Much like the way a University assignment comes sneaking up on you and then starts banging down your front door like someone that doesn’t have any manners, the 2020 AFLW Draft is nearly upon us – where has the time gone?
Now, you might be thinking: How the hell are you gauging these players when they’ve had limited exposure?
There has been some women’s football going on around the nation, and whilst it is still difficult to assess on a handful of games for some, us football nerds have to take a lot of what happened in 2019 to account for this to work.
Having said that, there are still a lot of talented 18-year olds in this year’s draft class that will be anticipating whether they’ll be selected – probably too many to fit in one article. Which is why I’m spreading this out in a two-part series.
So for the fans of Women’s football, I present to you the first part of the AFLW Draft Preview, highlighting the 14 Victorian prospects to keep your eye out for.
Ellie McKenzie – 176 cm – Midfielder/Forward
As of right now, it’s hard to see Richmond going anywhere other than selecting Ellie McKenzie with the first pick of the draft. It’s been a good off-season overall for the Tigers who have brought in experienced mids to help out poor Monique Conti, and adding someone like McKenzie would be the cherry on top.
At 176cm, she’s considered a tall midfielder that possesses clean hands, a wise decision-maker with the footy and is capable of causing impact on the scoreboard. In her three games at the Northern Knights this year, she averaged 19 touches and 4.6 inside 50s as a midfielder, but last year, as a 16-year old, she played more forward and resulted in seven goals in 10 games. A player of her size means that she can be easily used as a marking option up forward, as well as good shifts on-ball.
Laura Gardiner – 164cm – Midfielder
Arguably the most elite ball-winners out of this year’s draft class, Laura Gardiner would be an ideal get for a club that is crying out for midfielders. In two games this year for the Geelong Falcons, Gardiner averaged mental numbers – 34.5 disposals per game, 11.5 tackles, five inside 50s and three rebound 50s.
I know it might sound like it’s clutching at the straws, but these numbers are Anne Hatchard-like numbers in those first two weeks – it’s times like these, I wished that the season kept on going, it would’ve been interesting to see whether or not she could maintain those numbers. Her work-rate is fantastic and as her two games have shown, she absolutely thrives on contested ball as much as she likes to work to get it on the outside.
Tyanna Smith – 167cm – Midfielder
Expected to go early in the 2020 AFLW Draft, Dandenong Stingray, Tyanna Smith is a midfield prospect who possesses some elite athletic attributes that could make her a very dangerous player in the years to come, and her stats from three games in the state under-18 league can attest to that – averaging 25.3 disposals, six tackles, 5.3 inside 50s, four marks and 3.3 rebound 50s per game.
Two things stand out to me when researching Smith. The first one is her ability to burst out of the stoppages with her first few steps; she’s remarkably quick. The second one is her two-way running ability. Her defensive efforts in the middle are magnificent and she finds herself back in the defensive half to help generate that offensive run that she is so good at.
Alyssa Bannan – 178cm – Key Forward
In just three games for the Northern Knights this year, Alyssa Bannan showed just how much of a lethal weapon she can be up forward and is looking pretty strongly considered to be one of the best key forwards to come out of the Draft this year. In these three games, Bannan has kicked nine goals from averaging 14.3 disposals and 5.7 marks per game. Last year, she kicked 15 goals in nine games as a 17-year old.
As well as her strong hands in the air, Bannan is a very quick player off the mark and has the aerobic capacity to work up the ground as well as provide second and third efforts when the ball hits the deck. She averaged over three tackles per game both this year and last year, making her a very dangerous prospect, indeed.
Darcy Moloney – 165cm – Midfielder
Being appointed captain for Geelong Falcons’ this season, Moloney had a barnstorming two games this year, averaging 26.5 disposals, 3.5 tackles and two inside 50s per game. In the previous year, she averaged 16.1 disposals, but also spent more time up forward, kicking four goals for the Falcons. Moloney tends to thrive more on the outside, where her skills and poise are on full display and plays a strong role as links to the play.
But as her two games this year have shown, she’s proving to be just as good on the inside, not afraid to get her hands dirty both with and without the footy as she is able to split games wide open with her vision and abilities to spot up team mates inside. She’s going to be a very handy player in any side next year and beyond.
Jess Fitzgerald – 163cm – Midfielder
You might be hard pressed to find a better-balanced midfielder in this year’s draft class than Jess Fitzgerald. Last year in an absolutely dominant Northern Knights outfit, Fitzgerald, in the words of her coach Marcus Abney-Hastings, became the team’s ‘Most Important Player’ and that’s in a side that featured Gabby Newton, who went on to become the number one pick in that year’s Draft and Ellie McKenzie, who’s widely slated to go number one in this year’s Draft.
Her form in the NAB League last year warranted a spot in the Vic Metro team in the under-18 championships, where she went on to average 14 disposals and four inside 50s with her use of the ball a highlight. In three games for the Knights this year, Fitzgerald has gone on to average 18.7 disposals, 3.7 tackles and 2.6 inside 50s per game with her ability to stand strong in close a highlight, as well as her ability to run all day.
Isabelle Pritchard – 178cm – Defender/Midfielder
With her height, you’d think that Pritchard would be better suited as a key position role. But as her athleticism and more importantly, her form over the past 18 months have shown, she’s better off both rebounding from defence and playing in the middle as opposed to playing a full back role. Last year saw her average over two rebound 50s per game both in the NAB League and in the under-18 championships, with her ability to provide drive out of the defensive 50 prevalent in her game.
This year, whilst the Western Jets only managed to play three games, what Pritchard has shown in these three games are her capabilities as an on-baller. Her averages in disposals and tackles went through the roof: 22.7 disposals and 7.3 tackles per game. Her averages in rebound 50s also went up, averaging 3.3 per game, whilst playing predominantly as a midfielder. With her size, ball-winning abilities and talent, expect her to be taken early.
