We move onto part three of The Doc’s AFLW season preview, this time focusing on the Saints, Lions and Kangaroos
Much like the Gold Coast Suns, there probably wasn’t a whole lot of expectation for St Kilda ahead of their first year in the AFLW. I distinctly remember writing last year that they’d have a hard time winning one game of footy.
Well, it didn’t take long for that prediction to go up in smoke did it? After a loss against the Bulldogs that saw them blown out in the opening quarter, the Saints were much more competitive for the rest of the season. Against Adelaide in South Australia, they were a bit unlucky to lose that game before breaking through for a maiden win against Melbourne in a thrilling contest.
They were competitive against both Fremantle and Carlton before they ended the season with an emphatic thrashing of Richmond. Two wins were probably more than what most fans and journalists were expecting, and sets the tone for bigger and better things for 2021.
The younger brigade of players will have another pre-season under their belt and the few recruits that they’ve brought in will also help the Saints add another win or two and make another big leap towards a maiden appearance in the Finals – Alongside the Suns and the Lions, the Saints are a team that I am excited to watch develop in 2021.
FORWARD SUPPORT FOR THE G-TRAIN
The biggest tick for the Saints last year was the arrival of Caitlin Greiser, the next generation’s answer to Fraser Gehrig. Just as massive as a unit and once she got running, there was not a defender in the competition that could’ve stopped her – amazing to think that she won the league’s goal-kicking competition in her first season. She turns 22 in February, so her peak is still a way off.
However, the Saints need some support around her – they were third-last in the competition for goals and averaged 25 points per game – which was the fourth-lowest of the competition. The next highest goal scorers were Kate Shierlaw, Jess Sedunary, Darcy Guttridge and Molly McDonald – all of whom each slotted in two goals.
In terms of goal-scoring output, I was a bit disappointed that Kate McCarthy didn’t feature more heavily. Maybe it’s because that she was playing a little further up the ground, but I think her best football is when she’s playing as a deep forward – she’s quick, can out-run players and showed in her earlier years that she can finish off plays. She’s a dangerous player that needs to be unleashed if the Saints are to elevate themselves in 2021.
THE ‘FIX-IT’ PLAYER
The way she played at times last year, it’s easy to mistake the fact that Rhiannon Watt has only played just the eight games in her career and two of those were at Carlton the year before last. Having said that, I thought she was very impressive, being the player that could play in a variety of roles around the ground – the perfect versatile player.
She’s going to be huge for the Saints this year, especially with Clara Fitzpatrick out for the season due to a delay in moving back to Australia from Ireland, which is a bit of a shame because I thought at numerous times she held her own in the key defensive part of the ground and well, she was actually second at the Saints for intercept possessions and second for averaging rebound 50s.
If they can find a key defensive replacement that is not Watt, it will enable her to continue to play in the role she currently has – part time ruck option, but allow Poppy Kelly to properly develop and shoulder a lot of the load because I thought she showed plenty of promise last year.
To quote my co-host on the A3 Footy Podcast and big fan of the Saints’ AFLW team, Alex Catalano: “I need to read about Georgia.” Georgia Patrikios is to Mr Catalano what Kalinda Howarth is to me: simply awe-inspiring and you won’t get him to shut up.
After a flying year, where she would’ve won the Rising Star award any other year, Patrikios showed in her debut year that she’ll be one of the main attractions of the women’s competition for the next 10-12 years. When I say ‘attraction’ I mean the kind of player that will not only be a consistent and strong player, but also the kind of player that inspires the younger generation to start playing football which is the best thing for women’s football.
She led all Saints for disposals last year, averaging 15.7 disposals per game, but I found it a little surprising to see her average 6.3 contested possessions, seeing her play a little more on the outside. considering that Rosie Dillon and Liv Vesely are their best contested possession players at the moment, I think that the Saints would benefit better with her class and composure with the ball in hand.
It was a key reason why she was one of four players to win the Saints’ best and fairest last year – her star is so bright.
DON’T SLEEP ON THE SAINTS
Count out these players at your own peril, because there was a reason why the Saints competed so well all throughout 2020.
