Reigning premiers on course for “seamless” 2023 transition

THE WESTERN Jets soared to a captivating Coates Talent League premiership last year, the region’s first-ever, and are on course to complete a “seamless” transition into 2023.

Former assistant Hayley Gossow has shifted into the girls head coach role and much of the grand final side remains ahead of what should be a familiar feeling campaign.

That means the Jets, who have never hesitated to blood talented under-agers, have shaken up their squad structures – according to talent operations lead Luke Williams.

“This year’s the first time we’ve run an Under 16 girls program, purely Under 16s,” Williams said. “In the last few years our most talented 16s trained with the Under 18 group, but we’ve split them.

“There’ll be some games for the Under 16 girls at the end of March, then the better Under 16 girls will transition up into our Under 18s group. So it does look a little bit different, but our squad of about 40 girls at the moment are all either draft eligible or bottom-age.”

Having produced four AFLW draftees last year, including number one pick Montana Ham, the Western region is well poised to serve up even more top end talent to the elite level.

Kiera Whiley gives chase on Kristie-Lee Weston-Turner | Image Credit: Rookie Me Central

Star top-agers Kristie-Lee Weston-Turner and Kiera Whiley were selected in the AFLW Academy, with the latter arguably leading the race to be named captain this season.

“They’ve had pretty good preseasons,” Williams said. “Some small interruptions with injuries for the both of them, but I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be ready to go for our first game in a couple of weeks.

“They’re both pretty talented, different types of players… Kiera will be our leader in midfield and Kristie-Lee will be that exciting, dynamic forward. She’s worked a lot on her running ability, so she’ll play higher up the ground and be involved a bit more.”

At 180cm, Weston-Turner is a rare tall in the squad, which will be boosted in that department by a couple of over-agers. Grand Final match-winner Krystal Russell returns as the ruck alongside Akima Manaoah, though both are also tied to VFLW clubs.

“We’re definitely not tall,” Williams said. “We’ll have Krystal Russell who’s at Essendon VFL play some games with us during the year to help boost the ruck stocks, and Akima as well as a 19-year-old.

Krystal Russell carries the ball | Image Credit: Rookie Me Central

“But we’ll be another fleet-footed outfit like previous years and try to use plenty of overlap handball, which is something we’ve encouraged in the talent pathways… so we’re hoping to see some of that.”

Williams identified a few more names to watch, including the Jets’ third Vic Metro hub member Tamara Henry.

“She (Henry) has continued to improve her athleticism, so her speed’s going to be a real weapon for her this year, and goal kicking,” Williams said. “Megan Smart, she played in the grand final last year. She’s a good decision maker and ball winner in the midfield.

“A girl who performed really well in our practice game the other night was Stella Cossey. She’s a bit lighter but she’s quite an evasive and talented player. They’re probably two who have taken the next step in the preseason.”

Bottom-agers Lou-Lou Field and Sierra Grieves will also inevitably play key roles having come to the fore as double bottom-agers last season. The former now studies at Geelong Grammar and will play off half-back, while the latter has worked on her endurance and will likely gain more midfield minutes.

The Jets kick off their Coates Talent League season in Round 3 with a trip to Tasmania on April 1, with their first home game scheduled for Round 5 against Calder.

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