AFLW – What I’m Looking Forward To – Round One

The AFLW season is nearly upon us, and while I’d love to get as much AFLW content on the Mongrel as possible, there’s only so much time that I can dedicate myself: work commitments, commitments to WARF radio, work on the A3 Footy Podcast and on top of that commitments outside the line of work – life right?

As I was at the gym on Monday night working away on the weights, I was thinking, how could I try to get as much coverage as possible with what little spare time I’ve got?

For those who enjoyed the Likes and Dislikes Columns I did last year, please don’t panic, they’re not going anywhere, but I’d like to do at least one more thing during the week

Having reflected on what I’ve done over the years, in conjunction with reading content around the net, I thought I’d try out something new

Call it a bit of a preview if you must, but at least this week, I’d try to branch out across all nine games and write down what I’m looking forward to most from each game. There are some big games to kick off round one, and there are some, well… as much as I love the game, some match-ups are better left with very little to say.

With all that said, here are the things I’m looking forward to in Round One of the AFLW.


MELBOURNE V COLLINGWOOD – The New Magpie Midfield/The Return of Eliza Mac

I couldn’t split the two. But just a quick one on Eliza McNamara because I did mention her when I covered the Melbourne season preview. But having her back will be an enormous boost for the Dees. It feels a bit weird saying it, because they just won the flag, but a player with McNamara’s ability to run all day along the wings is something that every team should strive for, and the fact Melbourne did it without her in the team is bloody frightening.

One thing I haven’t talked about in a while is Collingwood and their new-look midfield structure. It’s exciting to see Bri Davey and Brittany Bonnici in this team again, and fingers crossed they can get through a fit and healthy season because the competition and the fans are much better for it. But Tarni White has become a fascinating case.

White was part of the big trade that also saw Grace Campbell move to the Pies, both Steph Chiocci and Jaimee Lambert go to St Kilda and Kate Shierlaw land at North Melbourne.

She’s not a big gatherer of disposals or clearances, but one thing you’ll always get from her is defensive effort, and White averaged 6.6 tackles per game in seasons seven and six. Add Mikala Cann to the mix, and the midfield can go far into the finals.

Just for the record, last season, the top four midfielders who attended centre bounces at the Pies last season were Lambert, Chloe Molloy, Ruby Schleicher and Aishling Sheridan. Two are no longer at the club; the others were played out of their preferred positions.

What will also be interesting is to see who gets the job at Collingwood for the first ruck ahead of this game. Imogen Barnett was promising late in the season after a difficult time up forward, and Sabrina Frederick looks more effective when she’s up and around the contest.


CARLTON V GOLD COAST – The Debut of Alana Gee

I would describe how Carlton responded to a dismal season seven that saw a coaching change and a bit of a turnover in players and how they’d go first up in life after Daniel Harford.

But the news of Alana Gee making her debut is too good to ignore.

Gee was forced to sit out season seven of the competition due to an ongoing back injury. Still, before that, she was touted as one of the best talents in a 2022 draft pool that boasted players like Ella Roberts, Jasmine Fleming and last season’s Rising Star Winner Hannah Ewings.

What makes her such a great player to look out for is her athleticism, ability to burst away from a stoppage, and the numbers she can put out in many roles for the side. She was named Queensland’s MVP in the Under-18 championships last year after averaging good numbers: 24 disposals, three clearances and just under four marks per game across the three games.

It’ll be interesting to see where she lines up; will she play straight in the middle and bolster an excellent midfield unit led by Charlie Rowbottom and Ali Drennan? Or will Cameron Joyce bide some time with her and hand her a lesser role around the forward half as an extra hand around the stoppages?


ADELAIDE V PORT ADELAIDE – Homecoming for Ash Saint

The Showdown is always an excellent encounter in the men’s competition, and last year’s first-ever women’s showdown was good to watch if you were a Crows fan.

There’ll be a little spice to this one with former Adelaide spearhead Ash Saint (nee Woodland) fronting against her old side for the first time since making the crossover to Port Adelaide during the off-season’s sign and trade period.

