15/08/2022

Essendon enters its first AFLW season with expectations high. (Photo: Essendon FCW/Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

With high expectations after a strong signing period, Essendon will have eyes all over it in its inaugural AFLW season.

Snapshot:

Essendon comes into its first AFLW season fresh off a maiden VFLW premiership. Five years in the making after making finals last year, the Bombers pulled from the side for a big part of their inaugural list.

10 VFLW Bombers joined the list, buoyed by a heaping of ready-made AFLW talent and leadership across every line.

With top Victorian draftees rounding off the list, the inaugural Essendon AFLW list is tipped by many to be the most immediately impactful expansion side since North Melbourne in 2019.

Regardless of whether the Bombers have fast success or have built a list for future dominance, it’s a group of players that hold endless potential.

What to look forward to:

Essendon supporters can look forward to seeing some of the best proven talent in the AFLW pulling on the sash for the first time.

The obvious headliner is former Blue Maddy Prespakis, who made the move to her childhood club as an expansion signing.

Already holding the Rising Star Award, a league best and fairest, three Carlton club best and fairests and two All-Australian selections at just 21, she’s got a wealth of elite footy ahead of her.

The Bombers have built the forward line around spearhead Bonnie Toogood. Fresh off a 10 goal season, the captain candidate is the top billing of what is set to be a deadly forward group.

Even if they don’t win many games, expect the Bombers to be a high-scoring, fun-to-watch outfit.

Biggest unanswered question:

As with any new team, Essendon’s biggest questions arise around squad cohesion, depth and quality. With a couple of key injuries, there are two main areas for concern.

A VFLW grand final ACL tear to star midfield recruit Georgia Nanscawen leaves the depth of the midfield in question. While the likes of Prespakis, Steph Cain and Georgia Gee undoubtedly bring experience into the mix, there’s a minimal amount of AFLW games in the remainder.

The likes of Amelia Radford, Alana Barba, Joanne Doonan, Jordan Zanchetta, and draftees Amber Clarke and Ash Van Loon will have their skills tested against the best of the best in season seven.

With matches against Melbourne and Brisbane, the Bombers will have to put in the work in the contest.

Similarly, whether the Bombers can lock down the best small forwards in the early part of the season without Eloise Ashley-Cooper will be another big question.

Ashley-Cooper made a name for herself across the past two seasons for her fierce tackling in the defensive 50. She won the Essendon VFLW best and fairest in 2021, ahead of even Nanscawen.

Mia Busch and Olivia Barton, who also have no AFLW experience, will have their hands full.

It’s a big year for…

Jorja Borg proved herself as the best ruck in the VFLW in 2022. She led all comers for hit outs, and was a stand out for the Blues all season long.

Borg performed well against the likes of Collingwood’s Sarah King and Geelong’s Olivia Barber, but was comprehensively beaten by potential AFLW opponents Liz McGrath and Tamara Luke.

She’ll likely have a combination of Luke and Tegan Cunningham to deal with come the Round 1 match-up against the Hawks. It doesn’t get any easier from there.

Breann Moody, Gabby Seymour, Tahlia Hickie and Lauren Pearce all loom as opponents in her debut season. With just draftee Stephanie Wales and chop-out option Dani Marshall for help, it will be a tough introduction to the AFLW for the 21-year-old.

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More AFLW Season Previews:

AFLW Season Seven Preview: Port Adelaide

AFLW Season Seven Preview: Hawthorn Hawks

AFLW Season Seven Preview: Sydney Swans

Fixture highlights:

Essendon’s first two weeks are must-watch fixtures, facing off against two traditional rivals in Hawthorn and Carlton.

The Bombers and Hawks were the two best teams in the VFLW all season. Handing the Hawks a week one finals smashing, there’s sure to be plenty of fire in it.

There’s a developing push from players and coaches to move the game to a higher capacity stadium, with North Port Oval currently playing host to both clubs’ inaugural AFLW hit-out.

There was no love lost the last time these two met. (Photo: AFL)

Carlton fans will be treated to seeing Prespakis and Georgia Gee in the sash for the first time in Round 2. With passionate support from one of the competition’s foundation sides, expect another strong crowd for this one.

Round 7 sees the Bombers head regional, with the first AFLW game in Warrnambool. They’ll host Geelong in Victoria’s south-west.

Full fixture:

R1: vs. Hawthorn, August 27 (North Port Oval)

R2: vs. Carlton, September 4 (North Port Oval)

R3: vs. West Coast, September 11 (Mineral Resources Park)

R4: vs. Richmond, September 18 (North Port Oval)

R5: vs. Collingwood, September 23 (AIA Centre)

R6: vs. Brisbane, October 2 (Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex)

R7: vs. Geelong, October 9 (Reid Oval, Warrnambool)

R8: vs. Sydney, October 15 (Ikon Park)

R9: vs. Melbourne, October 23 (Casey Fields)

R10: vs. Port Adelaide, TBC (Alberton Oval)

Inaugural squad:

Sophie Alexander (Collingwood), Isabella Ayre (Essendon VFLW), Daria Bannister (North Melbourne), Alana Barba (Essendon VFLW), Olivia Barton (Port Melbourne VFLW), Jorja Borg (Carlton VFLW), Mia Busch (Eastern Ranges), Stephanie Cain (Fremantle), Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays), Joanne Doonan (Essendon VFLW), Federica Frew (Essendon VFLW), Ellyse Gamble (Western Bulldogs), Georgia Gee (Carlton), Danielle Marshall (Essendon VFLW), Alexandra Morcom (Essendon VFLW), Catherine Phillips (St Kilda), Madison Prespakis (Carlton), Amelia Radford (Essendon VFLW), Caitlin Sargent (Western Jets), Paige Scott (GWV Rebels), Renee Tierney (Essendon VFLW), Bonnie Toogood (Western Bulldogs), Sophie Van De Heuvel (Geelong), Mia Van Dyk (Geelong Falcons), Ashleigh Van Loon (Geelong Falcons), Jacqui Vogt (St Kilda), Stephanie Wales (Casey Demons VFLW), Lily-Rose Williamson (Gippsland Power), Jessica Wuetschner (Brisbane), Jordan Zanchetta (Essendon VFLW)

Inactive: Georgia Nanscawen (Essendon VFLW), Eloise Ashley-Cooper (Essendon VFLW)

Nanscawen suffered an ACL injury but no replacement player is yet to be named.

Predicted Round 1 line-up:

(Design: Will Cuckson)

Ladder range:

10th-12th

Despite the high expectations, it would be hard to see the Bombers make finals in their inaugural season unless everything goes right for them.

They would be hoping for wins against teams expected to drop down the bottom end of the ladder like Carlton and West Coast, but match-ups against Brisbane and Melbourne away are some of the toughest games in the competition.

Geelong and Richmond are teams expected to rise, while the matches against fellow expansion sides could be anyone’s game.

A generous estimate would see Essendon win four or five games in season seven. We can’t see them catching the very best in Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane, who all kept their grand final lists together for the most part.

Managing fatigue for the VFLW players, who are fresh off a full 14 game plus finals season of their own, will also be important. Expect Essendon’s squad depth to be tested.

While they may not be finalists this season, expect this Bombers list to build very quickly, especially with even more top end talent in 2023.

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