With the next AFLW season just around the corner (yes, season seven starts in August, after protracted negotiations finally delivered a new collective bargaining agreement), we’ve crunched the numbers to rank the five biggest names to switch clubs during the expansion and sign and trade periods.
Read on to find out what these players will bring to their new clubs, all of whom happen to be expansion sides.
1. Erin Phillips (Port Adelaide from Adelaide)
They say it’s the fiercest rivalry in Australian rules football, and now AFLW can lay claim to one of the most significant crossovers in South Australian trade history.
Phillips’s legacy speaks for itself: three-time premiership player (and two-time premiership captain), two-time league best and fairest, two-time best on ground in a grand final, two-time club champion, three time-All Australian… the list goes on.
After a breakthrough third premiership with the Crows in April, Phillips briefly contemplated retirement rather than joining the club her father famously won eight SANFL premierships with.
In picking up Phillips, the Power have more than just a symbolic win.
The dual sporting champion has been a consistent star during her AFLW career, playing a mix of midfield and forward minutes.
In the twilight of her career, Phillips has been able to spend a little more time forward, helped by the midfield dominance of Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff in particular.
When she isn’t cutting you up through the middle, she’s consistently peppering the scoreboard and setting up her teammates for scores.
In this regard, one stat, in particular, stands out.
Over six seasons, Phillips has ranked first in the competition for score involvements in four different years (2022, 2021, 2019 and 2017), while she was second in 2018.
The only year she dropped below second for score involvements was in 2020, when she was recovering from an ACL injury and played just two games.
Indeed, taking out the 2020 season, Phillips rates as elite — inside the top 10 per cent of the competition — for a range of forward and midfield stats across every AFLW season (including goals, shots on goal, marks inside 50, clearances and centre clearances and contested possessions).
Of course, Phillips’s recruitment is not just a coup on the field, with the former Adelaide captain bringing leadership qualities in spades.
Coming to the end of her playing career, Phillips has been selected to take part in the AFL’s new Women’s Coaching Acceleration Program, which means she will be employed by the Power for at least two years between now and 2025, under the mentoring of Ken Hinkley and new AFLW coach Lauren Arnell.
2. Maddy Prespakis (Essendon from Carlton)
Maddy Prespakis seamlessly slotted into the AFLW competition in 2019 as one of the first of a new generation of women who had the opportunity to play uninterrupted football from juniors onwards.
Crowned the Rising Star in her debut season in 2019, the midfielder went on to win the AFLW best and fairest award the following year. It capped a remarkable rise that saw her earn All-Australian selection and Carlton’s best and fairest in both years.
Again the club best and fairest in 2022, Prespakis has remained loyal, however, to the Blues’ fierce rival and the team she grew up passionately supporting in Essendon.
She sheepishly admitted to continuing to barrack for the Bombers in front of a live audience for the grand final edition of Triple R’s AFLW radio show Kick Like A Girl back in 2019, when her brother arrived in an Essendon scarf.
Kate O’Halloran — who hosted the show — has watched with interest since then, always half-expecting her to make the move to the Hangar.
Much like the situation with Phillips, however, this is more than just a “feel-good” win for Essendon.
Prepakis has consistently rated elite in many of the key midfield categories across her career, including clearances and stoppage clearances (2019-2022).
She also wins the ball on the inside and outside, ranking elite for both contested and uncontested possessions (2019-2022).
But, after setting the bar so high in her first two seasons, Prespakis has not been quite as prolific since ascending to best and fairest in 2020.
She has openly spoken about not coping with the pressure of winning the award or being physically targeted by opposition players — and this is reflected in the dip in some of her statistics.
In seasons 2021 and 2022, for example, she dropped out of the elite category for metres gained and inside 50s, while she also fell out of the elite category for score involvements in 2022.
This may also represent a role change. As Prespakis has continued to develop, her ability to win the ball on the inside has shone at the expense of her skill at using it on the outside.
For example, while down on those other stats, Prespakis’s centre clearances have trended upwards since 2020 (ranking sixth and fifth in 2021 and 2022, compared to 10th and 27th in 2019 and 2020).
Winning possession of the football is still at the heart of winning games, and Prespakis will give the Dons an opportunity to get the ball from day one.
If the Bombers can surround her with effective ball users, Essendon has a chance to make real noise next year.
3. Gemma Houghton (Port Adelaide from Fremantle)
While Erin Phillips to Port Adelaide was a foregone conclusion for many, Houghton moving interstate and to the Power caught many by surprise.
