Who takes it home? 2021 AFLW Season Preview

The Adelaide Crows' 2019 AFLW Premiership side. Picture: afc.com.au

With no premier decided in 2020, it’s time for a new champion to be crowned of the AFL Women’s competition.

Who will take home the cup?

Adelaide 

5th season in the AFLW 

Last season: 6th in conference A, 11th Overall. (2 wins, 4 losses) 

Coach: Matthew Clarke (3rd season) 

Captain: Chelsea Randall (5th season) 

The reigning champions following a dominant 2019 season, the Crows would have been disappointed with their 2020 campaign as injuries and a lack of consistency saw them collapse to a sixth placed finish in conference A. 

However, with Erin Phillips back at peak fitness and Chelsea Randall returning from her ACL injury, there will be a renewed sense of confidence at West Lakes as they hope to add a third flag to the AFLW trophy cabinet. 

Looking at Adelaide’s lineup it is clear that everything starts from its star studded midfield who, when at their best, cause significant problems for every opposing on ball brigade. 

Led by short bursts by two time league MVP Phillps, she is complemented beautifully by contested beasts Ebony Marinoff and Anne Hatchard, with their ability to accumulate and get the ball to their outside runners critical to the game plan of coach Matthew Clarke.

The Crows defence will be heavily bolstered by the return of captain Randall across half back, who’s ability to intercept and create with her speed vital to setting up their ball movement. 

She will be joined down back by key defender Sarah Allan who enjoyed a breakout 2019 season finishing second in the club’s best and fairest and will be critical in leading this back six with the retirement of stalwart Courtney Cramey. 

With Phillips likely to spend more time up forward as she moves closer to retirement, the Crows will be happy with their offensive firepower which also features goal kicking machine Stevie Lee-Thompson. 

First-round draft pick Teah Charlton will also have a key role to play inside the Crows attacking 50 with her pressure and craft as a small forward set to add some extra X-Factor to this dangerous unit. 

Despite the ageing nature of this list, you simply can’t write off a Crows side that is healthy and filled with this much talent. 

With Clarke at the helm for a third season expect exciting play from this team in 2021 as they look to bounce back from a poor 2020 and push for a third flag. 

Zac Standish 

Brisbane 

5th season in the AFLW

Last Season: Finished 3rd in Conference A, 7th overall. (3 wins, 2 losses,  1 draw)

Coach: Craig Starcevich (5th season) 

Captain: Emma Zielke (4th season)

Brisbane returned to the finals once again, but after leading its conference for the opening month, it lost its last three games, including its finals loss to Carlton. 

The Lions will be buoyed knowing that what they showed at the beginning of last season shows that they can match it with anyone. 

Coach Craig Starcevich returns once again, as does captain Emma Zielke. 

The Lions have a relatively settled squad, with only Taylor Smith from the Suns joining via trade this off-season. Smith, a ruck-forward hybrid, will help bolster their ruck stocks in 2021. 

With Sharni Webb out for the season due to pregnancy, Beth Pinchin gets her chance to shine at the top level. Pinchin has struggled with knee injuries in the past, and finally gets a chance to show what she can do as a defender for the Lions’. 

Gabby Collingwood will also miss, as she continues to recover from her ACL injury sustained last year. 

First round draft pick Zimmorlei Farquharson, touted as one of the most talented players in the Lions’ short history, will no doubt get an early opportunity on the big stage.

During her AFLW draft combine, Farquharson broke the agility record, clocking in at 8.170 seconds, beating the previous record which stood at 8.495 seconds. 

Former rugby union star Courtney Hodder has made the code switch, joining as a rookie. 

After a successful stint for the Queensland Reds in the Super W, and representing Australia in rugby and rugby sevens, she returns to her football roots in the AFLW. 

With a settled squad, and another strong start to the season, Brisbane will no doubt be in contention once again.

