AFLW 2022 season launch: Captains predictions for grand finalist, rising star, league best and fairest

Melbourne has been widely tipped to make the AFLW grand final by rival captains. But Magpie Steph Chiocci is shocked one team is being overlooked. All the 2022 predictions.

Tayla Harris of the Demons looks on after defeating the Collingwood Magpies at a practice match in December. Picture: Kelly Defina/Getty Images
Tayla Harris of the Demons looks on after defeating the Collingwood Magpies at a practice match in December. Picture: Kelly Defina/Getty Images

Melbourne has been widely tipped to be firmly in AFL Women’s premiership calculations, according to the game’s leading players.

AFLW captains were on Tuesday canvassed, with the Demons tipped by seven skippers other than Melbourne leader Daisy Pearce to reach this year’s Grand Final, set to be played in April.

Five other captains nominated Brisbane as a potential grand finalist, but Collingwood co-skipper Steph Chiocci said she couldn’t believe the two-time premiership-winning Crows weren’t in more captains’ calculations.

Stephanie Chiocci says the Crows could be the team to watch in 2022. Picture: Michael Dodge
Stephanie Chiocci says the Crows could be the team to watch in 2022. Picture: Michael Dodge

“They’ve been consistent and obviously they’ve got all of South Australia to pick from, so for me, I think they’re pretty strong,” she said.

Richmond captain Katie Brennan said the Covid-19 landscape could mean it is any team’s to win.

“I think there’s a number of teams that could win it this year and there’s some real talent at the top,” she said.

“You look for every team … particularly in this ever-changing Covid world, there’s always chances that you can progress forward in the competition.”

Chiocci’s fellow Collingwood captain Bri Davey and Fremantle star Kiara Bowers were both tipped as chances to go back-to-back as league best and fairest players, with Western Bulldogs captain Ellie Blackburn also considered in the mix.

Cats young gun Georgie Prespakis was overwhelmingly considered the top pick to win this year’s rising star, after her sister Madison claimed top honours with the league medal in 2020.

Coach Craig Starcevich and captain Breanna Koenen will lead reigning premier Brisbane into the AFLW season. Picture: Albert Perez/AFL Photos
Coach Craig Starcevich and captain Breanna Koenen will lead reigning premier Brisbane into the AFLW season. Picture: Albert Perez/AFL Photos

Which other team apart from your own is most likely to reach the Grand Final?

7 – Melbourne

5 – Brisbane

1 – Adelaide

1 – Collingwood

Who will win the competition Best and Fairest?

2 – Bri Davey (Collingwood)

2 – Ellie Blackburn (Western Bulldogs)

2 – Kiara Bowers (Fremantle)

1 – Jasmine Garner (North Melbourne)

1 – Karen Paxman (Melbourne)

1 – Chloe Molloy (Collingwood)

1 – Monique Conti (Richmond)

1 – Alyce Parker (GWS)

1 – Ebony Marnioff (Adelaide)

1 – Brit Bonnici (Collingwood)

1 – Tyla Hanks (Melbourne)

Who will kick the most goals in the competition?

4 – Chloe Molloy (Collingwood)

3 – Darcy Vescio (Carlton)

2 – Isabel Huntington (Western Bulldogs)

1 – Tayla Harris (Melbourne)

1 – Jesse Wardlaw (Brisbane)

1 – Kate Hore (Melbourne)

1 – Dakota Davidson (Brisbane)

1 – Gemma Houghton (Fremantle)

West Coast’s Dana Hooker and Docker Hayley Miller at the season launch in WA. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty Images
West Coast’s Dana Hooker and Docker Hayley Miller at the season launch in WA. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Who will win the NAB AFL Women’s Rising Star?

10 – Georgie Prespakis (Geelong)

1 – Ellie McKenzie (Richmond)

1 – Jess Fitzgerald (Western Bulldogs)

1 – Charlie Thomas (West Coast)

1 – Charlie Rowbottom (Gold Coast)

Who from your club is the best player from another sport?

Adelaide – Jasmine Simmons (Basketball)

Brisbane – Greta Bodey (Soccer)

Carlton – Brooke Walker (Rugby 7s)

Collingwood – Ash Brazill (Netball)

Fremantle – Janelle Cutherbertson (Tennis)

Geelong – Rachel Kearns (Gaelic)

Gold Coast – Tori Groves-Little (Rugby)

GWS – Cora Staunton (Gaelic)

Melbourne – Libby Birch (Netball)

North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos – Jess Duffin (Cricket)

Richmond – Tessa Lavey (Basketball)

St Kilda – Jess Matin (Cricket)

Western Bulldogs – Bonnie Toogood (Netball)

West Coast – Niamh Kelly (Gaelic)

Will Derm’s huge Harris prophecy be fulfilled at Dees?

- Jon Ralph

Dermott Brereton sidled up to Tayla Harris at a Fox Footy season launch and casually dropped a bombshell.

