Tick tock… we’re under a month until the commencement of the 2022 AFLW season and as always, things are never dull. The Doc has part three of his season preview up and running, this time covering the Crows, Giants and Saints.

Before we get to that, if you missed parts one and two, they’re linked below.

 

AFLW Season Preview – Brisbane, Geelong, North Melbourne

 

AFLW 2022 Season Preview – Melbourne, Gold Coast, Western Bulldogs

 

Righto, we all caught up? Let’s jump in.

 

Adelaide

2021 Record: 8 wins, 3 losses (Runners-Up)
2022 Season Prediction: 5th

Is season 2022 shaping up to be Adelaide’s rendition of ‘The Last Dance’?

With Port Adelaide entering the competition in 2023, recent history indicates that the Power will be working overtime to nail down some critical pieces to their team and there are many viable targets at the Crows that will help fast track the development of some of their younger players from their academy.

I’m almost certain that the top of Port’s list is currently Adelaide’s most important player. Whilst the intentions of the Power’s recruiting drive aren’t known yet, they’d be mad to not to ask the question about Erin Phillips, whose father is considered by some as Port Adelaide royalty.

Phillips is 36, will be 37 in May next year, but is still producing elite seasons when fully fit, as last season indicated – leading all Crows for goals, kicking 14.9 but also averaging 16.5 disposals, nine contested possessions and nearly three clearances per game. Her professionalism is second to none, her conditioning at this age is ridiculously good, and her football IQ is amongst the competition elites.

She’s a player that could go on for as long as she likes and what she demonstrated in 2021 is more of her brilliance and understanding of how the game plays. Adelaide may have to prepare for life after Phillips, whether it be retirement or defection to Port Adelaide, but they’re already taking steps with that.

Phillips venturing forward last season resulted in big years in the midfield from both Ebony Marinoff and Anne Hatchard, and there is no doubt Port would love at least one of them on their side. The pair combined for averages of 44 disposals, 693.8 metres gained, 22.4 contested possessions, 7.7 inside 50s, and seven clearances per game as midfielders last season.

Whilst Marinoff is more the traditional in and under midfielder who has been a phenomenally consistent tackler over the years, Hatchard is more of an all-round midfielder, who puts up big kilometres weekly with her strong work ethic to run and spread. With this, she is able to link up more around the ground and push back defensively, averaging 4.3 marks and 5.2 intercept possessions per game.

Where they find others to help around the ground remain to be seen. Rachelle Martin enjoyed a good debut season in 2021, averaging 7.3 contested possessions – fourth behind all three of Marinoff, Hatchard and Phillips, whilst Teah Charlton showed in the Grand Final last season that she’s a player that can win her own ball and run through the midfield, although I’m not sure if the time is now for that.

Deni Varnhagen is not a star of this team, but she provided a very good option as the link-up winger in 2021. To see her sit out the year due to the COVID vaccine mandate is a harsh blow, considering that she has been one of the few players that has been in this Adelaide team since the start and has proven to be a very good role player over the years.

But what that does mean is that it enables an opportunity for one of the younger players to really step up and one player that I’ll be hoping gets more games in 2022 is Hannah Munyard. Her first year at the Crows since coming across from the Western Bulldogs only saw her play the three games and resulted in very little impact, but she’s a player who has a great knowledge of how the game works and is quite clever with her ball use.

Maddi Newman is another one to look out for over the new season – she has shown bits here and there but hasn’t played a lot of senior football in her short time on the list. Last season, she only played the two games on the back of playing four games in 2020. She played her two games in 2021 primarily on a half-back flank, and showed promise as a rebounding-type, but she’s smart enough in terms of holding her line and help provide another link to the chain in Adelaide’s offence.

The Crows also need to begin to plot the forward line for life after Erin. Last season, the Crows were the highest scoring side in the AFLW in the home and away season, averaging seven goals per game. Their two finals saw that decrease to 6.5 goals per game, but it still speaks of how potent this team can be in front of goal.

Alongside Phillips’ dominance, 2021 also saw the emergence of Ashleigh Woodland, kicking 9.10 on the back of averaging just under seven disposals and 1.7 marks per game and whilst Danielle Ponter also kicked nine goals for the year, she needs to find better consistency in hitting the scoreboard, going goalless in six of her 10 games in 2021.