Thomas Grattan

Carlton

5th Season in the AFLW

Last Season: Finished 2nd in conference B (3rd Overall, 5 wins, 1 loss)

Coach: Daniel Harford (3rd Season)

Captain/s: Kerryn Harrington, Katie Loynes (2nd season each)

Carlton, like the other finalists in 2020, had its season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of what was a 5 game winning streak, It left a bitter taste in the mouth of everyone down at Ikon Park after making the Grand Final the year before and having had a dominant home and away season, only losing one game to its arch rivals Collingwood.

Boasting superstars such as reigning competition Best and Fairest Madison Prespakis, forwards Tayla Harris and Darcy Vescio, All-Australian defenders Kerryn Harrington and Gab Pound and exciting youngsters in Georgia Gee, Grace Egan and Charlotte Wilson, the Blues will enter season 2021 as one of the favourites for the Premiership and will open the season against Collingwood on January 28.

Carlton was very active during the trade period this year, securing midfielder Elise O’Dea and speedy forward Maddy Guerin from Melbourne and tall forward Charlotte Hammans from Gold Coast. 

O’Dea, who might prove to be the missing link to the premiership puzzle, will bring much needed experience to the Blues midfield group, assisting the young midfield group  of  Madison Prespakis, Grace Egan, Lucy McEvoy and Georgia Gee. The Blues will be looking for Guerin to bring her speed up and down the wings and pushing forward to cover the loss of Chloe Dalton, who is sitting out the season to focus on Rugby 7s at the Olympics in Tokyo.

The Blues parted with inaugural player Sarah Hosking, who joined Richmond during the trade period, while second year defender Jayde van Dyk left for St Kilda in search of more opportunities. 

The Blues also added Mimi Hill, Daisy Walker, and Winnie Laing from the Draft, bolstering the club’s depth. 

The Blues have one of the most settled and strong lineups in the competition. 

With different players taking their opportunities and putting themselves in the fame for selection through training and the pre-season practice matches, selection meetings will loom as a big headache for Daniel Harford and his coaching staff. 

It all points to there being strong expectations, internally and externally that Carlton are setting themselves to be one of the contenders this season.

Jono Baruch

Collingwood 

5th season in the AFLW.

Last Season: Finished 4th In Conference B, 5th Overall (4 wins, 2 losses)

Coach: Steve Symonds (2nd Season) 

Captains: Steph Chiocci (5th Season) and Bri Davey (1st Season)

Under new senior coach Steve Symonds in 2020, the Magpies were able to make their inaugural final series appearance. 

Although it was short-lived with a slim two-point loss to North Melbourne at Ikon Park, the Pies 2020 season shows promise to what can be expected in 2021.

The familiar round one fixture against Carlton will test the Pies straight off the bat if they can produce another successful season – something that seems very much possible. 

Steph Chiocci takes charge of the Pies for her fifth straight season, but alongside her joins Bri Davey, who approaches her second season at Collingwood.

Davey has experience in captaining, leading the Blues in the 2018 and 2019 season, taking them to the grand final in 2019. 

She finished that season joint best and fairest, proving that her ability to lead a team is both through performance and off-field leadership.

Through its pickups in the draft, it’s clear Collingwood is strengthening its midfield, bringing in father-daughter selection Tarni Brown at Pick 19. 

It was only three years ago that Brown picked up a football after growing up a basketball player. Following her brothers, Callum and Tyler, she spent three years playing with the Eastern Rangers. 

Recognised for being agile in traffic, and a ball-magnet in the midfield, Brown is sure to live up to her name, but doing it for the girls this time.

The Pies also used Pick 26 to select Amelia Velrado whose primary position is ruck and Pick 31 for the gun on-ball, Joanna Lin in the 2020 draft. 

The two can also slot themselves into the midfield causing a talented rotation.

The practice match against North Melbourne on January 17 hinted that 2021 would be in continuation from where they left off the last season, securing a 12-point win at Ikon Park. Symonds was pleased that the new things practiced during the off-season have paid off on the field. 

