18/04/2024

Georgie Prespakis is one of the highest rated midfielders in the 2021 AFLW Draft. (Photo: Essendon VFLW/Twitter)

With the AFLW Draft fast approaching, we look at the best Vic Metro prospects out of both the NAB League and VFLW.

As the AFLW Draft approaches on July 27, The Inner Sanctum has taken a look at the top prospects across Australia.

The Victorian pool is always full of talent, featuring an evergreen and strong underage competition in the NAB League. Most of the high-end talent is given the opportunity to play in the Under 19s championships, as well as in the VFL Women’s competition.

18 of the 57 players drafted in 2020 were drafted from Vic Metro NAB League clubs, including picks one and two Ellie McKenzie and Jess Fitzgerald from the Northern Knights. Alyssa Bannan made it three Metro picks in the top 10.

It could be a similar story in 2021, with at least three potential top 10 prospects shaping up in the NAB League.

With the VFLW postponed but set to finish once Victoria exits lockdown, the AFL confirmed that all drafted players from Essendon, Geelong and Collingwood will remain with their teams until after the season.

Here are the top prospects from Vic Metro and the VFLW.

Alana Barba – Essendon VFLW

Midfielder/Forward – 26/09/2001, 166cm

After being overlooked on draft day twice, Barba has enjoyed a breakout season in Essendon’s VFLW side, who are still in the premiership mix.

She flew under the radar as a forward in her draft year, only kicking three goals in 11 games for the Calder Cannons and averaging 12 disposals and seven tackles. It couldn’t be a more different story in 2021 however, where Barba has become one of the most eye-catching players in the VFLW.

Barba is one of the premier midfielders of the competition, averaging 16 disposals, seven tackles and two clearances. More importantly though, she’s kicked 10 goals in her 16 games.

There are not many players more dangerous than Barba in a stoppage inside 50. If she can find separation from the contest, she’s likely to score from anywhere. An understated type off-field, she lets her play do the talking, a key part of Essendon’s high-intensity pressure gamestyle.

Bombers teammate Mia-Rae Clifford spoke to The Inner Sanctum about Barba in the pre-season.

“She’s already got a good footy IQ, she’s fit and like a lot of these young kids she can already kick left and right. She’s got the attributes of an AFLW player,” Clifford said.

“Teams will rue the day she didn’t get a shot when she’s on a list, that’s for sure.”

A team like St Kilda or North Melbourne would be a good fit for Barba. The Saints would love another hard-nosed midfielder alongside Rosie Dillon to free up Georgia Patrikios, who can also rotate forward and provide a strong scoring option at ground level.

VFLW Bombers fall to league leaders
Barba is one of the best midfielder/forwards available in 2021. (Photo: Essendon FC)

Georgia Campbell – Eastern Ranges

Ruck/Key Forward – 09/01/2003, 182cm

Rated as one of the best ruck prospects of the draft, Melbourne has already claimed Campbell as its own.

She becomes the Demons’ first ever father-daughter selection, and joins a growing group after Alice Burke (St Kilda) and Tarni Brown (Collingwood) were drafted last year.

Father Adrian played 32 games for Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, meaning Campbell could have opted to be drafted by the Bulldogs as well. There is only a one game played requirement for father-daughter selections, and Adrian played two games with the Dogs.

Melbourne has gained a highly competitive ruck, who’s not afraid to do a bit of enforcing in the middle, averaging three tackles across her 2020 and 2021 NAB League seasons.

She is a true ruck/forward, kicking five goals in nine games and will make for a perfect Tegan Cunningham replacement. Campbell also averaged over 20 hit outs a game, and will form a dangerous ruck combo alongside Lauren Pearce.

There aren’t many better to learn from and train against than Pearce, so expect Campbell to have a big pre season and come out firing in the 2021/22 season.

Georgia Campbell to join Demons as first father-daughter pick
Campbell becomes Melbourne’s first father-daughter selection. (Photo: Melbourne FC)

Amanda Ling – Oakleigh Chargers/Port Melbourne VFLW

Inside Midfielder – 09/07/2002, 161cm

She was overlooked in her draft year, but returning to the Oakleigh Chargers as an overager, Ling is proving that she has what it takes to be AFLW midfielder.

Ling’s best performance came at the perfect moment, winning the best on ground medal in the NAB League Grand Final win over the Geelong Falcons.

Playing that inside midfielder role she’s become renowned for, Ling finished with 20 disposals, three inside 50s and a massive 10 tackles. It was a high pressure, high reward game, particularly notable when she was battling against top Falcons product Tess Craven.

