16/04/2024

We've named a player from every club you should be watching in the weekend's practice matches. (Photos: Melbourne FC; Gold Coast FC; St Kilda FC)

AFLW is back, with a weekend of practice games giving players the chance to shake the rust off ahead of Round 1. We've taken a look at each side's player to watch.

AFLW is officially back this weekend, with practice matches fixtured across Friday to Tuesday.

The Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns will kick off the games with an after work battle at Leyshon Park in Yeronga from 6PM (AEST), while West Coast and Fremantle will have to wait until Tuesday evening.

As neither of the WA sides have listed their squads yet, we won’t be naming anyone from either.

Likewise, the Adelaide and GWS match at Norwood Oval has just been cancelled due to a positive COVID case in the Giants’ camp.

Victorian based fans have a Saturday to look forward to, with Melbourne and Collingwood (Casey Fields) and the Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne (VU Whitten Oval) going head-to-head.

Carlton and St Kilda and Richmond and Geelong will also face off on Saturday, but these matches are to be played behind closed doors.

The Inner Sanctum has chosen one player to watch across the weekend for each AFLW club.

Brisbane – Orla O’Dwyer

While Sharni Webb gets an honourable mention for her return to football after giving birth to daughter Billie, Irishwoman Orla O’Dwyer may be set to go to yet another level in her third year in the AFLW.

The 23-year-old made not only the half forward line and wing her own in 2021, but began to rotate through the midfield as an in and under option as well, averaging 7.5 contested possessions. Her versatility saw her awarded with second place in the club best and fairest in a premiership year.

If the reigning premiers are to maintain their level from last season, players like O’Dwyer continuing to rise will be key in keeping them up the top of the table once again. If she can hit the scoreboard against the Suns, be very, very scared of the Lions in 2022.

Alex Catalano

Carlton – Poppy Schaap

The pocket rocket from the Geelong Falcons was the last player added to Carlton’s AFLW list this season after Serena Gibbs was placed on the inactive list.

Sporting an iconic blonde mullet and possessing silky skills and a strong appetite to win the ball and tackle hard, Schaap has all the makings of the type of player that Carlton supporters will fall in love with her work ethic and endeavour.

With Carlton losing the grunt and experience of Jess Hosking and Katie Loynes last season, Schaap, although young, can add a bit of spark in the Blues young and exciting engine room this season.

Jono Baruch

Collingwood – Sabrina Frederick

After being involved in one of this year’s highest profile trades, Collingwood will be hoping that Frederick is the piece that can push it over the top. The Magpies went into off-season looking for a dynamic key forward, a role she’s more than capable of filling. 

The two-time All-Australian has struggled to replicate that same level of form that saw her named as a two-time All-Australian, and failed to be the marquee recruit Richmond was looking for. 

But at a genuine premiership contender like Collingwood, Frederick has an opportunity to re-establish herself among the AFLW’s elite and be the tall forward the Pies have been wishing for.

Hamish Spence

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Geelong – Nina Morrison

Geelong supporters will have their eyes keenly set on 21-year-old Nina Morrison as she makes her long-awaited return from her second ACL injury. With the departure of Olivia Purcell, the Cats will be desperate to get the line-breaking midfielder back on the field.

In her fourth season, the former number one pick will be hoping her luck changes. She’ll first look to get through this weekend’s practice match against Richmond after being restricted to only seven games since her debut in 2019 and sitting out the entire season last year.

Morrison has shown the ability to play as an inside or outside midfielder, and in her short career so far she’s averaged 14.6 disposals and six tackles per game. Geelong should look forward to seeing Morrison fully fit and back dominating.

Jordan Janssen

Gold Coast – Charlie Rowbottom

Eyes will be on the number one pick from this year’s draft Charlie Rowbottom. The midfielder dominated her under 18s season, captaining the Oakleigh Chargers to a NAB League Premiership. Coming into a struggling Suns side who were winless in 2021, Rowbottom will get plenty of opportunities in the midfield to try turn the Suns fortunes around.

