The 2021 AFLW Draft Preview – Part One: The Mock First Round

In less than a week, the 2021 AFLW Draft will be upon us and with it comes countless hours of research and scouting the country from the confines of… my desk… in my bedroom.

Yes, lockdown in Melbourne has given me a bit of time to do some due diligence on the class of 2021 over the past few days and with it comes a lot of players that can fit in an AFLW side in the new season starting later on in the year.

This year’s Draft Preview is going to go down in a two-part series, with today revealing who I expect to be picked up in the first round.

 

Pick 1: Gold Coast – Charlie Rowbottom – 179cm – Midfielder/Forward

The news of Oakleigh Charger, Charlie Rowbottom nominating to go up to Queensland has the Gold Coast Suns ready to nab her with the first pick in the Draft and anything else would be absolutely astonishing.

Over the past few months, talk about the best Victorian talent was whittled down to either Rowbottom or Georgie Prespakis. What Rowbottom offers is a big-bodied player that has the strength and the capabilities extract the ball out of stoppages effectively  and win contested ball, as well as push forward to provide a forward option.

Rowbottom averaged 17.6 disposals and 7.1 tackles per game for the Chargers this year and slotted home ten goals in 11 matches, nearly breaking through that one goal per game barrier. For Vic Metro this year in the championships, she also averaged 20.5 disposals, seven inside 50s and 4.5 clearances per game in two games.

 

Pick 2: Geelong – Tess Craven – 163cm – Midfielder

Okay, so you’re expecting Prespakis to go here, and maybe she will – but hear me out. If you’re the Cats and you’re still on somewhat of a build on your list, you’d rather someone like Tess Craven who is a local Geelong Falcons talent and more likely to recommit to the future as opposed to someone like Prespakis, who’s more likely to be snapped up by Essendon’s AFLW team once they are brought into the league.

Regardless on whether they go for Prespakis, the departure of Liv Purcell leaves the Cats with a bit of a gap in the midfield. Nina Morrison will come back next season and they’ll get solid pre-seasons out of both Laura Gardiner and Darcy Moloney, but they could use another midfielder who is a proven ball-winner.

With Craven, not only they get someone who accumulates possession, but is a proven winner in the contested spaces and can make smart choices with the ball in her hand. She averaged 21.1 disposals and 3.9 tackles per game for the Falcons in the NAB League this year and 20.5 disposals and six clearances in two games for Vic Country in the Championships.

 

Pick 3: West Coast – Courtney Rowley – 167cm – Midfielder

The Eagles would be better off looking for some forwards – namely Amy Franklin – but the mail is that they’re going for a midfielder, and the clear standout in this year’s draft class out of Western Australia is Peel’s Courtney Rowley.

What Rowley offers is a perfect blend of playing both as an outside midfielder and as an inside midfielder. When she’s receiving the ball on the outside, she’s a crisp and sound user of the leather product by foot and when she’s on the inside, she has found no trouble in winning the contested ball and becoming this manic tackling player. In 2019, she was named as Peel’s best and fairest winner as a 15/16 year old and yes, that’s in their senior team.

In the under-19 championships, Rowley showcased just why she will be one to look out for in the future, averaging 22.7 disposals and nine tackles per game… Actually, a midfield of Rowley, Bella Lewis and Mikayla Bowen for the next 10 years actually sounds rather nice.

 

Pick 4: St Kilda – Georgie Prespakis – 168cm – Midfielder

If she doesn’t go to Geelong with the second pick (and for the record, she absolutely should) – there’s absolutely not a chance in hell she slips past St Kilda’s pick here. Even if she eventually heads to Essendon, a partnership with fellow Calder Cannons alumni Georgia Patrikios would be very exciting and would add to a very young and potent Saints midfield for next season.

Everyone knows just how good Maddy Prespakis has been for Carlton, but Georgie could be even better. If her year this year – in all of her leagues – is any indication, then she’s going to slot right in and become some sort of player in her first year. She’s an elite in the stoppages, capable of winning clearances and contested ball with ease and also possesses terrific defensive pressure.

For Calder this year in the NAB League, Prespakis averaged 23 disposals, 8.8 tackles and nearly four inside 50s per game. In the Championships, she averaged 28 disposals, eight tackles and 8.5 clearances in two games for Vic Metro and at Essendon in the VFLW, she averaged 17.3 disposals, 9.8 tackles and six clearances per game, including a stunning performance in the middle against an undefeated Collingwood side in the semi-final.

