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.

By all measures, GWS had a shocking inaugural AFLW season. They won the wooden spoon, lost key players to injuries and only kicked 23 goals across the entire season. Erin Phillips and Sarah Perkins combined for 21 by themselves.

Without sugar-coating things, they need to vastly improve this season to avoid simply being the whipping girls of the competition and on paper, things look better than they did 12 months ago – though there are certainly still areas of concern.

Marquee midfielder Renee Forth missed the entire 2017 season with a serious knee injury, but will be fit and ready to go this time around. Inserting her into their midfield along with fellow marquee Emma Swanson and All-Australian Jess Dal Pos gives them a very dangerous trio. Add in 2017’s number one draft pick Nicola Barr and acquired Collingwood gun Alicia Eva and you have yourself one of the best midfields in the competition.

Feeding that midfield will be one of the rising stars of the competition, ruck Erin McKinnon who came into 2017 as both the youngest and tallest player in the competition. She has now lost both of those honours thanks to a new crop of draft picks and Melbourne giant Erin Hoare, but she should continue to develop into one of the top handful of rucks in the competition.

GWSActal

So the midfield is set and should be able to trade blows with the best teams in the competition, but what about the forward line that only managed 23 goals in 2017? Personnel wise, it looks pretty much the same as last year and that raises a red flag.

They traded for Melbourne’s Maddy Boyd who was used primarily as a secondary ruck option and she’ll probably spend a lot of time up forward, but she didn’t kick a goal last year. They also brought in Boyd’s Demon teammate Pepa Randall who missed the 2017 season with an ankle injury, but again, they don’t seem to have made any forward line changes that will take this team from 23 goals to 40.

If you want to be a genuine contender this season, you’re probably going to have to average at least 5.5 goals per game as a starting point. In 2017, only Adelaide and Carlton reached that barrier with Melbourne not far behind. GWS not only averaged 3.3, but also only kicked 15 behinds for the season meaning they had a total of 38 scoring shots for the YEAR.

Phoebe McWilliams kicked seven of those goals and looked at home in up forward while Jacinda Barclay also provided a good target, but unless someone arises out of nowhere, we’ve already seen that what they provided in 2017 wasn’t enough.

Rebecca Beeson looms as someone who could make a big difference. The 20-year-old only kicked three goals in 2017, but averaged 10.4 disposals and applied a lot of forward 50 pressure. If she can contribute a few more goals this season, it’ll go a long way. This team also needs a massive scoreboard contribution from the midfield and should be resting the likes of Swanson, Barr and Forth inside 50 to utilize their class.

Their backline copped a hammering last season and the Giants were the only team to concede 300 total points across the season, but with better midfield pressure they should be okay this year. Renee Tomkins was one of the better defenders in the competition and picking up Carlton discard Rebecca Privitelli could pay dividends as she looked quite good as an intercept defender when given opportunity.

Season predictions:
GWS is a total wildcard. Their midfield probably ranks only behind Melbourne in terms of quality, but at this stage, you’d have to rank their forward line the bottom two along with Fremantle. Their backline didn’t get the job done last season, but has the talent to improve and the squad overall has decent depth thanks to some crafty draft and trade work.

As far as the fixture goes, they got one of the better draws, playing Carlton, Melbourne and Brisbane at home. They also have winnable interstate trips against Collingwood and Fremantle. It being a seven game competition means the fixture plays a big part and the Giants got far luckier than Collingwood, Fremantle and the Bulldogs which could help their final ladder position.

Ladder prediction: 5th
Season MVP: Erin McKinnon
Leading goal kicker: Phoebe McWilliams
Surprise packet: Rebecca Beeson