With only 11 days until round one begins, it looks like Collingwood could be top contenders for the 2021 season. 

Tricia Mifsud

Fremantle: 

5th season in the AFLW

Last Season: Finished 1st In Conference B, 1st Overall (7 wins, 0 losses)

Coach: Trent Cooper (3rd Season) 

Captain: Kara Antonio (5th Season)

Fremantle’s membership slogan, Unfinished Business, perfectly encapsulates the club’s mindset heading into this season. 

Its 2020 campaign ended in heartbreak, but it was through no fault of its own. 

Undefeated for the season with seven wins on the trot, the Dockers looked set for a Grand Final berth and a shot at the club’s first Premiership.

This was only reinforced after their 70-point drubbing over Gold Coast in the first week of the finals.

But the season was cancelled due to COVID-19 and no premier was crowned. 

Fremantle will be out for silverware this year and it has the personnel and game plan to do it.

It boasts some of the competition’s best; with Kiara Bowers, Hayley Miller and Kara Antonio running a strong engine room, while Gemma Houghton, Sabreena Duffy and Ebony Antonio are game changers up forward.

The club will look to its talented young players like Roxanne Roux and Mim Strom to help drive its improvement.

The Dockers’ defensive and pressure-based game style shuts teams down, while also possessing plenty of x-factor due to the team’s skills and explosive forward line.

The reigning AFLCA Coach of the Year, Trent Cooper, remains at the helm. Across his two seasons at the club, Cooper has only suffered two losses as coach and it’s hard to see too many blemishes being added to his record this year.

Fremantle did well to keep its star-studded playing group together over the off-season. 

Tayla Bresland’s trade to West Coast and Irish forward Kate Flood not returning due to personal reasons were the most high profile departures.

It was delivered a late blow last month after Leah Mascall ruptured her ACL, causing her to miss the season.

The club picked-up former Eagle Tarnee Tester and ex-Roo Jess Trend, though Trend later decided to sit out the season. 

It drafted three exciting players in skilful half-back flanker Sarah Verrier, dangerous forward Mikayla Morrison and tough midfielder Tiah Haynes, with Haynes returning to the club after previously being on Fremantle’s list.

After being overlooked in the draft, versatile utility Maggie MacLachlan was signed to replace Trend.

The only potential knock against the Dockers is that they didn’t face the likes of North Melbourne, Carlton and Melbourne last year (they were due to face the latter two before the fixture was cut short).

Some have questioned whether their undefeated streak would have remained intact against those teams. 

Their Round 3 match-up against North and last game of the season against Carlton loom as blockbuster clashes.

Fremantle enter this season as early and deserved premiership favourites. 

The club has established itself as a powerhouse of the competition over the last two seasons and last year’s heartbreak should only motivate the Dockers even more.

Hamish Spence

Geelong 

Third season in the AFLW

Last Season: Finished fifth in conference A, 10th overall (2 wins, 4 losses)

Coach: Paul Hood (third season)

Captain: Meghan McDonald (first season)

After a slow start to the season, the Cats eventually finished just half a game out of the finals, though it was a slight drop from making finals in their first year. 

Geelong’s 2019 best and fairest winner Meghan McDonald will take the captaincy reins in 2021, following Melissa Hickey’s retirement at the end of the 2020 season. Inaugural coach Paul Hood returns for his third year in charge of the Cats.

The first opportunity the Cats have for a win comes with a home game against North Melbourne. 

With a settled squad, the Cats only traded a series of draft picks with Melbourne during this year’s trade period. Kate Darby will miss the upcoming season with pregnancy, but no other major moves in the side. 

The Cats chose Darcy Moloney with their first pick this season, and she will no doubt bolster the midfield, as a strong linking player capable of clearing out of defence or entering inside 50. 

They also took Laura Gardner, Stephanie Williams, and Carly Remmos from the Falcons at picks 20, 27 and 39 respectively. 

Olivia Barber also joined from the Murray Bushrangers at Pick 21.

