State-by-State AFLW Draft Watch: March
ON Tuesday night, Rookie Me Central released its first 2022 AFL Women’s Draft Power Rankings for the year. It featured 20 detailed profiles, with 10 additional names included. Though there were 30 players named there, with expansion on the horizon, there will be an additional 120-plus players making their way on AFL Women’s lists for 2023 (or perhaps later this year).
In this article, we will follow up from the Power Rankings and discuss some more names across the country who are impressing, including a focus on mature-age talent that clubs may look to, in order to provide immediate relief to certain positions. We will sort it state-by-state and who is standing out.
Note: We have not included Tasmania or Northern Territory due to their one-club links in North Melbourne and Gold Coast respectively. Those respective teams will exclusively pick the talent they wish to draft from those regions.
Boasting the strongest state league in the country, the SANFL Women’s competition has a plethora of mature-age talent putting their hand up to earn a place on Port Adelaide’s inaugural AFL Women’s list. Though even outside of the Power, clubs from across the country will likely keep an eye on certain South Australian talent if they can coax those players out of the state.
The immediate two names that jump off the page from the SANFL Women’s when it comes to Under 21s is 2002-born Jade Halfpenny and over-ager Kiera Mueller. Halfpenny has taken her game to another level in 2022, being Norwood’s best in arguably four of the five games to start the season. Her midfield craft and sheer ball-winning has gone up a notch, without losing her impact forward of centre. She has always been a dominant mark, but in what is effectively her third season at the level, is now comfortably among the best players going around.
In speaking to Rookie Me Central in the preseason, Mueller said she believed she might need “one more season” at SANFL Women’s level (2023) before really contending for an AFL Women’s list spot. Based on her form in 2022, there seems little reason for a club to wait, because her strong traits – which include reading the play, marking and kicking – are easily adaptable at any level. By getting a clean run at it without injuries, Mueller is the standout defensive prospect in the competition, especially when weighing up age. Mueller does not turn 19 until April, and if it was not for such a talented futures squad, the Croweaters would be more than able to add her into the state program.
Mueller’s Sturt teammate Isobel Kuiper has also pieced together a consistent few seasons since exiting the State Academy program, becoming a veteran of sorts in that Double Blues lineup and she turns 21 in a couple of months. Kuiper is one of a number of rising talents who could slot into the midfield, such as over-age West Adelaide talent Zoe Venning. The hard-nut is an 03-born talent who is quickly becoming one of the more consistent midfielders around the competition, and she with fellow State Academy graduate Gypsy Schirmer are a couple of names to keep in mind with the arrival of Port Adelaide. Schirmer has established herself as a rebounding defender, having also played as a dangerous forward, then midfielder over the past few seasons.
From the players closer to 20 to the ones either side of 30, the two readymade older options who are more than capable of just slotting straight into a side should a team like Port need a readymade option are North Adelaide’s Kristi Harvey and Shelby Smith. Put simply, Harvey is the best key defender not on an AFLW list right now, and her leadership, reading of the play, footy smarts, intercepting and incredible long kick make her a clear choice. The only aspect likely to work against her is the fact she turns 34 at the end of the year, but as we have seen with Erin Lorenzini and Cora Staunton at the GIANTS, age is just a number, and taking that away, Harvey seems like a perfect candidate to slot straight into a full-back role with the Power.
Smith on the other hand turns 31 in August, and like Harvey, would be an immediate addition to any midfield. When interviewed after Central District’s win over West Adelaide in Round 3, Smith said she would love to “give anything a crack” even though her “age was against her”. A natural leader and contested ball-winner, Smith is one of the most consistent players in the SANFL Women’s, and would be another terrific leadership option and ready made selection.
Though the list of names could go on forever – and realistically there could be over 20 players make it onto AFLW lists at the end of the year – we will mention a number of others who have done their chances no harm. Glenelg captain Ellie Kellock is only 25 this year, and fellow consistent ball-winner Jessica Bates 27, both of which are in their prime and having an impact each and every week. North Adelaide coach Krissie Steen also said preseason that Roosters co-captain Erin Sundstrom was a player she expects to be picked up. Along with the premiership players, teenagers such as Tahlita Buethke, Lauren Breguet, Georgia Swan, Hannah Prenzler and Sarah Branford are all among those State Academy members last year who remain lively in the competition.
