Claudia Whitfort developed her game massively in AFLW season six. (Photo: Gold Coast Suns/Twitter)

She’s always been a player who flies under the radar, but this AFLW season, Claudia Whitfort has the opportunity to explode.

The 22-year-old had a career best year in season six, and will come into this one with massive confidence. Playing all but one game for the Suns, Whitfort came into her own as a clearance machine.

She averaged four clearances a game, including a massive seven and eight against the Saints and Cats respectively.

Now entering season seven with 23 games and a consistent season under her belt, another opportunity arises.

Gold Coast’s top 2022 draft pick, Alana Gee, has just been sidelined for an indefinite amount of time with a stress reaction in her back.

“We’ll monitor her progression closely before making a decision on her availability,” Suns AFLW Physiotherapist Indianna Franke told SUNS Media.

Gee was expected to make the jump straight into the midfield, after an impressive under 18s season and championships. She averaged 24 disposals and four clearances representing Queensland, while also kicking two goals in her three games.

But without her in addition to other losses, coach Cameron Joyce can look to Whitfort to step up.

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A number of departures across the off-season will change how the Suns midfield looks come Round 1, and expect Whitfort to be a big part of that.

Stalwarts Ali Drennan and Jamie Stanton will keep their places without a doubt. Stanton can swing forward and impact the scoreboard, but does her best work in tight, contested congestion.

Losing Kate Surman and Jacqui Yorston to Port Adelaide, however, gives the rotations significantly less depth than they had in season six.

While Yorston struggled to return to her best after recovering from an ACL injury, another pre-season would have no doubt seen her be an important cog in the Suns’ midfield machine.

Had Maddi and Teagan Levi been available, this may have been less of an issue, but both will once again be inactive due to rugby sevens commitments.

Charlie Rowbottom may see a change in her role due to her ability to play as a key marking target in the forward line.

The departure of Sarah Perkins to Hawthorn leaves Tara Bohanna without a true aerial partner inside 50.

At 178cm, Rowbottom was often used as a key forward for the Oakleigh Chargers in her under 18s year, kicking 10 goals in 11 games and averaging 2.8 marks.

Courtney Jones and Ashlee Atkins were the only forwards the Suns added in the off-season, and both are ground level players.

Jacqui Dupuy is the other key option on the list. She kicked two goals last season, but failed to make much impact as a marking player.

Whitfort’s success in the centre bounce could be the key to freeing up Rowbottom. Unleash the secret weapon, and the Suns may not be in for as big a drop as many expect in season seven.

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