Melbourne’s Karen Paxman will be one to watch during the 2020 AFLW season. Picture: MICHAEL WILLSON/AFL MEDIA/GETTY IMAGES
Melbourne’s Karen Paxman will be one to watch during the 2020 AFLW season. Picture: MICHAEL WILLSON/AFL MEDIA/GETTY IMAGES

The 20 players to watch this AFLW season

FOUR new teams, one more minor round game, one big prize at the end.

As the AFLW season gets under this Friday - when traditional footy rivals Carlton and Richmond face off at Ikon Park - we've picked 20 players to watch in 2020.

 

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Adelaide:

Anne Hatchard

Midfielder, 175cm

Known as "Hatchy", the 21-year-old is one of the biggest examples of how professional AFLW football is becoming. She has transformed herself, thanks to solid off-field commitment in gym work and diet, and it has paid off in her on-field performances. An inaugural Crow, she averaged six disposals in 2017 and eight disposals in 2018. Last year, she played all nine games and averaged a whopping 19 disposals. Expect even more from her in 2020. Rated elite for the 2020 season by Champion Data, she was among the Crows' best players when they beat Carlton by 45 points in last year's stellar grand final.

Crows leading goalkicker for 2019 Stevie-Lee Thompson. Picture: JAMES ELSBY/AFL PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES
Crows leading goalkicker for 2019 Stevie-Lee Thompson. Picture: JAMES ELSBY/AFL PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES

Stevie-Lee Thompson

Forward, 169cm

As an inaugural member of the Crows AFLW side, at 27 Thompson is now a two-time premiership player. After starting her AFLW career in defence, in 2019 she was moved into the forward lines and it was something of a revelation. She kicked 14 goals across nine games - including one in the grand final - and was crowned the AFLW's leading goal kicker. She also earnt herself All-Australian honours. Known for her speed and agility, she's not only enjoying her footy, but has emerged as an on-field mentor and leader.

Adelaide defender Sarah Allan. Picture: MARK BRAKE/GETTY IMAGES
Adelaide defender Sarah Allan. Picture: MARK BRAKE/GETTY IMAGES

Sarah Allan

Defender, 178cm

At full back, Allan, 22, is forging a reputation as being one of the league's most reliable defenders. Her strong overhead marking and ability to read the play will be even more important in 2020 as the Crows grapple with the loss of their lion-hearted co-captain and defensive stalwart Chelsea Randall. Allan has started this year strongly, being among the Crows' best on ground in their two pre-season trials games. On the stats' sheet, 2019 was her best year to date since debuting in 2017: she averaged nine disposals, three rebound 50s and two marks across her nine games and 2020 is shaping up even better.

Lions forward Jess Wuetschner. Picture: AAP IMAGE/DAVID MOIR
Lions forward Jess Wuetschner. Picture: AAP IMAGE/DAVID MOIR

Brisbane:

Jess Wuetschner

Small forward, 162cm

Coming into the 2020 season, the 27-year-old has been rated elite by Champion Data, one of three Brisbane players to receive the honour. But her pre-season was severely interrupted a fortnight ago - on Sunday, January 19 - when she was working at the Port of Brisbane and was struck by lightning while she was more than 10m off the ground in a crib being held by a crane. She said of the incident: "I saw white bolts go up my arms". She's hoping to be cleared fit to play for the Lions' round one clash against Adelaide on February 8 and continue her goalkicking ways. She's so far played 23 games of AFLW and has 26 goals to her name, including eight from last year.

Carlton’s new co-captain Kerryn Harrington. Picture: KELLY DEFINA/GETTY IMAGES
Carlton’s new co-captain Kerryn Harrington. Picture: KELLY DEFINA/GETTY IMAGES

Carlton:

Kerryn Harrington

Defender, 173cm

The 27-year-old attacking halfback made headlines last month when she rang her sports journalist partner's phone right in the middle of an Ash Barty press conference, who answered the call. Harrington promptly hang up on the World's No. 1 tennis player and immediately regretted it when the call went viral. A rookie selection for the Blues in 2017, last year Harrington averaged 13 disposals a game and was rewarded with All-Australian honours. The former basketballer has this year been named as Carlton's co-captain alongside Katie Loynes.

Blues’ rising star midfielder Madison Prespakis. Picture: AAP IMAGE/DANIEL POCKETT
Blues’ rising star midfielder Madison Prespakis. Picture: AAP IMAGE/DANIEL POCKETT

Maddy Prespakis

Midfielder, 164cm

The 2019 AFLW's rising star kicked the first goal of her side's grand final match against the Crows, which further demonstrated the stunning debut season of 19-year-old midfielder. After being picked up by the Blues in the 2018 draft as a first-round selection and No. 3 overall and went on to be the club's equal best and fairest and winning All-Australian honours. Last year, she averaged just over 19 disposals a game - the same number as Crows gun Anne Hatchard - and is expected to only build on her game during 2020.

