Coming into the sixth AFLW season in 2022, there are a number of players ready to make their mark, or continue their rise through the competition’s ranks.
It might be through kicking spectacular goals, consistently winning the ball out of the middle, or cleverly shutting down their direct opposition.
Club: North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos
AFLW appearances: 39
An inaugural Lion who moved south in 2019 during the first round of expansion, Randall has played predominantly as a key defender through her five seasons. This year, however, she looks set for a positional change, plying her trade as a full forward for much of the preseason.
It seems North Melbourne is after some new attacking solutions given their average score dropped by more than a goal per game in 2021 compared to the previous year, so Randall’s ability to read the ball, combined with her attack in the air, will serve the Kangaroos’ forward line well, especially on end of delivery from players like Ashleigh Riddell, Kaitlyn Ashmore and Emma Kearney.
Randall is also a reliable shot on goal from a distance — a valuable asset in AFLW — kicking her first ever AFLW goal this year from a set shot just inside the 50m arc.
Club: Brisbane Lions
AFLW appearances: 17
In her debut season, Greta Bodey showed glimpses of what she could offer in 2020, but found it tough to consistently find the ball and convert it into attack. In the Lions’ premiership season, however, things clicked for Bodey and her impact skyrocketed.
She kicked nine goals — equal-second on the club’s goal kicking tally — and doubled her average disposals to 12.1. This growth looks likely to continue in 2022, with her skillset now paired with an ever-improving game awareness and attacking mindset.
Expect her to cause some headaches for opposition defences with her speed and agility coming inside 50, and assisted by taller forwards who are able to regularly bring the ball to ground and create opportunities for Bodey.
Club: Melbourne Demons
AFLW appearances: 17
Shelley Heath is the kind of player whose impact doesn’t show on her stats sheet as much as it does on her direct opponent’s. A small, lockdown defender, Heath is often tasked with the trickiest small forward from the opposition (think: Courtney Hodder) and relishes the one-on-one battle.
Her speed is often underrated, so is rarely beaten on the lead or out the back, and in close she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, averaging 3.4 tackles per game in the 2021 season.
With an abundance of clever small forwards in the game, and their efficiency at goal, Heath’s role is becoming increasingly important to a Melbourne side that is vying for its first AFLW premiership.
Club: Greater Western Sydney Giants
AFLW appearances: 16
After a year out of the game due to national Rugby 7s commitments, and a trade to the Giants, Chloe Dalton is returning to the AFLW in 2022.
Dalton is an outside runner who is firmly focused on transitioning the ball into attack and creating scoring opportunities for her side — exactly the type of player the Giants need, after averaging the fourth-lowest score in the competition in 2021, with just 27 points each game.
Not only this, but the defensive pressure and run-down tackling ability Dalton possesses is rare in the AFLW, and will be a welcome sight upon her return.
Club: Collingwood Magpies
AFLW appearances: 29
Ruby Schleicher’s breakout 2021 season has seen her shoot up the ranks in the AFLW, and also named in Collingwood’s leadership group for the first time.
As a key part of the Magpies defence in 2021, Schleicher broke the competition’s record for intercepts, recording 90 for the year. But it’s not simply the way she cuts off opposition attack that is valuable.
Schleicher’s ability to reverse that and turn those intercepts into attack for her own side is vital, averaging 267 metres gained and 2.7 inside 50s each game in 2021, and we can expect this to continue into 2022. On top of this, Schleicher has become one of the best ball users in the competition, making the most of her increased disposal tally.
Club: Fremantle Dockers
AFLW appearances: None
She might not have played a game yet, but this Irish woman is one of the dark horses for the 2022 season. Exceptionally athletic and hardworking, Tighe has the potential to help Fremantle’s forward line return to the damaging form it enjoyed in their undefeated 2020 season where it averaged 51 points a game.
With a storyline akin to Kiara Bowers’ delayed start to AFLW, Tighe has spent the last two seasons on Fremantle’s list battling knee injuries, but looks set to finally make her mark in 2022.
Club: Geelong Cats
AFLW appearances: 17
In what was a coup for Geelong, Chloe Scheer has bolstered a midfield/forward line that has been under pressure in recent years. In her 17 games at the Crows she kicked 13 goals, and was a key part of their 2019 premiership side.
Scheer’s ability in the air is an asset up forward and as a release kick down the line, but her strength at ground level and her attacking mindset will serve the Cats well as they look to improve their scoring in 2022.
