Tag: nikita wright

The Graduates: 2021 VFLW – Round 6

A HEAP of young prospects are now filtering through the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition, with the revamped structure allowing Under 18 and 19 NAB League players to align with state league sides as both seasons run concurrently. Round 6 saw plenty of talent scattered across each side, and we take a look at how VFLW-listed players who currently play in or have graduated from the NAB League, performed.

Essendon welcomed a couple of fresh faces to the fold as it trumped fellow standalone side, Hawthorn by 14 points on Saturday morning, The Bombers called upon current Calder Cannons guns Kasey Lennox (defender) and Zali Friswell (midfielder), who enjoyed solid runs in their debuts. They ran out alongside former Cannons Alana Barba and Grace Dicker, the former of whom has established a key role in the team.

Hawthorn also had a NAB League product make her debut, in Eastern prospect Ruby O’Dwyer. She was one of three current Ranges to run out in the brown and gold, with Jess Grace and Isabelle Khoury returning for their second games at the level. Khoury, a likely type up forward, was named among the Hawks’ best players.

The Southern Saints notched their third win of the season, also on Saturday morning, as they defeated Williamstown by 10 points on home turf. Gabby De Angelis booted two goals in the winning effort, while Ruby Tripodi claimed full votes for the Seagulls as she continues her stellar season. Promising forward Tahlia Merrett also returned after nearly a month out.

Despite another heavy loss, the Western Bulldogs continue to present strong opportunities to their young players, headlined this week by Molly Denahy Maloney. The tall was named best afield for the Dogs in their loss to Port Melbourne, while debutant Lilli Condon proved lively at ground level and Nikita Wright returned to the fold. Former Bendigo Pioneers skipper Brooke Hards fared well in a new role, trialled in defence and matching up on Borough first-gamer, Taylah Morton.

Elsewhere, Bridie Winbanks featured in the votes for Casey as the Demons went down by two points to a Geelong side boasting the likes of Tamara Smith and Paige Sheppard. Collingwood remains undefeated after keeping Carlton goalless on Sunday, with Olivia Meagher getting an extended run while Amber Micallef and Marnie Jarvis ply their trade in navy blue. Ciara Fitzgerald again found the goals as North Melbourne went down to Darebin, in the Falcons’ first win for the season.

2021 VFLW Round 6 preview: Youngsters and AFLW talent filter into state competition

ROUND 6 of the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition commences tomorrow with a number of AFL Women’s and NAB League Girls players entering the competition for the first time this season.

HAWTHORN vs. ESSENDON
Saturday, April 10 @ 10am
Box Hill City Oval

In a battle between a couple of traditional rivals, Essendon will travel to Box Hill to take on Hawthorn in what is anticipated to be a great clash for the sides early tomorrow morning. The Hawks have been bolstered by Eastern Ranges talents Jess Grace, Isabelle Khoury, Eloise Chaston and Ruby O’Dwyer, with the likes of Jemma Owen, Amy Malander and Chloe O’Malley among the outs. Calder Cannons and Vic Metro representatives Kasey Lennox and Zali Friswell come into the Essendon side, as Elisabeth Hosking also returns to the team with an extended bench. The Bombers can put pressure on the top four sides with a win, and will leap frog one side with a victory, given third and fourth placed Geelong and Casey Demons do battle later in the afternoon.

SOUTHERN SAINTS vs. WILLIAMSTOWN
Saturday, April 10 @ 10am
Trevor Barker Oval

With the AFL Women’s season over, Southern Saints have brought back some serious talent into its VFL Women’s side to try and rejoin the top half of the table with a third win this season. Both sides sit at 2-3 from five rounds, and the likes of Alice Burke, Molly McDonald, Jacqui Vogt and Poppy Kelly all coming back into the team, with Nadia von Bertouch, Melanie Bertuna and Tamara Luke are among the outs. For the Seagulls, Paige Nash and Elizabeth McGrath return into the side, as Asha Price and Chloe Leighton are among those out of the team for this match. If the Seagulls get up, they will then overtake the Saints on the table and balance their own ledger at 3-3.

NORTH MELBOURNE vs. DAREBIN
Saturday, April 10 @ 2pm
Arden Street

Back at their spiritual home ground at Arden Street, North Melbourne will eye off going back-to-back for the first time this season if they can get past the winless Darebin Falcons. The. Roos have opted to keep a relatively VFL-focused outfit with Laura Amelung, Olivia Woods and Nadia Moore into the time, as Tahni Nestor and Allies representative at the AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships Jayde Hamilton go out of the side. For the Falcons, Sidney Cubasch will slot straight back into the ruck, whilst Nicole Callinan is another important inclusion in defence. North Melbourne will start as favourites, but both sides have a chance in this one.

PORT MELBOURNE vs. WESTERN BULLDOGS
Saturday, April 10 @ 2pm
ETU Stadium

Two sides utilising the return of AFL Women’s talent, the unbeaten Port Melbourne will hope to make it six wins on the trot against a Western Bulldogs side desperately hoping to avoid a fifth straight loss. The Borough have welcomed in Richmond tall forward Sabrina Frederick, as well as Tiger talents Laura McClelland and Sarah Sansonetti. Oakleigh Chargers’ Taylah Morton will also run around in the forward pocket, while Luka Lesosky-Hay, Hannah McLaren and Phoebe Monahan are among the outs. For the Western Bulldogs, Isabelle Pritchard, Gemma Lagioia and Annabel Scott return to the team replacing fellow AFL Women’s listed players Bailey Hunt and Annabel Strahan. GWV Rebels midfielder Lilli Condon will make her debut for the Western Bulldogs, whilst Western Jets’ Nikita Wright also returns to the side.

