Welcome back to part two of my column about which players – both at state level and AFLW – should the expansion clubs go after.
Last week, I looked at who the two Victorian expansion clubs in Essendon and Hawthorn should target for their lists next season and this week I look at what kind of players should be on the radar for both Port Adelaide and Sydney as we approach what is sure to be one of the most hectic off-seasons we’ve had since the last time expansion happened.
Much like Essendon, Port Adelaide currently have not employed their senior coach, which can make things a bit tricky.
So for this instance, I’m going to play a bit of ‘what if’ on the potential of Port Adelaide’s list. I’ve heard the name of Krissie Steen being linked to the role and it’s very plausible, considering the entire discussion about women in coaching.
Steen is a proven coach in South Australia, having been a part of South Adelaide’s 2018 premiership team and North Adelaide’s 2020 unbeaten team that culminated in another flag. Safe to say that she’s got the system in place for success, and she has proven that she knows how to get the girls there.
So, let’s say Port offer the coaching gig to her and she accepts the offer, it then opens the idea of the type of side the Power may choose to bring in for 2023.
We’ll start at the Draft, because it’s also worth mentioning here that Port Adelaide will most likely have the first two picks of the South Australia portion of the draft, and as it currently stands, the two major standouts out of the state are Hannah Ewings and Keeley Kustermann.
Ewings you can just about lock it in as the best South Australian prospect this year. Amongst senior bodies in the SANFLW this year, Ewings currently averages 20.2 disposals, 4.6 clearances, 5.2 inside 50s, 3.8 marks and 3.8 tackles per game across five games of football so far this year.
She’s a player that’s got already an advanced skill set, a terrific balance of playing inside midfielder and out and is already proving herself in front of goals too, kicking five goals from five matches, including two games in which she kicked a pair of goals – round one against West Adelaide and round five against Woodville-West Torrens.
Kustermann is a player that has scope to play in the midfield but has also seen time across half-back and half-forward and her creativity can be a big asset to whoever picks her up in the off-season.
Her averages for West Adelaide so far this year bear 19.6 disposals, 6.8 tackles, 2.8 clearances, 2.2 rebound 50s and 3.4 inside 50s. Her versatility will be key for Port Adelaide in the first couple of years in the competition.
But a lot can change between now and the AFLW Draft, which will happen around July you’d expect, perhaps even earlier, depending on what the plan is for the 2023 season and when that starts.
It’s also worth mentioning that Port Adelaide will be looking at their Next Generation Academy girls in the coming years – big one to look out for is Lauren Young, who will miss the entire SANFLW season after rupturing an ACL – big shame that is, because as a 15-year old, she really took the senior league by storm last year, taking home the SANFLW best and fairest.
So, as we look at who Port can take from AFLW lists, the main one we’ll be looking at is through the Adelaide list, however, there are other players at other clubs that will struggle to resist the lure of playing football back in their home state.
West Coast have Amber Ward on their list, who played in North’s 2020 premiership team and is steadily developing herself as a key defender of the future. Not an intercept marking defender, but she is more of your traditional one-on-one player.
Britt Perry from the Gold Coast Suns is a player that has seemingly fallen out of favour, having just played in the Suns’ loss to Melbourne back in round five. She’s a player that has proven herself to be a viable small forward option but has been overlooked in favour of the younger players in this team.
Another player from the Suns who has played under Steen at North Adelaide in the past is Cheyenne Hammond. Not a big possession getter, but Hammond is more of a role player that can run through a handful of positions across the defensive half of the ground and be an effective piece to the puzzle.
They could also look to Leah Cutting at St Kilda to come back home to South Australia, where she has been a widely regarded ruck option over the years. Having seen a couple of Saints games that she has been involved in this year, she’d be a solid and ready-made option for the Power come round one next season.
There’s no doubt that the Power will look at signing open-age players from the state league as well and given that there was some talent that nominated last year in the Draft that went undrafted, they could stock up on these players, alongside some established state league players.
