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.
Collingwood’s 2017 can be summed up pretty simply. They finished fifth on the ladder and were beaten by the four teams above them. They were heavily scrutinized for both their drafting and that marquee Moana Hope didn’t fire until late in the tournament.
They lacked top-end talent and outside of Emma King’s work in the ruck, they always seemed at a disadvantage no matter where the ball was on the ground. Things got worse in the trade period, losing Nicola Stevens and Alicia Eva – their best and fairest winner and runner up – to Carlton and GWS respectively. Alarm bells were starting to ring.
Collingwood could've panicked at that moment as the problems continued to escalate, but instead what they’ve managed to do since those two trades went down should give fans hope.
They used the Eva trade to get the number one pick in the draft from GWS, leapfrogging the Bulldogs who then had to give up gun midfielder Jaimee Lambert to the Pies in order to get the first overall Victorian selection back in their possession.
After all that, Collingwood used pick three to get the player they likely would’ve taken first overall anyway, meaning they ended up with Lambert as well as potential superstar 19-year-old Chloe Molloy.
Regardless of what happens this season, Collingwood fans should be ecstatic they get to watch Molloy run out in their jumper. Molloy – as an 18-year-old – was the equal leading goal kicker in the VFLW competition this year, beating out the likes of Darcy Vescio and tying with Katie Brennan. Molloy is a goal kicking machine that can play quality midfield minutes if required and is as tough as any player in the competition.
Surrounding her will be Hope and Jasmine Garner who have both slimmed down from last season and look as good as they ever have. Garner in particular looms as a wildcard for the Pies, kicking five goals for Victoria in the 2017 State of Origin game and 32 in the VFLW season (three behind Molloy). Hope meanwhile looks refreshed after playing last season through injury and showed good form in her limited VFLW appearances, averaging 2.4 goals per game.
Collingwood has more forward line weapons than just those three however. Jess Duffin (née Cameron) was the only Collingwood player ranked elite by Champion Data in 2017, kicking six goals and ranking third in the competition for contested marks and seventh for marks inside 50. They also have Sarah D’Arcy who was arguably their breakout star of the season, getting plenty of the ball for a key forward and being a marking target coming out of defence.
Basically, they have the best forward line on paper in the competition and only Carlton really comes close.
Down back they’re weaker without Stevens and will have to find a way to make do without her. Getting their hands on Darcy Guttridge at pick nine was a big win for the club and she should slot into a role at half back and through the middle from game one.
Their midfield remains a point of weakness, though the addition of a fully fit Lambert should cancel out the loss of Eva. Despite having the clear standout ruck of the competition, Collingwood ranked fifth for clearances and seventh for total disposals. They didn’t win enough of the ball and couldn’t feed their forward line effectively. They’ll want a little more out of captain Steph Chiocci in 2018 too. She was excellent whenever she had the ball in her hands, but only averaged 9.7 disposals per game which simply isn't enough.
In fact, the entire Collingwood midfield needs to get much more of the ball this year. Only three Collingwood players averaged over 10 disposals in the inaugural season and they were Eva – who’s gone, D’Arcy – who’s a forward and Meg Hutchins – who’s a defender. By comparison, the Demons had eight players averaging over 10 disposals and most teams had at least three midfielders at that marker.
Kristy Stratton seems the most likely of their draft picks to slot into their midfield. The 23-year-old ruptured her ACL in 2016, but was one of the best midfielders in the VWFL before her injury and looked good in her return to footy for Box Hill late in the 2017 season.
Collingwood seems like a team that could benefit from the last touch out of bounds rule. More clean possession will suit them and give their forwards more chances to get their hands on the ball. However, their midfield just doesn’t seem good enough to challenge the best teams in the competition. Their backline already struggled to contain quality forwards in 2017 and will now have to do it without their best defender.
The Pies should be fun to watch, but the substance isn’t quite there just yet so unless the pieces fall together perfectly in the midfield, expect them to hover around the middle of the table.
Ladder prediction: 6th
Season MVP: Emma King
Leading goal kicker: Jasmine Garner
Surprise packet: Kristy Stratton