The first player that springs to mind is Nicola Xenos. For someone her size at 161 centimetres, she can seriously play! Averaged over nine disposals per game with half of those being contested possessions, she also averaged over four tackles per game. She just loves having a crack at the contest and whilst there’s scope for her to be a gun midfielder, I’d love to see her be a part of a manic forward line more. (EDIT – The old HB Meyers has Xenos as his favourite Saint!!! Plenty of mongrel in the way she plays – will be a star)
Molly McDonald came from the Saints’ VFLW program to play all six games for the Saints last year, she’s also known for kicking their first goal in AFLW history. She’s got plenty of run and dash and was very handy for the Saints last year, averaging 9.5 disposals, 3.5 marks and nearly two rebound 50s per game, and at just 19, expect her to continue to develop and become a very handy player for the Saints this year.
Lastly, I’ve put down Hannah Priest as a player to watch. Not as young as the likes of Xenos or McDonald, but she had herself a nice little year down back for the Saints, averaging just under 10 disposals, along with 2.7 marks, 4.5 intercept possessions and just under a couple of rebound 50s per game across all six matches for the Saints in 2020.
THE DOC’S BEST 21
B: Jayde Van Dyk, Rhiannon Watt
HB: Tilly Lucas-Rodd, Tamara Luke, Cat Phillips
C: Tyanna Smith, Georgia Patrikios, Nat Exon
FOL: Poppy Kelly, Rosie Dillion, Liv Vesely
HF: Darcy Guttridge, Kate Shierlaw, Jacqui Vogt
F: Kate McCarthy, Caitlin Greiser
INT: Nicola Xenos, Bianca Jakobsson, Molly McDonald, Nadia Von Bertouch, Hannah Priest
Round 1: vs Western Bulldogs (H)
Round 2: vs North Melbourne (A)
Round 3: vs Melbourne (A)
Round 4: vs Gold Coast (H)
Round 5: vs West Coast (A)
Round 6: vs Collingwood (H)
Round 7: vs Geelong (H)
Round 8: vs GWS (A)
Round 9: vs Richmond (A)
THE PREDICTION: 8th
Every team has a game that will predict where or how their season will go and I think we’ll learn a lot more about the Saints this year after their round one clash with the Western Bulldogs. They’re another up and coming side that had the wood over them last year – if they can reverse the result, then the Saints are going to look okay. Five wins isn’t beyond them, they could easily be 3-2 after five games and that alone would be a better year that 2020 for them.
There’s a lot to look forward to with the Saints. What roles new recruits Bianka Jakobsson and Jayde Van Dyk will have this year will be interesting see – Jakobsson’s versatility could see her used as a forward option, whilst Van Dyk’s exceptional defensive abilities could either strengthen their defences or see someone push further afield. Oh, and then there’s the top draft pick for the Saints in Tyanna Smith. She’s a player I can sense impacting right away either in the middle or up forward and could very well help dictate where the Saints will finish – I think they’ll just miss on the top six.
Heading into the 2020 season, very little was expected of the Brisbane Lions as for the second consecutive off-season – they had their list pillaged and raided by expansion clubs – the poor souls.
But, the light at the end of the tunnel came as fast as anyone could’ve ever imagined, as the Lions went unbeaten in the first four rounds of the competition, winning three and then there was the draw with the Gold Coast Suns. From there, the Lions slowly dipped – they were admirable against the Dockers in round five, and then Collingwood and Carlton gave them a thrashing before the season was cut short.
Nonetheless, 2020 for Brisbane was the season that laid the foundations of what should be an exciting few years to come. They unearthed some real finds last year in Cathy Svarc, Maria Moloney, Orla O’Dwyer and the kids in Lily Postlethwaite and Belle Dawes showed a fair bit in their debut seasons and they got incredible seasons out of the likes of Emily Bates and Kate Lutkins.
All this sounds like either Brisbane thrive on being underdogs, or Craig Starcevich is a god damn genius. I wouldn’t discredit it if it was a bit of both. We know how far Craig can take a list, taking the Lions to two consecutive Grand Finals – pretty unlucky not to win at least one, but the way the Lions are tracking, it won’t be long before they get another crack at it.
