2021 AFLW Draft: Western Australia – Who are the best out West?

Western Australia's AFLW Draft pool. Photo: WAFL Official - Twitter

As the AFLW Draft approaches, The Inner Sanctum has taken a look at the top prospects across Australia – next up Western Australia.

A speedy small forward with a rugby background, a young ruck holding two AFLW Draft combine records, and a wounded Lion who has done enough to secure one of Western Australia’s top picks – WA has it all.

In a state that has produced the likes of Isabella Lewis, Mikayla Bowen, Courtney Hodder, and Roxy Roux over the past two years, it’s no surprise the depth of talent in this year’s draft pool is off the charts.

Ahead of the AFLW Draft, Western Australia had a quieter Under 19s AFLW Championship run, finishing with one win to the Allies and two losses to South Australia and Victoria Metro. Off the back of the tournament and the WAFLW season, 15 draft hopefuls were invited to the AFLW Draft Combine on 17 and 18 July.

The West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers watched on eagerly to determine which talent they would bring onto their list on Tuesday night. West Coast has three of the first four picks, with Fremantle’s first pick in the second round.

Draft Picks

West Coast Eagles: 3, 21, 24, 41, 46, 53
Fremantle Dockers: 14, 31, 38, 46, 60

Without further ado, here is the 2021 AFLW draft pool for Western Australia.

Emily Bennett – Claremont WAFLW

Defender
164cm – 26/12/2002

Emily Bennett enters the draft as an over-aged player off the back of a consistent and outstanding WAFLW season and AFLW Under 19s Championship, where she averaged 16.3 disposals, 3.3 marks, 5.3 tackles, and 4.0 rebound 50s.

Despite having a solid background in other sports, she has found her niche in Aussie Rules as a rebounding defender. She is your classic footballer who holds herself well under pressure, is willing to put her body on the line, and stands up in crucial moments.

Off half back, she is just as clean below the knees as she is overhead, runs both ways, and applies fantastic defensive pressure. To top it off, she boasts a long, powerful kick, is firm in one-on-one contests, and is a reliable, versatile player, who can also provide depth in the middle if needed.

Notable combine results:

  • 20m sprint: 3.37 seconds – Equal-third in WA combine

What she had to say

“The main lesson that has stuck with me is that I am a valued player. I have…always looked at what I needed to improve rather than what I am valued for,” Bennett told The Inner Sanctum.

“I would say I am a very reliable and consistent player. I feel as though my teammates can trust that I will use the ball well and play my role properly no matter what.”

Emily Bennett. Photo: (Claremont/Instagram)

Dana East – Swan Districts WAFLW

Midfielder
165cm – 10/06/2002

Remarkably, Dana East only picked up the Burley for the first time 18 months ago and has since made her way into WA’s AFL Women’s Academy, the Swan Districts WAFLW side, and WA’s AFLW draft pool.

In a short period of time, she has become one of the most impressive inside midfielders in the state and showed she is ready to play at any level. Swan Districts’ captain Emily McGuire described her as “unstoppable” which was on show in the U19 Championships.

Not only does she play with clean hands and speed, but she also brings fantastic defensive pressure – averaging eight tackles per game in the three championship matches.

East likes to win the contested ball from stoppages and on the inside, but she is also a fantastic link-up player. When she isn’t in the middle, she can rest forward and kick the occasional goal.

Notable combine results:

  • Agility: 8.73 seconds – Third in WA combine

What has been said about her

“Dana East is always one to look at,” Emily McGuire told The Inner Sanctum.

“Young gun in the midfield, unstoppable. She’s been a very handy pick up for us.”

Dana East. (Photo: WAFL Official/Facebook)

Amy Franklin – Claremont WAFLW

Key Position
180cm – 04/02/2003

With plenty of defenders and midfielders in WA’s 2021 draft pool, Amy Franklin stands out as a unique key position utility player that could slot in easily at either West Coast or Fremantle.

Franklin shines within the 50m arcs with a strong overhead mark and impressive second efforts to boot. While she does prefer to play up forward, she does act as a defensive pillar down back, reading play well to take solid marks.

