We’re on the countdown to the commencement of the 2022 AFL season and Alex Docherty is concluding his season previews by covering the Pies and Eagles.

Check out below for the most comprehensive team previews in the business – links to previous teams covered at the conclusion of this article.

 

Collingwood

2021 Record: 8 wins, 3 losses (Eliminated in Preliminary Finals)
2022 Season Prediction: 1st

In a competition that you can argue that five or six teams at least can be considered the premiership favourites, there’s something about Collingwood that screams to me that they’ve got the spotlight on them and everything to prove in 2022.

The Pies opened up their 2021 account by winning their first six games and making the competition stand up and take notice – including wins against Melbourne and North Melbourne – before losing two of the last three of the home and away season, both of them coming against the two Grand Final sides.

The fact that they were less than a kick behind the eventual premiers by the time the final siren sounded in their preliminary final encounter says more than enough that they’re extremely close to securing the holy grail, and that alone should prove as a driving force to go at least one step further in 2022.

Everyone will talk about the midfield power that the Pies possess and rightfully so. Bri Davey was one of two league best and fairest winners in 2021 on the back of an insatiable appetite for the contest, averaging elite numbers all across the board. She’s a beast in the contested spaces and her ability to get her teammates involved in the play is something that doesn’t get spoken about enough.

Add to the fact that she also averaged 0.5 goals per game as well speaks a lot about her ability to push forward of centre and provide a viable scoring option and there’s very little wonder why she’s one of the top stars of the game.

But of course, it would be remiss not to mention Jaimee Lambert and Brittany Bonnici, as well, in amongst the midfield trio, as both were just as integral pieces in the midfield.

Bonnici enjoyed a career-best year, averaging career-highs in disposals, metres gained, marks, intercept possessions and inside 50s, showing more as a link-up option and with her work rate, was able to spread more and help Collingwood with their chain of possessions more.

Lambert was more of the inside grunt to aide Davey, second to her in clearances, contested possessions, and tackles within the club. But was also second in the club for score involvements and kicked four goals in 11 matches, which shows that she’s very potent forward of the ball, she has been since the competition’s beginning.

But the Pies’ midfield is more than just them. Steph Chiocci looked rejuvenated on the wing at times last season, whilst Joanna Lin on the opposing wing looks like she’ll be a very handy player in the years to come and the fact she played nine of a possible 11 games in her first year last season can attest to that – she’ll be one to watch.

But the midfield also rotates through players such as Mikala Cann, who is amongst one of the hardest competitors I’ve ever seen in women’s football, Ebony O’Dea who is a superb role player that is up to whatever task she gets thrown with and the classy Tarni Brown, who played every game in her debut season and didn’t look out of place.

There’s a lot of excitement and star power in the middle, but it’s the defence that I was left amazed by. It was the best in the league, only conceding an average of 21.1 points per game during the home and away season.

Stacey Livingstone has been the rock of the Pies’ defence for a few years now and last season showed just how consistent she was in not just beating her direct opponent, but in terms of setting up the counterattack and chopping off the opposition’s forward-50 entries.

But it was the vast improvement of Ruby Schleicher that was a key reason why the Pies’ defence was so stingy last season. She averaged career-highs in disposals, metres gained, rebound 50s, marks, intercept possessions and inside 50s last season, she also led the club in intercept possessions in 2021, averaging over 8.5 per game.

But like the midfield, there are others in the defensive half that don’t get the recognition that should and it’s because of these players that help make the Pies such a great defensive side.

Lauren Butler is a player that was enjoying a great year before injury took her out of the finals, she was playing a bit of both the negating role and the creating role, depending on the right matchups. Jordyn Allen was another player that was enjoying a fine year across the half-back line before injury ruled her out late in the year

Their two leading small defenders, Alana Porter and Sophie Casey play similar roles to Butler in the sense that they play the lockdown role first, before they spread and become another option to help the Pies move the ball forward.

There are two small concerns with the Collingwood list going into 2022 – the most obvious one is their ruck stocks.

Sharni Norder retired at the end of last season and opened a glaring hole in ruck. A hole papered over with the delisted free agent signing of Alison Downie from Carlton. Downie will most likely play as the leading ruck option in 2022, but at 37 she’s not the long-term ruck option that will palm the ball down to the star midfielders.