The Power Rankings featured three top-age players from the SANFL Women’s in Hannah Ewings, Keeley Kustermann and Sarah Goodwin. The next ones who were in the next bracket of 30-60 from a top-age perspective include Norwood’s Lana Schwerdt and Amelie Borg, with Sachi Syme and Dakota Williams a couple more midfielders who have some eye-catching traits. From a talls perspective, Rosie Boon and Jemma Ellis have been the most eye-catching top-agers.
Though one of only two states without an expansion side coming in – that holds an AFL Women’s side – the Sandgropers have some talented mature-agers that could be the best value across the country. Though South Australia might have the strongest league, the bulk of them will land at Port Adelaide – or the Crows once the Power pillage some of their players in the expansion – whilst Western Australia could be a value place to look for clubs on the east coast.
Just last week, Claremont’s Mikayla Western made her debut with Fremantle, and showcased her elite speed, and ability to make use of a large ground on her way to an eight-disposal game. Given it was her first top level match against an opponent that smashed the understrength Dockers by 100 points, it was a promising sign for the talent who would have left a good impression on Fremantle coach Trent Cooper‘s mind.
One of the other Dockers train-ons is Peel Thunder’s Jaide Britton. The West Australian State Under 19s captain at last year’s national championships, Britton has added extra weapons to her game this year. Already possessing high-level speed and endurance, Britton has begun to use that to full effect with ball-in-hand. Back in Round 2 she had a league-high eight inside 50s and really showed her dash between the arcs. As a December birth, Britton only turned 19 a couple of months back, and has plenty of promise for the future.
Receiving a Draft Combine invitation last season, Tessa Doumanis is a dangerous player inside 50. She slotted four goals in a half against West Perth last round, and though she has not quite been as potent on the scoreboard this year, she is incredibly creative inside 50. Turning 23 later in the year, Doumanis is still young, and could be immediate relief for a club looking for some experience in the forward half.
Up the other end, Claire Ortlepp is one of the most reliable defenders going around. She possesses similar traits to North Adelaide’s Harvey, with her long kicking, reading of the ball in flight and smart positioning making her a perfect defensive option. Still only 22 this year, Ortlepp is young enough that clubs can foresee her being a good player for a long time. Her Claremont teammates Sasha Goranova and Katherine Bennett are strong link-up players going inside 50, whilst Dhara Kerr Medallist Ella Smith is as readymade as an inside midfielder in the country.
Two-time AFLW listed Kate Bartlett is clearly a class above at WAFLW level, and would be an immediate reprieve inside 50 for a club willing to take a chance. She looms as a genuine readymade chance, having slotted nine goals in three games to start the season. Subiaco duo Jayme Harken and Tarnica Golisano are other readymade players who might be midfield talents that can provide great depth at the next level. Similarly, Swan Districts captain Jessica Cox and Ruby Mahony have also had promising starts to the season.
From mature-age talent to top-age players, Western Australia’s three AFLW Academy members in Ella Roberts, Lauren Wakfer and Ashleigh Reidy, and speedy winger Tara Stribley all made our Top 30 Power Rankings. In addition to them, there were a few top-age prospects who were in the next group of players. These were Claremont silky yet hard midfielder Emily Elkington, South Fremantle winger Jess Verbrugge and dynamic forward Abbygail Bushby.
The QAFL Women’s is yet to kick off, though it is fast approaching with just over a week until the first ball is bounced for Round 1. Instead, the players who have stood out are all from the Academy programs in both the Gold Coast Suns and Brisbane Lions. AFLW Academy member Ella Smith – the second of her namesake in this article – is considered the Lions top prospect, though they have similarly inside-minded players in Ava Seton and the more versatile, but still tough, Charlotte Mullins. Exciting forward Kadie Fletcher and midfielder/defender Laura Roy have also impressed.
