2021 AFLW Draft: Tasmanian prospects excite through adversity

The Tasmania Devils enjoyed a strong NAB League season this year. (Picture: Solstice Digital/Tasmania Devils)

After an impressive NAB League campaign and standout performers in the VFLW, Tasmania has several exciting prospects in the 2021 AFLW Draft.

As part of The Inner Sanctum’s state by state previews, we look at some of the Apple Isle’s top players.

The State of Play:

This year’s draft is an exciting one for Tasmania, with a number of prospects vying for a spot on an AFLW list.

But overall, women’s football in the state is in a mixed place right now, with certain parts of the code stronger than ever, while other sectors are struggling.

The Devils had their first full-time season in the NAB League, after last year was cut short due to COVID.

The team was a revelation, boasting a deep midfield, a strong pressure-based game style and a number of impressive players.

It finished first in the Country Division, before going down to GWV by one point in the first week of finals.

But unfortunately the state’s top women’s league, the TSLW, ended last year due to a lack of teams.

This means that Tasmania lost its highest level of competition for players to develop and grow, a distinct disadvantage for potential draftees when compared to other states.

There were efforts to supplement this though, like the opportunity for some players to play in the VFLW (mainly for North Melbourne), and the Women’s Statewide All-Stars Series (which saw the best players from across the state compete against each other).

Last Year’s Draft:

Last year there was only one Tasmanian draftee, with basketball convert Brooke Brown going to North Melbourne with Pick 49.

She only played one AFLW game this year, but impressed with her form as a key defender in the VFLW.

But given the Devils’ season and the form of some players in the VFLW, there should be some more Tasmanian draftees this year.

NAMED: Launceston forward Brooke Brown will make her AFLW debut on Saturday night. Picture: North Media
(Brooke Brown training for the Roos. Picture: North Melbourne)

Teams to Watch:

Expect to see North Melbourne’s connection with the state continue.

The Roos’ have a draft zone with Tasmania, meaning they could snare a few bargains with their later picks after having a run at the Victorian talent pool.

But another interesting wrinkle is that the Devils’ coach, Cameron Joyce, has taken the top job at Gold Coast.

Joyce already convinced Oakleigh’s Charlie Rowbottom to nominate for Queensland, could he also get some of his former players to head to the Sunshine state?

The Top Prospects:

Perri King – Glenorchy/Tasmania Devils

Midfielder – 169cm, 25/08/2003

King is one of the best players in her draft class, following a stellar season for the Devils and a host of achievements this year.

She was the only Tasmanian in this year’s AFL Women’s Academy, she played for the Allies at the U19 Championships and was the state’s sole representative at the draft combine.

King spearheaded the Devils’ stout midfield, impressing with her clean skills around the contest and her ability to create space around stoppages.

She averaged 20 disposals in the NAB League, but also showed off her incredible pressure with nine tackles per game.

King also matched it against bigger and more experienced players, finishing with 15 disposals and seven tackles in her one game for the Kangaroos in the VFLW.

She can play up forward, a role she might need to take up earlier in her AFLW career before getting more midfield minutes.

King is a first round talent, but much like fellow Tasmanian Mia King (no relation) two years ago, likely won’t be selected until later in the draft since she’s part of North Melbourne’s draft zone.

Perri King laying a trademark tackle. (Picture: Solstice Digital/Tasmania Devils)

Sarah Skinner – Glenorchy/North Melbourne VFLW

Midfielder/Forward – 165cm, 15/10/1999

After starring in Tasmania, Skinner has shown her prowess at a higher level in the VFLW.

She dominated the TSLW last season, winning the league’s best fairest and goalkicking (despite spending significant time in the midfield).

But when the competition was dissolved, a new AFL Tasmania initiative allowed her to fly in and play games for North Melbourne.

Skinner took the opportunity with both hands, featuring in the Roos’ bests or goalkickers in 10 out of 13 games.

She can thrive as a winger, but her ability to play up forward adds another element to her game.

She plays a mid-forward role that many clubs require, and still has plenty of upside at just 21-years-old.

It’s hard to see her not going to North Melbourne, given the club’s Tasmanian draft zone and her affiliation with its VFL side.

But another team she’d suit is the Western Bulldogs, who need some midfield depth and another forward to crumb for Isabel Huntington and Bonnie Toogood.

Meagan Kiely – North Melbourne VFLW

Midfielder – 168cm, 15/12/1994

Kiely looms as one of the feel-good stories of the draft, following a dominant VFLW campaign.

After winning a Premiership with Burnie in Tasmania and spending some time in Sydney, the 26-year-old moved to Victoria this year and captained North Melbourne.

She was arguably the VFLW’s best player this season, putting up prolific numbers through the midfield.

Kiely led the competition in average disposals (24) and marks (five), and laid five tackles per game.

She also set a VFLW record for kicks in a match with 31 against the Saints.