 

Pick 5: Richmond – Stella Reid – 173cm – Utility

There’s probably not a lot of key needs at Richmond – if Ellie McKenzie pushes up to become a full-time midfielder next season, then a player like Stella Reid would be an ideal fit at the Tigers

What makes her ideal to the Tigers is that she’s got a very good tank and has the versatility to play in a number of roles up the ground and has got the skill to really help with that midfield-to-forward ball movement that went missing horribly for the Tigers in their first year and was what Ellie McKenzie brought a lot of her in her first season this year – at her height, Reid is a good strong mark of the footy and has the skills by foot to bring team mates into the game or finish off plays herself.

Reid kicked 15 goals in 11 games for Oakleigh in the NAB League this year, whilst averaging 20.1 disposals, 4.5 marks, 3.6 tackles and 3.1 inside 50s per game. In her two games at Vic Metro, Reid averaged 20 disposals, 5.5 marks, six inside 50s and a goal per game, whilst in her sole game for Collingwood’s VFLW team this year, she notched up 13 disposals, two marks and four rebound 50s.

 

Pick 6: Gold Coast – Teagan Levi – 169cm – Midfielder

Out of all the Queenslanders in this year’s AFLW Draft Crop, Teagan Levi is the best prospect to come out of the Sunshine state and adds similar athletic traits that her sister Maddi has, but with a few extra strings.

You see, whilst Maddi Levi is an absolute bull and has no trouble exploding through packs as a key forward, Teagan has all of that but with a just a fraction bit more of an understanding of how the game works and has a bit more polish with her disposal, meaning that she can win her fair share of contested ball, and then work hard to push herself on the outside and use the ball to hit her teammates on the chest.

In her one game for Queensland in the under-19 Championships this year, Levi’s efforts against the Vic Metro girls saw her record 17 disposals, five tackles and six clearances in a nine-goal loss. The pieces are there in place for her to become a serious force in the AFLW in the years to come.

 

Pick 7: Geelong – Poppy Schaap – 153cm – Forward/Midfielder

Despite being at a diminutive size, the Cats are right now a side that don’t have a lot of goalscoring options up forward and selecting a player of Schaap’s calibre is something that – whilst it won’t be a full answer to their prayers –  will give their forward stocks a good boost.

What she brings is a game that is consistent of tackling pressure and a solid foundation of forward craft, and whilst players of shorter size have a harder time getting a look in, the Cats could use with some players with quality finishing skills and this is what Schaap can bring to the table: She’s quick and smart around the goals in terms of positioning, but also tough and capable of winning the in-and-under ball quite cleanly.

She kicked eight goals in nine games for the Geelong Falcons in the NAB League this year, but also averaged 18.6 disposals, 5.9 tackles, 2.4 marks and nearly three inside 50s per game. For Vic Country in the Championships this year, she kicked 3 goals from 3 matches whilst averaging 13.7 disposals and 4.3 tackles per game.

 

Pick 8: Gold Coast – Casey Wynne – 177cm – Key Defender

From straight out of the Gold Coast Academy, Casey Winne is a big-bodied key defender that will help alleviate some pressure off of the likes of Lauren Ahrens and Jade Pregelj – both of whom have been key pillars in the Suns’ defence over the past two seasons.

Described as a true competitior, Wynne is a player that does possess a brilliant burst of speed and her competitive nature can see her as a future stopper and has picked up a terrific knack of reading the play and can cut off forward 50 entries.

Playing for Queensland in the Under-19 Championships this year, Wynne recorded 13 disposals and three marks in their loss to Vic Metro in their only game in the Championships.

 

Pick 9: Geelong – Ella Friend – 175cm – Key Forward/Wing

Two picks down for Geelong and two to go in the first round – we’re going to look past midfielders now, cause they’ve got a few coming in now. What they should look at here is a partner in crime for Liv Barber up forward.

And there’s a beauty from the Greater Western Victoria Rebels in Ella Friend. It can be argued that her contested marking is as good as any in this draft class. At the Rebels this year, she’s spent a lot more time on the wing to allow her to build on her endurance. But it would also give a side like the Cats an option to kick to out of defence, which has been a critical weakness this year.

She proved against bigger bodies that she can be just as lethal as a forward option, kicking two goals for the Western Bulldogs’ VFLW team in her state-level debut this year. Her numbers both at the Rebels and for Vic Country this year reflect well too, averaging 16 disposals, 4.3 marks, 2.9 tackles and over two inside 50s per game in the NAB League and averaging 14.5 disposals, 4.5 marks and 2.5 tackles in two games at the Championships.

