The NAB AFL Women’s competition was difficult to read coming into the season because not much was known about a lot of the players, including quite a few in this team. Now the season has come to a close and an All Australian side needs to be picked from the standout players of the inaugural season.
With less than 10 games to work with and a style of footy that has less emphasis on raw statistics, some of these positions were difficult to work out and a few players fell short of the team by the width of a hair. GWS and Fremantle are only represented in the team by one player each, reflecting their seasons. Collingwood also only boast the one player and that has more to do with their list lacking star power. Brisbane defender Tahlia Randall and Fremantle priority pick Ebony Antonio were seriously considered for backline spots – the hardest part of this team to put together. Brisbane captain Emma Zielke was the proverbial 23rd player, but was also edged out. Late-season form slumps probably cost Carlton’s Bianca Jakobsson and Collingwood’s Steph Chiocci spots in the side, but without further apologies, here’s my AFLW All Australian team.
Back Pocket: Danielle Hardiman (Carlton)
Danielle Hardiman is arguably Carlton’s most important non-marquee player. She takes the big roles in defence most weeks, but also averages 4 rebound 50s, 3 marks and 11 disposals per game. She’s one of the few lockdown defenders in the league who does damage offensively as well.
Full Back: Leah Kaslar (Brisbane)
Leah Kaslar has been one of the leaders for the Lions and been crucial to their ability to rebound from the backline. Kaslar only averages the seven disposals per game, but would have been among the best players for the Lions in most of their wins. The 31-year-old spent most of her footy career playing in the ruck before transitioning to defence with the Lions. Kaslar’s most impressive performance was keeping leading goal kicker Darcy Vescio
Back Pocket: Sam Virgo (Brisbane)
The Brisbane Lions conceded an average of about 20 points per game, the lowest of any team by a long way. Sam Virgo has been a big part of that, rebounding off half back and setting up the backline. Similar to Kaslar, she’s not a high disposal winner, but she gets the job done.
Half Back Flank: Brianna Davey (Carlton)
At 22 years old, Bri Davey may just be the most dangerous player in the competition. She averages 19 disposals per game, more rebound 50s than any player and has penetration in her kicking that separates her from the pack. Her strength also makes her a game-changer around stoppages as no player has shown the ability to stop her when she gets going.
Centre Half Back: Chelsea Randall (Adelaide)
One of Adelaide’s marquee selections, Randall has played in a number of positions so far, but seems to have found a home in a key defensive role in the last few weeks. She held Tayla Harris goalless against the Lions and backed it up with a 12 tackle game against the Demons the next week. She averages 15 disposals, three marks and six tackles per game, and her ability to play anywhere makes her incredibly valuable to the Crows.
Half Back Flank: Hannah Scott (Western Bulldogs)
Hannah Scott has been overshadowed a bit at the Bulldogs, but is dangerous every week off half back. She averages 13 disposals per game and is ranked top five for rebound 50s. In round two against the Crows, Scott gained approximately 730 meters with the ball. To put that in perspective, if AFLW were the same length as the men’s game, she would’ve broken the all-time record comfortably. Jason Johannisen had 750 meters in his Norm Smith performance.
Wing: Emma Kearney (Western Bulldogs)
Few players in AFLW do as much damage with the ball as Emma Kearney does. The Bulldogs midfielder has pace to burn on the outside and is the best clearance player statistically in the competition. She also became the first player to crack the 30 disposal barrier and when you consider AFLW is almost a full hour shorter than the men’s competition, that’s pretty incredible.
Centre: Ebony Marinoff (Adelaide)
Ebony Marinoff could very easily win both the AFLW Rising Star Award and the league MVP. She’s averaged a mammoth 10 tackles per game and has been Adelaide’s most important midfield cog all season. She also averages 15 disposals per game and is ranked third for inside 50s in the competition.
Wing: Karen Paxman (Melbourne)
Karen Paxman is a genuine ball accumulator and is the type of player that can get 10 disposals before you’ve even noticed the impact she’s having. She gets off the leash while Daisy Pearce gets most of the attention in the midfield and that’s helped her average 22 disposals per game, the equal-most of any player.
Ruck: Emma King (Collingwood)
Emma King is the clear dominant ruckman of the competition and that’s why Collingwood took her as a marquee selection. She averages 28 hit-outs per game, six clear of the next best player. She’s also shown the ability to take marks and help the Pies lock the ball inside 50. None of the main AFLW ruckmen get a lot of the ball, but King has shown the ability in a few games this year.
Rover: Daisy Pearce (captain) (Melbourne)
Does anything really need to be said about Daisy Pearce? Statistically, she’s in the top handful of almost everything you could ask for from a midfielder, she’s tied with Paxman for averaging the most disposals per game and she’s won games for the Demons by controlling the footy off half back and by going forward and getting involved in scoring chains. She’s the standout captain in the competition as well as the standout player.
Ruck Rover: Kara Donnellan (Fremantle)
If Kara Donnellan played in a team that won a few more games, she’d probably be a favourite for the MVP Award. As it is, there mightn’t be a player more important to her team as we saw when she missed round seven and the Dockers were destroyed by Melbourne. ‘Juddy’, as she’s nicknamed, might just be the best kick in the competition in terms accuracy and penetration. She averages 17 disposals per game, four clearances, seven tackles and has kicked four goals.