As far as forwards go, 2020 was all about the rise of Jesse Wardlaw. In just her second year, she led the Lions for goals kicked with nine for the season and surprised many with her contested marking, second only to Kate Lutkins, who is highly regarded as one of the best intercept marking players in the league.
But, if the Lions are to take the next step ahead, they would love to get a full year out of Jess Wuetschner. At her best, she is as dangerous a mid-sized forward as it gets, and it showed when Brisbane got to the Grand Final in 2018, she was the focal point and almost dragged her side over the line and to a flag.
In a string of bad luck, she was struck by lightning whilst working on-site on the eve of the 2020 season. She missed a few games as a result and watching the games she did play, it looked as if she was still a little shaky at times. The Lions averaged just over four goals per game in 2020, and with a full pre-season under the belt, she’ll be ripe for a big year, providing no more freak accidents happen.
A lot of the plaudits go to Kate Lutkins, and deservedly so, because she’s an unbelievable player to watch – hard to beat in a one-on-one, doesn’t hesitate to fly in from the side and pluck intercept marks – and very well I might add. She’s more than that; her ability to get on her bike and start running and creating drive out of the defensive 50 proved she’s a woman that can do it all in defence and I love that.
However, credit has to be shared amongst her teammates in defence as well, because they enable her to go and do whatever she likes most weeks. Shannon Campbell often goes to a dangerous key forward and does a good job keeping the influence of her opposition limited. Emma Zielke, who will lead the club again in 2021 was superb at times, helping hold things together in defence when it needed her to.
And then there’s Breanna Koenen – I could argue that she is the most underrated player on this team. She is the vice-captain this year after a strong 2020 campaign that saw her 3rd at the club for rebound 50s, fifth for intercept possessions and second for tackles – she’s another tough player that is hard to beat.
Upon writing up this preview, the name Courtney Hodder came up in a few places. And upon a brief read on her background, there is understandable hype that this young woman carries with her.
She grew up playing the game of Aussie Rules and was actually very good at it. She represented Western Australia three times in the under-18s national championships and all three times she was named an All-Australian, then at 18, decided to switch to rugby union, where she dominated right away, scoring six tries in one match for WA.
She made the switch back to Aussie Rules in August last year, but before that, she was recovering from a broken leg – that’s something that should not be discounted. But the upside she carries is tremendous – a player with natural ability, god-given speed and agility and given that she has played the game in the past and excelled.
Can she propel the Lions to further heights? Well, we’re just going to have to wait and find out, won’t we?
AND WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS?
It’s one thing that Brisbane’s list is full of experienced and talented players, but it’s also worth mentioning their future, because Lutkins, Zielke and Wuetschner won’t be around forever. Likewise Emily Bates and Ally Anderson, despite still being in their mid-20s.
Lily Postlethwaite had a solid debut year and I only expect her to be around the contest more in 2021. She’s a great talent on the outside, but she is just as capable on the inside and it showed last season – out of her seven touches per game, three of those were contested, she also averaged 2.6 tackles per game. You’ve also got Belle Dawes, Indy Tahau, Zimmie Farquaharson, who should all get games at some stage this year.
Also, there are players that are walk up starts such as Sophie Conway, who is still 21, but you wouldn’t think that when you watch how she plays – you’d easily think she’s been in the league a lot longer. Wardlaw is only 20 and led the club’s goalkicking, Dakota Davidson is a great second tall option, and she’s only 22.
The depth in this Brisbane side should not be underestimated, it’s got as many young and talented players as it does experienced ones.
THE DOC’S BEST 21
B: Kate Lutkins, Emma Zielke
HB: Breanna Koenen, Shannon Campbell, Selina Priest
C: Cathy Svarc, Ally Anderson, Lily Postlethwaite
FOL: Jessie Keeffe, Emily Bates, Maria Moloney
HF: Sophie Conway, Dakota Davidson, Zimmorlei Farquaharson
F: Jess Wuetschner, Jesse Wardlaw
INT: Lauren Arnell, Orla O’Dwyer, Nat Grider, Rheanne Lugg, Courtney Hodder
Round 1: vs Richmond (A)
Round 2: vs Geelong (H)
Round 3: vs GWS (A)
Round 4: vs Melbourne (H)
Round 5: vs Gold Coast (A)
Round 6: vs Adelaide (H)
Round 7: vs Fremantle (H)
Round 8: vs Collingwood (H)
Round 9: vs West Coast (A)
THE PREDICTION: 6th
I look at Brisbane’s fixture and they can easily be 4-1 after five rounds – if they can get there at that stage of the competition then finals beckon. The only thing that will slow them down is their big stretch of games between rounds six and eight, and the only thing that softens the blow is that all three of those games are at home. They could potentially steal one or two of those, considering they did beat Adelaide in Queensland last year.
