Ranges and Cannons to open NAB League Girls season

HAVING arrived sooner than usual, the 2022 NAB League Girls season is set to commence this weekend. Six games will take place across five venues and two states, in what is the first of an exciting 10-round season for Victoria and Tasmania’s brightest AFL Women’s draft hopefuls. We preview each of the six games and some of the players to keep an eye out for this year.

  • Team
  • Eastern Ranges
  • Calder Cannons

Saturday, January 22 @ 10:30am
Kilsyth Recreation Reserve

Opening the season at Kilsyth Recreation Reserve are a couple of finalists from last year, with a nice blend of experience and future talent on show. The Ranges reached the preliminary finals of the NAB League Girls competition last season after defeating the Northern Knights in the elimination finals, before falling victim to the Oakleigh Chargers, who had defeated the Cannons the week before. Both these sides had players drafted, with Georgie Prespakis, Zali Friswell and Keeley Sherar all among the top dozen names read out on draft night.

Looking to 2022, and both sides have a standout top-age prospect to remember, with Eastern Ranges defender Mia Busch – who will spend more time in the midfield this season – and Calder Cannons utility Abbey McDonald ones to watch. Bringing with them some VFLW experience, the likes of Ranges captain Bridget Deed and fellow Vic Metro representative Cadhla Schmidli as well as Isabelle Khoury will hope to guide the younger Eastern players. Calder has its fair share of VFLW experienced talents with Kasey Lennox and Neve Crowley among those returning for an over-age season.

Other names to keep an eye on in season 2022 include 2021 competition leading goalkicker Alyssia Pisano and fellow promising bottom-ager Ava Campbell from the Ranges, while for the Cannons, names such as Reese Sutton and Claudia Santoro have promise.

  • Team
  • Tasmania Devils
  • Sandringham Dragons

Saturday, January 22 @ 12:00pm
Prospect Park, Launceston

Opening the season with a home game, the Tasmania Devils will be hungry to start off on the right note against Sandringham Dragons. The Dragons have some top-end talent to watch in 2022, but the Devils were outstanding on the Apple Isle in 2021. A narrow loss to eventual premiers and a heartbreaking finals defeat at the hands of GWV Rebels were the only blemishes in a year where the Devils made Tasmania a fortress. Sandringham has shown signs as a building team over the past couple of seasons, and will be lead by a couple of AFLW Academy members.

Dragons midfielders Sofia Hurley and Bridie Hipwell are both AFLW Academy members and received Vic Metro experience at both Under 17s and Under 19s level last season. They form a pretty strong duo, with Keely Coyne another Metro representative. The likes of Charlotte Ryan and Pia Staltari have both returned for another year, joining Devils captain Jemma Blair, vice-captain Meghan Gaffney and tall timber Amy Prokopiec and Charlotte Vandenberg as returnees.

Tasmania’s Claire Ransom is the leading Devils draft prospect, and member of the AFL Women’s Academy. Named on a wing to utilise her athleticism and skill, she will complement bottom-age Academy member Brooke Barwick on the inside. Other names to keep an eye out for include the likes of Shania Saward and Candice Belbin. From a Dragons perspective, Ella Sciberras and Lucy Mitchell are names to remamber.

  • Team
  • Murray Bushrangers
  • Bendigo Pioneers

Saturday, January 22 @ 1:00pm
JC Lowe Oval, Yarrawonga

Heading right up to the border, two sides that have made this Round 1 fixture somewhat of a tradition meet again, as Murray Bushrangers host Bendigo Pioneers at Yarrawonga. The teams had polar opposite seasons last year from a start to finish perspective, with the Pios winning their first game, then slipping to the back, whilst the Bushrangers had an interrupted first half of the season in terms of player availability and injuries, then fired up for the run home with some strong results. Both sides are young, and have plenty of future talent to watch.

Bendigo Pioneers’ Octavia Di Donato is the loneAFL Women’s Academy member in the match, with the versatile utility capable of playing on any line. She will likely slot into the midfield, alongside bottom-age talent and Vic Country hub member Lila Keck. Up forward, Tegan Williams will enjoy a change of scenery after playing predominantly as a defender last year, whilst Bryde O’Rourke is another bottom-age talent to keep an eye on. From a Bushrangers perspective, Vic Country hub members and co-captains Keeley Skepper and Madison Gray are those recognised as top prospects this year, but talented forward Cassidy Mailer could be a surprise packet of the competition in 2022 overcoming a broken leg that curtailed the majority of her 2021 season.

Fast forward to 2022, and Murray has some New South Wales talent as well, with GIANTS Academy members Olivia Cicolini and Zara Hamilton athletic types playing forward and on the wing respectively. The Pioneers will welcome back Madeline Marks and Jayda Richardson as potential marking targets. Both teams have a nice balance of over-age, top-age and future talent that will showcase the best of country footy.

