The word ‘elite’ is used frequently in the sporting world, but it is a word that perfectly describes the top 10 players in any competition.
The AFLW is no different. Though there are others outside the top 10 players who can be considered elite in their position, the top 10 players are deserving of the title of the very best female players in the country.
Most AFLW fans will probably be able to name the 10 without looking, or at least narrow it down. There aren’t really any surprises, but that’s how it should be. And if you happen to be thinking of someone who didn’t make the cut, feel free to send us an email using our ‘contact us’ page and we’ll give our reasoning.
Before revealing the 10 players and wrapping up the AFLW Top 50 Players countdown for 2018, let’s have a quick look at the number of players selected by each team.
Melbourne tops the list with nine selections, followed by Brisbane (eight), Collingwood (seven), Carlton and GWS (six), Adelaide (five) and the Western Bulldogs (four).
Most will be quite surprised to only see five players from the premiership-winning Crows team get the nod, but it must be remembered that the top 50 is a look at individual performance rather than team performance.
Though Adelaide had only five selections, you’d safely argue that they had the deepest squad and the best role players in the competition, a common trait among premiership teams.
The most telling figures are the number of players from each inside the top 20, which is a better reflection of how the competition shaped up in 2017.
Adelaide, Brisbane and the Western Bulldogs top the competition with four, then comes Melbourne (three), Carlton and Fremantle (two), Collingwood (one) and GWS with none.
Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising team in the list is the Western Bulldogs, who had no entries in the top 50 until the top 20 and have three players inside the top 10. That’s where we can see the Dogs’ problem in 2017: too few contributors, especially when one of them missed most of the season.
The top 50 ranking process has been great fun for another year, and we feel we’ve done as well as we possibly could with all the factors that came into play.
A big thank you to Champion Data, whose AFLW Prospectus was a big help in putting together this year’s top 50, and a massive thank you to all who have read along in the past five days. Your opinions, critiques and feedback has been brilliant.
We hope you’ve enjoyed counting down the best players with us, and remember to keep an eye out for the ‘AFLW Underrated 21’ team that will be published this weekend!
Most key forwards who also go into the ruck (and vice versa) often do so for the purpose of rotations and generally flounder in one position, but not Sabrina Frederick-Traub. Her output was worth the value of two players in 2017, proving to be an elite key forward as well as a very serviceable ruck option. In attack, she was the top rated key forward to play at least three games according to Champion Data’s ranking points, also rating elite for disposals, contested marks and score involvements, and kicking six goals. That output would be impressive on its own without her prominent ruck work, as she was involved in the most ruck contests of all key forwards. Frederick-Traub’s hit-out tally of 58 was only three behind that of Brisbane’s number one ruck option, Sharni Webb.
Ellie Blackburn was her typical ball magnet self in 2017. She ranked elite for disposals, metres gained, contested possessions, uncontested possessions, clearances, inside 50s and score involvements. Her 411 metres gained per game was equal first in the competition, remarkably tied with teammate Emma Kearney, who she also shared the club’s best and fairest with. Blackburn was rather inaccurate in 2017 with her six goals and 12 behinds being the second worst goal accuracy of all players to kick four or more goals, but her average of three shots at goal per game was second only to Erin Phillips and double any other midfielder in the competition.
At times it felt like Emma Kearney was doing all the midfield work herself in 2017, as the Bulldogs’ unimpressive season was no reflection of her effort and output. She ranked fourth in the competition for Champion Data ranking points, and was the only midfielder in the league to rate elite for disposals, metres gained, contested possessions and uncontested possessions. Her average of 5.1 clearances per game was the most in the competition, slightly more than Erin Phillips. As mentioned in Ellie Blackburn’s entry, Kearney tied with Blackburn for the most metres gained per game in 2017 at 411, also tying with Blackburn to win the club’s best and fairest award.
