The Doc’s AFLW season preview rolls on.

This time the focus shifts onto the Pies, Giants and Dees

 

COLLINGWOOD

 

From Collingwood’s 2019 VFLW campaign, which saw them named as champions of the state, big things were expected from the Pies in the AFLW sense. That, in combination with new coach Steve Symonds, meant there was plenty of optimism ahead from those at Victoria Park.

Well, that optimism saw the Pies play really good football, winning four games from six home and away matches, their two losses were against quality opposition – Fremantle by three in WA and Melbourne in the bushfire game. In the semi-final, they gave North Melbourne a mighty challenge, before ultimately going down by three points.

As disappointing as that is, Pies fans, players, coaching staff would have to be chuffed with their progress, when you take into account that they couldn’t win a match in 2019 until the last game of the season. How high is the Collingwood ceiling? You’d suspect that they’ll be eyeing off a spot in the top four, and they’ve got themselves the players that can take them there.

 

Will We See Ash Brazill This Season?

It’s a situation similar to Erin Phillips and Chloe Scheer the year before, when they injured their knees in the Grand Final. It was a tough sight to see Ash Brazill rupture her ACL in their clash against the Demons in round four. It’s tough because she was named All-Australian in 2019 and before going down, she was putting together another strong season.

She’s a brilliant tall defender that without question complements Stacey Livingstone perfectly – and it showed when she had a career-best year in defence. Excellent in a one-on-one and is so good at finding the footy, intercepting at an elite level and is strong on the rebound, she’s no doubt one of Collingwood’s more important players.

It’s likely that she will come back towards the back-end of the year, and even then, she just turned 31 so father time is beginning to loom. What happens if the Pies are fighting for one of the last spots in the final six? It will be interesting to see what the plans are with her, whether or not they play it conservatively, or they rush her back into the team, the same way Adelaide did with Phillips last year.

Just to see her back playing well, you’d love to see the Pies take the conservative approach. They’ve got a few good tall defenders that can cover her absence, as they showed in the last few weeks of the season.

 

Chloe Molloy Up Forward

I’ve virtually been crying out for this since she got drafted by the Pies, and it looks like we’ll finally get it – Chloe Molloy will be a focal point up forward.

Having watched her early years at Calder and Diamond Creek before she got drafted, I really enjoyed watching her tear defences apart. She’s so explosive on the lead and is so sure with her finishing. It showed before she got drafted – she didn’t just lead the NAB League in goals, but she won the league best and fairest, then backed it up in the VFLW by winning the league’s goal kicking award alongside Katie Brennan.

Since then, we’ve been treated to seeing Molloy play in different roles, not that it was a bad thing for her personally – she won the Rising Star award in 2018 as a defender and then last year, was played more as a midfielder and she played it to good effect. However, if you look at her game against the Bulldogs last year, she was played up forward and just tore the Dogs to pieces in the opening half.

This is where she needs to play and this is where the Pies can go another step in 2021. The Pies looked a better unit up forward when she was moved there late last season.

 

The Holy Trinity

There aren’t many better midfield trios in the AFLW: North have a pretty elite midfield group, Adelaide have Phillips, Marinoff and Hatchard, Carlton and Freo have elite midfield groups too but I wouldn’t discount the trio of Jaimee Lambert, Bri Davey and Brittany Bonnici – all three had incredible seasons and you wouldn’t expect anything other than the same in 2020.

Davey was elevated to co-captain alongside Steph Chiocci, who’s led the club from the start of the competition. You just know what you’re going to get from Davey, and it’s even better to see her back to full fitness after rupturing her ACL in 2018, and playing more as a forward in 2019. As a midfielder, she is an accumulator and is excellent at contested ball and winning clearances.

Lambert was one of the bigger surprises of the year, perhaps right alongside the rise of Sharni Layton. She was in the thick of everything, winning contested ball at will and terrorizing the opposition when the Pies didn’t have it, averaging 6.3 tackles per game. Also she averaged just under 350 metres gained per game, which means she is doing everything she can to get it forward.

And I can’t forget about Bonnici, I remember only a couple of years ago she was one of those pesky tagger types, but I’ve always appreciated her contested ball. Well it’s as if I’m watching a reincarnate of Liam Picken, because the leash was taken off last year and she managed to win more than her fair share of footy.

 

Can Tarni Brown Do Some Damage?

