The AFLW season is weeks away and The Mongrel’s resident AFLW expert, The Doc, has been busy going through the lists with a fine-tooth comb.
Today, we continue his 2021 season preview, starting with the Eagles, Suns and Blues
West Coast’s inaugural season was always going to be a bit of a rough transition, but we didn’t know until midway through the season that it was going to be the ‘rub sandpaper along your crevasse’ kind of rough.
There were small patches of promise during the season. They competed for a half against Collingwood in round one, they got their first win, which came at the expense of my Bulldogs. However, by and large, the Eagles were absolutely belted all over the park. Fremantle gave them a hammering in the inaugural derby, they couldn’t score for three quarters against GWS, whilst both Melbourne and Gold Coast kept the Eagles to just one goal in their respective games.
In short, it was a disaster first year for the Eagles. In six games, they managed to score 77 points for the season. Head coach Luke Dwyer resigned from his post and right before pre-season for 2021 kicked off, Adam Selwood, the club’s head of women’s football also handed in his resignation. It can only get better from here, right?
Well, it’s hard to argue against it. The Eagles have brought in both experience and some exciting talent via the Draft and new coach Daniel Pratt has plenty of experience, especially from his time as an assistant coach in the Eagles’ men’s team.
THE FORWARD PROBLEM
So I’ve highlighted it already, but let’s delve into it a bit more, because if the Eagles are to improve on their dismal 2020, this is the first thing they need to address.
77 points in six games is bad football. Not only that, but they also kicked 11 goals for the season, averaging under two goals per game, the only team to do that last year – yes, by some miracle Richmond averaged over two goals per game. Thing is though, West Coast averaged more disposals per game than Richmond, which tells you they are getting the ball, but not doing enough with it.
The only players to record over 10 inside 50s for the Eagles last year are Emma Swanson, Dana Hooker and Ashlee Atkins – they were the worst team going inside 50 last year, and it led to Hayley Bullas leading the Eagles’ goal kicking tally with two goals, yes that’s right. Two goals, she was the only Eagle to register multiple goals last year, and one of them was a deadest fluke.
THEY NEED A KEY FORWARD
Another big issue in their forward set up was the lack thereof of a key forward. Grace Kelly was the only tall I saw down forward for the Eagles last year, and even then, it was her first genuine year of Aussie Rules after playing Gaelic Football most of her life – not all Irish players can be Cora Staunton and impact right away.
Having said that, I do like her a lot, she’s got good pace for her size and covered the ground incredibly well last season and I think with an extra tall forward this season, she’ll be able to contribute more on the scoreboard.
This is where Andrea Gilmore comes in.
Taken by the Eagles late in last year’s Draft, Gilmore is a 180cm-plus player that, although relatively new to Aussie Rules, has played in Super Netball for most of her sporting career, so athletically, she’s already pretty good. She had been working with the Eagles’ Academy over the past few years to learn the game and work on her craft whilst working to overcome a serious knee injury, she’ll be a player to look out for in 2021.
MIDFIELD HELP IS ON THE WAY
I suppose the next biggest problem at West Coast is their midfield brigade. It’s not who’s there, but there’s just not enough of it. Dana Hooker can make a claim for being a top 15 midfielder in the competition, but she got double-teamed constantly, see the game against Fremantle where her ex-teammates flat-out bullied her.
Emma Swanson is the captain of the side but at times last year, she left more to be desired. I don’t think it’s entirely her fault, injuries have certainly played a part in her AFLW career to date. She did have a career-best season last year, but I’d like her to be more consistent if the Eagles are to make in-roads.
Having said that, The Eagles on-ball brigade will get a good boost this season.
I really rate the inclusion of Aisling McCarthy, the former Dog will slot right into the Eagles’ midfield set up and is a player that will have no hesitation of diving in for the footy when it’s there to be one. It will be interesting to see where top draftee Bella Lewis plays in her first year, but I think she’s got a great skill set that is too good to not use in the middle, whilst teenager Mikayla Bowen, fresh off a strong debut season, should get every chance to continue to flourish.
This is a player that’s got to lift for mine this year, because she is a talented player. I remember watching the derby and Kellie Gibson was getting into the face of her former Dockers teammates in a half-time scuffle. I mean that’s all well and good, unless you have hardly sighted the leather product.
In some fairness to Kellie, she played most of the year as a deep forward, but when the ball isn’t coming down there as often as it should, stats will tend to skew a little bit. Which was why I didn’t mind her playing a bit further up the ground in the last game of the season against the Gold Coast – she had 18 disposals against the Suns, in the previous five matches she registered a combined 23!