With a strong and settled side, Geelong has the team who can, on paper, take it up to anyone in the competition, and it will be determined to make it back to the finals in 2021.

Thomas Grattan

Gold Coast 

2nd season in AFLW 

Last season: 4th in Conference A, 8th overall (2 wins, 3 losses, 1 draw)

Coach: David Lake (2nd season) 

Captains: Leah Kaslar (2nd season) & Sam Virgo (2nd season) 

It would be an overachieving start to the Gold Coast’s existence as an AFLW franchise as a successful brand of football engineered by coach David Lake saw them qualify for the finals in Conference A.

Now with another pre-season under their belt, the Suns are poised nicely for improvement in 2021 as their exciting young core continues to develop. 

The main aspect that shone through the Suns inaugural AFLW season was their ability to defend and make life difficult for opposition players across the entire ground. 

This is something Lake will be keen to build his side around this season, with dynamic duo Lauren Ahrens and Jade Pregelj hoping to continue on from excellent maiden campaigns and lead this stout defence admirably. 

The lack of a genuine A-grader through the midfielder is an area the Suns will be looking to address this season, with the development of Jamie Stanton as the leader of this on ball brigade an intriguing storyline.

Despite winning the best and fairest last season, she still has not managed to solidify herself as one of the competition’s elite through the middle of the ground with the Suns lack of burst and accumulation around stoppage causing problems against the top sides last season. 

When it comes to X-Factor this team lives and dies with the production of exhilarating medium sized forward Kalinda Howarth, who’s exploits inside attacking 50 for the Suns’ last season were nothing short of eye-catching as she earned herself a position in the All-Australian team. 

Kicking nine goals in seven matches, she was often a one woman band up forward as she constantly gave her team life and got her teammates involved ranking second for score involvements. 

Providing her help is an area the coaching staff will be keen to address in 2021, with the signing of former premiership Crow and noted goal kicker Sarah Perkins having the potential to unlock a seriously promising Suns forward line. 

2021 is about continued development for the Suns as they look to add a bit more attacking flair to their game and increase their consistency across the ground. 

Zac Standish 

GWS Giants 

5th season in the AFLW

Last Season: Finished 4th In Conference B, 6th Overall (4 wins, 2 losses)

Coach: Alan McConnell (4th Season) 

Captain: Alicia Eva (2nd Season)

GWS has already experienced a disrupted start to the season, having quarantined in Albury for two weeks before jumping on a plane to Adelaide for its practice game against the Crows. 

The Giants will be located in South Australia until their Round 1 match against Fremantle in Perth.

One of the inaugural sides of the women’s competition, the Giants have alternated between middle of the road performances and almost-greatness following their first-year wooden spoon. The 2020 campaign was one of their best yet, losing to the Demons by only three points in their first ever final. 2018 similarly saw the Giants miss a grand final appearance by just two premiership points.

While inconsistent, GWS is strong across multiple lines. Tanya Hetherington and Louise Stephenson are proven performers down back, and it’s already solid midfield group has been bolstered by a strong 2020 draft. 

First-round pick Tarni Evans will likely play Round 1, alongside midfield stars in Alyce Parker, Nicola Barr, Alicia Eva and Rebecca Beeson. Scoring has been an issue, and the aging Cora Staunton will need support in addition to Rebecca Privitelli..

Unfortunately for the Sydney-siders, the fixture isn’t entirely in their favour.

Away games against flag-fancies Fremantle as well as Collingwood and Adelaide will be huge tests, especially given their early travel. 

The positives of the fixture, however, are home match-ups against Melbourne, Brisbane and St. Kilda, should they be able to return to their home state to play games in Sydney. They also avoid North Melbourne and Carlton. 

Alan McConnell’s side will have to prove that it can stand up in the big games, and hopefully win its first final. 

While the early travel has the possibility to hurt their season, the Giants have the talent to make the six-team finals series and make teams like Carlton, Fremantle and North Melbourne sweat.

