead.

“We’ve got a great coaching staff that’s just been appointed, we’ve got a lot of AFL experience,” Partington said. “David Loader has been at North Melbourne Football Club for five years, and Jason Lappin, who’s one of our assistant coaches, has been in the AFL system for 12 to 13 years, so the girls are learning a lot. 

“During that COVID period we made sure we kept in touch with our girls through Zooms and other social media sites to make sure they’re doing their work and just to have someone to speak to as well. “A lot of our girls come from country farms, so they’re isolated, so it’s really important we keep a social connection with our kids and we’ve done that pretty well with our coaching staff which is good.”

When asked who had impressed over preseason, it is no surprise Partington mentioned the two Rebels in the AFL Women’s Academy squad.

“Certainly Ella Friend and Nyakoat Dojiok have trained well over pre season, so expect some really good games out of that,” he said. ”Paige Scott who’s a younger girl, 2022 draft eligible, she’s been really impressive too the way she’s been going in our trial games. “We’ve got some good girls coming through, we’ll be a competitive group and the main thing is our girls will enjoy their footy and we’ll get our best results when we really enjoy our footy.”

It wasn’t only staff allocation affected by COVID. With training having to be heavily modified due to clubs being unable to play practice games, the Rebels had to change how they went about it.

“I suppose before Christmas was more the fundamentals of the game and getting a bit of a fitness base up,” Partington said. “The girls were given a good program over that Christmas period, and they’re self-driven so they’ve been not only pushing themselves, but also each other on Facebook.

“Our trial games have been just more game simulations, not so much trial games but more how do we play in these situations and a bit more game sense for them. “We had our last one last Wednesday and we’ll roll into Round 1 this week.”

A feel good story is brewing at the Rebels as well, with 2002-born defender Stephanie Glover returning this year after an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in 2020. Partington said she will fit in down back as one that has been really good during the pre-season phase.

The Rebels will kick off their 2021 campaign against Geelong Falcons at Deakin University on Sunday, February 7.

Simmons excited by future possibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caris hopes to follow sister into AFL Women’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One game enough for talented Astbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

Which All-Star Team are you picking?
Geelong Falcons
GWV Rebels
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Draft Central All-Star Team matchup: GWV Rebels vs. Eastern Ranges

OUR next All-Star Team battle is one between two Victorian clubs, in the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels and Eastern Ranges. The two captains voted in by the public as the All-Star Players of the AFL Draft era were Adam Goodes (GWV) and Sam Mitchell (Eastern).


These teams are fairly evenly matched with strengths in different areas. GWV Rebels have been seeded marginally higher (15th) compared to the Ranges (18th), but there is not much to split them at this stage.


GWV Rebels have a dominant spine, some what almost too much with quality talls probably missing out on selection due to the strength. But James Frawley, David Astbury and Troy Chaplin in defence, with Drew Petrie, Jeremy Cameron and Tom McDonald up forward, then throw in Jordan Roughead and Nathan J. Brown off the bench, and it is fair to say, the Rebels would not have a problem with height. Outside of height, they also have a tough midfield with Shane O’Bree and Brad Sewell alongside James McDonald and the Crouch brothers, Brad and Matt.

Eastern’s strength is definitely in its contested ball winning ability. An onball combination of Rory Sloane and Sam Mitchell, with Kane Johnson added for good measure and the likes of Christian Petracca and the Scott brothers – Chris and Brad – and the Ranges will be hard to beat around the coal face. They also have some reliable medium defenders back there in Nick Malceski and Lindsay Gilbee to ensure the ball is in safe hands exciting the 50.


The Rebels’ weakness might be its strength as well, with an overabundance of key position players and hardened midfielders. They have speed in the back half with Nathan Lovett-Murray and Jake Lloyd, but if there was a weakness in the side, you would say it might be the speed across the field. Lucky they can put it on heads inside 50 and really stretch the defence.

Eastern Ranges is the opposite to the Rebels in the sense of key defenders. They rely on Mark Bolton and Jason Saddington to hold down the fort, though they have some strong talls up the other end. Expect Dan McStay to play in defence rather than up forward because of this fact, but that is where the improvement could come from, height in defence.


You get the feeling that this match could be dependent on conditions. If the conditions are dry, then expect the Rebels to get up with so many tall targets. If they can hit them lace out or put it in their vicinity, they could kick a big score. If it is a wet day, then expect the battle-hardened and smaller Ranges to come to the fore, with Travis Cloke among one of the best contested marks in history, regardless of conditions.

All-Star Team of the AFL Draft Era: Which club is the best of the best?

EVERY year, a new crop of AFL Draft talents rise up and make waves at AFL level. Some clubs such as Calder Cannons and Geelong Falcons are referred to as ‘footy factories’. Others are less well known, but nonetheless vital in providing players with their start to the AFL.

Over the past couple of months, Draft Central has gone through all of the NAB League, SANFL and WAFL clubs and tried to determine the best 24-player squad for their respective clubs. The captains and vice-captains were determined by the public through Instagram voting. Now, it is up to the public to decide which All-Star Team is the greatest of the lot. That’s right, the 30 teams from Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia are going head to head in a knockout draw.

Which teams are competing?

