WHILE the 2021 Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition could not quite have the full stop it desired in terms of a grand final, Draft Central’s Peter Williams and Women’s Australian Rules Football (WARF) Radio’s Peter Holden have combined to name a 2021 VFLW Team of the Year.
As part of the Team of the Year there were a few requirements for the selection process:
- The player must not have been on an AFLW list earlier in 2021;
- Players that were drafted who were not on an AFLW list earlier in 2021 were automatically included; and
- The player must have predominantly played VFLW, not joined mid-season from a NAB League club.
In total, the side is made up of 22 players, including a 16-player starting side – to resemble the realism of the VFLW, as well as having six bench players to round out the squad. In terms of club representation, North Melbourne had the most with four players, whilst finalists Geelong and Essendon finished with three. Minor premiers Collingwood and other finalists Casey Demons, as well as Hawthorn had two apiece, with the remaining six clubs having one player each in the side.
Simone Ruedin (Western Bulldogs) – Jasmine Ferguson (Collingwood)
On the last line were two of the most reliable defenders in the competition. Jasmine Ferguson showed enough to earn a call-up to the AFL Women’s after North Melbourne selected her in the AFLW Draft, whilst Simone Ruedin won the Western Bulldogs’ best and fairest award and was a mirror of consistency all year in defence, before swinging forward late in the season.
Molly Eastman (North Melbourne) – Meg Hutchins (Hawthorn) – Erin Meade (Williamstown)
A couple of captains steady the ship at half-back, with Hawthorn veteran and champion player Meg Hutchins named at centre half-back in her farewell season. She was outstanding in defence, or up forward when she provided a marking target down there, whilst Erin Meade led from the front for the Seagulls. She was one of the most prominent rebounders whilst still finding plenty of it, whilst North Melbourne’s Molly Eastman also had an outstandingly-consistent season.
Eloise Ashley-Cooper (Essendon) – Meagan Kiely (North Melbourne) – Annabel Johnson (Geelong)
A couple of AFL Women’s draftees and a best and fairest winner line up in the middle, with the first mature-age VFLW selection in the draft being that of Geelong’s Annabel Johnson. She has been named on a wing in this Team of the Year after being taken at Pick 15, whilst North Melbourne skipper Meagan Kiely was selected later in the draft by Richmond. Leading the competition in disposals and marks, it was an easy decision to include Kiely in the Team of the Year. Rounding out the centreline was Essendon’s Eloise Ashley-Cooper who won the Bombers’ best and fairest amongst a host of strong contenders.
Claudia Gunjaca (Geelong) – Alana Barba (Essendon)
Another couple of players who have earned the chance at the elite level, did so outside the AFLW Draft. Geelong leader Claudia Gunjaca had a sensational season, and the Cats used their extra mature-age selections for internal talent, and picked out the strong marking forward. Catching the eye across the ground, the new AFLW Cat is joined in the line by Bomber-turned-Sun Alana Barba. The former Calder Cannons talent finally earned a crack at the elite level on her third go, and was one of the most consistent Bombers all year between midfield and half-forward.
Imogen Milford (Casey Demons) – Imogen Barnett (Collingwood) – Sophie Locke (Port Melbourne)
Two more AFL Women’s draftees and a third who came close courtesy of a AFLW Draft Combine invite round out a damaging forward line. The two leading goalkickers in the competition in Collingwood’s Imogen Barnett and Casey Demons’ Imogen Milford both earned spots on AFLW lists. Barnett will remain in the black and white in 2022 but at the top level, while Milford will replace red with white and head to Ikon Park to run out with Carlton next year. Port Melbourne’s Sophie Locke completes the forward line after leading the goalkicking in the first half of the season and looking dangerous inside 50.
Olivia Fuller (Geelong) – Eliza West (Casey Demons) – Airlee Runnalls (North Melbourne)
A midfield that contains five draftees will be hard to beat, and it made it easy for us to select the starting core. Ruck Olivia Fuller was the one tall timber picked up in the AFLW Draft – albeit prior to it by the Cats – so she earns the starting ruck spot. Also onball is Casey Demons’ Eliza West who found out she would be playing AFLW earlier than her peers after being picked up as a rookie prior to the draft, and then Airlee Runnalls chose to cross the Nullabor to take up a role with Fremantle next season. West and Runnalls were among the most prominent ball-winners in the competition with Kiely, while Fuller was a strong target throughout the ruck and around the ground.
Georgia Nanscawen (Essendon) – Tara Bohanna (Southern Saints) – Sarah Skinner (North Melbourne) Akayla Peterson (Carlton) – Nicole Callinan (Darebin Falcons) – Catherine Brown (Hawthorn)
Completing the team of 22 with six on the bench are players from six different clubs, including three sole representatives from Southern Saints, Carlton and Darebin. Southern Saints’ Tara Bohanna was the sole AFLW draftee on the bench, only named there due to the already impressive height in the forward line, with the new Gold Coast Suns recruit capable of pinch-hitting in the ruck too. Carlton’s Akayla Peterson was among the most versatile types, with Darebin Falcons’ Nicole Callinan providing great experience for the wooden spooners and winning the best and fairest off seven games. Essendon’s Georgia Nanscawen had yet another huge year for the red and black, with North Melbourne’s Sarah Skinner and Hawthorn’s Catherine Brown also prominent for their respective sides.
Aimee Whelan (Williamstown) – Jorja Borg (Carlton) – Marla Neal (Collingwood)
The three closest players to squeezing into the 22 were a range of sizes and positions. Carlton’s Jorja Borg was among the top rucks in the competition and therefore earns her place as an emergency, with Williamstown’s Aimee Whelan winning a club best and fairest and unlucky not to make the squad but was next best. Collingwood’s Marla Neal flew under the radar throughout the 2021 season, but put together consistent efforts each and every week through the middle for the ladder-leading Magpies.
2021 DRAFT CENTRAL & WARF VFL WOMEN’S TEAM OF THE YEAR:
B: Simone Ruedin (WB) – Jasmine Ferguson (COL)
HB: Molly Eastman (NM) – Meg Hutchins (HAW) – Erin Meade (WIL)
C: Eloise Ashley-Cooper (ESS) – Meagan Kiely (NM) – Annabel Johnson (GEE)
HF: Claudia Gunjaca (GEE) – Alana Barba (ESS)
F: Imogen Milford (CD) – Imogen Barnett (COL) – Sophie Locke (PM)
R: Olivia Fuller (GEE) – Eliza West (CD) – Airlee Runnalls (NM)
INT: Georgia Nanscawen (ESS) – Tara Bohanna (SS) – Sarah Skinner (NM) Akayla Peterson (CAR) – Nicole Callinan (DF) – Catherine Brown (HAW)
EMG: Aimee Whelan (WIL) – Jorja Borg (CAR) – Marla Neal (COL)