Which AFLW players will take the next step in 2022? (Photos: AFLQ; Geelong Cats; Richmond FC)

Which AFLW player at each club is ready to take the next step in 2022? The Inner Sanctum's Aussie rules writers have taken a look.

As another AFLW season approaches, another crop of players get their chance to put their name amongst the competition’s elite.

Whether they’ve struggled through injury, haven’t been able to break into a stacked side, or simply haven’t been offered the opportunity, there are many across the league fighting to show what they can do.

The Inner Sanctum has chosen a player from each club that is ready to take their game to the next level in 2022.

Adelaide – Chelsea Biddell

Biddell was drafted by the Crows in 2019 and made her way straight into the side, playing all six games in her debut season, kicking spectacular goals and impressing with her strength.

WIth the Crows boasting a fully fit and strong side last year, she struggled to make her way back into the best 21, but continued to develop strongly in the SANFLW competition.

Playing for West Adelaide she impressed, averaging 13.1 disposals and 4.3 marks, while kicking a goal a game. With some big names in the side being placed on the inactive list this year and a strong pre-season under her belt, this season could see Biddell take back and retain her spot in the side.

Her ability to jump into the ruck when needed could also help the Crows to fill the hole that has been left by Rhiannon Metcalfe, and provide support as a utility ruck option.

Having been in the competition for a few years now she is starting to get comfortable at the level, giving her the chance to step up and claim her spot in the side.

Kristin Davis

Brisbane – Courtney Hodder

Hodder was sublime in her debut season in 2021 for the Brisbane Lions on their way to their inaugural AFLW premiership.

After a year of experience playing with the top side in the competition, this could be the year that she goes from being a great first-year player, to establishing herself as one of the elite small-forwards in the competition.

The 21-year-old kicked nine goals in her last campaign, with one of them winning her the Goal of the Year award. Hodder’s blistering pace has proven a challenge for almost any defence, and she was one of the most consistent performers for the reigning premiers.

Her brilliant goal from the pocket at the Adelaide Oval in the Grand Final was the cherry on top in what was an incredible debut season for one of the competition’s hottest prospects. Hodder was also a Rising Star nominee, and named in the AFLPA 22under22 team last year.

Lachlan Onions

Carlton – Brooke Vernon

Vernon started last season in Carlton’s best 21 with impressive performances in Rounds 1 and 2 against Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs before an injury derailed the young defender’s season, preventing her from featuring again.

Jess Hosking’s departure to Richmond frees up a spot in Carlton’s backline for Vernon to cement her position as both a lockdown and rebounding defender. 

Drafted with pick 26 in 2019, Vernon has only played the three AFLW games. An opportunity looms after a block of strong pre-season work to establish herself in the Carlton side among the array of young talent at Ikon Park.

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Jono Baruch

Collingwood – Tarni Brown

How much can you say about the daughter of a club legend? 

Tarni Brown made every post a winner in her debut season with the Magpies in 2021, claiming the club’s best first year player and a NAB AFLW Rising Star selection after playing every game for the season. 

As is the way with every footballer who comes from a basketball background, her speed, agility, and clean hands are second-to-none. Her ferocity at the contest mirrors that of her father, Gavin and brother Callum. 

In 2021 she averaged 11 disposals per game, but expect her time in the midfield to significantly rise through 2022 and the stats column rise to 15+ per game.

While Magpie fans salivate at the prospect of seeing Nick Daicos roll out for the men’s side in Round 1 alongside brother Josh, they’ll certainly enjoy the second season of the youngest Brown wearing #26 and running around in the AFLW strutting her stuff, creating her own history.

Joseph Pignataro 

Fremantle – Aine Tighe

This may come as a strange selection as the Irishwoman is yet to debut in Dockers colours, but Tighe has been backed by league best and fairest winner Kiara Bowers as “one of the best players I’ve ever seen”.

29-year-old Tighe originally joined the Dockers as a rookie signing at the end of the 2019 trade and draft period as a Gaelic football convert. Various knee injuries have kept her away from a maiden match, but that is set to change come 2022.

With forwards Sabreena Duffy and Ashley Sharp both on the inactive list, Tighe has the perfect chance to break into a finals level side.

Standing at 185cm tall, she could form a dangerous ruck/forward duo with Roxanne Roux, and chop out for Mim Strom. She’s renowned for her leap and power, and could be the perfect marking partner for two time All-Australian forward Gemma Houghton.

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Alex Catalano

Geelong – Darcy Moloney

After a strong debut season at AFLW level, debuting in Round 1 and playing a possible six of nine games. Darcy Moloney is looking to take her game to the next level in 2022.

Moloney, who is a former top ten pick, was an integral part of Geelong’s 2021 VFLW competition, averaging 17 disposals across 12 games on her way to helping her side make the ultimately cancelled Grand Final.

She will be full of confidence heading into the 2022 season, and with a season already under her belt, will be looking to show the football world what she can do, and why she can take the next step.

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Lachlan Dand

Gold Coast – Bess Keaney

Many were surprised when mature age selection Bess Keaney was appointed as the Gold Coast Suns’ vice-captain as deputy to Hannah Dunn in 2022. But it might not shock those who closely watched the Suns last season.

Keaney was awarded the ‘Most Professional’ award at the Suns’ best and fairest night, known for her cool head on-field and strong voice and driving of standards off it.

She played every game in 2021 as either a half back flanker or pushing up along the wing, and was one of the players driving the ball forward constantly for the Suns. In games where she collected 10 disposals or more, she averaged 194 metres gained.

Keaney’s leadership and guiding of the backline alongside Lauren Ahrens, Jade Pregelj, and now Hannah Dunn, will see her improve to even greater heights in 2022.