A league-leading goalkicker and premiership full forward, it’ll be interesting to see – not just this week – but how Port Adelaide goes about with Saint as a focal point throughout the season. Last year, the Power struggled with options down forward; Gemma Houghton was injured for a significant portion, and Erin Phillips had to make do at times being a key target.

With Saint, you’ll get someone elite on the lead, a reliable set shot for goal and someone who will add, on average, two goals a week with a good supply. The Power showed in glimpses last year that they are a side that will hunt down the opposition when they don’t have the ball but lacked the polish on the transition to make sides hurt.


GEELONG V WESTERN BULLDOGS – How can the Dogs combat the midfield?

Geelong were probably the side that was most unlucky to miss out on the top four, having had such a solid second half to the season. It is perhaps even unluckier that they ran into a North Melbourne side who eventually ran close to getting to the Grand Final.

It’s become a common football cliché that games are won and lost through the midfield, and that’s where I can see this game being determined. Alice Edmonds will have a good duel with Erin Hoare, should she be selected for her first game in quite some time.

Ellie Blackburn, Kirsty Lamb, Jess Fitzgerald against Amy McDonald, Georgie Prespakis and Becky Webster. That’s a mouth-watering on-ball match-up. Others will roll through their respective midfields, but that’s the core of both sides.

The last time these two sides met was a thriller of an encounter, with the Cats having to withstand a late fightback from the Dogs to get out of Ballarat with the four points. Fitzgerald and Blackburn combined for 17 clearances for the Dogs, but Nina Morrison (18 contested possessions) had one of her finer games of the season.


HAWTHORN V ESSENDON – The Hawks recruits

More of the fanfare was on the Bombers in the corresponding fixture last year for a few reasons, namely because of their list build and how dominant the VFLW side was in the lead-up to season seven.

This off-season, the focus shifts to Hawthorn, who surprised many sides with their attack and endeavour in the contest by the end of season seven. They were one of the top tackling sides in the competition, led by the work of Tilly Lucas Rodd and Tamara Smith. Add the classy pair of Emily Bates and Greta Bodey to the side this year; you wonder just how many wins they can add with their core already.

Bates is understandably the more impactful addition of the pair. Her inclusion in the midfield will ease the pressure off the younger players like Jasmine Fleming and Charlotte Baskaran so they can do their roles in the side without any extra defensive attention. Give this midfield another season or two to gel properly, and it will be something to behold.

The Hawks have a genuine chance to get one on Essendon if they can get a stranglehold on Maddy Prespakis in the guts. The Dons will need to rely on the debut of Georgia Nanscawen to help them fight the good fight in the midfield and big performances from Daria Bannister and Steph Cain.

The inclusion of Bodey up forward will help the Hawks massively. Hawthorn were 16th in the competition for points scored and realistically will need improved output from the likes of Tahlia Fellows (six goals last season) and Aine McDonagh (four goals) if the Hawks are to get an additional couple of wins.



Kate Shierlaw may be the last piece of the puzzle to get North Melbourne to their maiden premiership. All eyes will be on what she can produce in this Kangaroos side after a solid first-up performance in the practice match against the Bulldogs.

There’s no doubting the potency of Tahlia Randall and Emma King as the talls. Still, Shierlaw is the more agile and likelier player to be dangerous at ground level or potentially as the bail-out option if North are stuck in the defensive half.

Shierlaw kicked 13.4 last season in a side that struggled towards the second half of the season, but imagine what happens with a side that can get the supply down forward and have the options down forward that can kick a winning score consistently.

The Saints will have Jesse Wardlaw down the other end, and it’s going to be interesting to see how that all unfolds as the season progresses – the Saints don’t have the cattle to get it down forward as cleanly and as efficiently as how the Lions handed it to her at times last season.

But for North to be considered a genuine premiership threat this season, they need a good win to start things off and their forwards to click at the right time.


SYDNEY V GWS – It’s time, GWS

It’s easy to look at Sydney and, given their off-season, put the spotlight on them for what could be their first win in the AFLW. They were dreadful in season seven but returned to the recruitment drawing board and secured some critical players in Lucy McEvoy and Chloe Molloy. I’d also consider Laura Gardiner in that bracket – a few years in the system and plenty of opportunity for midfield minutes at this Swans side.

