A Look Ahead - the 2021 AFL Women's Season
After what feels like an entirety, especially since a champion of the 2020 was never crowned, the Australian Football league Women’s competition is finally back—and it is bringing to us a new look format. Gone but certainly not missed is the conference system, which has in-turn been replaced with a more traditional ten game minor season.
With the new season comes new questions; who will be this year’s biggest improvers? Will anyone be able to challenge Prespakis for the Best and Fairest? What matchups should we keep an eye on? Which recruits are set to star in their debut season? And of course, come the final siren, which team will be holding up the trophy?
Starting off with the biggest and arguably the hardest question to answer, and that is who the genuine Premiership Contenders for the 2021 season are. At a glance, Fremantle would easily be the one on top of most people’s lists—finishing the season with a perfect 6-0 record, and storming towards the big dance before the season was suspended. Considering their ins, headlined by draftees, Sarah Verrier and Mikayla Morrison, the Dockers are perhaps even stronger this year than last, albeit this time they are without the element of surprise.
North Melbourne Kangaroos
If Fremantle is the firm favourite to at least contest the Grand Final, it only seems fair that a close second would-be North Melbourne. While the Dockers were rightfully making headlines in the West, the Kangaroos finished just one-win shy of a perfect record as well. Trading Jess Trend to the earlier mentioned Dockers, the Kangaroos have injected some youth courtesy of the draft—headlined by the ‘silky’ Sandringham youngster, Isabella Eddey.
Perhaps the biggest thing in their favour compared to their Western counterparts is their statistics for the 2020 season. North Melbourne collected 309 points for and only 136 against, which gave them an impressive percentage of 227.2. Compare this to Fremantle’s 277 points for and 179 points against, and it becomes too close to call.
The final genuine premiership contender or at least one that is an easy pick, is the star-studded line up of Carlton. Finishing runner-up in Conference B, behind that of only the pacesetting Dockers—the Blues were just one half of good footy away from also going undefeated. We are of course talking about the second half of their Round Two match against Collingwood, who are a premiership threat in their own right.
Trailing at halftime by thirteen points, the Blues doubled the Magpies scoring shots but only registered 1.5 to the Pies’ 2.1. It is safe to say that their 2020 campaign was a strong one, and with the likes of Madison Prespakis, Tayla Harris, and Jess Hosking, they still have a favourable list. But they have certainly managed to improve this already strong list over the off-season, adding the likes of Melbourne speedster, Maddy Guerin and former Demons’ Captain and two-time All Australian, Elise O’Dea.
They also added former NAB AFLW Academy member and Queensland product, Charlotte Hammans. Headlining their draftees would be the former Captain of the Oakleigh Chargers and runner-up to their 2019 Best and Fairest, Mimi Hill.
For every red-hot favourite there is also a wildcard team that is ready to knock off the ladder leaders when the time comes. Keeping with the three-team theme, the three wildcards that we think can do the most damage during 2021 is Melbourne, Gold Coast and Adelaide.
Melbourne put together one of the best finishes to a final that we have seen as they swept the lead from under the Giants during the dying stages of their Semi Final clash. One thing that the Demons have in their favour is depth, a fact that should keep them in finals contentions even with a few injuries. Likewise, their versatility is also impressive, 2020 saw first-year player Brenna Tarrant spend her games in defense—before heading up north and winning the AFL Sydney Leading Goalkicker. Meaning that she could easily join their star draftee, Alyssa Bannan in the forward 50 to create a more Richmond styled ‘pressure forward line’.
Losing Aliesha Newman, Maddy Guerin and Elise O’Dea would hurt but considering their quality young players and the fact that they have one of the league’s most experienced players in Daisy Pearce, they should be at least on par to the 2020 season.
The greatest statistic that is in favour of the red and blue is that their Score Against, which sat at 124 for the 2020 season, making it the lowest of the entire competition. However, their Score For sat at just 204, which is ten goals shy of Fremantle’s and over a hundred points less than the Kangaroos. Which means their scoring capacity will be a huge factor this season.
If they can increase their scoring power while keeping their same defensive record, then they will be more than just a wildcard.
Adelaide, who are still technically the reigning premiers of the AFLW since no other side has lifted the trophy since they did all the way back in 2019—are a side that you cannot take lightly, especially at home. Their 2020 campaign was not what we are a use to, with their injury bench being almost as experienced as their playing outfit. They have certainly lost some talent through retirements and unavailability, most notable being the loss of Sophie Li, Courtney Cramey, Jess Foley, and Courtney Gum.