Given that the midfield depth has been strengthened this past off-season, would the Eagles try to get Gibson back in the forward line? She kicked seven goals in as many matches for the Dockers when they finished top-two in conference A in 2019, so she can be dangerous if the ball gets pumped inside 50 enough.
DOC’S BEST 21
B: Julie-Anne Norrish, Chantella Perera
HB: Belinda Smith, Tayla Bresland, Brianna Green
C: Mikayla Bowen, Emma Swanson, Isabella Lewis
FOL: Parris Laurie, Dana Hooker, Aisling McCarthy
HF: Kellie Gibson, Grace Kelly, Ashlee Atkins
F: Shanae Davison, Andrea Gilmore
INT: Maddy Collier, Courtney Guard, Imahra Cameron, Hayley Bullas, Niamh Kelly
Round 1: vs Gold Coast (A)
Round 2: vs Richmond (H)
Round 3: vs Collingwood (H)
Round 4: vs Fremantle (A)
Round 5: vs St Kilda (H)
Round 6: vs Carlton (A)
Round 7: vs Western Bulldogs (H)
Round 8: vs North Melbourne (A)
Round 9: vs Brisbane (H)
THE PREDICTION: 14th
Well, they addressed their big issue in the midfield and have shored up the forward stocks with Gilmore and another exciting youngster in Shanae Davison, and It could be another one of these predictions where I completely underestimate the Eagles – last year I said Brisbane and Gold Coast would struggle to win a game and that completely blew up in my face.
But until we see the Eagles in round one and see just how much work has been done to develop their game, then it could possibly be another tough year for them. They’ll be eyeing off Richmond in round two and they’ll be liking their chances to take down the Bulldogs again in round seven. For the Eagles, two wins would be a good pass, but they could look at pinching one against Brisbane at home to close the year out if they fade horribly again.
The Gold Coast Suns became one of my favourite teams to watch during the 2020 AFLW season.
Like many other fanatics I’m sure, the Suns weren’t given much of a chance before their opening game against the Giants, but within weeks, the Suns were just an absolute pleasure to watch. They had plenty of grit about them, finishing top three in tackles in 2020. As a result, they made North and GWS earn their wins last year and they had an admirable fightback against Brisbane in the first-ever women’s QClash.
The flashes of brilliance from some of their players were there all throughout the season, but it wasn’t enough to hang with the better sides of the league, as Fremantle aptly showed in their Semi-Final clash last year.
But, there were many positives to take out of their first year in the AFLW – Many of their names, who hadn’t tasted senior footy adapted pretty well, I think of women such as Lauren Ahrens, Jade Pregelj, Hannah Dunn, Ellie Hampson and it leaves David Lake plenty to work with as they head into their second season.
IS SARAH PERKINS THE ANSWER?
It’s tricky to explain this one. In terms of setting their structure up, she definitely helps, because if there was one thing that the Suns’ team lacked last year was a key forward. There was no genuine target – and no, Leah Kaslar is not a key forward so don’t bother trying to argue that one with me.
She’ll definitely ease the load off of the likes of Kalinda Howarth, Kate Surman and Britt Perry, all three were the top goal-scorers at the Suns last year and all three are small/mid-sized forwards. A big target in big, bad, bustling Perko will give these smalls every opportunity to make sure the Suns score more this season.
I think there are a lot of people that are quick to jump off the bandwagon because of her size and the rapid development of the players causing the game to be too quick for her, but she still managed to kick three goals in three games for Melbourne last year as an injury replacement player.
She might not be the answer to the Suns’ quest for the holy grail, but I think she can teach the younger kids in this side a lesson or two.
CAN JAMIE STANTON SOLIDIFY HERSELF AS AN A-GRADE MIDFIELDER?
I’m a big fan of Jamie Stanton and how she goes about her footy: consistent and does the job in the midfield without any fuss. She also won the Suns’ best and fairest award in the first season, so it speaks a lot about the work she did as a midfielder.
How does she fare against some of the best midfielders in the game? Well, she averaged over 17 touches last year, but the better midfielders average at least three or four more touches than her and they pick up one or two more clearances per game.
She’s on the verge of being another A-grade midfielder, she needs to find more of it though. This comes on the back of midfield depth. It pretty much fell away after Stanton, Jacqui Yorston and Hannah Dunn last year. Ali Drennan was brought in from the Saints the past off-season for this very reason and adds a tall midfielder into their on-ball brigade and depending on what sort of role young Annise Bradfield has this year, the Suns look better off in the middle.
Stanton averaged between 16-17 disposals per game across her past three seasons, and at 25 years of age, I think the time is right for her to elevate her game to another level.