 

Pick 10: Carlton – Aurora Smith – 165cm – Wing

Carlton have the next two picks in the draft and with this, I’ve identified two big needs for this team: Midfield depth and tall options. Let’s start in the middle. I think a player with outside pace and class would be something that would complement the Blues’ on-ball brigade of Prespakis, Egan and McEvoy.

And this is where Aurora Smith comes in. Smith is someone who is blessed with the ability to run all day and has good speed whilst she does it. With the ball in her hands, she’s someone that can take the game on and has the football smarts to be at the right spot and make the next move in terms of getting the ball forward.

At Murray in the NAB League this year, Smith was at her best, averaging 20.7 disposals, 3.2 marks, six inside 50s, 3.3 tackles and over two rebound 50s per game in only six games this year, but backed it up with a solid overall showing in the championships, averaging 16 disposals, 2.3 marks, three tackles and 3.6 inside 50s per game. She also played for Port Melbourne in their VFLW Elimination Final loss to the Southern Saints, picking up eight disposals.

 

Pick 11: Carlton – Tara Slender – 175cm – Utility

So let’s look at potential tall prospects, there’s a few options they could look at – they need some key forward depth and a back-up ruck to Breann Moody. It’s slated that Serena Gibbs will get more game time next year, but after that, the stocks get a bit thin.

Tara Slender is a player that has tremendous upside, but will take some time to develop. I watched her play for Essendon’s VFLW side in their loss to Collingwood in the Semi Final and struggled to get herself involved. But what she’s shown for Bendigo this year in the NAB League is that she can play a number of roles. She’s a capable intercept marking key defender, a sound winner of contested ball and a viable target up forward

She’s averaged 16.2 disposals, 4.2 marks, 5.2 tackles and two inside 50s in five matches for the Pioneers this year playing either as a key defender or as a midfielder. For Vic Country in the Championship she showed that she can kick goals, with two goals from three matches whilst averaging 10.7 disposals, two marks and two tackles per game.

 

Pick 12: St Kilda – Emelia Yassir – 160cm – Midfielder

Continuing with the Calder Cannons’ theme at the Saints in this Mock Draft will see them pick up Emelia Yassir, who is a player that should add depth in their midfield.

Whilst she doesn’t possess size and strength in ways others in her draft class have, what she does possess is a good overall midfield game. On the deck, she is very clean and can get it out to the receiving midfielders. When she’s on the outside, she is often making smart decisions with the footy in her hands. When her side doesn’t have the footy, she is a very tenacious with her pressure and could be seen at senior level as a pressure forward.

At Calder this year, Yassir averaged solid numbers of 16.7 disposals, 3.9 tackles, 2.2 marks and 3.1 inside 50s per game. At the Championships for Vic Metro, she averaged 15.5 disposals and five tackles per game across two games and featured in six games for Essendon’s VFLW side, averaging 9.5 disposals and four tackles per game.

 

Pick 13: North Melbourne – Imogen Barnett – 176cm – Key Forward

North Melbourne are very short on key forward options on their list at the moment, and for a side that are in a premiership window, they need a player that they can put in the team come round one next season.

Imogen Barnett has put together a very good year all-round for Collingwood’s VFLW side this year and is a strong part of why they have remained unbeaten up to this point of the season. Watching her first-hand in the semi final against Essendon, she proved the difference with her marking hands and a sure set-shot. She also provides strong leading patterns and it makes her a very hard player to stop.

She has kicked 21 goals this year in 15 games for the Pies, as well as being named the leading goal-kicker at the end of the home and away season. Her averages aren’t anything to write home about – averaging 7.7 disposals, 2.7 marks and 2.2 tackles per game, but she’s a key forward that knows how to put goals on the board and at 26 years of age, t would be remiss for a side like North to pass up.

 

Pick 14: Fremantle – Makaela Tuhakaraina – 158cm – Utility

Midfield depth and forwards are what the Dockers would be sought after in the Draft this year, and with the best midfielder in WA going to the Eagles at this stage, the Dockers should look at a player like Makaela Tuhakaraina.