I look at a player like Gypsy Schirmer and there is so much scope for development. 19 years of age, a tall prospect of 178cm, got great athleticism and a willingness to work and has that versatility to play many roles – from half back to wing to up forward, she’s a player that’s got the tools to be something great.
Zoe Venning is another teenager that boasted great inside numbers in the under 19 championships last year but was overlooked by the Crows. She’s already a very good tackler and is astute at winning contested ball, but the scope for her to be an elite clearance player is there – she had a game against Woodville West-Torrens earlier this year in which she had eight clearances in a hefty loss.
One last player I’d like to mention is Jade Halfpenny – turns 20 in May and is a player that has shown in her games at Norwood this year that she should be playing a level above. At 175cm, she’s got the athleticism and the smarts to play in various roles across the midfield and the forward half. Her strength as well makes a very dangerous target in a one-on-one.
So let’s talk Crows. I think we can almost put to bed the notion of Erin Phillips (providing that no bad injuries happen between now and end of season) being in Port colours in 2023, why wouldn’t you have at least one more season and write one last chapter into the Phillips family history at Port Adelaide?
But looking elsewhere, there’s two big targets at the Crows who have played under Steen in the past and are currently listed under the North Adelaide team this year – Anne Hatchard and Ashleigh Woodland, both have been extremely vital pieces to the Crows’ team this year. Hatchard’s work rate is something of a must in any midfield, whilst Woodland’s ability to clock goals on the board has been a big positive of the Crows’ this season.
The Crows have got good ruck depth – Cailtin Gould and Montana McKinnon have done sterling jobs in tandem this year and Rhi Metcalfe is on the inactive list this year. But seeing McKinnon play under Steen at South Adelaide in the 2018 premiership prior to being drafted, I think she looms as the most gettable talent.
Finding a partner-in-crime for her is critical if she is to have the same successes, she has had this year, because her best football is more around the ground than it is in ruck contests – This is where signing a player like Cutting is crucial. Would Jess Allan – currently on the inactive list at GWS – accept a call to come back to South Australia?
Other players on Adelaide’s list that have played under Steen at either North or South include Hannah Munyard, Lisa Whiteley and Nikki Gore – Gore could be the most likely, given that she is struggling to get back into the Adelaide team, but acquiring Munyard might be the one that gets a few other of the younger players like Maddi Newman, Teah Charlton and Chelsea Biddell across.
This is probably the hardest team to think about, because there are many elements to think about when it comes to who the Swans should aim to get on their list and who could be seen as gettable.
Looking at their state league, the depth of talent isn’t as big as what the other states around them have, which could force the Swans to look at other aspects to build their list.
They do have their Academy and there are names that have come up as potential signings – players like Ruby Sargent-Wilson, Maddy Hendrie, Ella Heads and April Devine have all made appearances for the Allies in the under 19 championships last year and are players that can easily be in the maiden AFLW squad next year.
I’m big on Sargent-Wilson. She’s still relatively new to the game of Aussie Rules, but she is a player that is coming along with her development in leaps and bounds. Athletically, she’s already an elite and whilst she’s seen time across the defensive half, there is a lot of upside to her game, I can see her play minutes in 2023 with her approach to contest.
Hendrie and Devine are 180cm+ players that have both got tons of upside about them. Devine looks like she’s best situated as that forward-ruck hybrid and with some further development, could be a real handy piece. Hendrie offers more versatility in the sense that she can play forward, back and ruck – a real beauty if developed right.
Heads has done her best work playing across the half back line, she’s a tough player to beat in a one-on-one, but has also done plenty of rebounding work too and has potential to be a top-line rebounding defender in later years.
There are two players currently on the Giants’ list that were previously tied down to the Swans’ Academy program too in Jess Doyle and Isadora McLeay.
McLeay was seen initially as a replacement player, having lost Emily Goodsir prior to the season kicking off due to pregnancy, however she ruptured her ACL on the eve of the season. But the potential for her to be the next star full back of the next decade is huge. She’s got good strength and mobility-wise was tracking nicely.