After their 2020 season, they’ll be wanting another push for Finals, and at least six wins is not out of the question. The biggest query is how they’ll go as the season progresses. They quickly fell away after round four, and even then, they fell away in the second half of their clash against the Suns; it’s amazing how they didn’t drop that one. But I look at the list and they’ve got good depth all around and I think they’ll have a better shot at it this year.
After unluckily missing out on a spot in the final four in 2019, the Kangaroos completely blitzed the field in 2020… after narrowly losing to Melbourne in the opening round of the season, that is. However, I believe they were just unfortunate in that game.
Some of these winning margins were ghastly: they beat Richmond by 56, Adelaide by 42, Geelong by 46 and whilst they beat GWS and Gold Coast by under 20 points, they were in firm control for most of those contests. The only time they were seriously challenged was against Collingwood in their semi-final clash and, my word, did they give them a good scare.
The abrupt end of the season, much like Freo, brought a lot of optimism inside the North camp – a sense of unfinished business and they were preparing for another huge tilt for the premiership. And then they were forced to let go head coach Scott Gowans.
It’s a hard job to do sometimes, and North aren’t exactly one of more financially stable clubs in the football world right now. So it makes it all the more interesting to see where North are at heading into the 2021 season. Darren Crocker has coached on game day at the top level before and has been associated to North for many years now, and the club has retained pretty much everyone that played last year.
All that remains to be seen is how they play in round one.
THE RETURN OF DUFFWOMAN
OOOOOOOHHHHH YEEAAAAHHHHHHH It’s one of the best things about North Melbourne both last season and this one incoming – the return of Jess Duffin.
What’s good about this is that Duffin missed all of last year due to pregnancy, but somehow, North Melbourne still came out as one of the best defensive sides last year, averaging under 22 points per game scored against. The year before that, Duffin was considered as one of the best defenders in the game, given her exceptional reading of the play and her elite ability to rebound off the half back line.
We saw what happened last year when Daisy Pearce came back from pregnancy and slotted right in the half-back line at Melbourne – it was almost as if she never left. I didn’t put much pressure on her though, coming back from a long-term lay-off, and I’ll do the same here with Duffin, very little expectation should be placed on her.
Will she go back to the role she had beforehand? It’s looking most likely, she was excellent as that intercept marking-type, leading the competition in marks in 2019, averaging just under six marks per game.
THE RUCK GAME
If there’s one slight criticism of North, and trust me when I tell you that this is pure nitpicking here, is that they were the third-worst in the competition for hitouts – they had eight more hitouts than Geelong, who were last, and the Roos played one extra game.
As a counter-argument to this though, North’s number one ruck option last year was a player who was a late fill-in for Duffin, who missed the entire season. Vivien Saad hadn’t played much footy in the lead-up of getting called up by North, but in her six games last year, showed tons of upside and is a player who could benefit greatly this year. She only averaged seven hitouts per game last year, but it was her second and third efforts that won admiration.
She averaged just under 10 disposals per game and led all rucks for clearances, averaging just under three per game and averaged a decent 2.4 tackles per game. For someone that hasn’t played Aussie Rules long, it’s a pretty good thing to go out and do.
What this also does is allow Emma King to play more as a key forward. A couple of years ago, I would’ve hated the idea, but they managed to turn someone who was highly regarded as a ruck option into a forward target that can threaten – she kicked four goals, but also averaged over 2.3 score involvements per game – only Eden Zanker had more in terms of rucks.