CASEY DEMONS vs. GEELONG
Saturday, April 10 @ 3pm
Casey Fields

Whilst most sides are able to welcome back some AFL Women’s talent, the still-alive Melbourne AFL Women’s side does not have that luxury, instead having to use their depth against a Geelong Cats side that has brought in some young guns for the Casey Fields clash. Carly Remmos, Georgie Rankin, Madisen Maguire, Darcy Moloney and Laura Gardiner are all named in the team to inject some serious talent in the midfield and around the ground, while Madeleine Boyd and Stephanie Williams are among the outs for the Cats. The Demons have recalled Georgia Howes and Monica Haraimiuk among others, while Niamh McEvoy, Grace Buchan, Maggie Caris and Chantelle Emonson are all among the outs for the home side.

COLLINGWOOD vs. CARLTON
Sunday, April 11 @ 2pm
Victoria Park

Traditional rivals Collingwood and Carlton do battle in a standalone clash at Victoria Park on Sunday with both teams making a host of changes. The Magpies are also still alive in the AFL Women’s competition and have lost the listed Kristy Stratton, whilst recalling Abbi Moloney as well as Eastern Ranges’ Olivia Meagher among a host of ins. For the Blues, Winnie Laing is out of the side, but Carlton-listed Charlotte Hammans and Maddy Guerin are returning to the side with Marnie Jarvis and Jasmine Ware in what will be a game the Blues eye off as a way to continue their form of late and record their fourth win. Sitting equal top with Port Melbourne, the Magpies will want to maintain the gap on the chasing pack below them with a victory.

The Graduates: 2021 VFLW – Round 4

A HEAP of young prospects are set to filter through the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition in 2021, with the revamped structure allowing Under 18 and 19 NAB League players to align with state league sides as both seasons run concurrently. Round 4 saw plenty of talent scattered across each side, and we take a look at how VFLW-listed players who currently play in or have graduated from the NAB League, performed.

The Western Bulldogs have blooded plenty of youth across all levels in 2021 and that was no different on Saturday, though the young pups went down to Williamstown. Former Richmond player Nekaela Butler made her debut in red, white, and blue, joining a strong contingent of NAB League graduates in the side. Nikita Wright booted a goal, while Brooke Hards tackled strongly and former Sandringham pair Molly Denahy Maloney and Margie Purcell also featured.

For Williamstown, Western Jets product Ruby Tripodi continued her promising season with a performance good enough to earn votes, with former Bendigo Pioneers standout Megan Williamson also a key part of the Seagulls’ cause.

Sophie Locke booted three majors as Port Melbourne claimed the scalp of Geelong on Saturday evening, putting her clear atop the VFLW goalkicking charts. Former Carlton-listed utility Bridie Kennedy also got back into action for the Borough in their win. For Geelong, the likes of Tamara Smith and Paige Sheppard have established their spots among a talented team which should feature in finals.

Casey fielded a strong side in its win over the Southern Saints on Sunday, with Emma Horne among the standout VFLW-listed youngsters to run out. Meanwhile, Gabby De Angelis returned in the red, white and black after missing last week as Grace Hodder continues to feature at the level.

A Carlton squad stacked with AFLW talent trumped North Melbourne for its second-straight win, pushing some young prospects out of the side. On the other hand, North welcomed Jayde Hamilton back to the fold for her second state league outing after NAB League commitments, while former Richmond defender Ciara Fitzgerald was again named in the votes.

Essendon’s mix of experience and youth shone through in the Bombers’ comprehensive 67-point victory over Darebin, marking their third win for the season. Former Calder Cannons teammates Alana Barba and Felicity Theodore both snared two goals in the victory, with Barba also named in the votes alongside Grace Dicker. Murray graduate Eloise Ashley-Cooper was also among the action in red and black.

In the final game of the round, Collingwood held off a pesky Hawthorn unit to win by 15 points and remain undefeated, with Olivia Meagher and Neve O’Connor both taking the field in black and white. Hawthorn had some strong contributions from Chloe O’Malley and Maddi Shaw, with the versatile Lauren Szigeti also in the thick of things.

Image Credit: Peter Bratuskins/Port Melbourne FC

The Graduates: 2021 VFLW – Round 3

A HEAP of young prospects are set to filter through the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition in 2021, with the revamped structure allowing Under 18 and 19 NAB League players to align with state league sides as both seasons run concurrently. Round 3 saw plenty of talent scattered across each side, and we take a look at how VFLW-listed players who currently play in or have graduated from the NAB League, performed.

The Western Bulldogs were again littered with former NAB League talent, but the young pups were soundly outdone by a surging Collingwood side on Friday night. On a positive note for the Bulldogs, Margie Purcell came in for her first game and ended as one of three goalkickers alongside former Sandringham teammate, Molly Denahy Maloney.

2020 Bendigo Pioneers skipper Brooke Hards gave it everything up forward and through midfield, while Nikita Wright continues to establish her spot. For Collingwood, current Eastern Ranges midfielder Olivia Meagher was again amongst the action and booted a goal in the big win, as tall prospect Neve O’Connor got a third game for the season under her belt.

Standalone rivals Essendon and Hawthorn both fielded some promising NAB League graduates, with the Bombers’ batch proving particularly impactful in their win at The Hangar. Debutant and current Bendigo midfielder Elizabeth Snell was named among the votes alongside Eloise Ashley-Cooper and Alana Barba. The latter’s ex-Calder teammate, Felicity Theodore also popped up with a goal.

In the brown and gold, Lauren Szigeti‘s strong start to the season continued as she was named among her side’s best players for the third time in as many games. She played a key role as Hawthorn’s prime inside midfielder. Jemma Owen, Maddi Shaw, and Chloe O’Malley were among the other graduates to suit up for the Hawks as they suffered a second loss.

Casey enjoyed a big win over North Melbourne on Saturday, aided by some impactful senior-listed stars. Emma Horne and Bridie Winbanks both notched their third appearances for the Demons, contributing to their side’s second win. Former Richmond youngster Ciara Fitzgerald finished as North’s lone goalkicker and earned votes, while Western Jets defender Marli Klaumanns-Moller ran out for her third VFLW outing in blue and white.