Kiely is not in North’s Tasmanian draft zone (as she no longer lives in her home state), but given her form and leadership with its VFLW side, the Roos would be keen to pick her up.

But she would arguably suit teams like Richmond, Carlton and the Western Bulldogs more.

All three need to beef up their midfields and would have undoubtedly witnessed her exploits in the VFLW.

Meagan Kiely led from the front for the Roos. (Picture: North Melbourne)

Meghan Gaffney – Ulverstone/Tasmania Devils

Midfielder – 155cm, 02/04/2003

Gaffney was a key part of the Devils’ strong midfield this season, as the team’s main outlet on the outside.

A pure winger, she didn’t stop moving all season, displaying an incredible work rate with her hard gut-running.

This allowed her to create space and she always made good decisions with ball in hand, averaging 13 touches per game.

Gaffney was best on ground against Dandenong in Round 6 for her 20-disposal game, but she put in a full four quarter effort in every match she played.

She also represented the Allies at the U19 Championships.

Gaffney would suit a team like St Kilda, who needs some outside speed to balance out its midfield.

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Ella Maurer – Old Scotch/Tasmania Devils

Midfielder – 169cm, 01/02/2002

Maurer was consistently one of the Devils’ best players this year, acting as the team’s conduit around stoppages.

She played the role you’d expect from a tough inside midfielder, continually winning the ball at the coalface and applying plenty of pressure.

Maurer averaged 17 disposals and five tackles for Tasmania, with the line share of those touches likely contested.

She played for the Allies and should also be better for the extra year of experience as a 19-year-old.

Maurer could be tied to North through its draft zone, but she would be a great fit for a side like Carlton, who needs to revamp its midfield.

Ella Maurer was a force in the midfield. (Picture: Solstice Digital/Tasmania Devils)

Jemma Blair – Old Scotch/Tasmania Devils

Defender – 171cm, 03/02/2003

Blair was one of the Devils’ most important players this year, with her ability to play off half-back and stop an opposing forward.

While not a high possession winner, her touches were always effective, continually setting plays up or driving the ball inside 50.

She was often used as a sweeper further up the ground, cutting off attacks and rebounds from the opposition.

But Blair is also tall enough to do a job on someone if required.

Her form saw her selected as one of the six Tasmanians who featured for the Allies.

Blair would suit a team like Richmond, who could use a smart ball-user and good defender off half-back.

Amy Bissett – Ulverstone/Tasmania Devils

Forward – 159cm, 20/05/2003

An exciting half-forward, Bissett produced plenty of eye-catching displays for the Devils this year.

She was dangerous around the big sticks with 10 goals for the season, but she wasn’t afraid to push further up the ground and get involved, having five matches with 10 disposals or more.

Her finest game was against the Northern Knights, when she produced a best on ground and match-winning performance.

She kicked three goals, two in the final quarter, to drive the Devils’ comeback victory.

Bissett also represented the Allies at the U19 Championships.

Following her former coach to the Gold Coast could be a good option, considering the Suns need some more firepower up forward.

Amy Bissett was lively up forward. (Picture: Solstice Digital)

Amy Prokopiec – Clarence/Tasmania Devils

Forward – 175cm, 05/05/2003

The Devils’ other forward target, Prokopiec showed some really promising signs this year in the NAB League.

She led Tasmania’s goalkicking with 12 and had a couple of standout games.

Prokopiec started with a bang with four goals against Gippsland, and finished the season strongly with four goals from her last two games.

The latter was in the team’s final against GWV, where she was one of her side’s best in defeat.

She always took the opposition’s best defender and played deep out of the square, providing an option for Tasmania each game.

She was a part of the AFL Women’s Academy as a 16-year-old and has represented the Eastern Allies in the past, though she was not at the U19 Championships this year.

Prokopiec also played an important role in Clarence’s 2019 TSLW Premiership, which she won alongside North Melbourne’s Nicole Bresnehan.

Considering the Roos’ depleted forward stocks, reuniting with her former teammate at Arden Street could be a good fit.

Charlotte Vandenberg – Wynyard/Tasmania Devils

Ruck – 181cm, 25/11/2002

Vandenberg led Tasmania in the ruck this season, combining good tap craft with impressive second efforts at ground level.

She averaged 16 hit outs per game and won the ruck battle for her side several times, giving her midfielders first service.

Her point of difference was some of her efforts after the ball was bounce though, she averaged four tackles and always produced following up around the contest.

She was the only Tasmanian who tested at the draft combine last year, but she didn’t get picked up.

Vandenberg is an option for any team looking for a young developing ruck, possibly someone like North, even if it gets former Bulldog Kim Rennie, or Geelong.

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About Hamish Spence 52 Articles
Hamish writes about Aussie Rules, cricket, basketball and all things Tasmanian sport for The Inner Sanctum. His experience includes working for organisations like 10 News First, AFL Tasmania, The Mercury, the TSL, the Hobart Hurricanes and Draft Central. He recently finished a media degree at The University of Tasmania.

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