THE DEFENSIVE UNIT
There were probably a lot of people who slept on the Gold Coast defence last season, they were the third-best defensive unit in Conference A last year and fourth overall, sitting behind North Melbourne, GWS and Melbourne.
Conceding an average of 24 points per game during the home and away season in 2020, the Suns found a couple of strong players in their defensive half in Lauren Ahrens and Jade Pregelj. Both led the club in both intercept possessions and rebound 50s, with Pregelj named in the AFLW All-Australian squad of 40.
Young Serene Watson showed plenty across the back-line and was very impressive in her debut season, averaging 9.3 disposals per game in a role that sort of combined both playing on taller forwards as well as a bit of run and rebound will hold her in good stead for this season.
Can’t go without talking about another one of the most important players to this Suns’ team and also – without question, one of my favourite players not wearing a Bulldogs guernsey? I mean, the way I go on about her at times, HB probably reckons I’ve got a secret shrine somewhere in my house.
I promise you I don’t have a shrine anywhere, but my sentiments about Kalinda Howarth’s talent remains true, because she’s so brilliant when she has the footy in her hand. With a little more support around the forward line, she could be a real red-hot chance to win the league’s goalkicking at some stage in her career. She doesn’t turn 22 until August, so there’s plenty of time.
She kicked nine goals in seven matches and did average the second-most score involvements at the Suns last year en route to a first All-Australian selection. This included a bag of three against Brisbane in the QClash and a bag of four against West Coast.
She did, however, go goalless in four of her seven games, which is just something to think about heading into this year. We know her best is great and it is match-winning, but can she be that consistent scoring threat that the Suns need?
DOC’S BEST 21
B: Serene Watson, Lauren Ahrens
HB: Jade Pregelj, Leah Kaslar, Sam Virgo
C: Hannah Dunn, Ali Drennan, Tori Groves-Little
FOL: Lauren Bella, Jamie Stanton, Jacqui Yorston
HF: Kate Surman, Sally Riley, Britt Perry
F: Kalinda Howarth, Sarah Perkins
INT: Paige Parker, Annise Bradford, Jordann Hickey, Janet Baird, Dee Heslop
Round 1: vs West Coast (H)
Round 2: vs Adelaide (A)
Round 3: vs Carlton (H)
Round 4: vs St Kilda (A)
Round 5: vs Brisbane (H)
Round 6: vs GWS (A)
Round 7: vs Richmond (H)
Round 8: vs Fremantle (A)
Round 9: vs North Melbourne (H)
THE PREDICTION: 9th
I really like the Suns team, but I can’t see them making much noise this season. They have back-to-back games against Adelaide and Carlton in rounds two and three and Fremantle and North Melbourne to close out the season, which by then might make it overly difficult, considering that they were looking a little tired by round five last season.
They won two and half games last year, I wouldn’t mind them seeing the Suns get three wins in 2021 – West Coast and Richmond are circled in as crunch games, as I’m sure the game against Brisbane will be as well and they wouldn’t mind fancying the Saints or GWS away either. I sense they’ll give the better sides a run for their money, but I think they’re still a season off from genuinely being finals contenders.
Although it can be argued they shouldn’t have been there, Carlton were Grand Finalists in 2019. And plenty of eyes were turned to them in 2020 to see if they could back up their 2019 campaign. In the abrupt end of the 2020 season, they finished in the final four and had only lost once in seven starts and that was against Collingwood, which makes their round one encounter all the more exciting.
Point is that they’ve proven themselves to everyone that they can match it with the best of them: They took on the Crows in Adelaide and won – despite being injury hit, that was no easy task. They also beat Melbourne in a hard-fought contest in the Northern Territory, and they were travelling pretty well – injuries and all.
They made short work of Brisbane in their final last year and I would’ve guaranteed they would’ve given North Melbourne a real run for their money as they have the talent on every line. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned that they have one of the best midfield talents in the land in Maddy Prespakis, who won the league best and fairest in her second year.
Having said all that, the Blues are perfectly poised to strike for a second Grand Final in three seasons, and a real shot at their maiden AFLW flag. Even with the off-season that they had, they added pieces to their midfield and forward line and should be better than last year, which is a scary proposition to say the least.
THE ADDITION OF ELISE O’DEA
This was the move that enhanced Carlton’s premiership aspirations greatly over the off-season. If there is a criticism about Carlton’s on-ball brigade, is that the departure of Bri Davey at the end of 2019 left them pretty young in the middle in 2020.
Prespakis took her game to a level that was unbelievable, they plucked a genuine steal in Grace Egan after Richmond (in another shockingly poor move by their women’s department) opted not to match a bid for her in 2019 AFLW Draft.