Gold Coast has no shortage of talent and it has shown from the Academy results against the Lions and Oakleigh Chargers. Three players made it inside the Top 20 Power Rankings – Alana Gee, Imogen Evans and Fleur Davies – with outside midfielder/forward Jasmyn Smith, and athletic medium-tall forward Ella Calleja the other two names to keep in mind. Twin sisters Litonya Cockatoo-Motlap and Laquoiya Cockatoo-Motlap have also caught the eye. In saying that, there are plenty of chances for the Queensland talent to shine at the upcoming AFLW Under 18 Championships.
Though the NSW/ACT football leagues are yet to commence, all eyes will be on the Sydney Swans Academy as the Swans enter the AFL Women’s. AFLW Academy member Dakota Mason is the top talent from that Academy, with Ruby Sargent-Wilson becoming the first official signing for the Swans. From the GIANTS perspective, last year’s Allies’ Most Valuable Player (MVP) Cynthia Hamilton is the clear standout outside those in the NAB League, with the talent named in the Power Rankings alongside Zarlie Goldsworthy and Zara Hamilton. Murray Bushrangers forward Olivia Cicolini is another name to remember.
As the premier pure junior development competition across the nation, there was no shortage of talent named in the Power Rankings from the NAB League Girls. The tricky aspect is the fact with Essendon and Hawthorn coming in, players will be pre-signed to those two clubs from their regions of Calder Cannons and Eastern Ranges respectively. The two Cannons standing out the most this season are Abbey McDonald and Reese Sutton who are a couple of tough nuts. Sutton, a tackling midfielder and McDonald a clean utility are both suitable options and would be in the next group of players from the Power Rankings.
Similarly, ruck-forward Mia Austin is an exciting tall with great athleticism and capable of playing in multiple positions, and was seen in the 20-40 bracket nationally, only marginally missing out on the named 30. Having already represented the brown and gold, Isabelle Khoury is another name who might be under the watchful eye of the Hawks, having been a train-on with Carlton vying for the list spot that was eventually taken by Poppy Schaap last year.
There are limited talls available from the Victorian pool this year, with those outside the Top 30 including Bendigo Pioneers utility Tegan Williams and over-ager Geelong Falcons forward Analea McKee. Fellow Falcons, ruck Keeley Hardingham and Elizabeth Dowling might be looked at by the Cats after some strong NAB League performances, whilst Western Jets ruck Krystal Russell and intercept defender Laura Elliott are other tall options.
From a midfield perspective, Sandringham Dragons’ Keely Coyne was among the handful of names just outside the Top 30 in our Power Rankings, with Murray Bushrangers defender Madison Gray – and twin sister Tayissa Gray – both showing plenty of flair in the early rounds. Fellow Bushranger Cassidy Mailer and GWV Rebels rebounding talent Jamie-Lee Speakman both use the ball well as others thereabouts with Dandenong Stingrays’ Charlotte Blair. Gippsland Power’s Yasmin Duursma said in preseason “the dream” would be to head to Port Adelaide alongside her brother Xavier, so it will be interesting so see how that pans out.
Overall the NAB League Girls will have an abundance of talent progress to the top level, so expect there to be many names that pop up over the course of the next few months.
Finally, the VFL Women’s is underway, with Hawthorn and Essendon the two most interesting case studies given the sides come into the AFL Women’s. With Bridget Deed already signed to the Hawks, the brown and gold will look to add more talent to its roster over the journey. Names such as Dominique Carbone, Lauren Szigeti, Jessie Williams and Jenna Richardson are among the possibilities, with ex-AFLW listed talents in Tamara Luke, Kristy Stratton, Katelyn Cox and Emma Humphries also having strong starts in the competition.
Eassendon has signed VFLW co-skipper and ex-AFLW Roo Georgia Nanscawen as its first player into the AFLW, but there are some other former talents standing out in the side this season. They include ex-Dog Danielle Marshall who has moved into defence, as well as the likes of Jordan Zanchetta, Joanne Doonan and Mia-Rae Clifford, whilst Canadian Kendra Heil – initially listed with the Pies in the inaugural 2017 AFLW season before doing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – is also stepping up. Hoping to earn a first-time AFLW contract are the likes of Eloise Ashley-Cooper, Simone Nalder, Elisabeth Hosking and Courtney Ugle.