Geelong Falcons pair Annie Lee and Renee Tierney earned VFLW berths with the Cats, with the former being recognised among her team’s best players in the low-scoring victory. Tamara Smith was also influential for Geelong, while Paige Sheppard continues to return promising form in the hoops. Amelia Peck and Grace Hodder were again among Southern Saints’ contingent, battling away in the tough conditions.

Sophie Locke took her season goal tally up to six with two majors in Port Melbourne’s win over traditional rival, Williamstown on Saturday. Fellow Murray Bushrangers product, Kate Adams is another promising youngster to have suited up for the Borough, as Williamstown fielded similarly good youth.

The Seagulls had some high-level youngsters afield too, with Ruby Tripodi again a key figure at the coalface, while the dynamic Megan Williamson earned votes alongside talented forward Tahlia Merrett. Geelong Falcons product Zoe Garth also notched her second game after previously turning out in the NAB League in 2021.

Carlton had a couple of up-and-comers make their third-straight appearances on the season as senior-listed talent continues to filter through, with Amber Micallef and Taylah Kolevski contributing in the Blues’ maiden win for 2021.

Image Credit: Martin Keep/AFL Photos

The Graduates: 2021 VFLW – Round 2

A HEAP of young prospects are set to filter through the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition in 2021, with the revamped structure allowing Under 18 and 19 NAB League players to align with state league sides as both seasons run concurrently. Round 2 saw plenty of talent scattered across each side, and we take a look at how VFLW-listed players who currently play in or have graduated from the NAB League, performed.

Geelong picked up its first points for season 2021 on Saturday afternoon, defeating standalone side Williamstown by 40 points. The Cats had some AFLW-listed talent to come from the NAB League, as well as Geelong Falcons graduate Paige Sheppard. The midfield-forward earned votes for the second week running in what has been a promising start to her year.

Williamstown blooded a Falcons product of its own in the form of Zoe Garth, who has played three NAB League games this year. Tahlia Merrett came into the team and was among the Seagulls’ best, while Megan Williamson and Ruby Tripodi also played roles for the losing side.

Promising Eastern Ranges midfielder Olivia Meagher was given an opportunity for Collingwood after her dominant Under 19s form, as the Magpies defeated Southern Saints by 22 points. Meanwhile, former Northern Knights tall Neve O’Connor played her second game running in the black and white as she continues her development.

Gabby De Angelis backed up from a goal in last week’s outing to be among the Southern Saints’ best players on the day, though she did not hit the scoreboard this time out. Versatile former Oakleigh tall Amelia Peck was again among the Saints’ lineup, as was Grace Hodder who started at half-back.

Essendon’s winning lineup featured a bunch of fairly recent NAB League talent, including a trio of ex-Calder Cannons. Among them, Alana Barba and Felicity Theodore each snared a goal in the win over Casey, with Grace Dicker rounding out the trio in her maiden appearance. Murray product Eloise Ashley-Cooper also suited up for her second game, as did Bridie Winbanks for Casey.

A promising young Western Bulldogs side fell short of North Melbourne on Sunday morning, as the Kangaroos earned their first points in 2021. Former Richmond player and Northern Knights graduate Ciara Fitzgerald ran out for her first game in blue and white, kicking a goal on debut. Western prospect Marli Klaumanns-Moller was also fielded as she continues to link with the state league side.

For the Bulldogs, a strong contingent of AFLW-listed NAB League products made their mark, while a few budding stars also contributed. Among them, 2020 Bendigo Pioneers skipper Brooke Hards battled away up forward, while Molly Denahy Moloney and Western’s Nikita Wright again donned the red, white and blue in Round 2.

Hawthorn was another team to win for the first time in 2021, and had some strong young talent on show. Lauren Szigeti was among the Hawks’ best rotating through midfield from defence, as she and Jemma Owen both snagged goals. Maddi Shaw returned to the lineup, while Chloe O’Malley played her second game, and Eastern products Isabelle KhouryTilly Hardy and Jess Grace all earned VFLW berths among a raft of changes.

Former Murray forward Sophie Locke lit up the attacking half for Port Melbourne with three goals as the Borough thumped Carlton on Sunday afternoon. Ex-Carlton AFLW utility Bridie Kennedy had her first outing for the standalone side, while Kate Adams featured once again after her promising start for Port in Round 1.

Marnie Jarvis was a late inclusion for Carlton and was among a few players to show glimpses in the loss. Meanwhile, Amber Micallef again ran through midfield for the Blues, as Teagan Brett and Taylah Kolevski rounded out the former NAB League players to feature in Round 2.

The Graduates: 2021 VFLW – Round 1

A HEAP of young prospects are set to filter through the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition in 2021, with the revamped structure allowing Under 18 and 19 NAB League players to align with state league sides as both seasons run concurrently. Round 1 saw plenty of talent scattered across each side, and we will also take a look at how VFLW-listed players have graduated in the last three years from the NAB League performed.

A couple of draft eligible prospects who have already played in the NAB League this year earned VFLW berths this weekend, with Western’s Marli Klaumanns-Moller and Murray’s Kate Adams running out for North and Port Melbourne respectively. The former is a 20-year-old defender with some exciting traits, while the latter is capable of playing on each line while rotating through midfield. Another former Bushranger in Sophie Locke also played for North, booting a goal as the Roos fell by 33 points.

Former Geelong Falcons midfielder-forward Paige Sheppard made a successful return to football, coming back into the Cats’ VFLW fold and earning a spot among their best players. Northern Knights product Neve O’Connor got her chance with Collingwood, adding to the Pies’ tall stocks as they got up by two points.

Carlton fielded a host of recent graduates in its loss to Casey, who were serviced by former Oakleigh ruck Bridie Winbanks. Ex-Chargers coach Luke O’Shannessy has taken the reigns at Carlton and unleashed Amber Micallef for some nice passages through midfield, while the likes of Teagan Brett (Murray) and Shanara Notman (Gippsland) both had their hands full in defence. Northern graduate Marnie Jarvis and Western product Taylah Kolevski also took the field in navy blue.

The Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn also blooded some promising youth at Whitten Oval on Sunday, as the home side got up by eight goals. Former Bendigo Pioneers captain Brooke Hards showed some burst and grit from midfield, as Nikita Wright stepped into the side after a couple of games with Western this year, and Molly Denahy Maloney also got her chance in the red, white and blue.

A trio of metro region graduates appeared for Hawthorn, headlined by Jemma Owen who booted a goal and was the Hawks’ standout player. Lauren Szigeti was another among her side’s best players in the loss, with Chloe O’Malley also donning the brown and gold in Round 1.

Former Calder teammates Alana Barba and Felicity Theodore again joined forces with Essendon on the weekend, with Eloise Ashley-Cooper another NAB Leaguer to feature in the sash. Barba was among Essendon’s most productive players, bringing her contested acumen and also kicking a goal.

Gabby De Angelis found the big sticks too, only for the Southern Saints as they won out by 18 points. Ex-Oakleigh tall Amelia Peck and Grace Hodder were among the other NAB League products to feature in the win. In Williamstown’s victory over Darebin, Megan Williamson and Ruby Tripodi were productive going forward, both kicking goals in the low-scoring affair and producing some handy highlights.

2021 VFLW season preview: Western Bulldogs

A BUNCH of Western Bulldogs VFLW players will finally get to pull on the red, white and blue jumper in a competitive match when they take on Hawthorn to kick off their 2021 campaign on Sunday. While 15 new players have entered the squad since 2019, there is a strong sense of continuity according to head coach, Sean Kavanagh after the lost 2020 season.

“It’s really interesting because quite a few of the girls who have been around, they came on board in that preseason before 2020, even as early as September of 2019,” Kavanagh said. “So some of the girls have been around for close to a year and a half, but have never had the opportunity to play.

“The age and experience profile has changed a little bit. We’ve gone for a certain type of player, a very similar methodology to our AFLW side and how we want to make the list up and play our footy. We’re really excited, it’ll take time and the girls will make mistakes… (but) we’ll learn from those areas and hopefully get some nice flow into our game as the season progresses.”

The Bulldogs have returned in “good condition” after a year away from group training and competitive play, testing their progress with dual practice games against Carlton during preseason. While pure results are not the entire focus of such hitouts, the ledger is squared at one win apiece. Kavanagh says his players “just went for it” in both outings.

“Over the course of the year off, we expected the girls to come back pretty rusty,” he said. “There was a little bit of work to do on skills but on the whole, our group came back in great condition and we’re looking forward to being competitive in Round 1.

“The first practice game we played at Ikon (Park) a couple of weeks ago… some girls hadn’t played since September 2019, so it’s a long, long time. It took a little while to adjust but we started to see some really good footy in the second half. We had quite a large bench that day so continuity in game time was a bit tough, but it was great to tick one off.

“We had an intraclub planned a week or so after that but obviously we went into lockdown then so we missed that opportunity and ended up playing Carlton again on the weekend. It was a similar type of game, Carlton jumped us early and played really good footy, then we changed some fundamental things which was great to see because we took great learnings out of it and that’s been a focus of this week.

“We came back in the second half and lost by a couple of goals so we’re pretty much even on the scoreboard with the Blues at the moment which is exciting. We’re 1-1 if we get to play them again through the course of the year.”

A six-person leadership group was announced last week, with Riley Christgoergl set to skipper the squad ahead of vice-captain Katelyn Betts. The pair featured among the names Kavanagh outlined when speaking on the core group of returning players set to head the side’s efforts. An “exciting blend of youth” will also play a part.

Nicole McMahon in the ruck has had another great preseason, Mary Sandral has also been incredible through the preseason, she’ll play at full forward. Riley Christgoergl and Katelyn Betts, our new captain and vice-captain, they’ve had wonderful preseasons and have been a huge support for the entire group during lockdown in 2020, so I’m expecting a lot from them to take that next step as mature and experienced players being around the system for a couple of years.

“Of our new girls, I think we’ve got some exciting under-22s; Brooke Hards, Eliza Vale, and Margie Purcell. Nikita Wright, who’s still eligible to play NAB League, so she’s played a couple of games with the (Western) Jets already and we were really keen to sign her.

“So we’ve got some young talent that’s come in and they’ll find their feet and adjust to the older and stronger bodies having come out of the NAB League only last year in a very shortened season. It’s a nice balance and we’ll see that progression in our returning players with our new, exciting blend of youth.”

With a strong group of young players coming into the Bulldogs’ system and access to even more as the NAB League season progresses, AFLW alignment is as important as ever for helping develop elite level hopefuls. Having that one-club kind of connection has seen many sides adjust their recruiting policies and style of play. The Bulldogs are no different.

“It’s wonderful for our young girls to see the level in conditioning and footy smarts that’s required to be identified as an elite player and to make and an AFLW list,” Kavanagh said. “It’s also nice to hear the feedback from the AFLW girls as well, these VFLW girls are really going in the right direction, they’re doing all the right things, and are really genuinely excited to get the opportunity to play together.

“With the change in the rules, we’ve changed from 18 on the ground to 16, which is the same as the AFLW program. Having the ability to run and cover the ground is really important so we’ve gone for those type of characteristics in our players. Obviously not only do we need to play the game well, but also have those physical and athletic attributes to cover more ground than they would normally have to because we’ve got less players on the ground.

“We’re looking to play a free-flowing game, but also it’s also been our mantra to be really tough to play against, to be strong and physical in the contest but also have the ability to spread hard and provide opportunities for our forwards to kick a winning score.”

Looking towards Round 1, the Bulldogs have a couple of lingering niggles but are “relatively healthy” according to Kavanagh. An accelerated and shortened preseason period has hardly helped in an injury sense, though just about the full list is there to select from.