But all up, that’s 32 goals out of the 71 that they kicked for the year. Going forward, they need to find other avenues to goal. Losing Chloe Scheer to the Cats is a big blow to their forward line plans, having kicked 5.4 last season after kicking 8.7 in Adelaide’s 2019 premiership year, but her departure leaves a spot for a small or mid-sized forward to step up.

Chelsea Randall was played more forward of the ball at times in 2021 after starring in seasons gone by as a key defender. At times she showed that ability to read the ball in flight excellently and it resulted in several scoring opportunities. Does she play a more full-time role in the traditional centre-half forward position?

She’s always had the marking hands and the aerobic ability to cover the ground. Her up forward would certainly ease pressure off Woodland a little, considering that teams will opt to try and double team her this season, and last season proved that the Sarah Allan can be that key pillar in defence with no issues whatsoever.

Back to the forwards, a lot of praise has been directed towards Eloise Jones and Stevie-Lee Thompson for their roles on the wing and half-back respectively last season, but does Matthew Clarke pull the trigger on one of them to go back into the forward line?

Jones, at her best, is very clever with how she uses the ball. The gap between her best and worst is still a little bit apart, but I thought the level of consistency she showed when on the wing in 2021 was better than when she was stationed in the forward line. Thompson’s speed and creativity with the ball in her hands feels more natural across half back as opposed to the forward line.

Another player I am big on is Nikki Gore. Whilst she does not pick up a high number of possessions per game, what she does bring to the table are effort and pressure and as we know in today’s football, tackle pressure is something that has become essential in the smaller players.

Gore spent most of her time in 2021 playing in the backline and I thought she applied herself to every contest and every one-on-one dutifully. But if the Crows have a shortage of small forward options, it might be something for Matthew Clarke to consider somewhere down the track.

Another thing that might not work in Adelaide’s favour are the number of elder heads that are on their inactive list for the upcoming season. Along with Varnhagen, the Crows are also without Angela Foley, who ruptured her ACL in last season’s Grand Final defeat, as well as Rhiannon Metcalfe and Jess Sedunary – both will miss due to work commitments.

There’s no doubt that Foley is the bigger loss, having been a terrific and consistent player in Adelaide’s defensive half since the start of the competition and had a very strong Grand Final up until her injury, but finding out who takes over the number one ruck mantle from Metcalfe looms as one of the most interesting subplots for the Crows heading into 2022.

There are a few players that can step up and help fill the void. Montana McKinnon has only played a handful of games since being drafted as a first-round selection back in 2019, she is one that needs a breakout year. Cailtin Gould averaged 12 hitouts across seven games last season and looks like she could be in the box seat as the number one option in 2022.

The Crows also picked up both Jasmine Simmons as a rookie selection and Zoe Prowse was taken as a first round selection in the 2021 Draft. Both also offer a lot in terms of their height and versatility, they too could also see some action during the year as they look to settle on a ruck combination this season.

Adelaide still has the talent to challenge for the flag one last time before Port Adelaide begin their assault on this list and they’ll be right up there again if the key players stay fit.

Where it goes from there, my guess is as good as yours, but one thing is for certain, as they say in for a lot of good sporting sides in many codes, all good things eventually come to an end.

 

The Fixture

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

 

 

GWS Giants

2021 Record: 4 wins, 5 losses (9th)
2022 Season Prediction: 12th

Every time I think about this Giants team, I’m often left with bewildering thoughts and confused regarding how they apply themselves to the competition.

I guess there’s some leniency to give them in 2021 after COVID forced them out of Sydney and on the road during the pre-season, in comparison to other teams, being forced to train away from home doesn’t make the job of making finals and beating those you need to beat to get there any easier.

In 2020, the Giants threw away a golden opportunity to put away Melbourne in the dying minutes of their finals encounter after a relatively positive year. But last season showed just exactly how far behind the pack Alan McConnell and the Giants are compared to not just the benchmarks, but the teams around them.

And with the Sydney Swans coming into the team ahead of the 2023 season, the Giants risk a further downward spiral if their crosstown rivals are successful in raiding their players next off-season.