I’m excited to watch her play next season, because I think she’ll slot right into this Collingwood side. Her father is a 250-game great for the Pies and her two older brothers are looking quite lively in the men’s team, so there isn’t any reason that suggests that Tarni Brown can’t do the same thing here in the AFLW.

You’d love to see her get a few small stints in the middle during the year, because their big trio of Jaimee Lambert, Bri Davey and Britanny Bonnici will need a spell at some stage, right? Her form in the NAB League the past two years suggests that she will have no worries finding the footy and being able to win her fair share of clearances. Her pace also makes her a very dangerous and explosive kind of player too, so watch out for her in the coming years.

Otherwise, I think most of her time will be playing in the forward 50, both high-up and deep inside 50. Because if there is probably one issue with the Pies line-up, is that they could’ve done with a spare small forward, and well they’ve got her and Aleisha Newman over the off-season, so yes, this Pies forward line just got a little bit more exciting.

 

The Doc’s Best 21

B: Ruby Schleicher, Stacey Livingstone
HB: Jordyn Allen, Ash Brazill, Alana Porter
C: Steph Chiocci, Brittany Bonnici, Sarah Rowe
FOL: Sharni Layton, Brianna Davey, Jaimee Lambert
HF: Aishling Sheridan, Sophie Alexander, Jordan Membrey
F: Chloe Molloy, Abbey Green
INT: Erica Fowler, Mikala Cann, Tarni Brown, Aleisha Newman, Lauren Butler

 

The Fixture

Round 1: vs Carlton (A)
Round 2: vs Fremantle (H)
Round 3: vs West Coast (A)
Round 4: vs Adelaide (H)
Round 5: vs Geelong (A)
Round 6: vs St Kilda (A)
Round 7: vs GWS (H)
Round 8: vs Brisbane (A)
Round 9: vs Melbourne (H)

 

The Prediction: 5th

The pieces are in place for the Pies to play Finals again and perhaps go a step or two further – can they go all the way this year? It’s going to be hard, but the Pies will give it everything they got. The first four games will be very tough – three of those are against Carlton, Fremantle and Adelaide, thankfully the last two games are home games and not interstate. If they can be at least 2-2 after four rounds, then they’ve got a bit of an easier run from there.

Plenty of other players to look out for – I’m a big Sarah Rowe fan and on the back of a strong end to the 2020 season, she’ll be red-hot, likewise to her compatriot Aishling Sheridan, who looked lively at times as well last season. Whether or not Sharni Layton can continue to improve on her All-Australian year last season will be intriguing to see and one last one to watch out for again is Jordan Membrey, who led all Pies for goals last season with seven for the year, proved to be such a reliable shot on goal.

 

 

GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY

 

It’s been a few years since they fell short of a Grand Final berth, but since then, all GWS have done is confuse me with their results.

2019 was a right debacle; they only won a couple of games and even then, it was against a Collingwood side that struggled and then they beat a Geelong team that had no right to be in the final four that year. It was a write-off year for the Giants.

They were much better last year, they were quite clinical against West Coast and Richmond, held off the Suns in the pouring rain and managed to beat the Crows away from home in the final game of the season. They should’ve had Melbourne dead to rights in their final as well, but they choked that one away in the final minutes, which tells you there’s still a bit to be done if they’re to reach the holy grail.

Then we unfortunately learned about the tragic passing of Jacinda Barclay – a foundation player at the Giants, who was not just a great competitor across all the sports she played in, but she was just an exceptional person. If you read all the posts from former team mates and other players around the competition, that’s testament enough of how much she was loved as a person.

You’d think that those two things alone would be enough fuel propel the Giants to greater heights in 2021, but then there’s the whole situation going on in New South Wales, which forced the Giants to move to Albury for the pre-season. It’s a bit of a disruption, but 2021 is looking like the kind of season for the Giants that have everything to prove and they’ll go through hell and high-water to do it.

 

The Priv

It was one of the best things that I took out of GWS was the fantastic season of Rebecca Privitelli. Not only did she play good football, but it was a story about a player who was on the outer of both Carlton in 2017 and GWS the following year and went back to work on her craft to come back and man, did she come through or what?

Privitelli was straight back in the team in round one and never lost her place, instead finding a permanent home right in the forward line and didn’t look out of place, kicking six goals from six matches, second only to Cora Staunton at the club. She was also third at the club for score involvements, averaging three per game behind both Staunton and Alyce Parker.

However, the thing that impressed me the most is her contested marking abilities. Alongside Tayla Harris, Privitelli led all players in contested marks with 12 for the season. She’s only just turned 26, so the peak of her powers is ahead of her yet. It’s going to be exciting to watch her continue to develop and flourish as a key forward – her hands are tailor-made for marking.

 

The Scoring

But, for as good as Privitelli is, GWS’ biggest issue is their scoring. Last year they were 10th in the league for scoring, averaging over 28 points per game. The only teams that averaged less are the expansion clubs, which is a bit of a yikes when you consider that the Giants have been in the league from the start. Even then it wasn’t easy, but in a scoring sense, they have been stuck in neutral for a few years.

What adds salt, vinegar and assorted chemicals to this wound is that the Giants were equal-first in the competition for behinds. Against Melbourne in the Semi Final, they kicked 3.8 and wasted their chances when they needed to put them away. If the Giants are to progress ahead in 2021, then they need players to make the most of their opportunities in front of goal – they recorded 169 inside 50s last year, so it was down there enough times.

Cora Staunton led all Giants for goals, but she kicked 8.7 last season, which is a bit inaccurate. Privitelli kicked 6.4, Aimee Schmidt kicked 3.5, Jodie Hicks – 1.4 and Nicola Barr, Alyce Parker and Alicia Eva all kicked 0.2 last season as well. It’s an improvement that I hope that they’ve worked on over the off-season.

 

Alyce Parker

Whilst her accuracy in front of goal isn’t the best, there isn’t much else you can find to critique Alyce Parker about. She’s a hell of a talent and her year for the Giants last year deserved the accolades that came her way. She became an All-Australian for the first time and was named the Gabrielle Trainor Medallist as the Giants’ best and fairest – I could bet you my life savings that it won’t be the last best and fairest she wins either.

She averaged 21.1 disposals which is testament to her stature as an elite contested midfielder. She averaged 11.1 contested disposals per game, which has her second in the competition in that statistic. She also averaged four clearances per game, that has her ranked in the top three of the competition in that aspect as well.

Another somewhat oddball statistic is that she was first in the Giants for metres gained and second overall in the competition, averaging over 376 metres per game. The thing is though, that the next best player for the Giants had half of what Parker had. Parker racked up an astonishing 2637 metres gained – the next best just cracked over 1300.

 

The Underrated Defence

Whilst the criticism in the Giants lies in their forward line, their strength is their backline. They conceded the third-least points in the home and away season last year, conceding an average of 23 points per game. Yeah, two of those games were against West Coast and Richmond and another one was the game in the pouring rain against the Suns, but the Giants still did well to stop them from scoring across four quarters.

They also kept Melbourne pretty quiet for most of the day as well in that final, so if anything, they’ve got good defensive stocks. The likes of Louise Stephenson and Tanya Hetherington get the job done as key defenders most weeks without very little fuss. Whilst Elle Bennetts broke out as an elite intercept defender, being named in the All-Australian squad of 40, averaging career-highs in intercept possessions and marks.

Another player that proved to be a shrewd pick-up in 2020 was Annalyse Lister. Although a mature-aged player, adapted quickly in her first year in the AFLW, playing every game, and averaging eight disposals, with half of those being intercept possessions. She also proved to be a very apt tackler, averaging just under three per game.

There’s also the addition of Katherine Smith from Melbourne. Coming back from a ruptured ACL she sustained last year, it’ll be interesting to see where she fits in to the defensive structures. But she’s got a great work ethic and can play the lockdown role really well.

 

The Doc’s Best 21

B: Katherine Smith, Louise Stephenson
HB: Elle Bennetts, Tanya Hetherington, Pepa Randall
C: Tarni Evans, Rebecca Beeson, Nicola Barr
FOL: Erin McKinnon, Alicia Eva, Alyce Parker
HF: Tait Mackrill, Cora Staunton, Jodie Hicks
F: Aimee Schmidt, Rebecca Privitelli
INT: Jess Dal Pos, Jess Allan, Haneen Zreika, Britt Tully, Annalyse Lister

 

The Fixture

Round 1: vs Fremantle (A)
Round 2: vs Melbourne (H)
Round 3: vs Brisbane (H)
Round 4: vs Geelong (A)
Round 5: vs Western Bulldogs (H)
Round 6: vs Gold Coast (H)
Round 7: vs Collingwood (A)
Round 8: vs St Kilda (H)
Round 9: vs Adelaide (A)

 

The Prediction: 7th

They’ll be thereabouts in finals calculations. Their list is, and has been, good enough for a few years now, but just certain things have hindered them fulfilling their potential. Alicia Eva is a terrific leader and a great in-and-under player and players such as Bec Beeson, Nicola Barr, Erin McKinnon and Jess Dal Pos are players that do lead by example.

Before COVID hit New South Wales and threw them into Albury, I think they would’ve finished top six, but I’ll have them just outside for the moment. My biggest worry is that fatigue might settle in towards the end of the season and that might cause them to fade a little bit. They only have to travel four time: twice to Victoria and once to Western Australia and South Australia, so that softens the blow a little.

I’m excited to see what sort of impact Tarni Evans brings to this team, she’s shown that she’s a great outside player and given that it has been something the Giants haven’t had a great deal of in recent years, she might play right away barring injuries. Also I’d like to see how they can find a way to fill the void of Yvonne Bonner, who will miss this year due to her husband not being granted permission to enter the country. But another Irish player in Brid Stack will be another player that the Giants can hope can play right away.

 

 

MELBOURNE

 

For me personally, this team will be the team I have the most intrigue and interest in heading into 2021. There are a few teams I’m pretty sure I’ve said that about, but the Demons are going to be interesting to watch this year because over the off-season, they offloaded about four or five players that would strongly be considered in their best 21 for draft picks.

That’s not a knock on the young kids that they’ve brought in, but when you take into account that Melbourne had won four games with a list that had been ravaged with injury for basically the entirety of the season, wouldn’t you want to keep it together?

But anyway, they brought in some young fresh faces over the off-season, and the more you think about it, the more it makes sense about the idea that the Demons are beginning to transition. Daisy Pearce, Karen Paxman, Meg Downie and Tegan Cunningham aren’t getting any younger.

It’s going to be tough to assess the Dees, they still have the core pieces in the side together and with a bit more youth injected in the side, it could either be just what they needed, or it’s a plan that might face severe blowback, for the first season at least.

 

Are They Be The Best Defensive Unit In The Competition?

They only conceded just a fraction over 20 points per game last season. It’s incredible to think that. It’s probably the reason that they were still contesting in games later on in the year, because they had lost that many players that they actually had to bring in an injury replacement player.

The addition of Libby Birch last year from the Western Bulldogs ensured that the Demons’ defensive structures were at an all-time high and Birch thrived on it right away. She became an elite intercept mark, and was capable of running it out of half back all day long and was thoroughly rewarded with a spot in the All-Australian team last year. They way she played at times, you’d be amiss if you thought that she only turned 23 in December.

You’ve also got the re-addition of Daisy Pearce last season, after she missed all of 2019 through pregnancy. It was as if she never left, just placed in a different position on the ground. But like Birch, Pearce was in amongst everything, she intercepted brilliantly, provided excellent rebounding skills and was really the cool head clearing everything out of defence.

There are a few others, I think Meg Downie does an outstanding job as the key defender and Sarah Lampard was in solid form before going down with a season-ending knee injury. The loss of Harriet Cordner hurts a bit, but I think the Dees are well-placed to cover that loss.

 

Shelley Scott

I can’t not put her in here, because she’s perhaps as important to this team as anyone else – no I am not exaggerating here. Just as important as Paxy, Just as important as Daisy. Just as important as Kate Hore, Libby Birch, Lauren Pearce. When I say anyone, I mean ANYONE.

Shelley Scott actually won Melbourne’s best and fairest last year, that’s how much she’s rated for her work across the half-forward line. In games that I watched last year, she was the forward that literally did it all – presented well on a lead, was up on the wings winning the footy and then working back to help have a hand in scoring and just as importantly, contributing on the scoreboard herself.

Just to fill you in, Scott’s averages last year saw her average 11.1 disposals, 3.7 tackles, four marks, 3.6 score involvements and 2.7 inside 50s per game. She led the club in score involvements and marks and was second in inside 50s. She was also equal-leader at the club for contested marks, just averaging under a contested mark per game.