A “wonderful” breakthrough was also made as Megan Chadwick made her return from an ACL injury during preseason. She came on for a minute against Carlton in the second practice game, which made cause for celebration amongst the tight-knit group.

In terms of expectations ahead of their opening game, Kavanagh says there is sure to be a heap of “pent-up energy” to be released once players cross the white line and attack the first bounce.

“It’s just going to be ‘let’s get out there and play’,” he said. “There’ll be mistakes made, but it’s going to be all about who can settle the quickest, who can get on top in regards to the arm-wrestle early on and  put scoreboard pressure on.

“We usually have so much longer to see where we’re at but it’s still a mystery, we’re hoping for a good result but it’s going to be a great game. I know both sides will be busting to get that first competitive four points in a long time.”

Image Credit: Western Bulldogs Media

Youth set to take next step in VFL Women’s competition

TWELVE players who received AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites but missed out on being picked up by clubs will test themselves in the new-look Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition starting this weekend. Of the 12 players, five of them remain on NAB League lists as top-agers, whilst the others are purely focused on their VFL Women’s commitments in 2021.

Carlton have a trio of players who received Draft Combine invites last year, in Gippsland Power duo Nikia Webber and Shanara Notman, and Oakleigh Chargers defender Amber Micallef. Webber and Notman have received a couple of Combine invites in the past, with the key position talents strong overhead and both having represented Vic Country in the past. Notman played Round 1 with the Power, but is also a skilled basketballer. Micallef stepped up in 2020 to provide great outside run albeit in only the two games she was able to play, becoming a crucial cog in the Chargers’ rebound.

The other team with multiple 2020 AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites is Southern Saints, with Dandenong Stingrays teammates Zoe Hill and Abbey Jordan both in the red, white and black for season 2021. The duo are still on the Stingrays’ NAB League Girls lists and made a strong start to the season last round, with Hill a Vic Country Under 18s key position defender at bottom-age level, and Jordan a speedy winger who has been moved inside to increase her versatility this year.

Another player still on a NAB League list but is testing herself at state league level is Gippsland Power’s Grace McRae who will suit up for Hawthorn in 2021. The hardnut inside midfielder had a massive Round 1 game for the Power, but has moved closer to the city for work this year and will look to join the likes of form Power player, Maddi Shaw at the brown and gold.

Meanwhile Eastern Ranges’ Olivia Meagher will head to Collingwood, with the 2020 Eastern Ranges captain already having an impact in her two games at NAB League level this season. A fierce onballer, Meagher will have no troubles stepping up to the level and will be one to watch through the onball brigade at the Pies.

Another inside midfielder and former NAB League captain stepping up to the VFL Women’s in 2021 is Brooke Hards who will play with the Western Bulldogs this season. The Bendigo Pioneers co-captain last year and Vic Country Under 18s representative as a bottom-ager two seasons ago will look to bring a similar fierce attack to the Bulldogs midfield as another country player who has moved closer to the city for studies.

Calder Cannons’ Alana Barba will once again head to Essendon after not being able to get out on the park last season, but still earning a Draft Combine invitation as a 19-year-old. A tackling machine like Hards, Barba has grown through the Vic Metro program and will team up alongside a heap of current Calder Cannons players who will don the red and black this year. She is joined at the Bombers by Bendigo Pioneers’ Jemma Finning who was impressive in a new role at half-back last season, and has been back at the Pios thus far in 2021.

Having quite the pathway, Courteney Bromage has returned to Victoria after a stint in Queensland last year, with the ex-Carlton talent trying out at Port Melbourne. She will provide plenty of experience for the league’s newest side as they look to have an impact from the get-go.

Speaking of travelling, there will be a sister act at North Melbourne, with Jayde Hamilton the other Draft Combine invite from last year. Representing Eastern Allies as a bottom-ager in 2019, the inside midfielder will join sister and ex-Gold Coast Suns tall Alexia Hamilton at the Roos in 2021.

There are also plenty of current NAB League Girls who have been named on various VFL Women’s lists for the upcoming season. Essendon VFL Women’s have been flushed with an array of Calder talents, including AFL Women’s Academy members Georgie Prespakis and Tahlia Gillard, as well as the likes of Kasey Lennox, Neve Crowley, Grace Dicker, Emelia Yassir and Zali Friswell. The Bombers also have recruited Bendigo Pioneers’ Elizabeth Snell. Another Calder talent in Peppa Poultney has opted to stick with her junior club and follow into Darebin Falcons’ VFL Women’s program.

Geelong has unsurprisingly recruited a number of Falcons to its list, with Renee Tierney already lightning up the NAB League Girls with a couple of big outings in the opening two matches. Defender Annie Lee and midfielder Tess Craven are also among the Falcons best performed in the opening couple of games and could easily have an impact at state league level. They are joined by Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels’ Chloe Leonard who has also been in great form.

Eastern Ranges Isabelle Khoury, Matilda Hardy and Jess Grace have all signed on to Hawthorn’s VFL Women’s list, whilst Darwin Buffettes talent and former Central Allies representative Dominique Carbone has also decided to head to the Hawks this season. A former and current Murray Bushrangers duo of Kate Adams and Sophie Locke will run out for Port Melbourne, while Geelong Falcons’ Zoe Garth will test herself at Williamstown.

Other current NAB League Girls players on lists include Oakleigh Chargers’ Kalarni Kearns who will head to Collingwood, and Western Jets’ Nikita Wright will suit up for the Western Bulldogs. One name who might fly under the radar but has switched states is Collingwood’s Matilda Zander who has finally made her way to the Pies from Norwood after attempting to do so last year before the full state lockdown went into place.

With plenty of young talent on show in the VFL Women’s competition, there is plenty to get excited about across the league, and it all kicks off on Saturday.

