After two seasons in one year and a long off-season, the 2023 edition of AFLW is primed for some breakout performances.
While some will be from young players who, now with another preseason into their bodies, are ready to stake their claim, others are more senior players returning from injury lay-offs, while more still are preparing to make an impact at a new club.
These are the players to watch this year.
Adelaide: Zoe Prowse
A tall utility, Zoe Prowse was brought back into the Crows side as a key defender in round 10 last year and held her place throughout the finals series. Given Adelaide will be without All-Australian defender Sarah Allan for at least eight weeks with a hamstring injury, Prowse’s defensive ability becomes even more important.
Prowse averaged 3.5 intercepts and two 1-percenters across her six games last year, but lockdown roles on some of the competition’s most dangerous forwards looms for her this year.
Brisbane: Tahlia Hickie
While all eyes at Brisbane are on who gathers the ball on the deck, Tahlia Hickie has steadily worked her way up the ranks of AFLW rucks. Standing at 184 centimetres, she is often outsized by her direct opponent, but her leap and deft tap work sees her provide silver service to her midfield.
Hickie averaged 20 hitouts and 2.2 marks last season, but it was her 2.4 score involvements per game that proved most dangerous, setting up her teammates to do damage on the scoreboard.
Carlton: Keeley Sherar
Slated by Carlton captain Kerryn Peterson for a shift in role this season, Keeley Sherar is set to be the big improver at the Blues. After playing the bulk of her 16 games as an outside runner, Sherar will see more time in the thick of it this year.
Averaging 10.6 disposals and 3.8 tackles across her career to date, Sherar is a clean user of the footy and cool head in congestion. For a side that is preparing to step into a new era under fresh coach Mathew Buck, adding Sherar to a midfield already boasting rising star Mimi Hill and father-daughter Abbie McKay is a good place to start.
Collingwood: Tarni White
An underrated recruit of the off-season, former Saint Tarni White will slot in effortlessly at the Pies. A midfielder who has also regularly played in defence, it is her versatility and strength at the contest that makes her so valuable.
White averaged 11.8 disposals, 6.6 tackles and 221.1 metres gained last season, and looks likely to spend time across multiple lines this year as Collingwood also welcomes back star midfield duo Brianna Davey and Brittany Bonnici.
Essendon: Brooke Brown
The addition of former Roo Brooke Brown at the Bombers helps to shore up their backline as they head into their second season. Standing at 184cm, Brown adds height to the line, as well as some aggressive rebounding ability.
Averaging 255.8m gained and 3.7 marks over her career to date, Brown will provide some much-needed support to the likes of Ellyse Gamble and Sophie Van De Heuvel behind the ball for Essendon this year.
Fremantle: Megan Kauffman
Plucked out of Western Australia’s amateur competition, Megan Kauffman played all 10 games for Fremantle last season, kicking four goals in the process. This year, with more time spent within an elite system, Kauffman is ready to become a damaging small forward option under new coach Lisa Webb.
Strong and relentless, she is not dissimilar to Kiara Bowers in the way she attacks the footy, and playing at the feet of key forward Aine Tighe, Kauffman is well placed to have a significant impact in the coming months.
Geelong: Darcy Moloney
With the addition of experienced small forward Kate Surman at Geelong, coach Dan Lowther now has the luxury of using Darcy Moloney in some different roles this year. Although still likely to spend plenty of time in attack, Moloney’s grunt will no doubt be deployed higher up the ground at times.
Playing deep inside 50 last season, Moloney averaged 9.9 disposals and 3.2 tackles, while also kicking four goals, but a little more versatility in her role may just see her impact soar.
Gold Coast: Wallis Randell
The very last player taken in the 2020 draft, Wallis Randell has had to work very hard to establish her place in Gold Coast’s first 21. For the first time in her three seasons Randell played every game last season, finding a home in defence.
Offering some neat rebound out of the back half, Randell’s 7.6 disposals and 3.4 intercepts per game last season is just the tip of the iceberg of what she can provide. As other rebounding defenders like Bess Keaney trialled higher up the field, Randell’s steady presence at half back becomes steadily more important.
GWS: Zarlie Goldsworthy
One member of the Giants’ new forward line that is now without leading goalkicker Cora Staunton, Zarlie Goldsworthy’s strength on the lead is an exciting prospect.
Adept at finding separation from a direct opponent, all the Giants need to do is create enough space for Goldsworthy to lead into, and she will do the rest. Also preparing to rotate through the middle of the ground her physicality will be a welcome presence when coach Cam Bernasconi is giving star midfielder Alyce Parker a breather.