The Giants won four games in 2021, but all of them came against the bottom four sides of the competition. The even more frightening thing about this is that in two of those games, the Giants won the match two goals to one – one in appalling conditions in Blacktown and the other to Geelong in an arm wrestle.

Their biggest issue remains how they utilise the ball moving forward. They were 11th in the competition for goals kicked, having averaged 3.7 goals per game last season. Cora Staunton was by a country mile, the team’s best forward, despite an accuracy going at 50 percent – slotting 10.10 across all nine games.

For someone who will be 40 by the beginning of the 2022 season, it’s absurd to think that she can still put in solid numbers at this stage of her sporting career. Only Tait Mackrill (Three goals) and Rebecca Privitelli (five goals) kicked more than two goals last season. In short, they need more from their forwards.

Just as important, there is also a correlation to the inside 50s they generate in their games. Let’s compare the number of inside 50 entries the Giants have generated this season to the teams that finished around them.

The Giants averaged 24.5 inside 50s in 2021. Of those around them, Carlton averaged 30.8, the Western Bulldogs averaged 27.6, Richmond (who the Giants didn’t play in 2021), averaged 28.1 and St Kilda averaged 22.8 per game. Just for comparisons’ sake – Adelaide and Brisbane averaged 34.9 and 30.2 inside 50s per game respectively last season.

The disconnect between the midfield and the forward line is obvious if you watch the Giants and how they play. Historically, they’ve never been a clean ball-using side, they’re more of a toughened team that requires a lot of smoothing around the edges and until they get that polished aspect of the game battened down, the Giants will be stuck in the middle.

Their three big-name midfielders – Alyce Parker, Rebecca Beeson and Alicia Eva are all very good players. All of them know how to find the footy, win the footy in congestion, and extract the ball out of stoppages.

Yet the key weakness is their efficiency with the ball, all three of them went at under 60 percent disposal efficiency in 2021. With Parker and Beeson, it’s expected for their efficiency to be lower, because both are premier inside midfielders, however, with an experienced head such as Eva, you expect a little more.

Parker’s already one of the best inside midfielders of the game and elevated this to another level, averaging career-highs in disposals, clearances, marks, contested possessions and metres gained last season.

But she has got to find the next step that elite midfielders like Erin Phillips, Jasmine Garner and Ellie Blackburn possess and that’s to hit the scoreboard. Parker only kicked one goal in 2021 after failing to kick majors in her first two seasons. Even lifting the goal average from 0.1 to something over 0.5 goals per game will help the Giants make strides this season.

It’s also worth mentioning how much the recruits will help this team in 2022. Whilst losing both Elle Bennetts and Jess Dal Pos to Victorian clubs is a blow to the side, the trio of recruits brought in will help cover the losses and possibly enhance the side just that little bit more.

The player I’m most excited about is the return of Chloe Dalton, having missed the 2021 season at Carlton due to her commitments to the Rugby 7s in the Tokyo Olympics. She’ll add plenty to this Giants side, having showcased throughout her time at the Blues that she’s got a great running ability, but also can hit the scoreboard and a bit of class that the Giants have lacked over the past few years.

Don’t discount what Katie Loynes can still do at this level. At worst, she’ll provide an extra veteran head to help set the standards at training and add an extra layer of depth in the middle. But it might also play into the Giants’ advantage as her in the midfield can offset players like Beeson and Parker to play more in the forward line and help add some more goals to the season total.

Keep in mind, we saw Loynes play more as a half forward in her last season in the navy blue in 2021 and we’ve seen how Brisbane used Lauren Arnell as the high half forward option that it could pay off if the Giants get enough of it forward of centre. Loynes averaged nearly three score involvements for Carlton last season and that’s a fair scalp considering how much time they got forward of centre and the scores they put on the board.

Jasmine Grierson will be at her third club, having previously been at both Melbourne and North Melbourne. She’s a player I can see playing as the ideal third tall defender that floats in and impacts every contest she can get to. She’ll be a very important piece to their defensive half. She’d certainly ease some defensive pressure off the likes of Louise Stephenson and Pepa Randall – both of whom try their best every week with little fanfare.