The AFL Women’s academy product had a quiet U19s Championship but proceeded to impress in the third game against Vic Metro. She spent time at both ends of the ground, kicking a goal, amassing 12 touches, two marks, tackles, and rebound 50s. In addition, she kicked 13 goals for Claremont in the WAFLW.

Franklin is a rarity, and defenders will have trouble containing her. She has a clear aerial advantage over smaller opponents, but her second efforts, ability to get the ground ball, pace, and agility make it difficult for her bigger opponents.

Notable combine results:

  • Vertical jump: 59cm, second in WA combine
  • Running vertical jump, right foot: 74cm – second in WA combine, equal-third all time (Record – 76cm)
  • Running vertical jump, left foot: 73cm, second in WA combine, third all-time (Previous – 76cm)

What she had to say

“I feel like in female footy it’s really good to have a long kick and the height as well, that’s a really good thing to have. I feel like I have that advantage over my opponents,” Franklin told The Inner Sanctum.

“Playing at Claremont, I was probably one of the tallest forwards you would see, so it was really good to know that in the contests I had a bit of an advantage.”

Sarah Lakay – Swan Districts WAFLW

Ruck
184cm20/02/2003

After an outstanding AFLW Draft Combine, the Swan Districts’ ruck is set to bolt and leave the two clubs from Western Australia scrambling to recruit her.

Coming from a basketball background, Lakay used the WAFLW as an opportunity to gain experience against bigger, stronger opponents, which she took into the AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships, averaging 8.7 touches, 8.3 hit outs, and 4.3 tackles.

From there it was onwards and upwards on her, continuing to expand her skillset. Lakay possesses phenomenal athleticism and overhead aerial dominance, with clean hands when tapping and marking.

Despite being 186cm, she can also deliver at ground level, especially with tackles, is capable of finding the footy, and leads smartly.

Still relatively new to the game, she has plenty of raw talent to be developed, and an AFLW club would be the perfect opportunity for her to do so.

Notable combine results:

  • Vertical jump: 70cm – first in WA, new record – Previous 64cm)
  • Running vertical jump, left foot – 78cm – first in WA, new record (Previous – 75cm)
  • Running vertical jump, right foot – 75cm – first in WA, second all-time (Record 76cm)

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Chloe Reilly – East Fremantle WAFLW

Forward
163cm – 12/10/2003

Many might remember Chloe Reilly from her missed shot at goal to secure the game for Western Australia against Vic Metro, however, there is more to her than that one misfortune.

She has been showing plenty of promise as forward over the past few years, but has gone above and beyond in 2021 to develop some flexibility and play in defence too.

With superb goal sense, it’s clear she is most comfortable and effective inside 50, always finding a way to hit the scoreboard, whether it be a set shot, or on the go.

You wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking she is on the taller side after watching her play. Reilly can take strong marks over her taller opponents thanks to ability to read the ball in flight exceptionally, her clean, strong hands and vertical leap. Additionally, she is strong enough to beat her opponents in contested situations.

Reilly can do whatever is asked of her, making her an excellent pick up, however, it would be unwise to play her anywhere but the forward line, due to her hands, goal radar and penetrating kick.

Chloe Reilly. (Photo: WAFL Official/Facebook)

Courtney Rowley – Peel Thunder WAFLW

Midfielder
167cm – 24/09/2003

In the AFLW Draft, Courtney Rowley is tipped to be the first pick up from Western Australia.

It’s remarkable to think she only picked up a footy two years ago when you look at her play now. She will slot into which ever side picks her up with ease, after honing in on, and developing her natural talent at the AFL Women’s academy and at Peel Thunder.

She plays with maturity beyond her years and is an incredibly smart footballer who utilises her speed and agility to evade stronger, bigger bodies.

The rising star was one of the best players in the U19s Championship, and made her name as a prolific tackler, averaging over nine a game, as well as 22.7 disposals on the wing. This performance not only established herself as one of the best midfielders of the 2021 draft, but earned her a well-deserved spot in the All Australian side.

You will never feel unsafe with the ball in Rowley’s hands, as she uses it cleanly and can be very damaging going forward.

