Potential Best 21s – AFLW Season 7: Hawthorn, Melbourne, North Melbourne
LATER this month the AFL Women’s Season 7 will kick off and there is plenty to get excited about. While preseasons are underway and coaches are trying to work out a Round 1 lineup, we delved into what each of the sides could look like next season. Over a six-part series, we will examine three teams at a time, and in today’s article we focus on Hawthorn, Melbourne and North Melbourne.
Hawthorn is a tricky team to try and calculate a best 21 from, with a mix of youth and experience joining the brown and gold on their maiden voyage into the AFL Women’s. In Season 7, the Hawks have been able to bring in seriously experienced key position players to go with hardened onballers, and those with some flair, just to provide premiership coach Bec Goddard with plenty of talent for the future. A tall forward duo of Sarah Perkins and Tegan Cunningham provide marking targets inside 50, while up the other end, Louise Stephenson and Akec Makur Chuot will be able to help develop young gun Mackenzie Eardley.
The onball brigade should be outstanding in terms of clearance ability, with St Kilda’s Tilly Lucas-Rodd and Geelong VFLW midfielder Tamara Smith bringing the contested ball-winning ability, and top draft selection Jasmine Fleming adding the class. Realistically, Fleming and fellow draftees Eardley, Charlotte Baskaran and Bridie Hipwell should all be Round 1 starters if fit, and they will be well supported by AFL-experienced players in hard running Kaitlyn Ashmore and Kate McCarthy and one of the most consistent VFLW talents in Sophie Locke. Leaving players out of the side is tough, with the preseason training more likely to judge which bottom six players squeeze into the lineup.
HAWTHORN POTENTIAL BEST 21:
B: Louise Stephenson – Akec Makur Chuot
HB: Jess Duffin – Mackenzie Eardley – Aileen Gilroy
C: Charlotte Baskaran – Tamara Smith – Kaitlyn Ashmore
HF: Bridie Hipwell – Sarah Perkins – Kate McCarthy
F: Sophie Locke – Tegan Cunningham
R: Tamara Luke – Jasmine Fleming – Tilly Lucas-Rodd
INT: Tahlia Fellows – Janet Baird – Bridget Deed – Catherine Brown – Ainslie Kemp
EMG: Jenna Richardson – Dominique Carbone – Zoe Barbakos
Remaining players: Laura Elliott, Emily Everist, Aine McDonagh (rookie), Isabel Porter, Eliza Shannon, Lucy Wales
Reigning grand finalists Melbourne is likely to be a contender once again, with minimal changes required from the side that just fell short of its maiden AFL Women’s premiership. The Demons went down to the Crows in the 2022 AFLW Grand Final, but they have been able to replace injured Gabby Colvin with Charlotte Wilson – granted the recruitment came before the injury – while also adding Fremantle goalkicker Sabreena Duffy inside 50 to navigate the losses of experienced talents Shelley Scott and Jacqueline Parry.
There seems to be a clear group of 22 at Melbourne who will likely get a chance, but it does mean one player will miss out. That last spot could come down to one of Maeve Chaplin, Eliza West or Megan Fitzsimon missing out, while it is anticipated Jordan Ivey should earn her spot. Duffy will be looking to get back to the AFLW level after missing a full season, and she might take a while longer to crack in, but when she does, she will be pure quality. The defence should be relatively straight forward with Wilson in for Colvin, and the rest remaining the same. In attack, the likes of Tayla Harris and Alyssa Bannan are the key targets, with the experience of Daisy Pearce and Kate Hore up there too. Naturally the onball group writes itself, headlined by All-Australian ruck Lauren Pearce, experienced utility Karen Paxman and young trio, Tyla Hanks, Lily Mithen and Olivia Purcell.
MELBOURNE POTENTIAL BEST 21:
B: Libby Birch – Charlotte Wilson
HB: Sinead Goldrick – Sarah Lampard – Shelley Heath
C: Karen Paxman – Tyla Hanks – Lily Mithen
HF: Alyssa Bannan – Kate Hore – Sabreena Duffy
F: Daisy Pearce – Tayla Harris
R: Lauren Pearce – Olivia Purcell – Maddison Gay
INT: Eden Zanker – Jordan Ivey – Eliza West – Maeve Chaplin – Casey Sherriff
EMG: Megan Fitzsimon – Maggie Caris – Tahlia Gillard
Remaining players: Alison Brown, Georgia Campbell, Georgia Gall, Samantha Johnson, Blaithin Mackin
Inactive: Gabrielle Colvin (knee injury) Rhiannon Watt (knee injury), Eliza McNamara (back injury)
North Melbourne lost a fair bit of talent over the off-season, but have not seemingly grabbed the headlines that other sides did. They lost Duffin and Gilroy to the Hawks opening up spaces in defence, while also losing Daria Bannister, Kaitlyn Ashmore and Daisy Bateman which takes away some of the Roos flair. Interestingly, they looked to get that back at the AFLW Draft, picking players who might be longer term prospects, but have the talent to do plenty of damage with ball-in-hand. The biggest question mark over the Roos, is whether or not they will throw the youngsters in the deep end to fast-track them. All of Taylah Gatt, Cassidy Mailer and Charli Granville are classy talents, but also longer-term prospect. It will be fascinating to see how many games they can play in year one.
The onball group remains unchanged, with the outstanding talents of Jasmine Garner, Ash Riddell and Jenna Bruton among the best in the competition, while Perri King, Ellie Gavalas and Tess Craven are part o that rotation. It allowed Emma Kearney to play off half-back, and also have a tall setup of Emma King and Tahlia Randall inside 50. With Grace Campbell going down through injury, it means there are just 20 players on the list who have played an AFLW game. Therefore in Round 1 there must be at least one debutant, and Tasmanian Ella Maurer might be the fist cab off the rank. With backup talls coming in the form of VFLW-proven talents Sophia McCarthy and Grace Matser, the Roos are well stocked in that department too.
NORTH MELBOURNE POTENTIAL BEST 21:
B: Danielle Hardiman – Jasmine Ferguson
HB: Emma Kearney – Brooke Brown – Sarah Wright
C: Ellie Gavalas – Jenna Bruton – Isabella Eddey
HF: Sophie Abbatangelo – Mia King – Alice O’Loughlin
F: Emma King – Tahlia Randall
R: Kim Rennie – Jasmine Garner – Ashleigh Riddell
INT: Nicole Bresnehan – Perri King – Amy Smith – Tess Craven – Ella Maurer
EMG: Taylah Gatt – Cassidy Mailer – Sophia McCarthy
Remaining players: Grace Campbell*, Charli Granville, Grace Matser, Erika O’Shea (rookie), Zoe Savarirayan (rookie), Victoria Wall (rookie), Hannah Bowen
*Recovering from an ACL injury