Hard to believe that ‘Jammin’ Jasmine’ could only poll four league best and fairest votes after winning the Players’ Association award as the player of the year? FOUR VOTES?!?!
That’s horrid stuff for a player that literally played career-best footy from start to finish. I’m always sceptical about talented forwards pushing into the midfield, but this one paid off handsomely for the Roos in 2020 and probably was one of a few reasons why North finished on top of Conference A.
She averaged over 20 disposals per game, half of those were contested possessions, which saw her rank first at the club for. She also averaged 1.3 contested marks per game, over three clearances, just under five tackles per game and kicked eight goals in seven matches. What more could you actually want from her?
She just seems to do it all now and the players voted her in as Player of the Year for a reason. There is also a reason I had her at number one in my top 50, but good luck trying to explain that to Fremantle fans who reckoned Kiara Bowers was the best player in the competition. However, Garner’s 2020 screamed out ‘Erin Phillips murder the competition’ vibes and I can’t be more excited to see how she goes this year.
Along with Fremantle, North Melbourne were the best scoring team in the competition last year – both of them averaged over seven goals per game, but it’s North that averaged over 50 points per game last year – the only team in the history of the competition to ever do that – Exhibit A of how the game continues to improve for all you AFLW-hating bastards.
But anyway, North’s forward structure is amazing; you’ve got big targets that know how to impact the contest, Emma King does it well, Kate Gillespie-Jones is built like a freakin’ Sherman Tank and Jasmine Garner is doing her thing down there when she’s resting from being a destructive unit in the middle.
But also the smalls are so lethal and deadly, you can’t just double team one person down there. Kaitlyn Ashmore had her best year in the AFLW, kicking nine goals last year and led all Roos for goals. Sophie Abbatangelo has become a reliable goal-kicker in her two years in the top-flight and Daisy Bateman is fast becoming a favourite because she knows where to be, she’s a clever little unit who kicked seven goals last season.
And then you can rest whichever mids you like down there – Emma Kearney kicked three last year, Ash Riddell, Ellie Gavalas, Brittany Gibson – they all featured on the scoresheet at some stage last year.
THE DOC’S BEST 21:
B: Danielle Hardiman, Brittany Gibson
HB: Jess Duffin, Tahlia Randall, Jasmine Grierson
C: Emma Kearney, Grace Campbell, Bella Eddey
FOL: Viv Saad, Jenna Bruton, Ash Riddell
HF: Kaitlyn Ashmore, Jasmine Garner, Daisy Bateman
F: Sophie Abbatangelo, Emma King
INT: Kate Gillespie-Jones, Mia King, Ellie Gavalas, Sarah Wright, Elisha King
Round 1: vs Geelong (A)
Round 2: vs St Kilda (H)
Round 3: vs Fremantle (A)
Round 4: vs Carlton (A)
Round 5: vs Richmond (H)
Round 6: vs Western Bulldogs (A)
Round 7: vs Melbourne (H)
Round 8: vs West Coast (H)
Round 9: vs Gold Coast (A)
THE PREDICTION: 4th
Finals is almost a certainty with the Roos in 2021, but where they finish is anyone’s guess. I expect them to be anywhere from fourth into the top two. The biggest concern I have is how Darren Crocker will influence this team? Will much be changed structurally? Will he keep it the same as how Scott Gowans had it? There’ll probably be a few small positional changes, but make no mistake, North are still a force to be reckoned with in the AFLW.
Fixture-wise it isn’t too bad, they have a couple of home games in Tasmania against Richmond in round five and Melbourne in round seven. Otherwise the only games they have to travel interstate for is in Rounds three and nine. Every other game they have is situated in Victoria. Also look out for the likes of Mia King, Ellie Gavalas and Grace Campbell to continue to flourish under the stars of Riddell, Kearney and Bruton.
EDIT – The old HB Meyers loves watching this team. Their midfield is superb and whist so much of the credit goes to Emma Kearney, the work of Jenna Bruton and Ash Riddell was a real standout for me in 2020. Both can rack them up and I am a big believer that they were responsible for a lot of Kearney’s touches in 2020.
The Doc will be back with three more teams in the next few days (no pressure, Doc!). he is killing with these previews.
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