But the Crows have certainly reinforced their list with South Australian talent, drafting Rachelle Martin, the younger sister of current Crow, Hannah Button—who claimed the 2020 SANFLW Best and Fairest. Also making the way from the SANFLW to the Crows is dangerous forward, Ashleigh Woodland who claimed the 2020 SANFLW Leading Goal Kicker award, and their first pick in the AFLW Draft, a former Powerade Breakthrough Winner and U18 All Australian, Teah Charlton.
Through the trade period, they have also brought in former Crow turned Saint, Jess Sedunary. As well as local draftees, Hannah Munyard from the Western Bulldogs, and Lisa Whiteley from GWS.
The Crows defeated last year’s finalist GWS during their preseason matchup, 2.21 (33) to 2.1 (13), which is a positive with the exception of Marinoff’s recording breaking ban of three weeks for “forceful front-on contact”.
If Adelaide’s youngsters can learn off some of games greats in Erin Phillips, Anne Hatchard and Sarah Allan—and if they can stay injury free, then they might click at the tail end of the season.
Gold Coast Suns
Finally, the last wildcard in our eyes is one of the latest additions to the AFLW, the Gold Coast Suns. Just making it into the finals with a two-win, four loss record—which was decent compared to the other new additions to the league. However, the Suns still have plenty of ground to make up considering they lost to both of the conference leaders. Falling to North Melbourne by thirteen points and to the Dockers by seventy points.
The addition of Sarah Perkins will add plenty of experience and leadership to a side that struggled to score game-winning totals, however their defense was mostly top-notch, finishing with 152 points Scored Against which is below that of Brisbane, Carlton and even Fremantle. They have also added more youth to the side with Wallis Randell and Annise Bradfield both getting picked up during the draft. Which can easily be mixed in with their existing experienced players.
Then of course, they will benefit with the guidance of the aforementioned Perkins as well as the Australian Capital Territory product who made an impact in South Australia before getting picked up to play AFLW in Queensland, Hannah Dunn.
Despite being a short season, the 2020 AFLW season showed as glimpses of what to expect from the current and rising stars of the competition. Whether that was Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff constantly impressing for the Crows or Georgia Patrikios setting the bar high after just her first season in the competition.
But the million-dollar question here is whether anyone can rival Maddison Prespakis in the 2021 medal count. The Carlton young gun averaged 21 possessions during the shortened six game season, which equaled 15 votes in the medal count, three above the runner-up.
However, if history tells us anything, it is that usually the winning side gains the most points—best shown through 2020 as the top three spots belonged to players from Fremantle, Carlton, and North Melbourne, who were also the three teams with the best records. Following this same idea, the fact that Carlton are still red-hot favourites for the 2021 flag mean that there is plenty of votes up for grabs by the Blues players.
Yet Carlton do have many stars on their list, so we would not be surprised if the votes get shared amongst many of their players, the likes of Grace Egan, Elise O’Dea, Maddy Prespakis and even Mimi Hill could all get their fair share if votes this season, which could open the door for another player to claim the crown.
St Kilda’s Georgia Patrikios is one such player that we think could place a lot higher in this year’s medal tally, same goes to Adelaide’s Anne Hatchard who returned from a standout, record-breaking AFLW season only to play even better in the SANFLW.
Over in the west, Fremantle’s Kiara Bowers would be looking to have a similar impact while we expect Mikayla Bowen to find her footing for the Eagles. Likewise, both Emma Kearny and Karen Paxman will be looking to make an impact again for North Melbourne and Melbourne, respectively.
While up north, we hope Hannah Dunn can lead by example for the Suns, similar to that of Alyce Parker for the Giants.
McKenzie, Bannan, Bradfield, Verrier, Charlton, Lewis, Gardiner, Hill … there is too many exciting draftees that we just cannot wait to see make their debut. But for the sake of time, we will breakdown these eight names and allude to some of the other great players from the 2020 Draft Class.
Ellie McKenzie (Richmond)
What better way to kick off a look at the recruits than with the first pick of the 2020 AFLW Draft, Ellie McKenzie. The Northern Knights midfielder joins the Tigers after enjoying an impressive few year of football—perhaps topped off perfectly with an All-Australian selection back in 2019. With great pace and a beautiful kick, she provides Richmond with an option both through the middle and up forward.
Bella Lewis (West Coast)
The third pick in the 2020 AFLW Draft has had a very successful footy journey already. A member of the 2020 AFLW Academy and a constant performer for the Sand Groupers since 2017—Bella brings plenty of energy to the Eagles who suffered a lackluster debut AFLW campaign.