Alex Catalano

Melbourne 

5th season in the AFLW

Last Season: Finished 3rd in Conference B, 4th Overall (4 wins, 2 losses)

Coach: Mick Stinear (5th season)

Captain: Daisy Pearce (4th season)

Melbourne has been a model of consistency since the inception of the AFLW, finishing in the top four every year except 2019, when it finished 6th. 

Whilst it’s yet to win a premiership, Melbourne will be excited by its prospects in 2021. 

Melbourne was active in the sign and trade period, seeing six players leave the club. 

What is promising, however, is that only one finished in the top 10 of the best and fairest. 

The biggest move for Melbourne was the loss of former co-captain, Elise O’Dea. 

The blockbuster trade to Carlton saw Melbourne receive Pick 15 in the draft. With an expansion fast approaching the AFLW, it’s clear this move was completed to have access to young talent before the new clubs have priority access to early selections. 

With picks five, 15, 17, 35 and 32 going into the draft, the Demons were able to rejuvenate their aging list.

Key forward Alyssa Bannan was brought in with their first selection, with the Demons hoping to have the agile 18-year-old to play early and often. 

Midfielder Eliza McNamara was picked with Melbourne’s second first-round selection, whilst it added ruck Maggie Caris with their third selection at Pick 17. 

Midfield/forward Megan Fitzsimon was taken at Pick 35 and should play early at Melbourne, while Mietta Kendall and Isabella Simmons will add depth for the Demons. 

Mick Stinear has returned for another season at the helm for the Demons, with a clear plan in the future direction of the club. 

Whilst they’re not likely to contend this season after some list regeneration, they’re likely to offer fierce competition this season whilst gearing up for a premiership tilt in future seasons. 

Matt Forrest

North Melbourne 

3rd season in the AFLW

Last Season: Finished 1st in Conference A, 2nd Overall (5 wins 1 loss) 

Coach: Darren Crocker (1st Season) 

Captain: Emma Kearney (3rd Season) 

2020 was a great year for North Melbourne, continuing its great form only losing one game and progressing into the preliminary final with a two-point semi-final win over Collingwood before the season cancellation.

With new coach Darren Crocker at the helm, North Melbourne will be looking to continue its fine form into the 2021 season. 

With the recruitment of Grace Campbell from Richmond bolstering its midfield and the return of All Australian defender Jess Duffin after taking last season off for the birth of her first child. 

In the draft the Roos were able to select, forward Isabella Eddy with Pick 13, 170cm forward Alice O’Loughlin with Pick 22, key forward Georgia Hammond with Pick 44, key position player Brooke Brown with Pick 49 and former Basketballer and midfielder Amy Smith with Pick 55. 

But, it was dealt a huge blow with up and coming Tasmanian, Elisha King out for the season due to a hamstring injury. 

Their midfield is one of its many strengths, with the likes of Jenna Bruton, Emma Kearney and Jasmine Garner.

There were some good signs in North Melbourne’s practice match, even though it was a 12-point loss to Collingwood, 

Draftee Georgia Hammond was great in her first appearance in the royal blue and white, slotting two goals. 

Adding Hammond into an already strong forward line with speedy forward Kaitlyn Ashmore who has great footy smarts will be dangerous

Due to the season being cut short they were unable to take on the undefeated Fremantle, the Round 3 clash against the Dockers is shaping up the be a blockbuster 

The Roos will be a team to beat in 2021, and a scary opposition to come up against. 

Elly McNerney 

Richmond 

2nd season in the AFLW 

Last Season: Finished 7th in Conference A, 14th Overall (0 wins, 6 losses) 

Coach: Ryan Ferguson (1st season)

Captain: Katie Brennan (2nd Season) 

It was a difficult introduction to the AFLW for the Tigers, with Richmond ending winless for the entire season.

There were some positives coming out of the 2020 season for the Tigers, with Phoebe Monahan and Akec Makur Chuot producing some stellar performances down back.

With the club bringing in the likes of Sarah Hosking from Carlton, Harriet Cordneir from Melbourne and Sarah D’Arcy and Sarah Dargan from Collingwood, the Tigers have added much needed experience to their line-up.

The Tigers did well in the draft being able to secure highly rated midfielder Ellie McKenzie, who looks like a ready made addition to their midfield in Round 1. 

As well as Aussie Opal and Bendigo Spirit captain, Tessa Lavey in the draft, although new to AFLW, she has lots of leadership experience that she can bring to Richmond.

The Tigers showed promising signs in their first hit out in 2021 in a practice match against the Bulldogs at Punt Road. 

They were able to bring lots of ferociousness in and around the ball, with putting a lot of pressure on the ball carrier. 

Although the Tigers couldn’t secure the win, going down by 14 points, Hosking was great in the middle in her first appearance in the yellow and black. 

The Tigers looked more connected up forward, after some time to gel over the offseason, they started to find their groove after being unable to convert at times in 2020. 

With new coach Ryan Ferguson at the helm, Richmond will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing first year in the competition.

Elly McNerney 

St Kilda

2nd season in the AFLW

Last Season: Finished 5th In Conference B, 9th Overall (2 wins, 4 losses)

Coach: Peta Searle (2nd Season) 

Captains: Cat Phillips, Kate Shierlaw, Rhiannon Watt (2nd Season), Hannah Priest (1st Season)

Out of the four expansion clubs last year, St Kilda was arguably the most impressive.

Entering the season with a young squad in the league’s toughest conference, the team would have been forgiven for having a tough debut season.

But the Saints managed to register two wins, one against a highly fancied Melbourne side and the other a thrashing over Richmond, while also showing good signs against the likes of Fremantle and Carlton.

While the club didn’t make the finals, it established a strong basis that should serve it well for years to come.

The Saints possess two of the best young players in the league in Caitlin Greiser and Georgia Patrikios, who both finished top three in last year’s Rising Star.

Greiser, or the “G-Train”, was one of the stories of last year, kicking 10 goals to be the competition’s leading goalkicker in her debut season.

Already a fan favourite, her long bomb to beat the Demons at Moorabbin will forever be etched into the minds of Saints supporters.

Patrikios looks like a 10-year veteran at 19, possessing skills and game awareness beyond her years.

She will be a special talent to watch for years to come and could be the best player from her draft class.

Olivia Vesely also starred, while the experience of Tilly Lucas-Rodd and Nat Exon was important.

Rhi Watt made the most of the opportunity she didn’t get at Carlton and Rosie Dillon was a revelation after impressing for Hawthorn in the VFLW.

The team remains under the guidance of Peta Searle, one of the best and most experienced minds in the game. 

The club enjoyed a strong off-season at both the trade table and the draft.

The experience of ex-Dee Bianca Jakobsson (who unfortunately broke her collarbone recently) and former Blue Jayde Van Dyk will help bolster a developing backline, while the club looked to the draft to improve its midfield and forward line.

Tyanna Smith was taken with pick 6 and can break lines in the midfield with her incredible agility, recently impressing in a practice match against Carlton.

Father-daughter selection, Alice Burke, is the perfect complement as a more contested onballer. 

The rivalry will be strong if Burke plays against the Bulldogs in Round 1, who are coached by her father Nathan Burke.

It later drafted small forward Renee Saulitis and half-forward Jacqui Vogt, with Vogt a product of the club’s VFLW side.

It will miss the experience of Jess Sedunary (Adelaide) and Alison Drennan (Gold Coast) who were both part of the club’s leadership group, while talented Irish defender Clara Fitzpatrick will not return this season after Visa issues.

Early games against North Melbourne and Melbourne in Rounds 2 and 3 respectively will be a good litmus test on where the club stands.

If the club can knock off one or both of these teams it would gain some early momentum.

Their close two-point loss to Carlton in Saturday’s practice match is an encouraging sign.

Nicola Xenos was busy up forward with two goals and her continued development will be crucial as the side is often too over-reliant on Greiser for goals.

St Kilda should improve even further this season, the question is whether it will be enough to make finals?

The Saints were competitive in most of their games last season and should only get better in year two.

Hamish Spence

West Coast 

2nd season in the AFLW

Last Season: Finished 7th in conference B,  13th overall last season (1 win, 5 losses)

Coach: Daniel Pratt (1st Season) 

Captain: Emma Swanson (2nd Season)

The Eagles had a tough introduction to the AFLW finishing on the bottom of their conference with their only win coming from second-last Western Bulldogs. 

Only Richmond finished lower across the competition, and the pair of them received draft concessions for this year. 

The Eagles also finished with the lowest percentage in the league, averaging 12.83 points a game while letting in 38.66. 

Still the only way is up for the Eagles in 2021.

With the concessions helping the Eagles trade for some experienced players, they secured Aisling McCarthy from the Western Bulldogs for pick 2, and Tayla Bresland from crosstown rivals Fremantle. 

Bresland will help with the Eagles defensive stocks, while McCarthy will no doubt slot into the forward line for the team. 

Highly touted draftees Shanae Davison and Bella Lewis are also both likely to feature early for West Coast. And defender Brianna Green will get a chance to make her mark after missing all of 2020 with injury. 

The Eagles will no doubt be hungry to start their march towards success, and the added experience will go a long way toward making that a reality.

Thomas Grattan 

Western Bulldogs 

5th Season in the AFLW

Last Season: Finished 6th in Conference B, 12th overall (1 win, 5 losses)

Coach: Nathan Burke (2nd season)

Captain: Ellie Blackburn (3rd season)

Affected heavily by the introduction of the four new expansion teams at the end of 2019, the Bulldogs entered a rebuilding period at the start of the 2020 season. 

Katie Brennan, Monique Conti, Tiarna Ernst, Selena Karlson, Belinda Smith, Kate Bartlett and Emma Mackie all made their way to the expansion sides, while Libby Birch requested a trade to Melbourne.

Further losses this year have seen Irish import Aisling McCarthy traded to West Coast, and young midfielder Hannah Munyard to the Crows.

While they only managed the one win in the 2020 season, the upside of this player exodus has been a slew of draft picks, which the Dogs have capitalised on well. 

Four first round draft picks in 2019 and three more in 2020 has seen the list filled with talent again in no time, and no doubt Nathan Burke will have his eyes on the top draftees of 2021, including Georgie Prespakis.

All three of their 2021 draftees in Jess Fitzgerald, Isabelle Pritchard and Sarah Hartwig took part in Saturday’s practice game against the Tigers. 

Balanced midfielder Fitzgerald was the captain of the 2020 Northern Knights team, and would be likely to follow in the footsteps of her teammate Gabby Newton, the 2019 Knights captain.

Debuting in Round 1 and playing every game in 2020, Newton was named in the 22under22 squad. 

Her 16 disposal and 10 tackle effort against the Eagles also earned her a Rising Star nomination.

Plenty of speculation has arisen around the future of new All-Australian Izzy Huntington. 

Having struggled with injury issues previously, Huntington earned the prestigious honour as a defender. 

She led the league for contested marks in the 2020 season, and was ranked second for intercept possessions. 

Coach Nathan Burke has hinted that the coaching group is still undecided as to whether her best position is forward or back, with Huntington training with the forward line during the pre-season. 

A genuine swing role could be on the cards for her.

The Dogs’ fixture is not an easy one for a team still on the up. 

Home games against Carlton, Richmond, North Melbourne and Geelong could result in a few upset wins, while the away games are a genuine concern. 

A match against the Eagles at Mineral Resources Park in Round 7 is a danger game, given they lost to the Conference B wooden spooners there by four points in 2020. 

GWS at Blacktown and Adelaide at Norwood are no easy prospects either. 

A pass mark for the year would have to be three to four wins for the Bulldogs.

Alex Catalano

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