She is one of the classiest players to come out of Western Australia’s crop this year, with excellent game awareness and plenty of athleticism on show.

Notable combine results:

  • 20m sprint: 3.32 seconds, first in WA combine

What she had to say

“My speed [is my biggest strength]. I’m a little body, so getting away from the big bodies, you’ve just gotta use your speed,” Rowley told The Inner Sanctum.

“You gotta take your weaknesses being small, but you use your strengths [too]”

Courtney Rowley. (Photo: Peel Thunder/Facebook)

Charlotte Thomas – Subiaco WAFL

Midfielder
175cm – 05/09/2003

With few opportunities to display her footballing abilities this season, her outstanding resume from the past few WAFLW seasons has done well to keep herself in the top echelon of Western Australia’s prospects.

The Subiaco product has been sidelined with a wrist injury, but a place in the AFL Women’s Academy has kept her in selectors eyes and a genuine young talent without playing a single game in the U19s Championship or the WAFLW.

A natural footballer, she holds her composure well in traffic and is able to acquire and dispose the ball cleanly.

Thomas also has brilliant game sense, a good decision maker, and is an effective ball user, by both hand and foot that can hit targets easily, even under pressure.

Despite not getting out on the field in 2021, there is no doubt Thomas is a genuine talent who possesses phenomenal footballing nous. She would be a huge asset to either WA side that picks her up.

Notable combine results:

  • 2km time trial: 8.28min – second in WA combine

What she had to say

“My skills [are my biggest strength].” Thomas told The Inner Sanctum.

“Kicking it to people and clean hands off the ground and stuff like that is probably my best, [but I] still have a lot to work on.”

Makaela Tuhakaraina – South Fremantle WAFLW

Forward
157cm – 23/08/2003

Makaela Tuhaharaina comes from a rugby background, which is evident in how she conducts herself on the field. While she still has room for improvement, there is plenty to like about Tuhakaraina, who has some superb natural athleticism and brings excellent defensive pressure.

Much of her gameplay style is molded off fundamental rugby skills, such as winning the ball and looking to run and breaking through lines with explosive acceleration, speed, and agility. She can shrug a tackle or sidestep an opponent easily and is difficult to contain, with plenty of strength and power on her side.

Tuhakaraina was deservingly awarded a place in the U19s AFLW All Australian 22, which is a sign she is a raw talent on the rise.

Despite having the capability to play anywhere on the ground, she looks best off the half-forward where she goes for a goal or sets up her teammates.

The only way for Tuhakaraina is up, and with a few tweaks to her game style, she could be a damaging talent going forward.

Notable combine results:

  • Agility: 8.57 seconds – First in WA combine
  • 20m sprint: 3.35 seconds – second in WA combine
Makaela Tuhakarina. (Photo: Peel Thunder/Facebook)

The others

The AFLW Draft pool for Western Australia is rich in defenders, with Swan Districts duo Melisha Hardy and Emma Nanut, and Peel’s Bella Mann providing options on the smaller side.

In the combine, Nanut posted some all-around great results, finishing in the top three for all tests but the running vertical jump off the right foot. She would be a solid pick-up if clubs wanted to expand their defensive stocks, as it is clear she is a gifted athlete.

Mann was unable to participate in the combine due to a leg injury.

Claremont pair Matilda Dyke and Tessa Doumanis are the two other taller options from Western Australia in this year’s AFLW draft. The former held strong in defence during the under 19s Championship and posted the best time in the 2km time trial, while the former had an exceptional season in the WAFLW and recorded the third highest scores in the running vertical jumps on both feet.

Another tall is Beth Schilling, a key defender who can also play back up ruck and swing forward.

Over-ager Nyra Anderson was also in last year’s draft combine invitees, but was not picked up by either WA club. She plays predominantly forwards, but can be used down back when needed. She’s been on they radar for over a year, could she be lucky second time around?

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About Rebecca Ruthven 73 Articles
Rebecca is a footy, cricket, netball, and basketball writer for The Inner Sanctum. Based in Perth, she mainly focuses on the WA sporting scene, however, she does enjoy covering sport interstate. Currently studying Journalism at Curtin University.

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