Magpies’ Ash Brazill. Picture: MICHAEL WILLSON/AFL PHOTOS VIA GETTY IMAGES
Magpies’ Ash Brazill. Picture: MICHAEL WILLSON/AFL PHOTOS VIA GETTY IMAGES

Collingwood:

Ash Brazill

Defender, 175cm

Last season, the key defender returned from a hamstring injury that hampered her in 2018 and starred in the backlines with her thumping left foot. She averaged 18 disposals per game last season: incredible considering her field position; by comparison, Adelaide defender Chelsea Randall averaged 16. The 30-year-old has become known for her ability to gain territory running out of defence, last year recording an average of six rebound 50s. Also an Australian netballer, she is the only Magpie rated elite by Champion Data going into the 2020 season.

Fremantle’s Ebony Antonio. Picture: MIKE OWEN/GETTY IMAGES
Fremantle’s Ebony Antonio. Picture: MIKE OWEN/GETTY IMAGES

Fremantle:

Ebony Antonio

Defender, 173cm

The 28-year-old has been with Fremantle since being a priority selection in 2016 for the club's inaugural season and in that time has played 21 AFLW games, kicked 10 goals and averaged 11 disposals. The athletic defender - known for being fearless in the air - will this year be looking to return to her 2018 form when she was named in the All-Australian side and took out the Docker's club champion award.

Geelong’s Nina Morrison. Picture: MICHAEL WILLSON/AFL MEDIA/GETTY IMAGES
Geelong’s Nina Morrison. Picture: MICHAEL WILLSON/AFL MEDIA/GETTY IMAGES

Geelong:

Nina Morrison

Midfielder, 167cm

Morrison was the AFLW's No. 1 pick at the 2018 draft and for good reason. Playing for Vic Country she averaged an immense 151 Champion Data ranking points per game and recorded an elite six score-involvements. An elite runner, she debuted in the Cats' inaugural AFLW game last year and was crucial in the side's one-point win when she kicked the winning behind in the final minutes. In this game, she picked up 22 disposals, laid eight tackles, took two marks and was handed a Rising Star nomination. But tragically, a week later, she was on the sidelines after rupturing her ACL at training. The return of the 19-year-old is hugely anticipated.

Suns’ co-captain Leah Kaslar. Picture: GLENN HAMPSON
Suns’ co-captain Leah Kaslar. Picture: GLENN HAMPSON

Gold Coast:

Leah Kaslar

Defender, 171cm

Last season's Brisbane captain, Kaslar has switched Queensland clubs to the Suns and has been rewarded by being named the club's co-captain alongside fellow former Lion, Sam Virgo. Kaslar, 34, is known as one of the AFLW's most reliable key defenders, but her 2019 season was hampered with a calf strain. As Gold Coast begin their first year in the league as one of four new expansion teams, Kaslar's ability to always win the one-on-one contests will be crucial for success.

Giants’ Cora Staunton. Picture: AAP IMAGE/DYLAN COKER
Giants’ Cora Staunton. Picture: AAP IMAGE/DYLAN COKER

GWS:

Cora Staunton

Midfielder, 172cm

Considered a sporting icon back in her hometown of Ireland after a decorated Gaelic football career, the 38-year-old code-hopped over to the AFLW for the 2018 season where she has raised eyebrows thanks to her elite kick and goalscoring ability. What makes her 2020 season one to watch is the fact that in May last year, while she was playing in Sydney's local women's football competition, she suffered a horrific double leg break, breaking both the tibia and fibula bones in her right leg. But with determination befitting her four-time All-Ireland history, she has rehabilitated her leg back to health and when the Giants played the Crows in a trial game at Richmond Oval in mid-January, she was almost unstoppable.

Giants’ Jess Allan in her new colours. Picture: MICHAEL WILLSON/AFL PHOTOS
Giants’ Jess Allan in her new colours. Picture: MICHAEL WILLSON/AFL PHOTOS

Jess Allan

Ruck, 185cm

Originally drafted by the Crows for their 2018 season and played four games for the club. She went onto Adelaide's inactive list for their 2019 premiership year after she accepted a position with the Australian Defence Force that required her to relocate to Canberra for three months for intensive training, clashing with the AFLW season. The sister of Crows defender Sarah, Allan was traded to GWS last year after she accepted a permanent position with the Army and now resides in the ACT. The two sisters will play off against each other in round six at Richmond Oval.

Demons’ Karen Paxman. Picture: MICHAEL KLEIN
Demons’ Karen Paxman. Picture: MICHAEL KLEIN

Melbourne:

Karen Paxman

Midfielder, 170cm

A three-time All-Australian midfielder - Champion Data's AFLW prospectus describes the 31-year-old as "the definition of a player who can do it all", adding not only can she play in all three zones, but excels in all three as well. The adjectives used to describe her are elite too: "prolific midfielder", "fantastic endurance runner" among them. Last season she finished third in the league's best and fairest and took home the Demons' club champion award after averaging 21 disposals per game and kicking three goals.