Darcy Vescio had a statement season in 2017, kicking four majors in the competition’s first game and going on to lead all comers in the goal kicking. She quickly became the face of the Blues, and undoubtedly their primary target inside 50 despite being more of an athletic mid-sized forward. Carlton retained 55 per cent of balls delivered in her direction into the forward 50 – a reflection of her superior ground game – and her 14 goals accounted for 35 per cent of Carlton’s majors, the highest percentage for any player in any team. Though she was the leading goal kicker in 2017, Tayla Harris coming into the team benefits Vescio as it allows her to play in a role that should see her reap even more rewards in 2018.
Fremantle had too few contributors in the midfield, but Kara Donnellan did an exceptional job picking up the slack. She ranked inside the top five in the competition for kicks, clearances, tackles and inside 50s per game. But beyond her season stats, the most incredible statistics come from her performance against Carlton in round six when she recorded 24 disposals, 14 contested possessions, nine clearances, eight tackles, five inside 50s, two score assists and kicked two goals. In that game, she registered 350 Champion Data ranking points, the most ever recorded – not just in the AFLW, but in any competition ever. Perhaps Donnellan’s class will be better recognised in 2018 with an overall improved Fremantle effort.
Karen Paxman’s season was made all the more impressive by the fact that she was often used as a back pocket or ball-winning defender, yet still managed to post the second most disposals of any midfielder. Her ability to push back into defence eased the load on the defenders, recording the second most rebound 50s of any midfielder. Her 300 metres gained per game almost doubled the average for all other midfielders, further proving that she did more than just gather disposals in the back half. With the emergence of more midfielders in Melbourne’s team, Paxman might spend even more time in the defensive 50 in 2018 but will still be one of the competition’s highest disposal winners.
Some might be somewhat surprised to see Katie Brennan placed as the best key forward in the game after missing most of the AFLW season, but not those who saw her in the VFLW in 2017. She started the AFLW season strongly but an ankle injury kept her out of the last five games. In her short time in the competition, she led all key forwards for Champion Data ranking points, disposals, marks, tackles, metres gained and score involvements per game. She was the equal first goal kicker in the 2017 VFLW season with 35 – to go along with her league best and fairest – also managing the highest goals average per game with 2.69. Brennan is very much the prototypical key forward, and given a full season in 2018, will prove on a grander stage why she is the best in the game.
For the first time in almost a decade, Daisy Pearce loses her mantle as the best female footballer in the country, but her impressive 2017 season should not be overlooked. Her average of 22 disposals topped the competition, but she was the only player to average 10 handballs per game, perhaps limiting her impact somewhat. As was the case with all of Melbourne’s ‘big three’ midfielders, Pearce was also able to get back in defence as well as leading the team for clearances. She also laid the most tackles of anyone at the club, and her average of 181 Champion Data ranking points per game was the second most in the competition. Pearce’s amazing performance in the AFLW State of Origin match, in which she had 37 disposals (24 disposals and a goal in the first half), might be more of what we can expect to see in 2018 as she will aim to play her very best football at the helm of the early 2018 AFLW premiership favourites.
If the way Brianna Davey performed in 2017 is what she is like with a back injury, opposition teams would hate to see her fully fit. She was by far the most prominent key back, average 30 more Champion Data ranking points per game than the next best defender. She ranked number one in the competition for both intercept marks and intercept possessions, and she won six intercepts from nine defensive one-on-one contests. To put that into perspective, all other Carlton players combined for just seven wins from 55 defensive one-on-ones. She also averaged 19 disposals per game – the average for all key defenders was 7,5 – and she almost doubled the average metres gained for her position with 252. Davey also led the competition for rebound 50s with 3.8 per game, operating at an amazing 67.5 per cent disposal efficiency.
Australian footy might never see the rise of a rookie player like Erin Phillips ever again. She won almost everything there was to win in 2017, taking home the league best and fairest, club best and fairest, AFLPA MVP, best on ground in the Grand Final, goal of the year, and the was the winner of the Leesa Catto MVP, Girls Play Footy’s individual AFLW award. She was the top ranking player in the AFLW with an amazing 189 Champion Data ranking points per game, leading the competition in kicks, contested possessions, score involvements and shots at goal. Her 68 minutes played per game were more than any other midfielder, showcasing her elite fitness. Phillips was also the biggest clutch player in the competition, kicking 10 goals to go with her impressive numbers, many of which came at crucial times in big matches.