Having drafted another young upstart midfielder in Mimi Hill and assuming Lucy McEvoy will play more in the middle in the next few years, it just leaves co-captain Katie Loynes as the veteran head in the side this year.
Despite a career-worst year at the Dees last year, O’Dea will slot right into this midfield group round one and will have an immediate impact. It’s good for the Blues because opposition coaches will be working overtime to figure out how to stop Prespakis from causing a ruckus in the midfield as often as she did this year.
WHO CAN STOP MADDY PRESPAKIS?
With five best-on-ground performances in six starts in the home and away season, Maddy Prespakis is already firming as a favourite when we discuss 50 years down the track of who would be the greatest of all time in women’s football?
At 20 years of age, she’s already a league best and fairest winner, a dual club best and fairest winner and a dual All-Australian. I have joked about her winning all of Carlton’s best and fairests before her time is up, but it could genuinely happen if she continues to play and churn out performances at this rate, and probably notch up another six league best and fairests.
But how do you stop her? Who can stop her?
She already gets the attention, no doubt, but she still manages to find the ball and it make it look so effortless and she can be ruthless at hunting down the opposition when they have the footy. Not only that, but she’s a proven finisher in front of goal: seven goals in nine matches in her debut year, followed by three goals from seven matches last year.
She led all Blues in disposals, metres gained and clearances last year, and was second in score involvements. You can double-team her at the stoppages, but you’ll run the risk of letting someone else like O’Dea, Egan or Loynes run riot in the middle. Good luck stopping her this year.
THE OMISSION OF CHLOE DALTON
Chloe Dalton won’t be featuring for the Blues in 2021 due to her commitments for the Olympics, which is a shame, I enjoyed watching her play since bursting onto the scene in 2019. She’s quick, developed herself as a scoring threat quickly, and with her rugby background, she sure could tackle. A dangerous entity for sure.
She played a little further afield in 2020, but she still brought excellent pressure with her every game. It’s hard to cover, but that is why the Blues went out and brought in other players over the off-season. Maddy Guerin was brought in as, essentially, a bolt-on in the Elise O’Dea deal – struggled for game-time in her three years at Melbourne, playing just six games in three seasons, but showed that she is quick and can bring that pressure.
Charlotte Hammans from the Gold Coast will be another one to watch out for. She didn’t play a game for the Suns last year, but given that the Blues might have an opening or two for small forwards – depending on the plans for Darcy Vescio this year – The Blues brought her in when they could’ve easily have not.
HAVE THE BLUES GOT THE BEST RUCK COMBO IN THE COMP?
There’s only one other ruck duo in the competition that can compare, but from my perspective at least, Alison Downie and Breann Moody are the best ruck pairing in the league – Moody in particular, is perhaps one of the most underrated rucks in the competition.
The Blues were second in the league for hitouts behind GWS, but it’s the workaround the ground that Downie and Moody do that supersedes what Erin McKinnon and Jess Allan do at the Giants. They have good synergy, having worked together for a few years now and both have the endurance bases to cover the ground, making them pretty versatile options.
Did you know that Moody is a past best and fairest winner at Carlton? Well, that was the year before their 2019 season, when they finished as the wooden spooners. Not just that, but she’s yet to reach the peak of her powers at 23. Did you also know that Downie turns 37 in July and hasn’t missed a game for Carlton since the season started? Gotta love Women’s footy.
Round 1: vs Collingwood (H)
Round 2: vs Western Bulldogs (A)
Round 3: vs Gold Coast (A)
Round 4: vs North Melbourne (H)
Round 5: vs Melbourne (H)
Round 6: vs West Coast (H)
Round 7: vs Adelaide (A)
Round 8: vs Geelong (A)
Round 9: vs Fremantle (H)
THE PREDICTION: 2nd
The Blues are going to be a fun team to watch this year and a spot inside the top two is not out of the question. Their home games are going to be very tough, with games against Collingwood, North Melbourne and Fremantle, whilst their clash against Melbourne shouldn’t be underestimated either. Round One against the Pies will be a telling clash for both sides, especially since the comments that were made by Stacey Livingstone about Tayla Harris – there’ll be plenty of fire for the spectators to enjoy I think.
Harris was very good for the Blues last year sans the Pies game, and I think part of that attributes to Nicola Stevens’ role as the second key forward, as she presented, took a few good grabs and was able to contribute to the scoreboard. Also look out for Georgia Gee to follow up with her eight goals last year to break out as one of the star small forwards of the competition and the Blues’ defence, led by the brilliant Kerryn Harrington to hold it down all season long.
EDIT – He definitely has some sort of shrine to Kalinda Howarth. Don’t believe him! (HB Meyers)
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