On top of their senior recruits, the Giants will be hoping for a few of their draftees to help step in and play a role in their bid to surge up the ladder.

Jess Doyle is a player that is well revered in New South Wales and was arguably the best draftee to come out of the state in 2021, averaging strong numbers for the Allies in the under 19 championships in her draft year. She’s a player that fills exactly what the Giants need in terms of forward craft and poise forward of centre.

Much like how Ellie McKenzie helped fix that problem of disconnect in Richmond’s midfield to their forward line, Doyle’s potential to do that is enormous. But it’s also worth pointing out that Doyle was the captain of the Swans’ academy team, so there’s every chance that 2022 is seen as a rental year for the Giants before she returns to where it all began.

Jess Allan’s move to the inactive list opens a spot for their top draft pick in 2021, Ally Morphett to get games early. The Giants played both Allan and Erin McKinnon as their ruck pairing in 2021 and averaged plenty of hitouts and displayed brilliant tap work, but around the ground, they didn’t exactly bring much to the table.

Morphett isn’t overly mobile for her size but has the intelligence around the ground to place herself into positions where she can make an impact as well as her solid ruck craft. She averaged over 11 disposals and kicked three goals as well as averaging 18.6 hitouts in five matches for Murray in the NAB League in 2021.

I would also like to see their younger players have more of a say in games this season. Tarni Evans played seven of nine games last season and showed a lot of promising signs as a link-up wing option. Tait Mackrill also played a career-best seven games last season and showed great work rate as a lead-up half forward and Emily Pease is a player I saw a little of in the VFL Women’s and is a player that has good potential as a permanent feature in their best 21 with her competitive nature and elite running ability.

2022 is a big season for the Giants, having been a ‘middle of the road’ team over the past couple of years. There’s no doubt that they’ll be aiming for the stars, but they must fix their disposal when they move the ball forward.

Their defence is solid – ranked seventh in the competition – but if the Giants can’t get the points on the board, then they will be in for a very rough few years when the Swans enter the competition.

 

The Fixture

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

 

 

 

St Kilda

2021 Record: 3 wins, 6 losses (11th)
2022 Prediction: 14th

It might roll off as a little cynical already, but there are plenty of signs that points towards a rough initiation phase for new coach Nick Dal Santo in 2022.

The Saints won two from six games in their inaugural year and were largely competitive in the remainder of their games, and a first-up win against the Western Bulldogs last season was another step in the right direction.

However, from rounds five to eight, the Saints lost all their games by an average margin of over 40 points, albeit three of those games came from teams who finished in the final four. A 56-point win against the Eagles away from home to close out the year would’ve been very pleasing to a lot of Saints supporters, but there is still a lot of work to be done to bridge the gap between their best and worst football.

But for that, we must address the elephants in the room – Tyanna Smith is out for the whole of 2022 as with a ruptured ACL suffered during the pre-season, whilst the immediate future of Georgia Patrikios is still up in the air due to the ongoing COVID vaccine mandate saga.

Should Patrikios elect to sit out, the Saints walk into 2022 without the two players who finished top-two in their best and fairest count last season and whilst there are options to cover them on the field, no player on their list can cover the talent both of them possess.

Patrikios is, without question, their best and most important player – someone that has proven she can both win it on the inside and out, but the reason why she is so highly rated by both the Saints and outsiders is in her abilities to be in the right spots to receive the footy consistently and use it for the betterment of her side.

She was second at the club behind Rhi Watt for contested possessions, averaged nine more disposals than the next highest disposal getter in the team and led all Saints for score involvements.

Is that part of the problem at the Saints? – too few high-level ball winners in the midfield? Out of the top five Saints in disposal averages in 2021, three of them are defenders, and two are midfielders – both Patrikios and Smith.

I loved watching Smith play every game in 2021 and with that, her confidence in her abilities to both win the contested possession, take the game on and kick goals grew within every match. The thing I enjoyed the most though is the fact she led all Saints for tackles, averaging over 7.5 per game – that sort of hard-edged defensive pressure is going to be missed this season.

So it begs the question – how do they go about it? There is no argument that they must prepare for if Patrikios decides to sit out.

Rosie Dillon needs a big year, if Patrikios doesn’t play, she could be one who thrives in this kind of situation. It feels like a long time ago that she was one of four winners of St Kilda’s inaugural best and fairest award.