She even managed to upstage teammate and likely number one pick Charlie Rowbottom, shining the spotlight on herself.

Ling knows how to crack in on the inside, averaging 17 disposals and 6.5 tackles throughout her year with the Chargers. She’s also dangerous on the outside though, averaging three inside 50s.

While her kicking needs some work, her handball skills are already at the level required of an AFLW inside mid.

Having played with Port Melbourne in the VFLW, the Tigers will no doubt be keeping an eye on Ling if she slides past the first round. The Western Bulldogs with pick 11 would also enjoy an extra elite inside midfielder.

2021 AFLW Draft prospects: Victoria
Ling (L) after the 2021 NAB League Girls Grand Final, winning best on ground. (Photo: Carlton FC)

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Sophie Locke – Port Melbourne VFLW

Medium Forward – 24/04/2001, 166cm

Though an innocuous finger injury put a pause in her VFLW season after a strong run of form, Locke was still one of the most dangerous small-medium forwards of the year.

She can take a mark (taking four in the win over Carlton and the loss to the Saints) and kick a set shot just as well as she kick them on the run. Locke is also known for bringing a bit of flashiness, kicking snaps and bending the ball around her body with ease.

Locke kicked three goals in two matches, and two goals twice. Her scoring dried up significantly after she returned from her finger injury, kicking nine of her 13 goals in 2021 in the first month of the year. Of her own admission though, she was still adjusting to wearing a playing splint.

She’s also shown she can bring the pressure at ground level, averaging four tackles.

Her final two games of the year saw Locke find her form again, averaging six disposals and five and a half tackles, while also kicking three goals.

With its affiliation with Port Melbourne, Richmond will be looking at the goalkicker to join its ranks for the 2021/22 season. Richmond’s pick 23 or St Kilda’s pick 22 could see Locke drafted in the Victorian pool.

“I’ve had a lot of supportive messages from the Tigers girls,” Locke told The Inner Sanctum.

“‘We can’t wait to see where you end up…’ they all enjoyed playing with me and they’re all sending messages of good luck. It’s been really supportive and sweet of them.”

No single Locke or key to Port Melbourne's success
Locke celebrates one of her 13 goals for the 2021 VFLW season. (Photo: Port Melbourne FC/Twitter)

Imogen Milford – Casey Demons VFLW

Key Forward – 02/12/1999, 179cm

2021 has been a huge step up for the VFLW’s second highest goalkicker, kicking 19.14 in her first full season at the level.

Her strongest game of the year came in the Demons 13-point win over Hawthorn, kicking a monstrous six goals to help her team over the line.

Milford is a brilliant pressure player for her size, averaging 4.3 tackles across 2021. The only knock on her game would be contested marking, only taking more than two marks in a game twice.

However, she makes up for this with her athleticism and pressure which is well above expectations for a key forward. Milford generally likes to play as a stay at home forward, but her tackling game adds another layer to that.

She’ll compete at ground level and find the ball even when she’s not scoring, averaging nine disposals and have 10 or more touches on six occasions.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum ahead of the VFLW finals series, Milford said that the consistency that she’s received at VFLW level has helped her more than anything.

“I always will just try and do whatever I can, outside of footy as well, to make myself better as an individual and player,” she said.

“Personally, I think I’ve hopefully proved myself that I can play at [AFLW[ level. I’ve got more to give, that’s for sure.”

If Carlton can’t pick up Tara Slender with its first pick, Milford would have to be on the radar as a Tayla Harris replacement. Richmond, North Melbourne and Collingwood would all also well primed to add her as another tall target.

Georgie Prespakis – Calder Cannons/Essendon VFLW

Inside Midfielder – 13/03/2003, 168cm

The Prespakis name has become famous in the AFLW world, and there’s no denying that Georgie Prespakis has already drawn comparisons with older sister Maddy.

Just like her older sister, she’s come through the Calder Cannons pathway and has played VFLW in her draft year. After a slow start to life in Bombers colours, she’s averaged 17 disposals, 10 tackles, six clearances and two inside 50s.

Prespakis had a stand-out performance in Essendon’s semi-final loss to Collingwood, collecting 21 disposals, 13 tackles and seven clearances. She was matched up on AFLW-listed Ebony O’Dea, and showed off just how strong her contested craft already is.

At just 18 years of age, Prespakis has shown that she’s ready to match it in the contest with the mature bodies of the AFLW.

She’s an expert extractor, knows how to position herself and find space in congestion, and can deliver the ball with elite precision. Prespakis isn’t scared to do the hard stuff either, an incredibly hard tackler and pressure midfielder.