A powerful and tall inside midfield prospect with a commanding presence around stoppages, Rowbottom is an influential player in the midfield. Her strength and athleticism also makes her a dangerous forward option, having kicked 10 goals from her 11 NAB League games despite playing primarily on the ball.

Strong, athletic, crafty around stoppages, and strong in the air, Rowbottom has a lot to offer for the Suns in their upcoming practice game and will be one to watch.

Giacomo Bruno

AFLW Draft: Charlie Rowbottom Highlights
Pick #1 Charlie Rowbottom will line up in a Suns guernsey for the first time. (Photo: Gold Coast FC)

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Melbourne – Tayla Harris 

The most important year of Tayla Harris’ life starts on Saturday at Casey Fields. 

Harris’ off-season departure from Carlton was arguably one of the most talked about moves in the AFLW’s short history, as she walked amid a pay dispute with the Blues. 

Now in a Melbourne side looking to take the next step after a preliminary final loss, the time has arrived for the 24-year-old key forward to let her footy do the talking. 

All eyes will be on her, and whether she can get back to her three time All-Australian winning best and help the Demons achieve premiership glory.

Thomas Grattan

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North Melbourne – Jasmine Ferguson

The departure of Jasmine Grierson and potential movement of Tahlia Randall into the forward line leaves North Melbourne with a defensive dilemma to solve. Jasmine Ferguson could be just the solution coach Darren Crocker needs.

A tall defender, Ferguson was named at full back in the VFLW Team of the Year. North drafted her from Collingwood’s VFLW side, where she was a key cog in keeping the undefeated streak alive as she took on the opposition’s full forward week in, week out.

Strong in the contest, Ferguson averaged 2.3 marks across the 2021 season, and will likely be used as a key defender against the Bulldogs, coming up against Bonnie Toogood and Nell Morris-Dalton.

Alex Catalano

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Richmond – Sophie Locke

Overlooked young forward Sophie Locke has been training on with Richmond across the pre-season after she wasn’t selected in the draft. She’s earned the call up to the practice match squad, and will be eager to prove what she can do against AFLW defenders.

Locke finished eighth in the VFLW goalkicking playing for Port Melbourne, kicking 13 goals in 12 games. While a finger issue hampered her second half of the season, she’ll get the chance to light up the scoreboard with her dynamic goal sense against the Geelong backline.

Alex Catalano

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Locke (C) celebrates Port Melbourne’s inaugural VFLW victory. (Photo: Port Melbourne FC/Twitter)

St Kilda – Nicola Xenos

Another injury recovery feel good story, Xenos hasn’t played an AFLW match in nearly two years after rupturing her ACL just days before the 2021 season. Saints fans will be eager to see just how many minutes she plays and where her fitness is at, as Xenos’ return may prove vital to Nick Dal Santo’s midfield.

Missing both Georgia Patrikios and Tyanna Smith for the foreseeable future, the explosive young guns leave a huge hole to be filled in St Kilda’s engine room. Alongside Rosie Dillon and Olivia Vesely, Xenos will be shouldering a huge load against a Carlton midfield boasting Maddy Prespakis, Grace Egan, and new recruit Jess Dal Pos.

Also keep an eye on young defender Tarni White, who’s been earmarked for a potential move into the middle in 2022.

Alex Catalano

Western Bulldogs – Eliza Morrison

Coming off strong years in both the NTFL and VFLW, state league veteran Eliza Morrison has earned herself a train on role with the Bulldogs’ AFLW side, and will be joining fellow VFLW teammates Jemima Woods and Riley Christgoergl against the Roos.

The prolific midfielder averaged just over 13 disposals in the VFLW while laying three tackles, typically finding more ball up in the top end with Nightcliff. She has previously represented the NT Thunder in their brief stint in the VFLW.

Morrison will have an opportunity to see how her skills stack up against AFLW level midfielders, with a particularly dangerous bunch at North Melbourne including Jasmine Garner, Ash Riddell, Emma Kearney, Jenna Bruton and Mia King.

Alex Catalano

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