Whilst her skill-set is still very raw and will need time to develop, her athleticism and rugby background has drawn many comparisons to Brisbane’s Courtney Hodder and I could see a side like Fremantle employing her in a similar role, especially with both Ashley Sharp and Sabreena Duffy unavailable to play next season. Tuhakaraina’s speed, agility and tackling pressure would make her a very handy small forward.

In her three games for Western Australia in the Under-19 Championships this year, Tuhakaraina averaged 12.7 disposals and 3.3 tackles per game, highlighting that she knows how to get in the right spots as a forward well enough, but she also does love to go for a run with the ball in her hands. Maybe more of a project player, but the Dockers would be a great fit for her.

 

Pick 15: Geelong – Annie Lee – 167cm – Defender

Whilst defenders isn’t something that the Cats are necessarily lacking, what they do lack around the ground are players with composed skills, and this is where Geelong could look at another Falcons’ prospect in Annie Lee.

Whilst not a big disposal winner, Lee is very consistent in terms of being in the right spot to receive the footy on the outside and then finding time and space to hit the next kick. She’s spent a lot of time across half back for both the Falcons and for Vic Country this year, but I think there’s a lot of scope for her to be used further afield and play a position on the wing down the track and be the player to set up forwards.

However, she was one of the NAB League’s best rebounding defenders this year, averaging 4.5 rebound 50s per game this year – the most of any other player. She also averaged 4.7 rebound 50s per game in the Championships across Country’s three games. She also averaged solid numbers of 16.9 disposals, 5.1 marks and 3.4 tackles per game in the NAB League, as well as averaging 13.7 disposals, 4.3 marks and three tackles per game in the Championships.

 

Pick 16: Richmond – Sophie Locke – 168cm – Utility

Richmond could do worse than look at their own backyard in the VFLW with this pick and look at someone who can play in a number of positions with Port Melbourne’s Sophie Locke.

In 2019, playing with Murray in the NAB League and Vic Country, she was playing more in the defensive half of the ground in a more defensive role. But at the Borough this year, she added another very important string to her bow, playing as a forward and it showed that she could provide another handy avenue to goal. In her first four games at Port Melbourne this year, Locke had kicked nine goals in four games and was well regarded as one of the better forwards of the competition.

Unfortunately an injury forced her on the sidelines forced her out of the side for a month and upon return struggled to hit the scoreboard as consistently as she did the start of the year. But she did average 4.2 tackles, two marks and over a goal per game in her 12 games by the end of the Borough’s season, which shows that her pressure could prove to be valuable to a forward line like the Tigers.

 

Pick 17: Adelaide – Zoe Prowse – 177cm – Ruck

The Crows are well versed in ruck at the moment with Rhi Metcalfe holding fort as the number one option and Montana McKinnon in the wings, but there’s very little argument that Zoe Prowse is both one of the best rucks in the draft class and the best South Australian prospect in the draft pool this year.

There are a few tall options in this year’s draft class, so what makes Prowse one of the better ruck options? She has a ruck craft that is already quite established. But it’s her ability to cover ground, win the footy both at ground level and in the air and her positioning to receive the footy that gives her the advantage over fellow ruck cohorts such as Ally Morphett, Georgia Campbell and Tahlia Gillard.

In the Championships, in which Prowse was named in the All-Australian side, she averaged over 22 hitouts, 18.3 disposals, three inside 50s, four tackles and 2.3 marks per game, exerting her aerobic capacity to play as essentially another midfielder. In the SANFLW at Sturt, she played a bit more as a back up option, but still managed to average 10.9 disposals, 3.3 tackles, 2.8 clearances and 2.1 inside 50s at senior level.

 

Pick 18: Brisbane – Maggie Harmer – 170cm – Defender

The Brisbane Lions have a few Academy girls coming through in this year’s draft crop, but one of the better ones to come through is Maggie Harmer.

The retirement of Emma Zielke means that there is a spot open in the defensive unit for the new season, and even though Brisbane have picked up Phoebe Monahan as a delisted free agent, it may potentially open up the possibility to play Harmer a little further afield and have her on a wing. She’s got pace to burn and she’s smart in terms of finding the right option by foot and as a defensive interceptor, she’s great at peeling off and cutting off forward 50 entries and a strong overhead mark.

In Queensland’s loss to Vic Country in the Championships this year, Harmer was named as one of Queensland’s better player, recording 15 disposals, five marks and five tackles, which also shows that she’s not afraid to apply defensive pressure. This performance was enough to name her across the half-back line in the Under-19’s All-Australian team.

 

Part Two on it’s way soon.