Half Forward Flank: Erin Phillips (vice-captain) (Adelaide)
A former Olympic basketballer and a rookie on the Crows’ list, Erin Phillips quickly established herself as one of the best players in the competition. Her sporting experience has made her one of the best captains and big-moment players, willing Adelaide over the line in tight games. She’s kicked eight goals, averages 19 disposals and five clearances, ranked second in the competition. Up forward or in the midfield, she’s been vital to Adelaide’s success.
Centre Half Forward: Sabrina Frederick-Traub (Brisbane)
Sabrina Frederick-Traub may have only kicked five goals for the year, but she’s the clear competition standout as far as a tall marking forward goes. She’s been the Lions’ most valuable player, spending almost as much time in the ruck and around the ground as she has up forward. She’s ranked second in the league for contested marks with 10, behind teammate Tayla Harris.
Half Forward Flank: Ellie Blackburn (Western Bulldogs)
Honestly, Ellie Blackburn deserved a spot in the midfield of this team, but the versatility she has in her game that most other midfielders don’t allowed her to be picked here to make more room in the midfield for other players. Blackburn has carried the Bulldogs, kicking six goals as well as averaging 19 disposals and three clearances. She’s also kicked 12 behinds which means she’s had as many shots on goal as anyone in the competition. At 22 years old, she has carried the Bulldogs this season and will for many more years.
Forward Pocket: Darcy Vescio (Carlton)
Darcy Vescio is the undisputed best forward in the AFL Women’s competition. She’s kicked 14 goals for the season with the next closest player being three behind. It’s possible she hasn’t lost a one-on-one contest inside 50 all year either and could easily have a few more goals to her name if she hadn’t given so many away to teammates. She isn’t a high disposal winner, but every time the ball is in her hands, Carlton is hitting the scoreboard in one way or another. She’s also played 99.2 per cent of match-time across the seven games which is mind-boggling.
Full Forward: Sarah Perkins (Adelaide)
Sarah Perkins was picked up by the Crows as a free agent selection after being overlooked in the draft and she has repaid the faith with 11 goals, including a game winning four-goal haul against Collingwood to get Adelaide over the line. She’s also been handy for the Crows in the ruck and her size advantage has made her almost impossible to stop in marking contests. Perkins has shown she’s a big-moment player and even in her quiet games has arisen at the right moments and kicked important goals.
Forward Pocket: Kate McCarthy (Brisbane)
If Vescio is number one, Kate McCarthy has been the second best small forward so far and not just because she sits third on the goal kicking tally with nine. McCarthy’s unmatched pace has cut many sides to shreds. She’s one of only two players in the competition who have taken more than 10 bounces and while she doesn’t get a lot of the ball, every time she does something happens.
Interchange: Emily Bates (Brisbane)
Bates has been the most prolific player in the Brisbane midfield, averaging 15 disposals per game and five tackles, but also standing up in the big games, racking up 22 and 17 disposals in the Lions’ close matches against Adelaide and Carlton. Her performance will be crucial to whether Brisbane bring home the trophy.
Interchange: Elise O’Dea (Melbourne)
O’Dea is probably the third wheel in the Demons’ midfield, but she’d be the best midfielder in a few other sides. She averages 19 disposals per game and is a better kick than most. Coupled with her run and carry on the outside of contests and her five tackles per game, she’s certainly a player you have to watch as much as Pearce and Paxman.
Interchange: Jess Dal Pos (GWS Giants)
With marquee midfielder Renee Forth missing the entire season and fellow marquee Emma Swanson out for the first half of the competition, Dal Pos stood up and led the Giants’ midfield. She averaged an enormous seven tackles per game, 14 disposals and was ranked third for clearances. Shemightn’t have been a player that stood out much, but she was without question GWS’ best player this season.
Interchange: Alyssa Mifsud (Melbourne)
This final spot in the team came down to Alyssa Mifsud and Brisbane marquee Tayla Harris. Harris is probably the better player and has had a significant impact in her side making the grand final, leading the competition for contested marks, but Mifsud’s nine goals gets her the nod. Harris only managed three for the year. The ex-basketballer has been the focal point of the Demons’ forward line and averages three tackles per game, more than most key position forwards.
FB: Danielle Hardiman (CAR), Leah Kaslar (BRI), Sam Virgo (BRI)
HB: Bri Davey (CAR), Chelsea Randall (ADE), Hannah Scott (WBD)
C: Emma Kearney (WBD), Ebony Marinoff (ADE), Karen Paxman (MEL)
HF: Erin Phillips (ADE), Sabrina Frederick-Traub (BRI), Ellie Blackburn (WBD)
FF: Darcy Vescio (CAR), Sarah Perkins (ADE), Kate McCarthy (BRI)
Fol: Emma King (COL), Daisy Pearce (MEL), Kara Donnellan (FRE)
Int: Emily Bates (BRI), Elise O’Dea (MEL), Jess Dal Pos (GWS), Alyssa Mifsud (MEL)
Club by Club Breakdown
Western Bulldogs: 2
Coincidentally, this almost perfectly matches the AFLW ladder which shows in such a short competition and with lists of only 27, it’s the top-end players that make the biggest difference.