NAB League Girls Round 1 preview: Undefeated 2020 sides to face off in huge round of action

AT least one of the three undefeated sides from the 2020 NAB League Girls season will extend their winning run to 18 months or more, when the competition returns this weekend. Starting tomorrow, the NAB League Girls will have six games across four different venues – including one double-header – in a new footballing landscape for 2021. For Dandenong Stingrays, they will have to tack on an extra week to their extended break that saw the 2020 season come to an unfulfilled end last year, after they were handed the bye. For the 12 other teams, it will be a chance to start the season off on the right note. For the likes of Northern Knights, Oakleigh Chargers and Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels, they look to continue what they started last year, having not lost since 2019, or in the Knights’ case, the 2018 grand final.

Eastern Ranges vs. Western Jets
Saturday, February 6 @ 12pm
Kilsyth Recreation Reserve

In what is officially the first NAB League Girls game in almost 12 months, Western Jets will cross the West Gate Bridge and head down to Kilsyth Recreation Reserve where the Eastern Ranges will be waiting for them. These teams last played way back in Round 4, 2019, when the Ranges easily accounted for the Jets by 43 points. A dominant second half where they booted 6.2 to 0.0 saw them run out 7.4 to 0.3 winners, with Olivia Meagher picking up 17 disposals, three tackles and three inside 50s.

Meagher has been named for the match tomorrow, with last year’s captain to play as a 19-year-old prospect in 2020. She is the only Ranges player from that match to remain on the list, whilst a trio of then 15-year-old talents in Caitlin Sargent, Trinity Skenderis and Jemima Woods – as well as now top-age and over-age talents respectively, Nikita Wright and Ciara Singleton – all remain on the Jets’ list having played in that match.

Looking at the teams, the match will be won and lost in the middle, with the Jets having some great height, whilst the Ranges have speed to burn. That is not to say the respective teams do not have the opposite as well, but they are damaging in their respective areas. For the home team, Jorja Livingstone was a player who really shone last year and is a clean ball user and able to work her way out of stoppages. She will team up with the likes of Meagher and Bridget Deed in the middle, roving Georgia Campbell‘s taps. Up forward, Matilda Hardy, Jade Hutchison and Isabella Khoury are ones to watch, whilst Saskia Nannes will be a potential big improver with more matches after having the season cut short last year.

For Western, their under-age group is brimming with talent, though now with extra experience, Sargent, Skenderis and Woods will be among those to watch. Montana Ham and Charlotte Baskaran present as two of the top 2022 prospects, with Ham’s versatility and size through the midfield hard to match, while Baskaran’s run and carry – as well as her elite use by foot – will provide a one-two punch that is always difficult to combat.

This is a game that could go right down to the wire, and difficult to predict with so many new players, but Eastern might have the upper hand at home.

Murray Bushrangers vs. Bendigo Pioneers
Saturday, February 6 @ 12.15pm
JC Lowe Oval, Yarrawonga

From the east to the far north, Murray Bushrangers will host Bendigo Pioneers in a terrific spectacle for the country regions at Yarrawonga. Both these teams have a talented tall in the AFL Women’s Academy which makes things exciting. These two teams have also not played since March 30, 2019 when the Pioneers – during their most successful season to-date – toppled the Bushrangers by 14 points in Wangaratta.

That day it was Annabel Strahan (now Bulldogs) who had 20 touches, seven tackles, five inside 50s and a goal) and Brooke Hards (17 disposals, three marks, 11 tackles, four inside 50s and three rebounds) who teamed up to cause havoc on the Bushrangers, while Millie Brown (now Geelong) racked up 27 disposals and six rebounds, and Abby Favell (22 disposals, five marks eight tackles, three inside 50s and two rebounds) were the best for the losing side.

A then 15-year-old Ally Morphett had 11 disposals, two marks, 14 hitouts and two inside 50s, with the now AFL Women’s Academy member looming as the key player for the Bushrangers. Bendigo’s Academy member Tara Slender also played in that match, picking up seven disposals and having six hitouts, though the pair are unlikely to spend too much time one-on-one considering Slender will roll through a key position role and Morphett will be one of the dominant rucks in the competition.

Looking at the overall squads, Murray’s defence is strong given the likes of Mindy Quade and Kristy Whitehead provided plenty of run down there – though could be utilised further up the ground this season. Lily Sharp has been touted as one to watch by the Bushrangers’ coaching staff following a big off-season, and Keeley Skepper remains one of Vic Country’s top talents for 2022. Kate Adams returning as co-captain and providing experience and strength in the midfield will also be important.

For the Pioneers, Slender could be the top Vic Country prospect this year and will always be difficult to beat in the air, with the Pioneers’ captain not having to shoulder the ruck load given Madeline Marks‘ efforts in 2020. She will have her hands full against Morphett but it could be a fascinating battle, while Jayda Richardson, and now top-age talents Elizabeth Snell and Jemma Finning provide much needed experience to a really young Pioneers outfit.

Murray is excited about the depth of its squad in 2021, and while the Pioneers have some great young talents coming through, the extra experience for the Bushrangers – and what they started to show last year – should have them favourites at home in Yarrawonga.

Gippsland Power vs. Tasmania Devils
Saturday, February 6 @ 12.30pm
Highgate Recreation Reserve

In a battle between two teams that are building exciting programs, Gippsland Power “hosts” Tasmania Devils at Highgate Recreation Reserve. The furthest south east side travel up the highway to welcome the league’s newest team that only managed to taste one game in Victoria last year. The Devils had a rough introduction to the NAB League Girls competition – though the improvement from their brutal loss to Oakleigh Chargers to being competitive for the most part against Eastern Ranges has plenty of people buoyant about what they could produce in 2021.

These teams have never played before, and both have younger lists, sprinkled with some top-age and over-age experience. Key position players Camilla Taylor and Shanara Notman are the 20-year-old allowances in those sides, and have the size to cause a matchup dilemma for their respective opponents. Tasmania Devils have the sole AFL Women’s Academy member in this match, with the speedy Perri King looking to breakdown the Power’s zones and create some important run and carry for her side.