Look out for both Bella Smith and Amelia Velardo to make a bigger splash after impressive runs in their debut seasons. Smith played the six games playing predominantly as the backup ruck to Norder and enjoyed watching her competitive nature come to life.

Velardo only played the two games in the AFLW last season, but as a tall, has shown both at AFLW and state level that she can adapt in a lot of positions around the ground and has got the athleticism and the drive to make it in the top league.

Their forward line is their other issue, the Pies were ranked seventh in the competition for points for during the home and away season.

Chloe Molloy was the star in the forward 50 in 2021, slotting home 16.6 across 11 games and showcasing her talent on those who came before her. Her preliminary final was well below what she would’ve liked, but the fact that she is quick, powerful and deadly accurate in front of goals has proven to be a handful for so many defenders.

But the issue up forward for the Pies is the lack of key targets. The only other forward that was potent in front of goals last season was Aishling Sheridan, who, like Molloy, is more of a mid-sized forward. Also kicking 8.12 for the year is telling that her accuracy could be improved on a fair bit.

Sophie Alexander is a player that has her good games here and there and I like her as an option that can push further afield to be that ‘bail-out’ kick out of defence, but the tall targets drop off heavily after that.

In the off-season, they acquired Sabrina Frederick from Richmond, she is a player that fits exactly what the Pies are looking for; a tall target that can play out of the goal square, crash the packs and hopefully pop up for a goal or two.

She also played some minutes as the backup ruck at Richmond, so it could mean that the likes of Smith and Velardo will most likely be given more time to properly develop before being thrown into the deep end.

Imogen Barnett is another player that I could see playing some big minutes throughout the 2022 season. Barnett was picked up in the 2021 Draft through Collingwood’s VFLW program on the back of winning the league’s goalkicking award, slotting home 21.10 across 15 games. She’s such a strong reader of the play and has got a great set of marking hands on her, making it very difficult for opposition key defenders.

It’s going to be very hard to see the Pies not be at the business end of the season in 2022.

They’ve got a great combination of star talent and strong role players on every line of the ground and with the number of exciting young players that are in reserve, why can’t this be the year of the Pie?

The Fixture

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

 

 

West Coast

2021 Record: 2 Wins, 7 Losses (12th)
2022 Season Prediction: 11th

What’s to make of the West Coast Eagles this year?

2022 will be their third season in the competition and with that, will enter it with a third coach in as many years, with Michael Prior the next man to take the reigns of the blue and gold following Daniel Pratt’s departure at the end of the 2021 season.

What Pratt was able to do in the Eagles’ second season is help the Eagles find some stability on the field and the foundation is laid for Prior to take this side to another level or two in 2022.

Whilst the results will show that they’re still some ways from competing with the elites – 38-point loss to Adelaide, 45-point loss to Brisbane and a thrashing to West Coast in their second derby encounter of the season – they were competitive against sides such as GWS and Richmond as well as recording character-defining wins over the Gold Coast and Geelong.

What I thought was the most impressive about this is that the Eagles basically did all this without their star midfielder Dana Hooker in tow, after the midfield ace required surgery for slicing open a tendon in her foot.

It was one of the more bizarre injuries to happen in either AFL men’s and women’s, but what this also managed to unlock was finding more midfield options that will help an emerging ruck like Parris Laurie out and enable first use out of both stoppages and in the centre bounce.

In her first year at the club, Bella Lewis thrived in the middle and took home the Eagles’ best and fairest award. Simply put, I love how she goes about it – completely fearless at the ball and willing to put her body on the line for the club in moments of need.

She led all players for contested possessions, clearances and tackles last season and with another pre-season under her belt, will be a player that will be forcing the rest of the competition to take notice if they haven’t already.

Mikayla Bowen was another one who thrived in the absence, but as opposed to playing in the guts, she was stationed on the wing and made that position her own, and it was recognised by the league when she was named in the All-Australian squad of 40.

Bowen’s high work rate, quickness and intelligent positioning has made her already such a star as she enters her third year in the competition at just 20 years of age. She led all players for disposals, metres gained and marks last season and expect her to find another level or two in her game in 2022.

But the midfield is more than those two of course: Their captain, Emma Swanson leads from the front with a very hard approach towards every contest she can get to. Hooker’s absence last season meant that she was the one for the opposition to target most weeks and in turn, allowed other players to slip under the radar a little more.

