Having completed the difficult task of putting together a list of the AFLW’s top 50 players before the inaugural season last year, we are back to do it all over again one month out from the beginning of season number two.
Much like last year, selecting the competition’s 50 best players and trying to put them into some sort of reasonable order was tough, particularly due to the rapid improvement of the overall AFLW playing group in such a short period of time.
It also means a mistake such as our perception of Karen Paxman being the competition’s 42nd-best player won’t happen again (yeah, that happened).
But as much as the statistics helped in some areas, they made the process difficult in others. While exceptionally in-depth, Champion Data’s ranking points system isn’t always friendly to non-midfield players, so this year’s top 50 players list is a mixture of both what the numbers say and what our observations are.
Additionally, unlike other similar countdowns, performance in the past 12 months is not the only way of ranking players. For example, a player with a track record of high level performances over a few years won’t completely fall off the face of the earth if they had a below average season in 2017.
With that said, there is quite a turnover in this year’s top 50. 17 players who featured in the 2017 edition have missed out this time around, a result of the emergence of new players, improvement of fringe players and, of course, the inclusion of statistics into the equation that help highlight previously overlooked players like never before.
As a new rule this year, we will be excluding any members of the previous draft class from the top 50. It only seems fair that new AFLW players get the chance to perform before dealing with the weight of expectation, right?
Now that all the formalities are out of the way, let’s kick off our 2018 AFLW Top 50 Players countdown!
As we reveal the full list over the course of the week, we’d love to hear your thoughts on social media. Though this is all just a bit of fun, over 20 hours of research went into the construction of this list alone, and we want to know if our take is the same as yours!
As both the youngest and tallest player in the AFLW in 2017, Erin McKinnon impressed with her stellar ruck work in the competition’s inaugural season. The 189cm ruck won the second most hit-outs last year (18 ahead of Adelaide’s Rhiannon Metcalfe in third, who played one extra game) and most importantly placed third in both hit-out win percentage and hit-outs-to-advantage win percentage. She struggled to get her hands on the football in general play, an area that will naturally improve as she matures, but to post such significant numbers at such a young age and in a vital position bodes well for both McKinnon and the Giants.
Seeing Tayla Harris this early on in the countdown might come as a surprise to some people given she is a high profile name, and of course coming on the back of her making the 2017 AFLW All-Australian team (somehow). The expectations are extremely high for Harris, who was thrust into a key forward role and struggled mightily for the most part, kicking only four goals with a goal accuracy of 24 per cent, a disposal efficiency of 42.9 per cent and giving away a league-high 19 free kicks in the process. The reality is that we need to ignore the marketing hype and remember that Harris is a 20-year-old developing key forward rather than expecting the world. She is truly an elite mark, but the rest of her game cannot be rushed.
2017 certainly didn’t go to plan for Moana Hope on the back of a 106-goal season in 2016. She was unfortunate to deal with back problems as part of the pre-season and a knee injury during the season, both of which severely limited her burst ability and overall impact early on in the year, particularly during Collingwood’s initial struggles. She got more involved later in the season, however, ending with seven goals and posting above average score assists and score involvements. After an impressive off-season physical transformation and now boasting an improved fitness base, the Magpies have indicated that Hope will spend more time as a midfielder in 2018.
Funnily enough, Kaitlyn Ashmore falling 20 spots in the top 50 has little to do with a drop-off in performance or ability, it’s more that she didn’t really have to be as good as she can be in 2017 as part of a balanced Brisbane line-up. Though she has proven to be one of the best accumulators in the game, Ashmore played more of a half-forward role rather than coming off the wing or as an outside midfielder, getting less disposals than usual but having an impact in other ways. She was above average for metres gained and inside 50s, and was one of just seven players to average more than one shot at goal per game. Brisbane has added more midfield power this year, so watch for Ashmore to become an elite half-forward at AFLW level.
Alicia Eva was very much a lone contributor for large portions of the 2017 season, topping the disposals, goals, metres gained and minutes played ahead of all Magpies midfielders. She was rewarded with a second-placed finish in the club best and fairest, but will ply her trade for GWS after a trade that sent her north. With her coaching background and proven ability to lead from the front, she is the perfect kind of player to aid the Giants in their bid to rise from the bottom of the ladder.
Jess Wuetschner was as advertised in 2017: a consistent forward who kicks goals and sets up teammates. With Brisbane having multiple scoring avenues in 2017, Wuetschner did exceptionally well to stay involved as a small forward, all the while continuing to set the table for her fellow Lions. She was one of only six players to finish the season with both five goals and five score assists, and she was above average for her position in both tackles and pressure points. Tayla Harris’ departure may benefit Wuetschner as she will likely get more opportunities in lead-up situations.
Though typically a key position forward, Sarah D’Arcy found herself becoming one of Collingwood’s leading midfield contributors and was their best performer during the difficult start to the season. As such, she had both the most contested possessions and most ground ball-gets of all key forwards, and also ranked elite in disposals and clearances for her position. With such a crowded forward line, D’Arcy’s midfield versatility will be a welcome asset to Collingwood in 2018.
Lily Mithen is right where you’d hope a promising midfielder would be at the age of 19: posting excellent numbers as a versatile midfielder while learning from some of the competition’s best. With multiple roles to play in a team filled with mids, Mithen rated elite for uncontested possessions as well as above average in contested possessions, finding a nice balance between her inside and outside game. This is the year we can expect Mithen to become a bona fide superstar of the game after proving she can be a senior team’s most prominent midfielder with Geelong in the 2017 VFLW season.
One day after her side faces Carlton in the 2018 AFLW season opener, Meg Hutchins will celebrate her 36th birthday. While many players have already slowed down by this stage of their careers, Hutchins continued to display athleticism and drive out of the defensive half last year, posting the best kicking percentage and second most metres gained of all key defenders. Hutchins’ leadership behind the ball, excellent ability to read the play and elite rebounding will be more noticeable this year in what should be a much better season for the Magpies.
Basketball convert Alyssa Mifsud broke out in the inaugural AFLW season, turning potential into results by kicking nine goals in her seven games to be the equal fourth highest goal kicker in the competition. She was the comp’s premier one-on-one key forward in 2017, and though she had less than the average disposals for her position, she more than made up for it with her above average tackling, disposal efficiency and accuracy in front of goal. With elite service from Melbourne’s midfield expected to continue this year, Mifsud should build on what was an impressive 2017 and again be amongst the competition’s leading scorers.