She’s been a mainstay in the Dockers’ side since the beginning of the competition with 46 games to her name, leading the club’s goal kicking in 2019 (nine goals) and 2021 (15 goals).
Houghton was subsequently named All Australian in both years — with her tally of 15 goals in 2021 the second-highest in the league behind Darcy Vescio, Chloe Molloy and Dakota Davidson, who tied on 16.
In Houghton, the Power faithful can look forward to an agile tall forward whose pace sees her evade opponents with ease inside the forward 50.
At her best, she’s a genuine game-breaker, as evidenced by her five-goal bag in the West Australian derby in 2021.
Moving predominantly forward in 2019, Houghton presents as a clean, overhead mark, ranking elite for contested marks (2019-2021), as well as marks inside 50 (2019-2022).
Houghton will also put pressure on the opposition if the ball goes to ground, ranking elite for tackles inside 50 across seasons 2018-19 and 2021-22.
She likewise shares the ball around like teammate Phillips, ranking elite for goal assists (2020-22), while she was first in the competition for score involvements in 2020, and third in 2019 and 2021.
After recruiting both Houghton and Phillips, Port will have a formidable forward line, with multiple avenues to goal.
4. Kaitlyn Ashmore (Hawthorn from the Kangaroos)
At 30 years of age, Ashmore is a veteran of the competition, racking up 49 games.
Football fans used to celebrating 50 games in the men’s competition may not realise what a significant milestone this is, requiring six years of football to reach the landmark (given how short AFLW seasons are).
Ashmore was one of Brisbane’s marquee signings back in 2016. In 2019, she joined expansion team the North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos, in keeping with a long list of former Melbourne University players to return to the then-affiliated club.
In joining the Hawks, Ashmore will achieve the rare feat of playing in the inaugural team of three separate clubs.
Unlike the four players above, Ashmore is no stranger to the difficulties of being a part of an expansion team, and this experience will help her teammates to evolve and adapt with her.
Long considered to be one of the better players in the competition, Ashmore is balanced in her strengths. Predominantly an attacking midfielder, the winger’s unique skill might be the space she finds to be an outlet for her teammates.
Ashmore has been inside the top 20 in the league for goals, goal assists, inside 50s and marks inside 50, but the one area that she regularly excels in is finding space to propel attacks.
Few players are as skilled at grabbing the ball in the air as Ashmore, constantly ranking near the top of the league in marks.
She has a knack for reading the ball in the air and holding on. When her team is in attack, she finds a way to slip opponents and help her side in transition.
The Hawks valued and prioritised these attributes from the start of the trade period, fighting hard to recruit Ashmore from a Kangaroos side that relinquished her reluctantly on the final day.
5. Brooke Lochland (Sydney from Western Bulldogs)
A Bulldogs premiership player and most recently their vice-captain, Brooke Lochland holds the record for the most goals in a game, with seven majors in the 2018 Pride game against Carlton.
On that incredible day, she booted all seven goals in just 40 minutes.
As a result, most think of Lochland as a forward, able to put points on the scoreboard with ease. But Lochland’s value to the Swans will likely come from elsewhere on the ground.
Indeed, after the magical 2018 season in which she was named All-Australian and led the league goal kicking (with 12 majors on their path to a flag), Lochland has kicked just three goals in another four seasons with the Bulldogs.
In 2021, she was deployed largely on the wing, using her speed to drive the ball forward, and ranking elite for metres gained, marks and turnovers.
She also applied heavy pressure when in the forward line, ranking elite for tackles inside 50.
2022, however, was a less productive season for Lochland, with the Bulldogs forced to shuffle the magnets after a particularly trying season punctuated by COVID-19 outs and a range of other scheduling and personnel challenges.
After being decimated by the first round of expansion (post the 2018 premiership), the Dogs will now have to contend with losing another one of their fan favourites, who joins the likes of best and fairest winner Emma Kearney, former captain Katie Brennan, star midfielder Monique Conti, former number one draft pick Izzy Huntington and forward Bonnie Toogood in leaving the kennel.
“It is a bittersweet feeling to be moving clubs, but I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life in Sydney with a great job opportunity and the chance to build a life for myself post-football,” Lochland told the Western Bulldogs club website.
In Lochland, the Swans can look forward to someone who will be competitive around the contest, and supplement their top-end talent as she did in the red, blue and white over six years of AFLW.
Renowned for her off-field preparation, she’ll also bring leadership credentials, and help drive standards forward for the young team.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC