We’re less than a month away from the AFLW season kicking off, and our resident expert, Alex Docherty has the rundown of all teams leading into 2022.

Let’s jump straight into Part Two, with the Dogs, Dees, and Suns.

 

Melbourne

2021 Record: 8 wins, 3 losses (Eliminated in Preliminary Finals)
2022 Season Prediction: 3rd

All the chips are in on Melbourne for 2022 and if you want any proof of that, you only need to go back to their most recent trade period to see just how much they were willing to give up for what they brought in.

In the lead-up to 2021, there was a lot of intrigue surrounding Melbourne, after trading away many established players for draft picks in the previous off-season, but it was a move that paid off handsomely as we went further into the season. Admittedly, I hadn’t given them much of a chance, but they made it to the penultimate week of the season.

Both Alyssa Bannan and Eliza McNamara played every game in their first year in a pleasing sign for their younger brigade, they got a couple of games into Megan Fitzsimon and a healthy Lauren Pearce meant that Maggie Caris didn’t get to play senior footy in 2021 but was progressing nicely at VFLW level in the games she played at Casey.

By bringing in both Olivia Purcell and Tayla Harris from Geelong and Carlton respectively, it speaks that the Dees need some extra help in both the midfield and in the forward line, and both acquisitions bring an enormous amount of talent with them. However, with that comes questions as well.

With Purcell, it’s as simple as how her knee holds up. They’ll be treating her with caution in the early parts of the year as she continues to recover from the torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament in her right knee, sustained at the midway point of the 2021 season. She may not even be back at all for this season, but if it means it minimises the risk to reinjure it again, then they’re better off putting her in cotton wool.

At her best, she’s a brilliant in-and-under player who will complement outside ball users such as Lily Mithen, Shelley Scott and Kate Hore perfectly. It might even enable Karen Paxman to play more of an outside role as she enters the last stages of her career at 33, but the way she plays and applies herself to the game, she may be in it for another few years yet.

There won’t be much rush to get Purcell into this side, the Melbourne midfield is quite the well-oiled machine. Tyla Hanks played more midfield minutes in 2021 and established herself as premier inside midfielder, enjoying a career-best season that culminated in her winning the competition’s rising star award through her hardened approach to the game.

Meanwhile, Eden Zanker is rapidly emerging as the kind of player that can help extract the ball out of the stoppage and contribute on the scoreboard – think players like Erin Phillips, Jasmine Garner and Ellie Blackburn. Players like that in the AFLW are a rare commodity right now and Zanker has got all the tools to be the next big thing in this competition.

With Harris, it’s the big-money question of what can she do to get them to that elusive first flag? Melbourne have had a pretty good list since the league began but have never really had much to show for it. Last year’s win over Fremantle in the first week of finals was only their second finals win in the club’s short history if you can believe that.

Harris’ final year at Carlton drew some questions about her level of commitment to the cause with the story emerging about her ditching training mid-session to tend to her Instagram account raising more than a few eyebrows. She’s arguably the most marketable player in the competition and for that, asked for a paycheque that the Blues didn’t want to match on the back of an average year. If she can’t back it up on the field, then the Dees will be made to pay for it in more ways than on the payroll.

We know that Harris’ best can grab the competition by the scruff of the neck. We’ve seen it over the years at both Brisbane and Carlton that she loves to attack the contest and hurt her opposition every chance she can get. Her kicking can go haywire at times but if the Dees are to go very deep in 2022, she’s got to be a major contributor on the scoreboard.

There’s plenty of forward support for her to help thrive: Kate Hore and Shelley Scott were the leading goal-kickers at Melbourne last season with 22 goals between them. Bannan kicked 6.6 in an impressive first season, whilst Jackie Parry is another player that will be one to look out for, having been impressive at both AFLW and VFLW level as a half-forward type of player.

They also need to be more accurate in front of goals this year – Melbourne was statistically the worst team in the competition for accuracy, kicking 60.77 for the season. It cost them games against the Bulldogs and Collingwood early in the season, could’ve easily cost them both of their games against Fremantle and it eventually cost them a spot in the Grand Final, kicking just one goal from ten scoring shots against Adelaide.

It’s not a massive issue, because Melbourne’s forward line is quite lethal when it’s on target; on four separate occasions, they kicked seven goals or more in a game – they just need to find a little more consistency with their accuracy.

Throughout the 2021 season, I was often left mesmerised by their defensive unit. It isn’t overly tall, but they still managed to be the sixth-best defence in the home and away season.

With the success of Sinead Goldrick both in 2020 and the limited time she got on the park in 2021, they unearthed another handy Irish player in Lauren Magee, who did a stellar job in limiting the influence of Gemma Houghton in the Qualifying finals. Whilst she’s not a high-possession, impact player just yet, she does have the athletic attributes to play a strong role in their defensive five.

Gabby Colvin is another player I grew quite fond of over the course of last season. She got handed some big jobs as a key defender as the season progressed and gave 110 percent in each encounter. Meg Downie’s retirement means that there might be bigger roles or workloads in store for both Magee and Colvin in 2022.

Shelley Heath is in a similar boat to Colvin with how much I enjoy watching her compete amongst some of the game’s quickest forwards. Her duel with Brisbane’s Courtney Hodder at the back end of the home and away season was one of the most thrilling duels I had the privilege of watching throughout the 2021 season. Her quick speed and tenacity towards the ball makes her one to look out for.

And then, of course, we’ve got Daisy Pearce – what does Mick Stinear do with her this season? For years, we’ve known Daisy as the midfield maestro, but in 2020, she proved to be a revelation in defence and last season, she was thrown forward and did some very nice things and helped set up goals for her teammates.

She’s still among Melbourne’s best 21 but finding a position is going to be a challenge when there are others who are just as capable in filling in a role in many positions of the ground. The good thing is that she can be used in any position as a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ situation, she has proven over the past few years she’s adaptable in many positions and can make it stick for the Dees.

There’s no doubt that the target for Mick Stinear and his troops this year is a premiership. They’ve got the core base of this team ladled with superstar talent, it’s just a matter of how the players they’ve brought in over the off-season are going to gel with the rest of the team – shouldn’t matter too much if they adapt and buy into the plan quickly.

 

The Fixture

Round 1: vs Western Bulldogs (Away)
Round 2: vs Richmond (Away)
Round 3: vs St Kilda (Home)
Round 4: vs Adelaide (Away)
Round 5: vs Gold Coast (Home)
Round 6: vs GWS (Home)
Round 7: vs Brisbane (Away)
Round 8: vs North Melbourne (Home)
Round 9: vs Fremantle (Away)
Round 10: vs Carlton (Home)

 

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Western Bulldogs

2021 Record: 5 wins, 4 losses (8th)
2022 Season Prediction: 6th

At the start of the 2021 season, the Bulldogs had a plan mapped out that saw them aim for two premierships by 2025.

It’s very bold considering the two lean years they’ve had prior, but as we’ve seen in the men’s competition, it’s something that can be achieved and the Dogs’ 2021 was nothing but positive, winning five games and finishing just a game and percentage shy of the top six.

Of course, there remains some work to be done, they were blown out against Adelaide and Collingwood and not strong enough to take down North Melbourne, but how many Bulldogs supporters would’ve said at the start of 2021 that they’d win five of their nine games? I certainly didn’t think it was possible.

The wins against Carlton and Melbourne were very important for the Bulldogs, important in the sense that when they put their heads down, their best football can take on some of the better sides in the competition. And they showed that in their first half against Collingwood, they managed to keep them goalless before the Pies kicked away in the second half.

The positive win-loss record on-field translated into a very good recruiting drive off-season. Two older bodies in Elle Bennetts and Richelle Cranston offer plenty in terms of leadership, setting the standards on the training track and what they can contribute on game day.

Bennetts was in the All-Australian squad of 40 in 2020 on the back of displaying her elite intercept abilities and brilliant run and drive off the half-back line for the Giants. She did show in her last year in the orange that she can also play further afield, averaging nearly 15 disposals per game in 2021, going at just under 68 percent effectiveness.

Wing positions are an area of the ground that the Dogs have had a shortage on over the past year and a bit. Bailey Hunt has been a mainstay in the past couple of seasons, Brooke Lochland played higher afield last season than she has in past years, and a few of the younger brigade helped cover the position too. Bennetts’ inclusion should help cover this and add a little extra flexibility to the playing list as well.

Cranston faces a fresh start at the Bulldogs after a poor year at the Cats in 2021, which ultimately led to her delisting. What position Nathan Burke chooses to play her will be interesting to see, having seen her play deep forward and further afield as a part-time midfield option at Geelong.

In 2021, the Dogs lacked the small and mid-sized forward options that the competition’s elites possess. The key forward combination of Izzy Huntington, who averaged over two contested marks per game in 2021, and Bonnie Toogood kicked a total of 21.14 last season and were one of many big positives from the 2021 season.

Kirsten McLeod is a dynamic player in her own right, and despite kicking 7.2 in 2021, got double-teamed a little bit as the season progressed. Cranston’s inclusion will help ensure that the opposition defences get a little bit more stretched and help make what is already a very dangerous forward line, even more potent.

The Bulldogs’ defence – especially in the early stages of the year – was perhaps the biggest thing I was impressed with. Katie Lynch was one of the more unheralded recruits of the year, with the former Pie being re-tooled from key forward to a centre-half back option who can not only beat her opponents one-on-one but can also float in for intercept marks.

Her partner-in-crime Ellyse Gamble broke out and played all but one game in 2021 – the most of her career to date. Whilst not as prolific in terms of picking up disposals and rebounding, she plays the traditional full-back role, with the number one focus in stopping her direct opponent – a role I thought she handled admirably with her strength and mobility.

Complimented by the likes of Eleanor Brown, who had a much-improved year with her ability to read the play more consistently and her ability to rebound out of the defensive 50 gone up a level. Sarah Hartwig looks like she’s well and truly on her way to being an elite of the game with her aerial work as well as her pace and poise when the ball is in her hands.

Ashleigh Guest is another unheralded hero of the back five. She’s the marshal of the defensive half – she leads with her actions and sets the example of the younger core of Dogs by putting her body on the line when called upon to stop the opposition from scoring a goal. She’s not the flashiest player, but she is easily one of the most determined in the side.

But the biggest question about the Dogs is how their midfield depth will stand up this year. Ellie Blackburn clocked in another stunning year as the captain in 2021 and Kirsty Lamb enjoyed a career-best year, but some of the younger pups need to start to stand up and help spread the workload if they’re to take the next step.

Gabby Newton’s shoulder injury will put her out for the whole season, which is a shame, because she’s a player that can help elevate the club to where it needs to be. She’s got good size on her, has shown no problems winning contested ball and can also present as an option up forward.

Her injury opens up a spot for Alice Edmonds to get a second chance in 2022 after being delisted by Richmond. Perhaps a bit unlucky, considering the strong performances she puts together at VFLW level, but Edmonds should provide as a solid backup option to Celine Moody, who I expect to continue to improve after a strong 2021 campaign.

Amanda Ling had a terrific year in the under-19s competition, winning the best on ground medal for Oakleigh in the Grand Final, but that display didn’t impress recruiters enough to land inside the first round of the Draft, going at the Dogs’ first selection at pick 22. She’s already got a strong body that’s capable of the in-and-under stuff but is also a brilliant extractor out of stoppages – she’s a player that can feature prominently in 2022.

Watch out for Elisabeth Georgostathis to see if she can emerge as another genuine ball-winning midfield option. During the 2021 season, she got given a few run-with jobs over the course of the year and averaged over four tackles per game on top of averaging under 10 disposals per game. but her form at VFLW level suggests that she might be ready to take her game up another level or two in the new season.

Just as well, will we see Jess Fitzgerald play more midfield minutes after a very impressive debut season? The number two pick of the 2020 AFLW Draft was a big highlight as she showed just how much of an impact she can make with her possessions throughout the 2021 season.

She’s already got a very strong body, but also quite explosive out of stoppages and smart around goals. The sky is truly the limit for her and I wouldn’t be shocked to see her minutes split between midfield and forward – a season where she averages just under a goal per game would be brilliant for the Dogs as they push towards their first finals campaign since the 2018 premiership.

Interesting to note as well that the Dogs’ first five games of the 2022 season are all against the teams they beat in 2021. There’s no reason why they can’t do it again – at worst, even a positive record at 3-2 would be nice as they also face sterner challenges ahead.

They surprised many in 2021, I expect the Dogs to surprise even more in 2022; finals should be the aim for the Western Bulldogs and to do that, I think a seven-win season needs to be the aim, especially if they’re going to try and fulfill the two premierships by 2025 prophecy.

They need to close the gap between their best and worst and put away those games that they should be winning comfortably.

 

The Fixture

Round 1: vs Melbourne (Home)
Round 2: vs Geelong (Away)
Round 3: vs Carlton (Home)
Round 4: vs GWS (Away)
Round 5: vs Richmond (Home)
Round 6: vs Adelaide (Away)
Round 7: vs Gold Coast (Home)
Round 8: vs Collingwood (Away)
Round 9: vs West Coast (Away)
Round 10: vs Fremantle (Home)

 

 

Gold Coast

2021 Record: 0 wins, 9 losses (14th)
2022 Season Prediction: 13th

Encouraging signs in 2020 were then followed up with a horror 2021, which saw the Gold Coast Suns go through the season winless from nine matches.

New coach Cameron Joyce has got a lot of work to do this season if they’re to get back on track. This Suns’ side looked a shell of their 2020 version, no other way to describe it. They were encouraging in round one against Melbourne, but after their humiliation at the hands of their arch-rivals Brisbane a week later, it all snowballed into a disaster season.

They went through back-to-back weeks where they could only kick one goal for the entire match and conceded the highest score in the history of the AFLW when they lost to Carlton in round eight. Unsurprisingly, this led to the resignation of David Lake at the conclusion of the season.

It also didn’t help that the Suns also found some cruel luck on the injury front – Jacqui Yorston missed the entire season, Jamie Stanton missed a third of the season, their 2020 first-round pick, Annise Bradfield went down just two games into her AFLW career with a bad knee injury and the likes of Sarah Perkins, Tori Groves-Little, Britt Perry and Ellie Hampson all missed multiple games throughout the season.

But for that, there was a small silver lining, as they did get games out of their younger players. Lucy Single, Serene Watson and Daisy D’Arcy played every game last season, Maddi Levi played all but one game in her debut season and Wallis Randell played every game after making her debut in round five. These are the players that are the future of the Gold Coast Suns.

At the draft, they continued to stockpile on draftees, managing to get Charlie Rowbottom to commit out of Victoria and allowing the Suns to snare her with the first overall pick of the AFLW Draft. Through no fault of her own, it took her a lot longer than anticipated to get her to Queensland, but she’ll be ready to go come round one, with fans hoping she can impact right away.

Rowbottom is a player that possesses a great blend of athletic attributes and knowledge for how the game works. She’s already very powerfully built, quick off the mark and that translates to her abilities in the congestion and up forward, where she can also provide a handy target to kick to with her height and strength. She averaged nearly a goal per game for Oakleigh in the NAB League last season, whilst also maintaining averages of 17.6 disposals and 7.1 tackles per game.

She should get plenty of midfield minutes in 2022, but it’s also imperative that senior bodies such as Jamie Stanton, Ali Drennan and captain Hannah Dunn hold down the fort when the going gets tough, because the Suns will get put through the ringer this season by the top teams and will need all hands on deck for when it happens to minimise the damaging defeats as much as possible.

Statistically, Stanton had a down 2021 campaign in comparison to her best and fairest year. But you know exactly what you’ll get from her week in and week out, she’s a competitive beast, hell-bent on winning the football at all costs. Especially when she missed the last few games of the season with the ankle injury, she left a big void in their engine room – one that they couldn’t patch up fully.

Drennan had a career-best year after stints at both North Melbourne and St Kilda. Her style is quite like Stanton in being more a competitive beast than an all-round midfielder, she led the club for disposals, contested possessions, tackles and clearances in 2021. I expect nothing less than the same once the Suns’ season kicks off.

The development of Serene Watson throughout season 2021 was very interesting. She played a few games along the wing during the middle of the season and started off in the centre bounces towards the back end of the season. She averaged nearly seven contested possessions per game, so it’s clear that she’s well developed with her contested ball. She also finished the year with an average of 1.7 clearances per game, so it speaks some volume about her extraction abilities, could she play more permanently in the midfield?

Where’s Kalinda Howarth’s best position on the ground? More specifically, what is Joyce’s plan with her?

After a 2020 campaign that saw her win fans over with her terrific goal sense up forward and ability to rise to the occasion, she got found out a bit by opposition defences in the first half of the year and only kicked one goal as a result. She was moved up to the wing in the second half of the year and her averages shot up the board. From rounds six to eight, she averaged 17.3 disposals and 351 metres gained per game – for reference, she averaged 11.7 disposals and 214 metres per game for the entire season.

I’ve read about her being moved to half-back to be the main creator of the play, it should allow Lauren Ahrens and Jade Pregelj to carry on and play more of a defensive-oriented game style, and there aren’t many players in this side who are as quick and fluent with the ball in her hands than Kalinda. But for some reason, I like her a lot more on the wing, where she can help provide a neat link in the chain and help the Suns out connect the midfield and the forward line.

Speaking of both Ahrens and Pregelj, they remain important players for the Suns, both this season and beyond. Ahrens, having played with Essendon’s VFLW side in recent years, will have significant interest from the Bombers to join their AFLW team when they enter the competition from 2023, and that’s something the Suns can ill-afford to happen.

Ahrens won the club’s best and fairest in 2021 on the back of leading the club in metres gained, marks, intercept possessions and rebound 50s. She’s a player that was doing it all in the defensive half and despite the poor record, should’ve been more recognised by the competition for her efforts to hold it down, nearly single-handedly.

I say nearly, because Pregelj is a warrior in this team. At times, she was soundly beaten as a key defender, but she’s a player that always gives 110 percent. I think back to the game against Carlton last season where the Blues destroyed them, and Darcy Vescio kicked five on her. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, but more because the Blues put the ball out in front of Vescio in which Pregelj stood no chance, but she never dropped her head once.

Losing both Maddi and Teagan Levi to rugby commitments is a cruel blow for the Suns, Maddi showed in her debut year that she has got a bright future in footy whilst Teagan, who was drafted by the Suns in 2021, showed plenty in her under-18 year to suggest that she can emulate her sister on a bigger stage, perhaps even perform better.

But I do like the replacement signings of both Alana Barba and Tara Bohanna – both are ready-made AFLW players and should slot right into this Suns team come round one if they can get a clean run at pre-season.

Bohanna’s work rate and ability to position herself for scoring opportunities as a centre-half forward was something that impressed me the most at VFLW level for the Southern Saint, kicking 19.16 off of averaging 16.8 disposals and four marks per game in 2021. Barba is someone who can add another dynamic to the Suns’ midfield core, but also could play more forward, having kicked 11.12 across 17 matches for Essendon this year.

But also, don’t count out the local replacements either in Shannon Danckert and Jacqueline Dupuy for some regular senior time in 2022. Danckert was named the QAFLW best and fairest in 2021 playing in the midfield, whilst Dupuy is a player that finished runner-up, playing as a key forward option that can also play in the ruck.

The Suns will be aiming to get as close to the Finals as they can, but for me, there is no expectation with a new coach. Getting them to win games again will be a lot easier said than done, especially if they continue to persist with younger and more inexperienced players.

Maybe they do go back to square one, getting this team back to the level where they can compete and not get entirely blown out in games should be the priority for the Gold Coast.

 

The Fixture

Round 1: vs GWS (Home)
Round 2: vs West Coast (Away)
Round 3: vs Brisbane (Home)
Round 4: vs Richmond (Home)
Round 5: vs Melbourne (Away)
Round 6: vs Geelong (Home)
Round 7: vs Western Bulldogs (Away)
Round 8: vs St Kilda (Home)
Round 9: vs Carlton (Away)
Round 10: vs Collingwood (Away)

 

 

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