Dillon doesn’t bring the same level of outside class the way someone like Patrikios does, but she is a very good inside midfielder. She averaged six tackles per game last season, a career best, however she averaged 6.7 contested possessions per game, down on the 8.8 per game she averaged in 2020.

Liv Vesely was another one of the four players that won St Kilda’s best and fairest in 2020 and will be another player to look out for in 2022 as she didn’t play a game last season due to ongoing calf issues.

Much like Dillon, Vesely is an in-and-under bull who provides excellent extraction abilities and feared tackler in her own right – averaging 7.7 contested possessions and averaging 4.3 tackles per game in 2020 – top four in the club in both statistical categories.

They will both address the contested aspect of the game to a certain extent, but neither really help address how they’re going to run and carry the ball.

Nat Exon could be in for a big season. At times last season, her presence as a more senior player was missed as she battled injury. Molly McDonald was another who missed a slab of the season due to injury, but is very strong link-up player on the wing.

I’ve also read that Tarni White could be in for more midfield time as well following a strong year off the half-back line. It’ll be hard to emulate what Patrikios can do as that two-way midfielder, but White’s a tremendous worker and has that capacity to run all day. Combine that with her smarts, and she could surprise a few people this season.

Looking elsewhere, Hannah Priest as the sole captain is a very good choice after the first two years of the club were led by multiple players.

Personally, multiple co-captains can cause potential to disrupt, and Priest was one of four last season but showed from her post in the defensive end that she is very good at beating her direct opponent, cutting off opposition entries and providing drive off half back – she lead all Saints last season for Intercept possessions and rebound 50s and was in the top five for disposals per game.

I like the move because it allows the predecessors – Cat Phillips, Kate Shierlaw and Rhiannon Watt to focus more on their roles for their team, which might help benefit the side. Shierlaw and Watt will most likely be relied upon in the key forward and ruck spots respectively, whilst Phillips’ elite running ability has been critical both at half back and further afield.

Shierlaw’s 2021 was impressive due to how strong her marking hands – second in the competition for contested marks, and not only that, her ability to lead up the ground and double back is up there as the best among key forwards. A return of 6.6 is solid, but not spectacular, but she’s the perfect partner-in-crime for Caitlin Greiser.

Whilst it’s not entirely on Greiser, because she managed 9.6 last season, there’s got to be more avenues to goal for the Saints. Between the pair, they kicked 15 of their 38 goals in 2021 and the fact that nearly half the total of goals kicked lies between the two key forwards is concerning.

I like what Jess Matin brings to the table – a three-goal game against the Eagles in the last game of the season shows that she knows where to go as a small forward and her sense around goals is impressive to watch too. At VFLW level she kicked 9.6 in six games, which if she can translate that into a full season in 2022, then it’ll go some way to helping the Saints curb their issue on over-reliance from their key forwards.

Ash Richards may be another one to look out for as the season progresses. She was a first-round pick in the 2021 Draft because of how crafty she can be in front of goals. She averaged over a goal per game for Dandenong last season in the NAB League and kicked four goals from five matches for Port Melbourne in the VFL Women’s. She doesn’t need to star straight away, but if she can maintain a healthy level of consistency – let’s say 0.7-0.8 goals per game – then she’s proven to be a handy selection.

Also, Nicola Xenos is back in the team after missing the entire 2021 season due to a knee injury. Xenos is a real grit and determination type of player, and her pressure towards the opposition was sorely missed last season, averaging over four tackles per game in 2020. What Dal Santo does with her will be interesting, but I’d like to see her played more as a small forward.

Another player that will be interesting to see develop is their top draft pick Ella Friend. She’s being touted to play more in the defensive half, but Friend’s height athletic attributes, strength and marking hands make her a very handy commodity for the Saints to have, potentially using her in a few other roles if they’re struggling.

There is a lot of young players to be positive about with this St Kilda team, but they are probably still a couple of years out from contending for finals. Getting games into the kids is key in 2022 and it will be made better if Patrikios finds her way back into the team before round one.

But in the words of Howard Jones; things can only get better.

 

The Fixture

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

 

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