We’re now less than a month away from the AFL Women’s competition returning and with the squads set, it’s time to look at each team’s best 21 – yes, 21. The AFL has limited teams to five players on the bench to go with 16 on the field and that means we will be going through each side’s best 21.
Brisbane will enter 2018 as a team that was only beaten once in the inaugural season, but unfortunately for them it was in the Grand Final. A draw with Carlton was the only other blemish as Craig Starcevich’s team knocked off all other competition on their way to the top of the ladder.
What made this Brisbane side so difficult to beat was their defensive structures. The Lions only conceded 148 points for the season. The next best was Melbourne with 183. They strangled teams by pressuring almost all kicks going inside 50 and taking intercept marks. They clearly gelled faster than any other squad and the likes of Leah Kaslar, Sam Virgo, Tahlia Randall and Kate Lutkins were rarely beaten in one-on-one contests.
It’s a good thing they were stingy down back as their midfield struggled across the season. In fact, it's likely what cost them the Grand Final as they simply couldn’t transition the ball forward against the Crows.
Brisbane ranked dead last in clearances, centre clearances and second last in kicking efficiency in the midfield. They survived by being the number one pressure team in the competition through the middle, but it’s clearly the area they need to improve on in 2018.
Emily Bates and Emma Zielke were really the only Brisbane midfielders who held their own in the clearance game, with no one else at the club averaging two per game. This was likely also down to their disadvantage in the ruck. Sharni Webb fought valiantly as the club’s starting ruck, but was giving up over 10cm to her opponents and only averaged seven hit-outs per game. Sabrina Frederick-Traub also averaged seven and was more effective in the ruck, but was needed more up forward.
The Lions drafted 21-year-old Jessy Keeffe with pick 48 and given she’s 14cm taller than Webb and has represented Queensland in under-23’s, she should get a few opportunities despite her lack of experience.
Brisbane’s defence is their weapon, but they have plenty of firepower up forward as well, even without Tayla Harris who defected to Carlton. Opposition teams struggled to find appropriate match-ups for small forward duo Kate McCarthy and Jess Wuetschner who both possessed the ability to change a game with speed and craftiness in front of goal. Locking down on them will be vital to stopping the Lions in 2018. Combined they kicked 14 of the Lions’ 35 goals.
Brisbane may have lost a marquee in Harris, but they did very well out of the trade and might even come out better than they were last season. The Blues gave up Rising Star nominee Isabella Ayre and the 19-year-old key forward showed in patches she has a lot of potential. She should slot straight into the Brisbane forward line and give Frederick-Traub the same support Harris did.
The Lions also received Nat Exon from the Blues who will give them another speedy midfield rotation to go with Kaitlyn Ashmore, Megan Hunt and McCarthy. While Brisbane hasn’t necessarily improved their clearance game, they will have plenty of speed and class on the outside of stoppages. Ashmore and McCarthy need to get more of the ball this season though, as they averaged nine and six disposals respectively.
While the Lions did quite well out of the Harris trade, they’re still going to struggle through the midfield and the backline won’t be as strong as it was with All-Australian defender Virgo tearing her ACL. Having said that, Brisbane didn’t look particularly strong on paper last season either and it was the work of the coaching staff and the team’s defensive structures that made them so dominant. It’s entirely possible they pull that off again.
They also have a very tough fixture, drawing Adelaide, Carlton, Melbourne and GWS interstate and those are must-win games in a seven-round competition. Expect the Lions to remain one of the toughest teams to beat in 2018, but they still don’t have the game-changing talent that Adelaide beat them with in 2017 and the likes of Melbourne and Carlton have in spades.
Ladder prediction: 4th
Season MVP: Emily Bates
Leading goal kicker: Sabrina Frederick-Traub
Surprise packet: Jessy Keeffe