NAB League [12]: Bendigo Pioneers, Calder Cannons, Dandenong Stingrays, Eastern Ranges, Geelong Falcons, Gippsland Power, GWV Rebels, Murray Bushrangers, Northern Knights, Oakleigh Chargers, Sandringham Dragons, Western Jets
SANFL [9]: Central District, Glenelg, North Adelaide, Norwood, Port Adelaide, South Adelaide, Sturt, West Adelaide, Woodville-West Torrens
WAFL [9]: Claremont, East Fremantle, East Perth, South Fremantle, Peel Thunder, Perth, Subiaco, Swan Districts, West Perth

How will it work?

Each day at 10am, we will publish the two All-Star Teams of the AFL Draft era, and the public will be able to vote through the article, Facebook and Twitter, with the overall winner moving through to the next round.

Given there are 30 teams, two sides who we have picked out as the top two seeds – East Fremantle and Geelong Falcons – will have the bye in the opening round, with the other 28 teams seeded appropriately similar to the All-Star Player voting (3rd against 28th, 4th against 27th etc.).

Who is up first?

The first All-Star Team battle is between a couple of metropolitan sides who we have seeded 16th and 17th in the draw. They both have some absolute elite stars, but Calder Cannons and Western Jets will begin the voting on Monday. They will be followed by the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels and Eastern Ranges on Tuesday, before a cross-state clash sees third seed Port Adelaide Magpies tackle Peel Thunder.

Classic Contests: Chargers and Rebels go down to the wire in semi final showdown

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in our series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at another clash between the NAB League rivals to complete our full series, and today’s battle is between the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels and Oakleigh Chargers. In this edition, we wind back the clock to 2016, when the sides threw down in a tense semi final.

2016 TAC Cup, Semi Finals
Sunday September 11, 2:15pm
Princes Park

N. BALLARAT REBELS 2.2 | 6.4 | 8.5 | 12.8 (80)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 3.4 | 6.5 | 10.7 | 12.14 (86)


N. Ballarat: S. Beks 3, H. Dawborn, A. Domic, J. Korewha, I. Johnson, W. Drew, T. Williamson, C. Cox, L. Huppatz, J. McQueen
D. Johnstone 3, E. Phillips 2, P. Kerr 2, J. Daicos 2, J. Higgins, V. Adduci, N. Larkey


N. Ballarat: C. Wellings, H. McCluggage, W. Drew, C. Bilney, J. McQueen, J. Harrison
C. Lane, E. Phillips, D. Stanford, N. Reeves, V. Adduci, T. Wooller

Draftees in action:

N. Ballarat: Cedric Cox, Hugh McCluggage, Jamaine Jones, Willem Drew, Tom Williamson, Lloyd Meek
Oakleigh: Ed Phillips, Taylin Duman, Dion Johnstone, Nick Larkey, Patrick Kerr, Jordan Ridley, Josh Daicos, Ned Reeves, Toby Wooller, Jack Higgins

A lot has changed since 2016; the North Ballarat Rebels are now known as the Greater Western Victoria Rebels, and the premier Victorian Under 18s competition has been rebranded to the NAB League. But one thing that has barely changed of late, particularly for the Oakleigh Chargers, is their ability to produce AFL-worthy prospects, of which were on show during a tight TAC Cup semi final showdown.

16 players who took to Princes Park as the Rebels and Chargers went to battle would eventually land on AFL lists, split 10-6 in favour of Oakleigh. It could have been more too, with both sides missing a key top-age gun each. The Rebels went in without Jarrod Berry, who was arguably built for finals football, while Oakleigh was missing bigman Sam McLarty. But with a heap of quality remaining and both sides near full-strength, a spectacle was still there to be had.

The Rebels were clearly the superior side throughout the regular season, having earned a second finals chance by finishing third at 12-5. They had beaten Oakleigh by 39 points in Round 6, and boasted a six-game winning streak in the lead-up to finals. That second chance would come into play after a loss to Geelong in the qualifying finals, on the same weekend that Oakleigh won its elimination dig over Calder by 106 points. It meant the Chargers had won four on the trot after finishing sixth (8-9), and would look to bundle the Rebels out in straight sets.

An early break went the way of the underdogs too, despite two Shannon Beks goals for North Ballarat in the first 10 minutes. The Chargers held a one-point lead at the main break, with no side able to string together a streak of over two goals to that point. While Aiden Domic put the Rebels ahead with an early third term major, Oakleigh soared back in front with four unanswered goals of their own – only halted by Jake McQueen‘s late steadier.

With everything to play for in the final period, Tom Williamson got North Ballarat off to the perfect start with a goal in the second minute, and after a 15-minute stalemate, Jarrod Korewha brought the margin back to a single kick. Oakleigh looked to have done enough with two quick replies but the Rebels were not done yet, and bridged the gap once more. A handy Ed Phillips point with a minute on the clock would make it tough for North Ballarat at seven points down, proving as much as they went down by six points.

Two players who were unlucky to miss out on being drafted that year, Cal Wellings and Campbell Lane were named best afield for their respective sides, and ended up as teammates in Collingwood’s VFL squad. It was no surprise to see the likes of Hugh McCluggage and Willem Drew amongst the action for North Ballarat, while Phillips and a bottom-aged Toby Wooller were influential for Oakleigh. Eventual draftees Dion Johnstone (three goals), Patrick Kerr (two), Josh Daicos (two), Jack Higgins (one), and Nick Larkey (one) all hit the scoreboard for the victors.

Oakleigh’s finals charge would grind to a halt at the very next stage, going down to Murray by 44 points.