It was a massive off-season for the Carlton AFLW as they secured two boom recruits in Tayla Harris and Nicola Stevens from rival clubs. Add that to All-Australian Brianna Davey’s announcement as captain and the Blues appear to be going all out for the second installment of AFL Women’s.
The Coach: Damian Keeping
Captain: Brianna Davey
Damian Keeping takes charge of a somewhat different fleet after significant changes were made over the off-season. Yes, they were able to nab All-Australians Tayla Harris and Nicola Stevens but the Blues lost key personnel in doing so. Bianca Jakobsson, Nat Exon and Isabella Ayre will be substantial losses to their depth, along with the three draft picks (picks 5, 13 and 21) used to lure Stevens from Collingwood.
Clearly the Blues are focussing on the ‘now’, after a season that could have been something special but resulted in a middle-table finish. In saying that, Tayla Harris at age 20 and Stevens (24) have plenty of footy to give and can still get better – a scary proposition for opposition sides. The dynamic forward 50-duo of Harris and Vescio will have opposition defences quivering in their boots, but ultimately the issue will be whether Carlton can get it in there to begin with.
It is for this reason that the Blues off-season manoeuvres are a touch perplexing; recruiting a star forward and defender to a side whose midfield is its greatest flaw. Perhaps we may see All-Australian defender Brianna Davey spend more time in the guts in 2018 with Stevens able to steady the ship down back.
The former Matildas goalkeeper starred in the VFLW as a midfielder and was named in the team of the year on-the-ball.
— Carlton FC (@CarltonFC) January 11, 2018
Where they sat in 2017:
Carlton came in as one of the red-hot favourites with the Bulldogs ahead of the inaugural AFLW season and their season opener proved just that, defeating the Pies by 35 points.
The Blues consistently matched it with the best in 2017 but fell just short, losing nail-biters against Adelaide and Melbourne and finishing level pegging with Brisbane.
However, it was their upset loss against the cellar-dwelling Dockers in round six that proved to be the nail in the coffin of their season, leaving them in fourth place.
Offensively the Blues were damaging, finishing with the second most points overall, but on the flip-side they conceded almost 50-points more than any other top-four side.
IN: Nicola Stevens (Collingwood), Tayla Harris (Brisbane), Georgia Gee (pick 12), Sophie Li (pick 28), Reni Hicks (pick 29), Bridie Kennedy (pick 35), Kerryn Harrington (basketball), Maddison Gay (netball).
OUT: Nat Exon (Brisbane), Bella Ayre (Brisbane), Bianca Jakobsson (Melbourne), Kate Darby, Rebecca Privitelli, Tahni Nestor, Jess Kennedy, Alison Brown, Jordan Ivey and Hayley Trevean (delisted).
The preseason so far:
The Blue-baggers got their first win on the board in 2018 in their practice match against the Bulldogs, defeating them by 16-points on Sunday in Ballarat.
Carlton fielded a relatively full-strength line-up at Mars Stadium, with their stars stepping up to the plate. Vescio proved to be the difference with three majors and was best afield for the navy blue along with Brianna Davey (one goal).
Tayla Harris opened her goal account with a long launch from 50m, while draftees Sophie Li and Bridie Kennedy also fared well.
Who to watch:
Aside from the major recruits, Jessica Hosking is one who will be chomping at the bit to get out there in 2018. The twin sister of vice-captain Sarah, Jess was Carlton’s 10th round selection in 2016 and will provide inside-midfield depth that the Blues lacked last season.
Another to keep an eye out for is mature-age draftee Sophie Li, who will offer more coalface support. Li impressed in the Blues’ recent practice match and finished second in the SANFL league best-and-fairest last year.
Some would argue Tayla Harris wasn’t at her best in the AFLW last season, and her disappointing Grand Final performance (1.1 from three disposals) should have her hungry to make a statement from the outset.
It also looms as a massive season for skipper Brianna Davey, who has fully recovered from the back injury that cruelled her first AFLW campaign.
Oh, and we can’t forget star forward Darcy Vescio, either. The excitement machine was the leading goalscorer (14 goals) in 2017, but she will have to be prepared for some of that figure to be poached by her new teammate this time around.
The Blues failed to win a game interstate last season, so it will come as a relief that two of their three interstate clashes are against bottom-two sides in Fremantle and GWS.
Carlton will be pleased that they again host the season opener, but their run home of Adelaide (away), Melbourne (home) and Fremantle (away) will be testing.
It is a bit of a boom or bust season for the Blues, and I still have question marks on their midfield. Can see them just squeezing out of the top-two in third place.
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