As for Doyle, well it had to be circled down as soon as the Giants took her in the Draft last year. She was captain of the Swans’ Academy side and as a forward-midfielder, has already been able to show that she can hit the scoreboard in a GWS forward line that I can only describe as dysfunctional and too focused on Cora Staunton.
There are other Giants in this team that should be looked at as well. None more so than Alyce Parker, who is far and wide the best Giant on the roster. One of the best contested ball winners in the competition, Parker is as tough as they come and her ability to extract so brilliantly so consistently is currently being wasted at the Giants.
I’d look to more of their younger core of players than any of their established players. I’ve criticised a lot about Erin McKinnon’s lack of presence following her ruck contests, but her tap work still holds up as some of the best the competition has. Bringing her across would help out the Giants a lot whilst some of their Academy kids grow and build themselves into their bodies.
Players like Em Pease, Georgia Garnett, Tarni Evans – even players hitting mid-20s like Ally Dallaway and Libby Graham are players that would be ideal to build in areas around the ground that would fit a star like Parker.
Conversely, we can look outside the box and look down towards Victoria and there are two clubs of interest that Sydney should target – North Melbourne and Collingwood. The reasoning for that is simple – The Swans’ head coach, Scott Gowans, has been there, knows a lot of the players.
There was a story last week broken by CODE’s Daniel Cherny that Sarah Rowe was being targeted by the Swans. Rowe’s form over the past couple of years has been strong, seeing her focussed more on the wing and being that outside midfielder – her pace is her strongest asset and seeing as Gowans worked with the midfield group at Collingwood both last season and this season (before signing at Sydney), it makes some sense.
It wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to make a play towards Rowe’s partner-in-crime (on the socials anyway) in Ruby Schleicher who after breaking out in 2021 as a star defender, has found another level to her game this year, showcasing both elite intercept and rebounding qualities and has saved the Pies on many occasions this year.
If Schleicher commits to the Pies, does the carrot dangle towards Chloe Molloy to jump ship? We know she had that speech about loyalty a couple of weeks ago when the Pies played North, but she’ll be put through the ‘money talks’ test over the off-season.
North Melbourne is where Gowans was senior coach and having been a part of the Melbourne University VFLW club before that, there are a couple of players that could follow him up North.
Ash Riddell is at the top of the pile. We know how good she’s been for the Roos this season, her tank is elite, her appetite for the contest is elite and her football IQ is elite. Imagine if you’ve got a midfield that starts with Riddell and Parker? One a contested beast and the other a brilliant outside running player.
Does a player like Tahlia Randall fit onto their list? She turns 24 in May; and with her prime years yet to come, we’ve seen her put the runs on the board as a key defender and only this season has she really began to add that string that is her ability to impose as a key forward and emerge as a versatile option.
Big-name key forwards have been synonymous with the Swans in the men’s team over the years – We’ve seen Lockett, Hall and Buddy don the red and the white in years gone by. Do we get a similar situation with their women’s program?
At North Melbourne and Collingwood there are no real key forwards that jump out of the page and give you that star factor. Elsewhere in Victoria however, the Bulldogs have got three very good key forwards in their midst, and I wonder about how they manage to fit all three of them inside the same forward line next season.
Izzy Huntington is coming back from a third knee reconstruction, but her contested marking is almost on another planet compared to most other key forwards in the competition. Too risky? Perhaps, but a healthy Izzy Huntington is a match-winner.
Bonnie Toogood is hitting her prime years and Nell Morris-Dalton is beginning to emerge as a star talent before our very eyes. It’d be remiss not to ask the questions to any of them about the potential to jump ship.
However – and I will credit Peter Holden from WARF Radio for suggesting this one – I will end this part by suggesting that the Swans offer the big dollars for Tayla Harris to come across from Melbourne. She’s by far the most marketable player in the competition and having seen what she has done at Melbourne this year, you’d have to be a moron to ignore what she has produced on-field this year.
But, having said that, she does look happy at Melbourne and that’s unquestionable. It may take some talking to get her out of Demons colours. Money talks and Tayla is certainly one that will listen if it’s loud enough.