But the Giants must stand up and deliver an emphatic performance this weekend. They were challenged this week by Sydney coach Scott Gowans about having work to do with their processes. Bit cheeky, I’d have thought, but if you are a Giants player reading this, you’d be pissed at those comments.

Sure, it’s taken them some time, but I think they’ve got a list capable of being on the right path. I like their forward line a bit more this year; I guarantee it will be more unpredictable than having Cora Staunton as the focal point in past years. I loved what Georgia Garnett brought to the table last season in a positional change. Jess Doyle is on a promising burn, Zarlie Goldsworthy is coming into the year in excellent form, and when Izzy Huntington gets fit, that opens up another dangerous target.

I’ll always be eager to watch Alyce Parker go to work around the stoppages and win more than her share of contested ball. There are good wraps on the likes of Em Pease and Ally Dallaway, and you’ve got the uber-reliable Alicia Eva, who can play through there, too. How Annise Bradfield will be utilised will be another fascinating development. She was a top pick for the Gold Coast a couple of years ago, but injury meant she never got a fair crack at it. But fully fit, she’s got a place in the Giants’ best 21.

It should be a fiery contest, but the Giants must win and win big.


BRISBANE V RICHMOND – Who steps up in the Lions Midfield?

Two big holes are left in the Brisbane side; one that remains to be seen is who fills the void in the forward line. But the Lions have got players primed to step up in the middle with Emily Bates no longer at the club.

Ally Anderson becomes the player people draw to because she’s already such an accomplished player, but it’s going to be those around her that I’m interested to see. The one everyone is talking about is Belle Dawes – and with good reason. Because she’s a player who leaves no stone unturned when she attacks the footy and wins it at the coal face, she’s also a pretty good tackler.

Speaking of tacklers, does Cathy Svarc’s role change to a more offensively-minded game? We know she’s an incredible defensively-oriented midfielder, one of the most disciplined run-with players in the competition.

We’ve seen Courtney Hodder roll through their at times last season, but given their sudden deficiencies forward of centre, I think it will be less likely to see that this year. Ellie Hampson should see more midfield minutes this year after coming across from the Gold Coast, while some are touting Mikayla Pauga as a player likely to step up within the best 21 this year. She performed strongly against the Suns in their practice match two weeks ago.

So I think they’ve got coverable depth. Let’s see if they’ve got the cattle inside 50 for a winning score.


FREMANTLE vs. WEST COAST – Just the entire game in general

This will be the most intriguing derby we’ve seen from these AFLW sides since the Eagles came into the competition in 2020. Since then, they’ve been belted from pillar to post by a Fremantle side that has primarily been seen as a top-six side at worst… until last season.

I want to see where these teams are well and truly at, and I think we’ll get some indication of where they will be at the end of this game. An Eagles win will be huge for them in the future. An emphatic Fremantle victory will speak volumes about them.

Before the appointment of Lisa Webb as head coach, I was thinking West Coast may finally get their all-elusive win over the Dockers this year, but now I’m not so sure. They looked good in their practice games, and you forget that they’ve got some great core players on their roster: Kiara Bowers, Hayley Miller as captain, Ebony Antonio, when fit, is a great player to have in wherever you’d like to place her, a solid defensive unit and a key forward in Aine Tighe to work around.

I’m buoyant on the Eagles list; there’s much to work with going into the future. Big seasons are coming from the likes of their young golden stars; we know Bella Lewis is right on the cusp of being elite if she isn’t considered one already. Then we’ve got the likes of Ella Roberts and Charlie Thomas, who are already showing glimpses of what they’re capable of and Courtney Rowley is on a slow burn to be an outstanding player in her own right.

They’ve got a ruck pairing for the next decade and a bit with Lauren Wakfer and Sarah Lakay, the former making her debut on Sunday. Before her ACL injury, Wakfer was seen as a top prospect, able to cover the ground well, impact up forward, and show an established ruck craft. Seeing those two compete against Mim Strom, who’s no scrub ruck in her own right, will be a fascinating development, too.



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