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Alex Catalano

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GWS – Tait Mackrill

The Giants are desperately looking for bigger scores, and if anyone’s going to step up to deliver them, it’s going to be Tait Mackrill.

This is her fifth year on the Giants list, but at still just 22, the signs of a consistent scorer are beginning to emerge. She kicked three of her four career goals last season, including two in the final game of the year against Carlton.

She’s a fantastic kick around her body, and if she can effectively crumb off the likes of Rebecca Privitelli, Cora Staunton, and youngster Jess Doyle, her goal tally could continue to climb.

Mackrill has also shown glimpses as a midfielder, collecting 20 disposals when played in the centre bounce against Adelaide in 2020. If she can play her first full season after missing two matches to start 2021, watch out.

Alex Catalano

Melbourne – Eliza McNamara

Having broken into the Demons’ elite midfield early in her debut season, Eliza McNamara looks set to take the next step in 2022.

In 11 games last year, McNarmara found her share of the football, averaging 11 disposals. With her elite running capacity expect that number to rise, reaping the benefits of Karen Paxman, Maddi Gay, Tyla Hanks and Lily Mithen giving her the ball on the outside of the contest.

The 19-year-old also played three games in last year’s VFLW competition. In those performances McNamara displayed not only her ability to find the ball, but also put the ball carrier under pressure, averaging 22 disposals and four tackles.

With another year of development under the senior midfielders of the squad, McNamara will be looking to show the football world how good she can be.

Jordan Janssen

North Melbourne – Nicole Bresnehan

Having struggled to break into the Kangaroos best 21 in 2019 and 2020 having been hindered with injuries, Nicole Bresnehan was able to cement a spot in the Kangaroos defence as a medium-sized defender last season, and will look to take her defensive game to another level in 2022.

Playing in all 10 games for North Melbourne last season, Bresnehan impressed with her defensive work, particularly in her ability to create a contest and win a 50/50 ball. Her tackling and defensive pressure was also a strength of hers last season, constantly putting in second and third efforts.

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With defender Jasmine Grierson departing to the Giants in the offseason, Bresnehan will have a larger role to play in the Kangaroos backline in 2022. She will also take on more leadership responsibilities, having been elected into North’s leadership group.

Giacomo Bruno

Richmond – Maddy Brancatisano

Having played all but one game since she debuted in the first round of the 2020 season, versatile midfielder/forward Maddy Brancatisano will be one that improves as her side also does around her.

Trialed along the wing and in the forward pocket, she settled into a solid role on the half-forward flank last year, occasionally pushing up as a rotation through the centre bounce.

Though she plays best in an outside linking role, Brancatisano showed signs that her strengths can be applied to an inside role too, averaging 4.5 tackles in the last month of 2021, including a career high seven against Gold Coast.

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The 20-year-old dual sport athlete (also playing basketball for the Melbourne Tigers in the NBL1 alongside her two sisters and Richmond teammate Monique Conti) might be one of the players that benefits from the early season absence of Ellie McKenzie, getting more opportunities to find the ball in her hands.

With the addition of Maddie Shevlin into the forward group, Brancatisano could even find herself running the wings alongside Kate Dempsey or Sarah Hosking.

Alex Catalano

St Kilda – Tarni White

Having suffered two ACL tears before the age of 19, you would forgive the 20-year-old White if she struggled to find her feet at the top level across her 13 games so far. Instead, she showcased courage in abundance and a will to compete for every ball as a defender in 2021.

In 2022, she’s set to step up to the plate and transition into a midfield that is lacking the presence of Georgia Patrikios and Tyanna Smith. Having finished first and second respectively in the Saints’ 2021 best and fairest, White will need to fill some big boots in her first year in the engine room.

The Queenslander has all the attributes to be a brilliant midfielder – she’s strong and brave in the contest with the ability to stand up through tackles and get her hands free, and Saints skipper Hannah Priest has praised White’s composure with ball in hand through the pre-season.

If the youngster can put all her attributes together, she could become one of the best midfielders in the competition in 2022.

Jasper Chellappah

West Coast – Aisling McCarthy

McCarthy is back in the Eagles leadership group for her second year in blue and gold, and will be keen to back up her runner up finish in the Eagles club championship.

Building on her stints in the midfield at the Bulldogs, McCarthy recorded career best figures for disposals (averaging 14.1) and tackles (averaging 4.6) across her seven games for the year.

With the Eagles midfield led by the youth brigade including Bella Lewis and Mikayla Bowen, McCarthy’s experience and leadership will continue to be paramount, especially as more youngsters potentially debut throughout the season, such as number three draft pick Charlotte Thomas and Courtney Rowley.

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Thomas Grattan

Western Bulldogs – Elisabeth Georgostathis

With 15 AFLW games now under her belt, Elisabeth Georgostathis is one of those players that has been promising signs of breaking out for the past 12 months.

Particularly key to this was a spectacular ending to her 2021 with her four VFLW games, one of the standout midfielders alongside Jess Fitzgerald and Isabelle Pritchard for the state league Bulldogs in that final month.

She averaged 19.3 disposals, 7.5 tackles, 3.8 marks, 3.5 clearances, 3.2 clearances, and kicked a goal. This included a massive 24 disposals, 10 tackles,  nine clearances and six inside 50s against Casey.

What was even more impressive was that all four of these games were against sides that made finals, and the Dogs didn’t lose a single one of them. Her goal against the Southern Saints was the go ahead goal in a game where the Dogs won by a single major.

Her hard tackling and pressure game could see her suited to settling into a small forward role to make her own.

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Alex Catalano

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