Captain: Emma Zielke
Coach: Craig Starcevich
Their 2020 season began in a very promising manner, but their three consecutive wins soon turned to losses and they scraped into a semi-final, away, against Carlton. The Blues ran away with that match in the final term. They’ve kept the majority of their list and added young talent through the draft so should, as always, be thereabouts in 2021. The Lions grabbed Zimmorlei Farquahrson from the QAFLW, who is noted for her athletic movement which Lions Women chief executive Breeanna Brock described as “unparalleled” and “the last piece of the puzzle for us”.
Captain: Kerryn Harrington and Katie Loynes
Coach: Daniel Harford
Daniel Harford has got the Blues rolling along nicely since he took over, with a grand final finish in 2019 and a similarly strong showing in 2020′s abbreviated campaign. That preliminary final against North Melbourne promised to be a cracker. Alas, they will attack 2021 with similarly lofty goals, with Elise O’Dea an extremely good addition to the Blues squad that makes up for the loss of Sarah Hosking to Richmond. They’ll open the season against Collingwood in round one, which the Pies will be absolutely hell bent on winning given their losses in the past. Their final round against Fremantle could also be a clash for one of the top spots.
Captain: Steph Chiocci and Brianna Davey
Coach: Steve Symonds
The Pies slowly improved throughout 2020, which culminated in a loss to the supreme North Melbourne in the semi-final. Symonds’ side became the sum of all its parts when at the top of its game – led by stars like Chloe Molloy, Brianna Davey and Jaimee Lambert but then ably supported by a bunch of role players and lesser knowns around the ground. Sharni Layton also blossomed in the ruck. In the off-season they completed the Brown trio, with Tarni joining brothers Cal and Tyler in the colours of their father Gavin. Finals again has to be the goal.
Captain: Kara Antonio
Coach: Trent Cooper
Fremantle would have won the flag if last season wasn’t cut short because of the pandemic. They went through the season undefeated – the first side to do so – and thumped Gold Coast in their semi-final. The skilful and attacking footy put on by the likes of Kiara Bowers, Ebony Antonio, Hayley Miller, Gemma Houghton and Ange Stannett set a new standard for the league, while Mim Strom was impressive in her first season of AFLW. Strom slotted into the ruck seamlessly in place of Aine Tighe who was injured. A grand final is the minimum, and you’d think motivation levels would be off the charts given how 2020 was cut short.
Captain: Meg McDonald
Coach: Paul Hood
The Cats season was poor but there is cause for optimism down the highway with Nina Morrison training again and seemingly on track to return to the AFLW, after she ruptured her ACL for the second time. She has the ability to be a transformational player for this Geelong side, and with the likes of fellow youngsters Millie Brown and Sophie Van De Heuvel around her, Geelong’s improvement will come from its youth. Olivia Purcell and Rebecca Webster, taken in the same draft as Morrison, enter their third AFLW campaign too, with those at the club excited about what these players might bring given they’ve got two seasons under their belts.
Captain: Sam Virgo and Hannah Dunn
Coach: David Lake
Like St Kilda the Suns out-performed expectations in their first season in the competition as expansion sides. They will have to rely on the young talent they picked up in their inaugural draft with only one selection at the top end – Annise Bradfield – coming in, although forward powerhouse Sarah Perkins has also moved north to Queensland. Talented midfielder Jacqui Yorston ruptured her ACL in the pre-season, which was a blow. The Suns were very defensively sound in 2020 and were tough to score against. More firepower going the other way might help them improve again.
Greater Western Sydney
Captain: Alicia Eva
Coach: Alan McConnell
The Giants have endured major hardships in recent months. Sydney’s COVID-19 situation forced them to relocate to Albury, and then Adelaide, where they played a practice match against the Crows in which Irishwoman Brid Stack suffered a serious back injury. All that pales into insignificance compared to the devastation of the sudden death of foundation player Jacinda Barclay. After a disappointing 2019 campaign, the Giants bounced back last year only to lose a thrilling semi-final to Melbourne. Despite their pre-season challenges, they should again be competitive, with young gun Alyce Parker a driving force.