Aside from King, Amy Prokopiec remains a player to watch, having predominantly played as a last-line defender in previous seasons for the Devils, but became a reliable goalscoring threat in the TSL Women’s for Clarence. Other players who stood out 12 months ago include Jemma Blair, Aprille Crooks, Chelsea Thomas, Zoe Bourne and Meghan Gaffney. Having received an AFL Women’s Draft Combine invite without managing to get on the park in the NAB League Girls, Charlie Vandenberg will get a great opportunity in the ruck and rotating forward with Taylor against one of Vic Country’s top ruck prospects.

Grace Matser is going to be difficult to stop, with the ruck battle set to be a duel within the match not to be missed. As the only Power player above 180cm, she will look to control the airways. The Gippsland midfield has some nice depth to it, with Grace McRae returning to the fold after being unlucky to miss out on the draft in 2020, and will get a good chance to play consecutive games this season. Matilda Van Berkel is another one with experience and able to play a number of roles, while Holly Booth and Sunday Brisbane are among those tipped to cause problems for the opposition. One name to remember for next year is Lily-Rose Williamson who has come through the V/Line Cup program and been one ready to step up at the level.

This game is as 50/50 as they come, so as is often the case in 50/50 games, we will lean towards the “home” team in Gippsland Power, though Tasmania Devils will be keen to sniff out their first win in the competition.

Geelong Falcons vs. GWV Rebels
Sunday, February 7 @ 11am
Deakin University – Geelong

The final country game of the round occurs down in Geelong at Deakin University when the Falcons host the GWV Rebels. Much like the earlier two Saturday games, these two teams last played back in Round 4, 2019, when the Falcons – on their way to another finals series and coming off a premiership in 2018 – defeated the young Rebels by 36 points at City Oval in Ballarat. Luka Lesosky-Hay (31 disposals), Darcy Moloney (23) and Lucy McEvoy (22) all suffered leather poisoning and showed why they were capable of playing at the top level, whilst Nekaela Butler picked up 21 disposals and had six rebounds bravely defending for the home team.

There are a sprinkling of players from that day that remain on the lists in 2021, such as AFL Women’s Academy member Ella Friend, and Chloe Leonard and Crystal Summers (GWV Rebels), and Zoe Garth, Renee Tierney, Poppy Schapp and Elizabeth Dowling (Geelong). Those players will provide great experience for their respective sides in that clash, in what is sure to feature some of the best talent in the NAB League Girls competition.

The Falcons might not have an Academy member, but have plenty of developing young players, with Dowling a presence in the back half but can play anywhere, Annie Lee beside her in defence, Keeley Hardingham controlling the ruck, and Mia Van Dyke a bottom-age prospect who will be one to watch for next year able to roll through the midfield. Geelong has always been a team flushed with depth, and 2021 appears to be the same, with no shortage of talent across all three lines.

Alongside Friend – who will be that taller marking target at half-forward – Nyakoat Dojiok is the other AFL Women’s Academy member on the Rebels’ list. The running defender could start off half-back or roam along a wing depending on the team’s needs, able to add that mix of power and acceleration to breakaway from would-be tacklers. Leonard returns to the club as a new top-ager and one who will settle down the defence, while Stephanie Glover, Lilli Condon and Summers are some of the names to watch in the match.

Geelong have had such success over the past few years, it is hard to look past them at home. The Rebels will provide a great contest, but we will find out where both these teams are at following the Round 1 encounter.

Calder Cannons vs. Sandringham Dragons
Sunday, February 7 @ 11am
Highgate Recreation Reserve

In the first double-header of the year, a star-studded Calder Cannons outfit hosts an ever-growing talent base in the Sandringham Dragons. The last time these two met was in 2019 back in Round 3, as the Cannons went on to make the grand final that year. They only scored two behinds in the first half and trailed by five points at the main break, before booting the last four goals of the game to win 4.8 (32) to 1.3 (9) over the Dragons at Trevor Barker Oval.

Alice Burke (St Kilda) and Sarah Hartwig (Bulldogs) were among the top players for the Dragons, whilst it was Georgia Patrikios (St Kilda) and Krstel Petrevski (Melbourne) who shone from those who have been drafted. Best on ground that day was Georgie Prespakis who lit it up with 23 disposals, three marks, eight tackles, four inside 50s and two rebounds. The now-Cannons captain will look to have an equally big impact this year, while Emelia Yassir, Kasey Lennox, Alisa Magri, Zali Friswell and Neve Crowley are just a handful of the talented names who also played as 15/16-year-old talents on that day.

The Cannons have proven to have such great development over the past few years, and all the above names along with Mali McLeod, Peppa Poultney and Jessica Zakkour makes them a rock solid team across the board. Though their opponents are no slouches either. Back in the 2019 clash, now-captain Kiana Lynch, as well as the likes of Charli Murphy, Summer Trim, Emma Stuber, Isabella Stutt, Ebony Angelopoulos and Chloe Saultry all took to the field, so the Dragons have a core of players with plenty of experience under their belt.

Murphy will provide that marking target up forward, while Lynch will lead a host of bottom-agers with future potential. Bridie Hipwell and Sofia Hurley are just a couple of names who still have another year to go after this one, but are becoming key players in the Dragons outfit going forward. They made great strides last season and play what would be considered the benchmark team in the competition first-up here.

Calder Cannons deserve to be favourites for the overall title, so it is hard to tip against them in any game. The Dragons will be up and about and likely to be among the contenders this season too, so buckle up for an exciting contest.

Northern Knights vs. Oakleigh Chargers
Sunday, February 7 @ 12.45pm
Highgate Recreation Reserve

Wrapping up the weekend might just be the tightest of the lot, with both Northern Knights and Oakleigh Chargers going undefeated last year, and technically the Knights are still the reigning premiers from 2019. Both these sides had a host of players drafted in 2020, with the Knights having the first three Victorian players taken in the draft. These two sides played back in Round 2, 2019, when they played out a thrilling draw in what would be the only match where the Knights did not collect the full points that season.