  • Team
  • GWV Rebels
  • Gippsland Power

Saturday, January 22 @ 1:00pm
La Trobe University, Bundoora

The final game on Saturday kicks off around 1pm at La Trobe University, Bundoora. An all-country clash, the GWV Rebels and Gippsland Power will meet somewhat in between their respective regions. The Rebels reached the preliminary finals last season after upsetting the Country region minor premiers in Tasmania Devils, before going down to Geelong Falcons in the penultimate week. The Power might have struggled from a results perspective last season, but the improvement throughout the year was evident, culminating in a memorable one-point win over Bendigo Pioneers in their penultimate match.

Vic Country and AFL Women’s Under 19s leading goalkicker Paige Scott looms as the massive threat in this game. The forward talent is capable of winning a game off her own boot when inside 50, and she was able to find the big sticks regularly last season. Vic Country hub representative Lily-Rose Williamson has not been named for the first game, but is one to keep in mind later in the season. Both sides have some names to remember with Vic Country hub representatives including GWV ruck Kalani Scoullar set to try and dominate the hitouts all season, whilst Yasmin Duursma and Alisha Molesworth will provide the talent at ground level for the Power.

Returning to the club with VFLW experience, Lilli Condon will captain the Rebels in 2022, alongside fellow over-ager Tahlia Meier. Molly Walton is a clever defender to keep an eye on throughout the year, whilst Olivia Leonard and Jenna Burke are other Rebels who showed signs last year. For the Power, Indiana Makai is another midfielder to watch, whilst Sunday Brisbane will provide some dash on the outside.

  • Team
  • Northern Knights
  • Oakleigh Chargers

Sunday, January 23 @ 10:00am
La Trobe University, Bundoora

Two traditionally successful clubs go head-to-head at an earlier time slot in Bundoora, with Northern Knights and Oakleigh Chargers clashing from 10am. The game was initially scheduled for 12pm, but an expected heat wave forced organisers to bring the game forward and spare the players from some extra challenges in Round 1. Northern Knights reached the finals last season, but were knocked out in the first week by Eastern Ranges.

The reigning premiers have plenty of depth in season 2022, lead by AFLW Academy member Jasmine Fleming. The young Chargers talent is also a high-level cricketer which will split her time between the sports, but Oakleigh has the depth to cover her. Charlotte Taylor and Amelie Smith provide some size and marking targets up respective ends, with Taylor also capable of running with the ball. Lily Hart – who is recovering from an ankle injury – also provides plenty of run, whilst Charlotte Van der Vlies will be among the running options. Northern has welcomed back Maykaylah Appleby who was overlooked last season, with Ella Smallacombe another tall over-age option to keep an eye on.

Looking at top-age prospects this year, Rylie Wilcox is a talented, smooth-moving player who along with Lulu Beatty and Phoebe Nelson are among those to keep an eye on, whilst Ava Jordan is one of the leading prospects for 2023. The Chargers have some over-agers returning as well with Alexandra McCulloch and Holly Kenealy back for 2022, whilst Jemma Rigoni is a possible Melbourne father-daughter selection who can play up either end – though will miss the season with a knee injury.

  • Team
  • Geelong Falcons
  • Dandenong Stingrays

Sunday, January 23 @ 11:00am
Deakin University, Geelong

In one of the games of the round, the incredibly stacked Dandenong Stingrays travel to Waurn Ponds where they will clash with the young Geelong Falcons. Both sides look to have plenty to look forward to over the coming years, with the Stingrays having more about them for this coming season, but the Falcons loading up on some future talent coming through the program. Last season both these sides made the finals, with the Falcons defeating the Stingrays in the first week, en-route to the 2021 NAB League Girls Grand Final.

Geelong has a couple of Vic Country hub members in versatile tall Mia Van Dyke and tackling machine Ashleigh Van Loon. Both experienced Under 17s action for Vic Country last season and provide very different traits in waht looks to be an even Falcons outfit. Charlotte Simpson is another fierce midfielder who is strong at the coal face, whilst Chloe Adams showed potential at the end of last season. The Stingrays have a stack of talent across the board however, with two AFLW Academy members. Among the quickest players in the league, Amber Clarke and Mackenzie Eardley can play all three lines and have the small-tall combination ticked off for the Stingrays. Emily Shepherd is the other Stingrays talent who experienced Under 19s footy for Vic Country, and after playing as an inside midfielder in 2021, is expected to spend more time forward this year.

Brooke Smith and Charley Ryan are among the other top-age players in the Vic Country hub for the Stingrays, with tall prospect Bianca Lyne a bottom-ager this year. The talent does not stop there, with plenty more showing promise last season, including new co-captain Felicity Crank. The Falcns will head nto the season with plenty of future talents, but also have some over-agers returning in Elizabeth Dowling and Analea McKee to provide experience in defence, whilst Keeley Hardingham is another over-age tall who did some great work through the ruck.

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