Aisling McCarthy is another player who I expect will do great things in the midfield in 2022. After crossing from the Bulldogs at the end of the 2020 season, she slotted into this Eagles’ team seamlessly and averaged strong numbers in disposals, clearances, inside 50s and contested possessions before a knee injury wrecked her season.

And then when you throw in their two young prized draftees in Charlie Thomas and Courtney Rowley, there’s a lot to like about what the Eagles are doing in their engine room.

Thomas was taken as the first pick in the WA talent pool in the 2021 Draft, this was despite missing all year with a wrist injury. Her composure and skill with the ball in her hands will provide a handful for many opposition sides in the coming seasons. Her size as well at 175cm means that she’s going to be a powerhouse midfield in no time.

Courtney Rowley is the other young draftee to keep your eyes out for in 2022. She averaged some big numbers for Western Australia in the 2021 Under 19 championships and is a player that will bolster the midfield significantly with her ability to play both inside and outside, as well as provide pressure in the contest.

So, what does this mean for Hooker? She was trialled in the half-back line for a half against Fremantle in their practice match before Christmas and didn’t look out of place, could that be her new role in 2022?

Belinda Smith played very well as a rebounding half-back flanker last season, but there isn’t a lot of depth in terms of rebounding defenders and the Eagles have historically been a side that has been poor with their ball use around the ground. Having a seasoned veteran like Hooker dictate the play from half-back could be what helps the Eagles win an extra game or two.

Which does lead me to how they connect to the forward line from the middle of the ground. The Eagles were the third-worst scoring side in the competition in 2021 – behind both Gold Coast and Geelong. But their scoring was solid improvement on their 2020, when they averaged 14.1 points per game up to 25.4 points.

Imahra Cameron showed against the Cats last season that she can rip a game apart, but there’s plenty of room for consistency in her game. Grace Kelly topped the Eagles’ goal-kicking last season, booting 7.3 and showed plenty of signs that she could become a very good lead-up centre-half forward.

They’ve got the goal-kicking midfielders as well – Bowen kicked five goals, Niamh Kelly on the other wing booted three and McCarthy chipped in with two goals herself, but it’s the other forwards that have got to contribute for the Eagles to take the next couple of steps in their development.

Kellie Gibson operates better when she’s following the football around as opposed to playing her as a deep forward option. There’s a lot in what Ashlee Atkins can do as a small forward and despite the 1.5 she kicked last season, she averaged 3.1 tackles per game and proved that she can play as that pressure forward.

Aimee Schmidt from the GWS Giants is another player I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the upcoming season.

She’s a player that I sense is close to breaking out into a strong piece in any side, she had opportunities at the Giants up forward that she struggled to put away, but she’s smart enough to get into the right spots and smart enough to get scoring opportunities consistently – 3.5 for the Giants in 2020 followed by 1.2 in three games last season, she’ll have something to prove to a few people in 2022.

Andrea Gilmore is another player who I expect will take some big strides playing as the stay-at-home full forward. She competed well both as the key forward and the secondary ruck option and I sense that with the full year the WAFL Women’s competition got last season, she’ll be better off for it in the following couple of seasons.

The addition of Evie Gooch from Fremantle is a good one for the defensive half. It is actually incredible to think that Gooch was a factor in Freo’s impenetrable defence in 2020, but had a hard time holding down a spot in the defensive half last season, work commitments aside.

But in a defence that’s got capable lockdown and intercepting players such as Sophie McDonald, Courtney Guard, Tayla Bresland and Amber Ward, the Eagles’ backline in the new season is going to provide a more difficult challenge to put scores on the board if they can use the ball out of there effectively.

To kick start the year, West Coast are blessed with a three-game stand at home before they are to hit the road with three consecutive away games. Can three wins from their first six games be achievable? If they can continue to apply themselves at every contest, the Eagles can cause several problems for many a side in 2022.

Tread on West Coast with extreme caution.

The Fixture

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

AFLW Season Preview – Fremantle, Carlton, Richmond

 

AFLW Season Preview – Adelaide, GWS, and St Kilda

 

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

 

AFLW Season Preview – Brisbane, Geelong, North Melbourne

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