Kangaroo Emma Kearney. Picture: AAP IMAGE/DAN HIMBRECHTS
Kangaroo Emma Kearney. Picture: AAP IMAGE/DAN HIMBRECHTS

North Melbourne:

Emma Kearney

Midfielder, 167cm

The 2018 premiership-winner and AFLW best and fairest, is one of the most consistent footballers in the league. After leaving then reining premiers Western Bulldogs and joining the Kangaroos for their inaugural AFLW season last year, she continued her All-Australian form, averaging 20 disposals and five tackles per game in her new colours. North Melbourne's reappointed captain, the 30-year-old is praised for her selfless running that too often goes unnoticed.

Richmond’s Monique Conti. Picture: AAP IMAGE/JAMES ROSS
Richmond’s Monique Conti. Picture: AAP IMAGE/JAMES ROSS

Richmond:

Monique Conti

Midfielder, 165cm

For her third season in the AFLW, Conti made the decision to swap her Western Bulldogs colours for Richmond's yellow and black and there's reason the Tiger army is excited. She is only 20, but has already achieved a premiership (2018, with the Bulldogs) in which she was named best on ground and was last season's Bulldogs' best and fairest, which capped off her All-Australian year. Up until this week, she was still playing in the WNBL for the Melbourne Boomers, but has walked away from basketball halfway through a long-term contract to dedicate herself to footy. Conti is best known for the way she can find space and evade packs.

Richmond’s Katie Brennan of the Tigers runs with the ball during the Richmond Tigers v West Coast Eagles AFLW practice match at Punt Road Oval on January 26, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Martin Keep/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
Richmond’s Katie Brennan of the Tigers runs with the ball during the Richmond Tigers v West Coast Eagles AFLW practice match at Punt Road Oval on January 26, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Martin Keep/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Katie Brennan

Forward, 174cm

One of the most talked-about trades in AFLW history, Brennan sensationally stepped away from the Western Bulldogs as their co-captain and joined expansion club Richmond on day two of the trade period. The first player to sign for the yellow and black, Brennan was the Bulldog's leading goal kicker for 2019 with six majors. A specialist forward when she was in Bulldogs colours, experts are tipping her to play a greater role in the Tigers midfield in 2020. Last month, she was announced as the side's inaugural captain.

Saints forward Jessica Sedunary. Picture: DYLAN BURNS/AFL PHOTOS
Saints forward Jessica Sedunary. Picture: DYLAN BURNS/AFL PHOTOS

St Kilda:

Jessica Sedunary

Forward, 168cm

An inaugural premiership-winner with the Crows, Sedunary didn't play a game in Crows colours in 2019 as she frustratingly tried to overcome a foot injury, and was ultimately delisted by the club at the end of last season. The Saints - one of four new clubs entering the AFLW in 2020 - swooped and the endurance athlete will play a strong role up forward this season. In her two seasons at Adelaide, she averaged seven disposals per game and kicked a total of five goals.

West Coast’s Emma Swanson. Picture: MARTIN KEEP/AFL PHOTOS VIA GETTY IMAGES
West Coast’s Emma Swanson. Picture: MARTIN KEEP/AFL PHOTOS VIA GETTY IMAGES

West Coast:

Emma Swanson

Defensive-mid, 173cm

A marquee signing for GWS in the inaugural AFLW season in 2017, Swanson has spent three seasons as the Giants vice-captain, where she's averaged 12 disposals per game. Last year she was restricted to only two games after a shoulder injury ended her season prematurely. She has made the decision to head to her hometown of Perth and she will captain the Eagles in their inaugural AFLW season.

Eagle Dana Hooker. Picture: MARTIN KEEP/AFL PHOTOS VIA GETTY IMAGES
Eagle Dana Hooker. Picture: MARTIN KEEP/AFL PHOTOS VIA GETTY IMAGES

Dana Hooker

Midfielder, 171cm

Hooker's exceptional 2019 season - where she dominated in the midfield for Fremantle - was duly recognised when she was given the second-most votes by the umpires in the 2019 AFL Women's Best and Fairest count. She received 11 votes to finish runner-up behind Crows' co-captain Erin Phillips, on 19. Hooker signed with the Eagles in the trade period and much is expected of the 29-year-old ball magnet after she's finished the top two of the Dockers' club champion awards in all three AFLW seasons.

Bulldog Ellie Blackburn. Picture: QUINN ROONEY/GETTY IMAGES
Bulldog Ellie Blackburn. Picture: QUINN ROONEY/GETTY IMAGES

Western Bulldogs:

Ellie Blackburn

Midfielder, 169cm

She might be only 24, but Blackburn is a premiership-winning All-Australian and was duly elevated to co-captain for their 2019 season. She has played all 22 games for the Western Bulldogs, where she's shone in their midfield. Last season she averaged 17 disposals and four tackles a game and kicked two goals. Expect more from her this year too.



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