The Hawthorn legend told the then-Carlton spearhead she could be the best player in footy given she possessed such power and strength to reach the ball high in its arc that no defender could stop her.

To witness that conversation first-hand was to see famed centre half-forward Brereton anoint AFLW cult hero Harris, a player with the competition at her feet.

Her gifts were priceless: sublime talent, huge marketability and a national profile borne from her efforts to fight against the social media trolls who tried to bring her down.

This off-season after a disastrous 2021 at Carlton – just 16 marks and four goals in total from six games – Harris found she did have a price.

And it wasn’t a figure the Blues were even vaguely keen to match.

Tayla Harris was traded from Carlton to Melbourne. Picture: Kelly Defina/Getty Images
Tayla Harris was traded from Carlton to Melbourne. Picture: Kelly Defina/Getty Images

Carlton labelled her as distracted and distracting, a divisive presence who wasn’t worth the fuss given her diminishing on-field returns.

Her camp suggested Harris’ salary demands were severely overplayed, with the 24-year-old willing to do the work to bounce back.

What happens next for Harris, now at her third club, Melbourne, intersects with one of the most intriguing storylines in the new AFLW season.

For all the hype and publicity about Victoria’s AFLW sides, only one of them has been able to get it done in the five seasons and four grand finals (Covid wiped out the 2020 finals series).

The Western Bulldogs held aloft the 2018 trophy but Adelaide (twice) and the Brisbane Lions (last year) have won three of the four flags on offer.

For all its promise and talent, Melbourne hasn’t tasted success, playing in only two finals for a single victory (last year’s qualifying final win over Fremantle).

This year shapes as Daisy Pearce’s last hurrah, and there is no doubt the Demons have gone all in.

Harris arrives after Carlton gleefully moved her on and the Demons gave up plenty for Geelong onballer Olivia Purcell in a trade.

So Melbourne, like many AFLW sides, needs to get a wriggle on, like competition newbies Richmond and Geelong, in their third and fourth seasons respectively.

Brianna Davey will ensure Collingwood is right in the premiership mix. Picture: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images
Brianna Davey will ensure Collingwood is right in the premiership mix. Picture: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

That pair illustrates the challenges four new teams will face when they round out the competition to 18 teams next year.

Collingwood seems locked and loaded, with reigning MVP Bri Davey and stars including Chloe Molloy, Jaimee Lambert and Britt Bonnici despite the loss of ruck Sharni Norder (nee Layton).

Norder’s megawatt personality will be missed and throws up an interesting theme about the new breed of stars the AFL knows must eventually take over from Pearce, Adelaide’s Erin Phillips and Carlton’s Darcy Vescio.

The new breed is here – led by Carlton’s Madison Prespakis, Nina Morrison (Geelong), Roxy Roux (Fremantle) and Izzy Huntington at the Bulldogs.

But unlike the early trailblazers – Harris, Mo Hope, Norder – most are heads-down, bums-up personalities who don’t yet have the marketing dynamism or incredible backstories of their predecessors.

As Norder said, she had to fight the fight for AFLW because too few players were willing to put their name out there and risk the downside of extra media coverage.

Madison Prespakis leads the next wave of AFLW stars. Picture: AFL Photos via Getty Images
Madison Prespakis leads the next wave of AFLW stars. Picture: AFL Photos via Getty Images

Covid will be a noise humming away in the background in season 2022.

St Kilda’s Georgia Patrikios seems in no hurry to be vaccinated, a huge blow given she is new coach Nick Dal Santo’s best player.

Adelaide will cover the blow of first-team defender Deni Varnhagen, while the AFLW season will be a kind of crash-test dummy for the March men’s competition as the league attempts its first season of living with Covid instead of crossing the country dodging it.

Anyone who has watched the evolution of the five AFLW seasons knows the standard has risen significantly, and is also sick of defending it.

It is what it is – a very young competition making massive advances that will still never be able to live up to a quicker, faster men’s game in the eyes of its critics.

Yet consider what it will become in the next decade – a highly watchable, fully professional game with massive commercial opportunities for its players, clubs and the AFL.

There is a difference between discerning fans who want to watch a little but not a lot of AFLW and blinkered middle-aged men happy to tear down the legitimacy and standard of the women’s competition.

As Richmond’s Hannah Burchell said this month, the new breed of fans just want to be entertained.

“It’s so comforting to see the growth of footy. It’s not a question of whether girls should or shouldn’t play footy any more,” Burchell said.

“And the even cooler thing is young boys don’t see it as a difference. The awesome thing is they come to the footy and don’t see it as men’s or women’s footy, they have just grown up with it.”

Lauren Wood
Lauren WoodSports Reporter

Lauren Wood is an AFL and AFL Women's reporter for the Herald Sun. She also covers a range of other sports across the busy Melbourne sporting calendar.

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