Scheer, alongside other new recruits like Georgie Prespakis and Zali Friswell, will help to spread the load through the middle that was largely carried by Amy McDonald in 2021, and Scheer’s maturity will help the Cats to retain their structure more than they were able to last season.
Club: Gold Coast Suns
AFLW appearances: 6
In three seasons of AFLW, Tori Groves-Little has played just six games, but looks primed for a breakthrough in 2022. Under new coach Cameron Joyce, Groves-Little has developed into a more attacking player who has the potential to make better use of Gold Coast’s forays forward.
Groves-Little’s repeat efforts and determination will cause problems for opposition defences as they will take advantage of any lapses in concentration or effort.
In a forward line that has lost Maddison Levi to Rugby and Kalinda Howarth to the backline, Groves-Little may just be the spark the Suns need to kickstart their attack.
Club: Western Bulldogs
AFLW appearances: 27
In each of her four seasons of AFLW, Bonnie Toogood has been growing progressively stronger and harder to beat in one-on-one contests. Her power is apparent, especially when lining up for goal, and kicked a career-high nine goals in 2021.
Already testing the bounds of the new ‘stand’ rule, Toogood looks likely to become even more dangerous in front of goal in 2022.
She is a forward who is particularly adept at taking contested marks, even in the toughest of situations, and has developed a chemistry with fellow forward Isabel Huntington. With enough supply, Toogood has the potential to be one of the most prolific goalkickers in the competition next season.
Club: Richmond Tigers
AFLW appearances: 33
A move to Richmond ahead of the 2021 season wasn’t the only big change for Sarah D’Arcy. After playing her first four seasons as a forward at Collingwood, kicking 10 goals in the process, she landed across half-back at the Tigers.
Her improved fitness and knack at reading the ball saw D’Arcy break out last season, helping to stifle opposition attack while also pushing up the ground and delivering the ball forward for her own side.
D’Arcy’s work in conjunction with key defenders Harriet Cordner and Rebecca Miller saw Richmond concede two-fewer goals each game on average in 2021 compared to their inaugural season. Her role will remain vital to Richmond’s fortunes as they look to continue their upward trajectory in 2022.
Club: Adelaide Crows
AFLW appearances: 41
Added to Adelaide’s leadership for the first time during the off season, Stevie-Lee Thompson is a player who has always taken on board every challenge assigned to her and excelled.
Garnering the most attention for her move forward in 2019, leading the competition’s goal kicking with 14, Thompson has continued to have a significant impact playing across all lines.
Arguably Adelaide’s best player in their 2021 grand final loss, her rebound, run and carry came to the fore, breaking lines and putting Brisbane’s well-structured defence under pressure.
As Angela Foley sits out next season with an ACL injury, Thompson’s rebounding will prove even more important to the Crows in 2022, as will her on-field leadership.
Club: Carlton Blues
AFLW appearances: None
A steal for Carlton out of Sturt in the SANFLW, Jess Good is a super athletic former basketballer who can play many roles in the AFLW. For what All Australian ruck Breann Moody lacks in terms of run and carry, Good offers this in spades.
When not rucking, she’ll provide a forward target, where dangerous mid-sized forwards Darcy Vescio and Nicola Stevens can play at her feet and stalk the ground ball.
Effectively slotting straight into the role vacated by Alison Downie, Good is likely to make the Blues a more mobile outfit in 2022.
Club: West Coast Eagles
AFLW appearances: 15
At just 20 years of age, Mikayla Bowen has established herself as one of the most important players on West Coast’s list. Able to have an impact pretty much anywhere on the field, Bowen’s outside game and run into the forward line stands out as her best contribution, complementing the side’s tough on-ball brigade.
In her second season, Bowen averaged 16.6 disposals and four intercepts per game, while also getting forward and kicking five goals.
Likely to play more of 2022 as a pure winger — player availability permitting — Bowen has the potential to improve on these numbers again, and will be key to the Eagles’ plans to rise up the ladder.
Club: St Kilda Saints
AFLW appearances: 17
Playing in both defence and the ruck for the Saints in 2021, expect to see vice-captain Rhiannon Watt juggle the same role combination in 2022.
Surprisingly lithe for her 186cm frame, Watt offers plenty of support to the midfield when taking charge at stoppages, and is a reliable aerial outlet for a release kick out of defence when her side is trapped in defence.
After averaging a career-high 12.3 disposals and 2.9 marks in 2021, Watt adds a point of difference around the ball for the Saints, on top of an impressive game sense which sees her position herself well around the field.
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Gemma Bastiani is an AFLW analyst, music business lecturer and co-founder of Siren: A Women in Sport Collective.