I just can’t stress how important she is to this team and I like to think Melbourne fans are onside with me there.

 

What’s To Make Of The Kids?

It’ll be the biggest talking point of the 2021 season for Melbourne – their draftees. Harriet Cordner, Elise O’Dea, Aliesha Newman and Bianka Jakobsson were all in Melbourne’s best 21 last year and you can also make a case for Maddy Guerin to be in there as well.

They brought in six kids from the NAB League last year and there’ll be a lot of eyes on the likes of Alyssa Bannan and Elizabeth McNamara – Melbourne fans hoping they can slide into this team come round one and make some sort of impact, and I reckon they can. Bannan was arguably the best key forward from last year’s Draft, able to cover ground and already a solid grab in the air. McNamara is another player I’m excited for – she’s got plenty of run and is a nice user of the footy and she can play a few roles around the ground.

Maggie Caris fills a need at the ruck spot and if Lauren Pearce – god forbid – goes down with a knee injury like she did last year, they don’t have to take Eden Zanker away from being a key forward, where I think her and Bannan can be a very lethal combination in future years. Another draftee I’m excited to see in 2021 is Mietta Kendall –  a defender that loves a one-on-one contest and is hardly beaten, she’s a player that can do a number of jobs in the defensive half and be consistent in taking on the jobs.

The Dees’ obvious focus was to make the list younger over the off-season. We’ll see in due time whether or not Melbourne made the right move by offloading a few of their senior players for younger players that have upside.

 

Tyla Hanks

On a list I’ve written down labelled: “Things I’d Like To See In 2021”, I’ve put down near the top of the list for Tyla Hanks to break out.

She’s heading into her third year now after being taken by Melbourne with such a high-end draft pick, being taken sixth overall back in the 2018 AFLW Draft, yes the same one Maddy Prespakis. And before you say anything, it’s quite hard to break out in a midfield that has mountains of talent.

Karen Paxman is still the key cog in their engine room, so you’d suspect that she’ll continue to rack the possessions up.But then, with O’Dea’s departure, you’ve got a good mix of players that can and most likely will stand up: Maddi Gay has been a great pick-up for them since being traded over from Carlton and Lily Mithen is still very important for them, but the time is now for Hanks to push into the elite category.

Yes, I understand that there isn’t as much of her as other players, but her ability to win contested ball and tackle just cannot be underrated. She averaged over 10 disposals last year, half of those being contested possessions and also averaged just under five tackles per game. Watching her average around 17 touches and 7 tackles per game? God I’d love to see that this year.

 

The Doc’s Best 21:

B: Libby Birch, Meg Downie
HB: Daisy Pearce, Niamh McEvoy, Sinead Goldrick
C: Chantel Emonson, Lily Mithen, Elizabeth McNamara
FOL: Lauren Pearce, Karen Paxman, Maddison Gay
HF: Shelley Scott, Eden Zanker, Tyla Hanks
F: Kate Hore, Alyssa Bannan
INT: Casey Sherriff, Tegan Cunningham, Shelley Heath, Shae Sloane, Gabby Colvin

 

The Fixture

Round 1: vs Adelaide (H)
Round 2: vs GWS (A)
Round 3: vs St Kilda (H)
Round 4: vs Brisbane (A)
Round 5: vs Carlton (A)
Round 6: vs Richmond (H)
Round 7: vs North Melbourne (A)
Round 8: vs Western Bulldogs (H)
Round 9: vs Collingwood (A)

 

The Prediction: 10th

There might be some backlash coming with this prediction, but I think back to last year, when Melbourne lost to Carlton. At that stage, they had multiple players out with serious knee injuries and, whilst still admirable in their fight against the better teams towards the end of the season. What happens if they get another injury-plagued year in 2021? The depth is going to be seriously tested.

It also doesn’t help that their fixture is one of the hardest fixtures in the competition: They travel to play GWS and Brisbane, whilst they also must travel to Tasmania to take on North Melbourne. The only team they don’t take on this year who is considered a premiership chance is Fremantle, but even then, they’ve got St Kilda early in the season again, which is a dangerous clash, and I predict the round eight game against the Bulldogs will be massive for both sides in terms of where they finish on the ladder.

It’s always tough to predict where a side that has had a portion of their list traded out. But the Dees still have good players on every line – what remains to be seen is whether or not it can hold up? Might just be a tough year ahead for Melbourne