As we enter the 30-21 bracket of this year’s top 50 AFLW players list, we arrive at the most difficult part of the countdown.
There are two lots of 10 that are particularly difficult to get right: the players from 50-41, and those between 30-21. Deciding who just misses out is exceptionally tough, but what’s harder is figuring out who deserves to be considered in the top 20 players and who doesn’t.
You could argue a case for all of the following players to be in the top 20, which is a testament to the increased quality of the overall playing group as we head into 2018.
No doubt many of these players will receive the ‘they should’ve been in the top 20’ treatment, but therein lies the problem that was encountered throughout the entire ranking process: only 20 players can make the top 20.
Nevertheless, the quality of these players cannot be understated. They are in the upper echelon of all players in their respective positions, and some of the best we have in our game.
Shortly after being named as a marquee signing for GWS in 2016, Renee Forth ruptured her ACL and missed the inaugural 2017 season. Had she played, she likely would’ve been the Giants’ most prominent performer and a top 20 player. She is a ball magnet who leads by example, able to both extract the inside ball and run effectively on the outside. Forth spent the 2017 season as an assistant coach with the Giants, and her introduction in 2018 will be a significant boost for the GWS midfield.
Jasmine Garner is ready to explode in 2018. Following two very consistent and promising years in 2016 and 2017 in the VFLW, during which she kicked 73 goals in 34 games, she is undoubtedly one of the AFLW’s most promising forward prospects. She was an effective second-up key forward in the 2017 AFLW season, also spending plenty of time up the ground. She was in the top three for uncontested possessions, inside 50s and score assists for all key forwards, and Collingwood scored from seven of the 10 kicks sent into the forward 50 in her direction, the best rate of any player with 10 or more targets. Garner kicked five goals of her own during the season, also managing an impressive five goals in September’s AFLW State of Origin match.
Renee Tomkins was up against it in 2017 in a GWS defence that was constantly put under the pump. As a result, the key defender was involved in more one-on-one contests than any other player in 2017, but still managed to outright win an above average 40 per cent of those contests. She also rated above average for intercept possessions and averaged a competition high 4.7 spoils per game, almost two spoils more than second place. Tomkins is a rock in defence, and her value will be better recognised this year with an overall improved GWS performance.
Less than a year after giving birth to her first child, Dana Hooker took out Fremantle’s best and fairest award following a sensational season in testing conditions. She averaged an elite seven ground ball gets per game, ranked fourth of all midfielders, and seemed to grow stronger as the season went on. She had 20 or more disposals in three of the final four matches of the season, and rated above average for a number of key midfield areas such as disposals, clearances, contested possessions and metres gained. Though she was an exclusive selection for Fremantle, pick 130 doesn’t reflect her quality in the slightest.
Lauren Arnell has long been viewed as an elite half-forward with the best eye when delivering the ball forward, but the Carlton captain’s kicking efficiency was at a surprisingly low 48.3 per cent in 2017. Regardless, she was ranked in the top three at Carlton for disposals, clearances, score involvements and inside 50s, a good reflection of her all-round consistent game. Carlton should have an improved midfield in 2017, which bodes well for Arnell’s opportunities to deliver the ball forward under less pressure.
Few defensive-minded half-backs get credit for their work, but it was impossible to miss Sam Virgo in 2017. Named as the All-Australian half-back, Virgo was rated elite for intercept possessions and above average for intercept marks. She averaged 1.8 rebounds 50s, and 150 metres gained from only 6.5 kicks per match. Unfortunately, Virgo ruptured her ACL, her first major injury, in the final quarter of Yeronga South Brisbane’s premiership win in late August, and has ruled out the 2018 AFLW season.
In every sense of the word, Jess Duffin (nee Cameron – a belated congratulations, Jess!) was elite in 2017. She averaged 115 Champion Data ranking points, 39 more than any other general forward, and was ranked equal eighth in the competition for total scoreboard impact, rating elite for assists and above average for goals. She also proved to be a valuable marking option across half-forward and in the forward 50, averaging 1.4 contested marks per game – the only general forward to average more than one per match – and a tied league-best 3.9 marks each outing. Duffin’s six goals were also a valuable contribution, placing her equal eighth for goals in the competition.
A true speedster – perhaps the fastest in the competition – Kate McCarthy kicked nine goals, the most of any Lion, despite playing mostly up the ground. Her unbelievable goal of the year contender was one of the highlights of the season, taking five bounces while breaking clear to slam the ball home from short distance. Aside from her scoreboard impact, McCarthy also rated above average for pressure, and made the very most of her average of six disposals by having the second most metres gained per game out of the top 100 ball winners, a phenomenal stat.
Melissa Hickey was a renewed player in 2017, reinventing herself from the elite key defender of years gone by into a link-up transition centre half-back who can also cut out the opposition’s attack. She ranked elite for tackles, uncontested possessions and uncontested marks. She operated at a stunning 75 per cent disposal efficiency, but had the lowest kick:handball ratio of any key defender, generally playing safe with her opportunities. Though she is now 33 years old, Hickey remains one of the strongest and most athletic key defenders in the competition, and her ability to change her game to best suit a high-possession side is impressive to say the least.
The successes achieved by Jess Dal Pos in 2017 fully justified her move from Victoria. Having been a small forward and pinch-hitting midfielder throughout most of her senior career, her move to GWS opened up the opportunity to become one of the competition’s best all-round midfielders. Despite her thin frame, Dal Pos used her deceptive strength and excellent knowledge of the game to become a dominant inside midfielder, winning the Giants’ inaugural best and fairest. She led the competition for pressure applied and gathers from hit-outs, and was also fifth for clearances. Dal Pos’ 146 ranking points per game was 33 more than any of her Giants teammates.