A NUMBER of top-age, over-age and mature-age prospects have put their names on the AFLW Draft radar across the country to start 2023, and we highlight a few players who have stood out throughout the month of April in their respective states.
Ella Parker (UTS Bats) has made a very impressive start to the AFL Sydney Women’s Premier Division season coming off the back of some great form with Sydney Swans Academy. Against Dandenong Stingrays in Round 1, Parker was best-on with three goals from 23 disposals, before having nine inside 50s from 15 touches in a big win over Murray Bushrangers.
As a bottom-ager she is not draft-eligible until next year, but has already been among the best in two of her three games for the Bats at senior level and looms as a key player for the Allies at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships this year.
Jessica Whelan (East Coast Eagles) is a mature-age player in draft contention having narrowly missed out as an overage selection in the Supplementary Draft. In her three games thus far, Whelan has booted a goal in each, rotating through the ruck and being that key position option who stands at 175cm. Whelan turns 21 in September.
There is no NTFL Women’s Premier League taking place until October, but a sprinkling of talents have spread themselves across the country during the winter seasons.
AFLW Academy member Kyanne Campbell has played five games for the Panthers this year, with her first three – across Rounds 1-4 – being her best, booting four goals in that time, including the game-winner against West Adelaide. Not a high production player, she oozes incredible forward craft, it is just about developing the other areas of her game.
Chelsea Gillard (Maroochydore) is a named to keep an eye on, with the top-ager highly touted by the Roos and with a Victorian background. On the weekend she played her best game yet with 15 disposals, two tackles, three inside 50s and 2.2. She is still developing her craft, but is strong and a key target inside 50 at 180cm-plus.
From a mature-age perspective, it is remarkable no one has yet taken a chance on Steph O’Brien, with her age – turning 30 in September – no doubt the biggest question mark. Standing at 177cm, O’Brien has literally played everywhere, and on the weekend, she racked up a ridiculous 42 disposals, four marks, two clearances, 10 inside 50s and laid 11 tackles.
In the same game, former Roo now Hornet, Mikayla Martin continued her great form recording 21 touches, three marks and eight clearances, as well as laying five tackles.
Brooke Boileau (South Adelaide) is a top-age talent who deserves highlighting for her remarkably consistent season. She has been a strong inside midfielder for the Panthers all season, then stepped up to have 20 disposals, eight tackles and seven clearances in the Croweaters’ victory over Western Australia. She might not quite have the polish, but moves well and can play multiple roles. Kicked the all-important game winner against Woodville-West Torrens last month too. One to watch.
From a more mature-age perspective, it is a big next few weeks for Caitlin Wendland at Central District who has been an eye-catching performer for the Dogs this year. With the AFLW players heading out of the competition – including onballer Maria Moloney – and captain Shelby Smith missing the next three weeks due to suspension, there will be eyes on the 19-year-old to see if she can help lead the Bulldogs to a top two spot ahead of finals.
The ever-versatile Tunisha Kikoak ran out for Old Scotch Collegians (OSC) in the Northern Tasmanian Football Association on the weekend. Having played as a key defender who has pinch-hit in the ruck for the Devils at Coates Talent League level, Kikoak went forward and booted three goals in a comprehensive win over Launceston. In the same game, 2007-born Jorja Haberle impressed for the losers, coming off a strong AFL Women’s Under 16 Championships.
In the south, bottom-ager Mackenzie Williams was among the best during North Hobart’s comprehensive 50-point win over Glenorchy. The defender has been a consistent ball-winner all year for the Devils and slotted into the senior team alongside AFLW Sun Claire Ransom and Devils key forward Bellah Parker who both kicked a goal.
Looking at the VFL Women’s, reigning SANFL Women’s best and fairest winner Jessica Bates (Collingwood VFL) continues to just dominate another state league, clocking up 28.2 disposals, 3.0 marks and 10.8 tackles per games in her first six rounds. Her lowest disposal tally this season has been 24, with her 34 touches against Darebin on the weekend her season high. Numbers that are far too good for the second tier.
Another midfielder who is performing strongly is over-age Geelong Cat Charlotte Simpson. The potential father-daughter selection was overlooked by the Cats last season, but has been a comfortable inclusion for Geelong in the VFLW season this year, averaging 22.2 disposals, 3.3 mars and 4.7 tackles, including back-to-back 31-disposal hauls in Rounds 4-5.
Claremont top-age duo Ella Slocombe and Eva O’Donnell are two players who are making waves over in the west with strong starts to their respective seasons. Slocombe had a delayed start to her preseason after travelling overseas but has not missed a beat since coming back, while O’Donnell has been in fine form inside 50. Both players are capable of playing up the ground or forward, collecting 15 disposals each against South Australia in the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships loss.
Sticking on the Claremont bandwagon, coach Jack Schwarze pushed Mackenzie Webb as a Supplementary Draft selection, and while she was ultimately left on the board, it could pay dividends for a club at the end of the year after the over-age defender had an impressive first-up championships match. She was able to compete well one-on-one against Lauren Young, clunking four marks from 10 disposals and laying three tackles.