Renee Saulitis – 165cm – Utility
Here is a prospect that could legitimately become anything – Renee Saulitis is a player that makes her disposals count more often than not. There isn’t a lot of her at 165cm, but she can play a multitude of positions for a good effect. This year she kicked two goals in two games and averaged 12 disposals, 2.5 marks and three tackles per game playing across forward and in the middle.
As a forward, she has excellent goal sense – the kind of goal sense that makes you sit back and say: ‘Wow, she kicked that from out of nothing!’ – that kind of goal sense. As a midfielder, she is capable of winning the hardball, averaging 2 clearances for Vic Country in the Under-18 championships last year. She has also seen minutes in defence over the past 18 months, often providing the rebound that her team needs to get some offense going.
Tarni Brown – 166cm – Midfielder
I expect Tarni Brown to be nowhere other than Collingwood when her name is called out. A father/daughter selection from the Eastern Ranges, Brown’s father, Gavin was a 250-plus game great in the late 80s and all throughout the 90s and her two brothers, Callum and Tyler are currently plying their craft in Collingwood’s AFL men’s team – both with plenty still to offer.
What makes Tarni as good a player here is her ability to not just win the footy, but her ability to use it effectively is what makes her a tantalizing prospect. As a 17-year old last year, she averaged 18 disposals, five tackles and 3.3 rebound 50s in 10 games. This year, she only got in two games, but averaged 24 disposals and 4.5 tackles per game. Using her speed and agility to burst her way out of stoppages, she will be a great addition for the Pies.
Alice Burke – 166cm – Midfielder/Defender
Alice Burke is another Father/Daughter selection that should find her way to the club her father – St. Kilda legend and current Bulldogs’ AFLW coach – Nathan Burke played over 300 career games at. If you’ve watched Burke at the Sandringham Dragons over the past 18 months, then you’d find it hard to argue against the fact that she plays in a similar vein to her old man.
As a midfielder, she plays with a toughness that fellow under-18s have found it hard to match, along with her work-rate to get back and help out defenders, makes her a very tough opponent to match on. Offensively, she attacks the footy as hard as anyone else, but she isn’t afraid to hunt down the opposition when they have the ball either. She averaged 16.5 disposals and 6.1 tackles last year at the Dragons en route to a second club best and fairest. This year, she was averaging 19 disposals, four tackles and nearly three marks per game.
Maggie Caris – 189cm – Ruck
They’re doesn’t seem to be many ruck options available at the Draft this year, which makes Maggie Caris already a valuable commodity for Victorian clubs searching for a ruck option. Caris is the younger sister of Geelong’s Rene and whilst what she has shown currently has been very impressive, Caris is still a very raw talent that could become one of the elite rucks of the competition if the right club gave her the opportunity.
Her hitout numbers have been very good over the past 18 months: 17 per game for Vic Country in the championships, 23.3 per game for Greater Western Victoria last year and 29 hitouts per game in two games this year. However, it’s her second and third efforts after the initial ruck contest that have been the most impressive thing about her game to date. Averaged 8.7 disposals last season, which has gone up to 11.5 this year. But there is still plenty of work to be done.
Sarah Hartwig – 173cm – Defender/Midfielder
At 173cm, tall players look to be at a premium in the Victorian pool, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sarah Hartwig go late in the first round. She’s a good talent – initially off a half back line where she is a fantastic intercept defender and good on the rebound, she played more in the middle in her three games at Sandringham this year and showed that she is very capable of transitioning into a permanent position in the midfield.
Last year, playing more in defence, she averaged 13.1 disposals, 2.8 marks and 3.4 rebound 50s and showed that she is a very good player at providing the run and drive from defence. This year, she averaged 15 disposals, three tackles and 4.3 marks as she pushed further up the ground. She is a terrific reader of the play and has showed that she is more than capable of winning the ball when it is on the ground.
Olivia Meagher – 157cm – Midfielder
Don’t let the diminutive size fool you, Olivia Meagher is a very dangerous player at 157cm. Leading the Eastern Ranges in two games this year, Meagher averaged 21.5 disposals, three tackles, two marks and two inside 50s per game playing predominantly as a midfielder. There are no issues with her finding the footy and her pressure work off the ball is also what makes her a very dangerous player, despite the size.
Co-captain of the Northern Knights Jess Fitzgerald made mention to it on the Final Siren Podcast that Meagher was ‘terrifying’ on the field. With her size and tackling abilities, there is every chance she’ll play more forward in her early days as pressure forwards are like diamonds in the rough and a player as tough and as skillful shouldn’t be overlooked just because of their height.
Mimi Hill – 165cm – Midfielder
Having led the Oakleigh Chargers over the past two years, Mimi Hill led from the front in her only two appearances for the Chargers this year, averaging 24.5 disposals and 3.5 inside 50s per game. Her abilities to win the ball at the source in her two games this year has been recognized a bit more this year as well as her ability to use the ball inside attacking 50.
Her tackling numbers are a little down on last year only averaging two per game in 2020 after averaging over three per game a year earlier, but the thing that will have recruiters talking about her is her consistency to be in the right spots, even if it is just as a link-up kind of player. Hill’s use of the footy is so good that teams can’t afford to give her any time or space, because she has that innate ability to make things happen.
And that’s the Victorian list. For all the fellow Victorians reading this, is there a player that I’ve missed out on that deserves a mention? I’d love to know, I’ve got eyes on a few others that were stiff not to make the list.
For all the interstate folk, don’t panic or have your underwear in a knot, because I’m well underway compiling a list of the best talent outside of Victoria and that’ll be up before you know it.