Captain: Daisy Pearce
Coach: Mick Stinear
The Demons have been consistent finals contenders since the inception of AFLW, but had suffered several near misses. It was heartbreaking then that when they finally made it last year, and then knocked off the Giants in a semi-final thriller, they were denied a flag tilt because of the pandemic. It was also perhaps surprising then that Melbourne decided to trade out a host of experienced players, including former co-captain Elise O’Dea. The Dees’ rationale was that they wanted to invest heavily in the draft, and they managed to snare Alyssa Bannan at pick No. 5. Whether the strategy hurts in the short-term, especially given Daisy Pearce is getting on, remains to be seen.
Captain: Emma Kearney
Coach: Darren Crocker
The Kangaroos survived a tough semi-final against Collingwood to be one of the four teams left standing when the season came to a crashing halt 10 months ago. Then, stunningly, they sacked coach Scott Gowans – a victim of coronavirus cuts – despite an 11-3 record across two seasons. Into the breach came North stalwart Darren Crocker. The Roo will hope this doesn’t destabilise a winning boat but there are no guarantees. On-field, North have retained the bulk of their already very strong squad, while also regaining All-Australian defender Jess Duffin after she missed the 2020 season because of pregnancy.
Captain: Katie Brennan
Coach: Ryan Ferguson
Their men’s team is the envy of the AFL after three premierships in four seasons but it was an extremely rude entry into AFLW for the Tigers, who went winless in their first season. They couldn’t even say that they were finding form by season’s end, held to just three behinds against fellow expansion team St Kilda in round six. Richmond’s poor performance cost coach Tom Hunter his job, replaced by former Melbourne player Ryan Ferguson. The only way is up for the Tigers, who have been bolstered by the addition of Sarah Hosking from Carlton after a relatively busy trade period. No. 1 draft pick Ellie McKenzie also has the makings of a superstar. But the inroads will need to be dramatic for Richmond to even get close to the finals.
Co-captains: Hannah Priest, Kate Shierlaw, Rhi Watt, Cat Phillips
Coach: Peta Searle
In contrast to their expansion sisters at Punt Road, the Saints were highly competitive in their first season, winning two games and running premiership fancies Fremantle very close. St Kilda’s list looked relatively even on paper and it remains the case but they found a fearsome spearhead in Cailin Greiser, who topped the competition’s goalkicking and memorably sunk Melbourne with a long bomb at Moorabbin. Young gun Georgia Patrikios showed her class and flair last year and should only improve. The loss of off-season recruit Bianca Jakobsson to a broken collarbone is however a setback.
Captain: Emma Swanson
Coach: Daniel Pratt
The big brother of the West Australian AFL teams, the Eagles are very much the little sister when it comes to the women’s competition, arriving three years after Fremantle, who have evolved into one of the league’s standout outfits. This made for a challenging first season in which the Eagles copped some heavy defeats, with only a narrow win at home over the Western Bulldogs to show for their efforts. Coach Luke Dwyer has left, replaced by former Kangaroos player Daniel Pratt, who was already on the Eagles’ books. Irishwoman Aisling McCarthy was a handy off-season trade from the Dogs but West Coast’s growth should come from their emerging core of WA locals.
Captain: Ellie Blackburn
Coach: Nathan Burke
Premiers in 2018, the Bulldogs lost a glut of key talent across both seasons of expansion. They entered last season with a very young core, understandably slipping well off the pace in their conference, indeed losing their last five games. But it’s far from doom and gloom at Whitten Oval. They took it up to the Dockers in the final round of the shortened season, and in Isabel Huntington have one of the league’s star talls. Eleanor Brown also emerged late in the campaign, while Gabby Newton and Nell Morris-Dalton also have another pre-season under their respective belts. Father-daughter player Issy Grant is also fit to make her AFLW debut after being thwarted by injury last season.
Daniel Cherny ladder predictions:
- North Melbourne
- St Kilda
- Brisbane Lions
- Gold Coast
- Western Bulldogs
- Greater Western Sydney
- West Coast
Anthony Colangelo ladder predictions
2. North Melbourne
6. St Kilda
8. Brisbane Lions
10. Western Bulldogs
11. Greater Western Sydney
13. Gold Coast
14. West Coast
Daniel is an Age sports reporter
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.
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