"They are amazing I already feel like part of the family. They see each other outside of footy which I think helps so much with the bond. A few of them are making sure that my transition is smooth and making me feel really comfortable." Bella Lewis on West Coast
Teah Charlton (Adelaide)
It was pretty obvious as to who the Crows would take with their first pick and the fourth overall in the draft. A small forward/midfielder with plenty of X factor, Teah is a former recipient of the Powerade Breakthrough Award (SANFLW’s equivalent of a Rising Star award) and was also named as South Adelaide’s 2020 Best and Fairest.
Alyssa Bannan (Melbourne)
She is heading into the AFLW as a ready-made footballer, and what a target she could prove to be up forward for the Demons. She spent two years in the AFLW Academy and was also a part of both the Victorian Metro sides and also held a leadership position at the Northern Knights. She could certainly help boost Melbourne’s scoring capacity.
Annise Bradfield (Gold Coast)
The writing was on the wall for Annise ever since she made the Queensland U18 state side when she was just 15. From there, she has also spent two years in the AFLW National Academy and was also a member of the Suns Academy—so its no wonder they picked her for their promising list.
Mimi Hill (Carlton)
A former member of the Victoria Metro U16s and U18s squads as well as a member of the AFLW Academy, Mimi Hill was a perfect pick for Carltons first selection in the draft. She certainly impressed at NAB League level, having been the Captain of the Chargers for two seasons as well as finishing runner-up to their 2019 Best and Fairest. And she already has the makings of a fan favourite.
"The Blues have a perfect mixture of getting down to business and enjoying the ride. You can tell that everyone at the club loves what they do and they are happy to play their smaller role in the larger process, to create an elite environment. Everyone is buzzing for Round One at Ikon." Mimi Hill on Carlton
Sarah Verrier (Fremantle)
The first pick of the undefeated Dockers, Sarah Verrier comes to the purple and white with plenty of potential. She has represented Western Australia on six different occasions and has also experienced leadership roles with her school side. As well as this, she has been a part of the AFLW Academy for two years—making Sarah a fitting first pick for the flag favourites.
Laura Gardiner (Geelong)
One of many in a line of Geelong Falcons that have become Geelong Cats, Laura joins the Cats after spending time in the AFLW Academy as well as time spent representing the 2019 Victoria Countryside. Despite the limited amount of NAB League Girls games during 2020, she at least gave a glimpse of what she is capable of, as she led the league for the highest average tackles and disposals per match.
As well as the early picks, there are still some other players that went during the later roles that could play a key role for their respective clubs including a quartet of South Australians, Amber Ward (West Coast), Indy Tahau (Brisbane), Bella Smith (Collingwood), and Tahlia Meyer (St Kilda).
Finally, what a better way to finish our look ahead to the 2021 AFLW season, than with some of the matchups that we are most excited to see.
Carlton versus Collingwood (Round One)
A match between two long-standing rivals is a very special way to kick off the 2021, and as well as being bitter rivals they are both genuine premiership contenders as well.
Hosking, O’Dea, Harris, Prespakis and McEvoy in the blue, coming up against Lambert, Davey, Livingstone, O’Dea and Brazil in the black. It is also the first time that we see former Demon teammates Aliesha Newman and Elise O’Dea face-off in the new colours.
Giants versus Melbourne (Round Two)
If there is anything that we want to see during this game, it is a repeat of their semi-final clash. The Demons kicked three final quarter goals to beat the Giants by three points in what was one of the best finishes to an AFLW final we have seen to date.
And now, only months after that mouth-watering clash, we get to see them go head-to-head so early on into this season. For the Giants, they would be seeking redemption after letting their finals dreams slip in the final quarter, while the Demons would be looking to set the tone early for their 2021 premiership campaign.
Fremantle versus North Melbourne (Round Three)
Does this one even need an explanation?
Fremantle, the powerhouse of the 2020 season, standing with an undrafted record. North Melbourne, finishing with just one loss of the season, and their season statistics show them as the only team that could really stand between Freo and the trophy.
“Who would have won the 2020 flag out of the Kangas and Freo?” this question has been asked a lot over the months that followed the season’s cancellation, and Round Three will be the chance to answer that—albeit with slightly different line-ups, but who ever wins would take a massive confidence boost for the remainder of the season.
Carlton versus Fremantle (Round Ten)
Could the Dockers go undefeated for back-to-back seasons?
While they could, with Round Three proving to be their most notable obstacle if they want to achieve this feat. There is one last challenge that the Dockers will face—and that is their final minor round game against the Blues.
With the finals right around the corner at this stage, and possibly even finals spots on the line—this clash could decide with team goes further into the finals.
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