Hawthorn: Tamara Luke
An AFLW career that has repeatedly been stunted by ACL injuries, tall utility Tamara Luke looms as an important addition for Hawthorn this year after just two games last season.
A calming presence behind the ball and in the ruck, Luke provides the young Hawks with vital on-field leadership, particularly given Jess Duffin’s retirement. In addition, her ability to play as a key defender opens up the opportunity for coach Bec Goddard to swing fellow tall Tegan Cunningham into attack when needed.
Melbourne: Eden Zanker
Fresh off an AFLW premiership it is Eden Zanker who will become the commanding presence in Melbourne’s forward line this year given Daisy Pearce’s retirement and the likelihood of Tayla Harris and Kate Hore splitting their time across lines.
With accuracy finally on her side – Zanker kicked 14 goals, three behinds last season – her presence in the air and efficient recovery at ground level makes her a particularly difficult match-up, especially considering the neat delivery she will regularly be served.
North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos: Lulu Pullar
One of four former Lions who made the move to Victoria during the off season, Lulu Pullar may quietly prove to be one of the best recruits of the year. A former soccer player and doctor by day, Pullar is impressive on and off the field.
After playing primarily as a rebounding defender at Brisbane, North Melbourne has slated a role on the wing for her this year. Given her endurance and team-first mindset, Pullar has the makings of a great winger, nicely balancing the Roos’ elite midfield as they push for their first flag.
Port Adelaide: Jasmin Stewart
A former Docker, Jasmin Stewart stepped away from elite AFLW after season six at the start of last year, but after six months out of the game she realised she wanted back in. Port Adelaide is the beneficiary, adding Stewart to its midfield that has lost hard nut Jacqui Yorston for the season.
Stewart’s movement around stoppages, and ability to move from inside the contest to space on the outside, will greatly assist in the hard running, attacking style the Power aims to play this year.
Richmond: Laura McClelland
An often-forgotten Tiger in the context of the club’s star power, Laura McClelland is very highly rated internally thanks to her work ethic and willingness to put her body on the line.
Generally used across the back line it is the small things that McClelland does so well. Last season she averaged 2.8 1-percenters and 4.3 intercepts per game as a key member of Richmond’s system behind the ball. Given her height of 174cm and a shoulder injury to Maddie Shevlin, McClelland is becoming more and more important to Richmond as the season approaches.
St Kilda: Tyanna Smith
After a stunning debut season in St Kilda’s midfield, former number six draft pick Tyanna Smith had to watch back-to-back seasons unfold from the sidelines thanks to an ACL injury. Eighteen months later and back to full fitness, Smith is ready for take two at AFLW level.
In her nine games to date the 20-year-old averages 13.6 disposals, 7.6 tackles and 2.6 clearances. With an impressive balance of power through stoppage, agility and defensive effort, Smith adds some real class to a Saints midfield that has often relied on physical strength at the contest.
Sydney: Sofia Hurley
Somewhat overshadowed by Sydney’s ability to nab last year’s number one draft pick Montana Ham, fellow Victorian Sofia Hurley has proven just as valuable to the club. Ready to step it up a level this year, Hurley’s ability in the midfield and pushing forward will be greatly aided by the support the club has recruited throughout the off season.
With Laura Gardiner, Chloe Molloy, and Lucy McEvoy all present to provide some much needed composure on the field, Hurley is primed to improve on her average 9.8 disposals, 4.4 tackles and 2.1 clearances of last season.
West Coast: Ella Roberts
Western Australia’s top draft choice last year for a reason, Ella Roberts’s combination of skill, height and aerial ability is now enhanced by improved fitness thanks to a second preseason.
In her debut season Roberts averaged 3.5 marks, 13.4 disposals and two score involvements, regularly playing across all lines throughout games. Now as the Eagles improve across the board and look to maintain more control in game, Roberts becomes a key marking target in attack as a half forward.
Western Bulldogs: Keely Coyne
Despite playing the fewest games of the Bulldogs’ 2022 draftees, Keely Coyne is shaping as a breakthrough player this year. Averaging 6.2 disposals and four tackles across her career to date, Coyne’s running capacity and footy smarts out on the wing will greatly complement the Dogs’ tough on-ballers like Ellie Blackburn and Kirsty Lamb.
The teenager also has the capacity to push forward and hit the scoreboard, and now with another preseason under her belt, expect to see Coyne to kick it up a notch this year.