There aren’t many knocks on her game to mention. When she spent time up forward for the Cannons, she kicked 13 goals in 10 games in 2019, and five goals in nine games this year.

With Charlie Rowbottom nominating for the Queensland zone, Prespakis is as good a choice as any to go at Geelong’s pick two. However, should Geelong opt for a Falcons product (e.g. Tess Craven), the Saints will snap her up at pick three.

Prespakis averaged 23 disposals, nine tackles and four inside 50s for the Calder Cannons. (Photo: Calder Cannons)

Stella Reid – Oakleigh Chargers/Collingwood VFLW

Utility/Wing – 10/09/2003, 173cm

The Chargers are producing top quality talent in the 2021 draft, and like the Northern Knights last year, are looking likely to dominate the first round selections.

Reid is perhaps the most versatile of the early selections, and has been employed by Chargers coach Jason Davenport in a variety of outisde roles.

The half forward flank seems to be where Reid is most comfortable. She kicked 15 goals in her 11 games with the Chargers, including a three goal haul against the Falcons. It was on the flank she would be named in the U19s All-Australian team.

While she’s not renowned for her pace, Reid’s real strengths lie in her smarts and reading of the play. It’s what makes her such a consistent outside player across many roles.

She’ll find the right space with both her body positioning and kicking time after time. Reid averaged 4.5 marks and 20 disposals throughout a highly successful NAB League campaign.

However, she’s also not afraid to do the hard things either. When faced with a contest, she’ll crack in, averaging 3.6 tackles.

In games where she was strictly used as a rebounding defender, she racked up five and six rebound 50s. Reid knows how to work the footy to the advantage of her teammates further up the ground and create scoring opportunities.

For her skillset alone, Reid would have to be high on the agenda of a number of clubs in the first round. It could be a toss up between her and Vic Country’s Tara Slender at Richmond’s pick five, with Geelong holding the next two Victorian selections.

The Home of AFL Women's - Victorian Draft Prospects
Stella Reid is firming as a top 15 AFLW Draft prospect. (Photo: AFL Women’s)

Charlie Rowbottom – Oakleigh Chargers

Midfielder/Forward – 22/01/2003, 178cm

All but guaranteed now to go pick one in the draft after nominating for Queensland, Rowbottom is a shining example of the future of the AFLW competition.

At key position size, she has all the attributes to become both an elite midfielder and tall forward.

Her NAB League season was nothing short of incredible, averaging 17.6 disposals, three marks, seven tackles, three inside 50s and kicking 10 goals in 11 games.

Rowbottom has shown herself capable of rotating through both lines of the ground, or playing either role at an already elite level.

Playing as a full time inside midfielder against the Geelong Falcons, she found 17 disposals and laid an outrageous 16 tackles.

In a game against the Gippsland Power, she kicked three goals, had 20 disposals, took four marks and laid seven tackles. Her most complete game came against the Northern Knights, a 28 disposal, two goal, five tackle and nine inside 50 effort.

The Suns struggled majorly in 2021, failing to register a single win after a spirited inaugural season in 2020.

With the new inclusion of ruck Viv Saad to complement young gun Lauren Bella, and alongside the returning Jacqui Yorston and Ali Drennan in the midfield, Rowbottom will change the look of the Suns midfield group from day one.

Expect big things from the upcoming pick one selection.

Keeley Sherar – Eastern Ranges/Hawthorn VFLW

Balanced Midfielder – 29/10/2003, 170cm

A bit of a quiet achiever before this year, Sherar stepped up into an extracting inside midfield role nicely, one of the key pillars of the Eastern Ranges engine room.

The quality of her ball movement was forefront for recruiters to see, averaging 14.8 disposals (10.7 of those kicks), utilising her strong bursting speed out of the contest to deliver the ball inside 50 3.4 times a game.

The pace she has sets her apart from the other inside midfielders in the Victorian pool. She’s not as strong of a contested player as Prespakis or Ling, but still averaged nearly five tackles for the Ranges.

In her four games with Hawthorn in the VFLW, Sherar struggled to make much of an impact on games, only averaging six disposals.

She did however play a key role in the near-win against Geelong, laying six tackles as she helped to build the team’s intensity throughout the middle.

St Kilda or Richmond early in the second round would enjoy a player with Sherar’s attributes, or similarly Carlton with its pick 29.

Sherar (#19, third from the left second row) representing Vic Metro in April. (Photo: Eastern Ranges/Facebook)

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