Future AFL Women’s talents, Ellie McKenzie, Britney Gutknecht, Gabby Newton and Alyssa Bannan were the best for the Knights, while Mimi Hill, Joanna Lin, Alana Porter and Emily Harley all shone for the Chargers. Also playing that day was now AFL Women’s Academy member, Maykaylah Appleby who leads the Knights charge in 2021, with Teleah Smart, Mikayla Plunkett, Jessica Simpson and Tallia Pulcino among the current-listed Northern players running around that day.

Appleby is the one to watch this season, but the Knights have brought back a host of top-age players such as Plunkett, Pulcino, Maeve Chaplin, Trinity Mills and Gulia Ceravolo, so have plenty of experience to guide the next crop of Knights talents. Some names to watch this year aside from the above group with a point to prove are the likes of defender Tarrah Delgado and ruck Georgia Kitchell who showed some promising signs in the short 2020 season.

The Chargers had the likes of Taylah Morton, Kalarni Kearns, Charlie Rowbottom, Eliza James and Emma Chamberlain running around in the draw with the Knights, and have been growing some phenomenal depth of late. Rowbottom is the AFL Women’s Academy talent and if she crosses paths with Appleby, it will provide plenty of highlights. Add in the likes of top-ager Amanda Ling, middle-ager Stella Reid, and bottom-ager Rianna Thiele, and the Chargers have built an exciting list.

Another 50/50 split game that could go either way. It is hard to look past the Knights’ success rate, but what the Chargers were starting to do last year, the depth is among the best going around so Oakleigh could become the first team to knock off Northern in almost three years.

Promising Jets easing back into competitive action

WHOLESALE changes have hit the NAB League ahead of season 2021, no less at the Western Jets where a turnover of staff and players alike has the region taking a “gentle approach” to the upcoming girls campaign, according to operations coordinator Alexandra Agrotis.

The former female talent coordinator is now overseeing both the boys and girls programs in support of Regional Talent Operations Lead Luke Williams, and said players are getting back to competitive action “at their own pace”.

“We did have a complete turnover of staff in terms of coaches and some support staff as well,” Agrotis said. “We just took a really gentle approach I suppose, inviting the girls down to training and just getting (them) used to seeing each other again.

“It’s really about getting their confidence back to socialise with new people and old people and there was definitely no pressure to try and get girls to come down.

“We made it a really warm, welcoming and inclusive environment with the support of our new wellbeing coordinator Jack Rhodes, who has done a fantastic job as well of trying to rally the girls together. “The challenges that everyone has faced have been really difficult so we didn’t want to put any pressure on anyone, and just getting them to go at their own pace was our philosophy.”

Having returned for preseason under COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, Jets staff were “excited” to see what their troops could do in larger groups this year. With limited time before season proper, many NAB League sides have adopted plenty of match simulation practice to ready players for their first official outings in almost 11 months.

Amid sweltering conditions last Sunday, the Jets hit Arden Street for an intraclub hit-out. Agrotis says the girls showed “some promising signs” while shaking off the cobwebs and learning a new game style.

“(There was) a little bit of rust to work out but Robbie (Chancellor) and the coaches are doing a great job at getting them to understand a new gamestyle and structure,” she said. “It was really about giving them the freedom to play, which is what we did on Sunday and threw the magnets around just to give them a bit of a taste all over the field.

“The intraclub was a really great opportunity to see where we’re at competitively, especially given at training we’ve been quite restricted with COVID policies. ” We got to see what they could do in much larger groups and it was really exciting to see.”

A running theme throughout each region of late has been the younger generation of talent emerging ahead of time, something which is hardly different on the Western side of town. Charlotte Baskaran and Montana Ham are just a couple of under-age players who impresses as early as last season, impacting on the Under 18 competition against players sometimes three years their senior.

That is not to say the Jets are not also high on their top and over-ager talent eligible to be drafted in 2021, with a number of prospects looking to stamp their elite level credentials.

“I think there’s a real mix (between the age groups),” Agrotis said. “Not taking anything away from the top-age girls – I think with those girls if they put their minds to it, they apply themselves, and they have a really good year then anything is possible – but I am really excited about the young crop of girls.

“We have quite a few coming through and we’re starting to see now that the girls in that younger group have probably played Auskick from pretty much when they could first walk, so that’s what’s really exciting.

“I hate singling them out… but Charlotte and Mon (are) both really important and exciting players for us. “I also really like Marli Klaumanns-Moller, who is one of our top-age girls. She’s currently training with North VFLW as well Nikita Wright, another top-age girl is currently training with the Western Bulldogs VFLW side. “They’re both really exciting prospects.

“Then there’s anther crop of players. Laura Elliot (2004-birth) I think is really exciting – she’s really tall, a strong overhead mark and kicks truly; Caitlin Sargent as well, who is capable of much more than I think she’s aware of; Trinity Skenderis, she shows really great leadership on and off the field; and Leah Spargo, who’s coming back from an ACL, she showed really good signs in her first hit-out at our Sunday intraclub. “I think those are some really key players to watch.”

Charged with binding the group back together after such a sustained period away from the program are the coaches and support staff, whom Agrotis gave a particularly glowing review of.

“Robbie’s been supported by four really fantastic assistant coaches,” she said. “They’ve really pulled together with not much notice at all to form a really tight-knit coaching group and I’m just really proud of their efforts to get both the boys and the girls on the track. “It’s going to be quite a challenge with them overseeing both programs but I think they’ve done a fantastic job so far. “Luke Williams as well, who’s really our captain steering the ship through this very different season. “I really want to thank all those guys for all their effort and input so far.”

The Jets’ next point of call will be at the NAB League preseason testing event on Sunday, just a week before they begin their 2021 NAB League Girls campaign.