WE'RE eight rounds into the 10-round NAB AFLW home and away season, and plenty of players have relished the opportunity to build on their game.
The next generation of AFLW stars are the ones who will take this still-fledgling competition to new heights, so who has taken their footy to a new level in season seven?
For expansion clubs, we've identified players who have previously been on an AFLW list before moving, rather than those who have been promoted from the state leagues or come through the junior ranks.
Adelaide - Maddi Newman
The 21-year-old from West Adelaide has come into her own right in her fourth AFLW season (third year overall). Newman had played 13 AFLW prior to this season, but is yet to miss a match after being omitted for last season's Grand Final win. She's proven to be a key link and pressure player across half-forward, with her speed, athleticism and ability to hunt the footy helping her make the role her own. Newman is averaging a career-high 14.3 disposals and 2.3 tackles.
Others in the mix: Teah Charlton, Abbie Ballard
Brisbane - Belle Dawes
Already a tough inside midfielder, Belle Dawes has found an ideal balance between her attacking and defensive traits this season. Stepping up when stars Ally Anderson or Emily Bates have been held by opponents, Dawes is averaging a career-high 14.5 disposals, 4.9 tackles and 3.1 inside 50s this season. This has included her setting new personal bests in both tackle and disposal counts, with 11 and 24 respectively. Dawes is also second at the Lions for inside 50s, and third for both clearances and disposals, as she plays an important role in her side's push for a second flag in as many years.
Others in the mix: Tahlia Hickie, Ruby Svarc
Carlton – Abbie McKay
The father-daughter signing had shown steady improvement in her four previous AFLW seasons, but has relished the extra responsibility of leading the midfield after several key departures and injuries. Still just 21, McKay's attack on the ball, agility in the contest and vision to spot teammates further afield while being in heavy traffic have been hallmarks of her season. McKay is averaging 21.8 disposals (significantly up on last season's 13.8), 11.5 contested possessions (6.2), 7.4 tackles (3.3) and 4.9 clearances (2.2). If she continues at this rate, she'll be a first-choice Blues midfielder for the next 10 years.
Others in the mix: Lucy McEvoy, Jess Good
Collingwood - Jordyn Allen
Because of the loss of some key players for the Pies this season, coach Steve Symonds had to shift the magnets around, and defender Jordyn Allen has been key to these adjustments. Largely playing up on the wing, Allen has been vital to Collingwood's connection between the midfield and forward line, averaging 2.4 inside 50s from 14.6 disposals, while also averaging a career-high 4.9 intercepts, working very hard both in attack and defensively. Allen also sits third at the club this season for metres gained with an average of 237.9
Others in the mix: Tarni Brown, Mikala Cann
Essendon – Jacqui Vogt
The versatile former soccer star played primarily as a marking forward for former club St Kilda, with occasional stints as a relief ruck, but has found her home as a tall midfielder for Essendon. She's also been needed to patch various holes at the Bombers – including the backline and the ruck – but has had the greatest impact on the ball. Vogt is averaging 12.2 disposals, 260.5m gained and 2.2 clearances, up from 8.3, 114.4m and 0.9 respectively. The acquisition of Vogt flew under the radar compared to other Bombers stars, but she's fast becoming one of their most structurally important players.
Others in the mix: Steph Cain, Joanne Doonan
Fremantle - Emma O'Driscoll
It hasn't been an easy season to be a Fremantle defender, but up against it – and without fellow key defender Janelle Cuthbertson for the most part – Emma O'Driscoll has really risen to the top. Averaging a career-high 11.8 disposals and 6.3 intercepts, O'Driscoll is often tasked with the most dangerous opposition forward, and while working to nullify them also attacks the ball and looks to use her run out of the back half. She has also been taking on any challenges thrown her way, often moved into attack late in games to add a point of difference.
Others in the mix: Amy Franklin, Mim Strom
Geelong – Chloe Scheer
Scheer has progressed from occasionally bobbing up to impact games to being an out-and-out match-winner. A highly decorated junior before making her AFLW debut with Adelaide, Scheer has overcome two knee reconstructions in her short career. She took some time to adjust to Geelong in season six, booting 8.6 and averaging 8.4 touches and 1.3 marks. This season, she's kicked 8.10 from one fewer game, still averaging 8.6 disposals but an improved 3.1 marks, and is hitting peak form on the eve of finals.
Others in the mix: Georgie Prespakis, Becky Webster
Gold Coast - Ellie Hampson
Since a strong start in 2020, Ellie Hampson has struggled through injury and has failed to play every game of a season since. This season, although missing rounds two and eight with injury, Hampson has taken her game to a new, more damaging level. Averaging 14 disposals and 2.7 clearances, her presence through the midfield has been clear, but importantly it has also been her attacking movement that has been noticeable. Hampson is sending the ball forward 2.7 times each game and averaging a career-high 190.5 metres gained in the process.
Others in the mix: Lauren Bella, Vivien Saad
Greater Western Sydney – Georgia Garnett
The switch from defence to attack has been an inspired move for Garnett, coinciding with the 21-year-old starting to come into her own as a footballer at the top level. In Garnett's fourth season, she's been a revelation at centre half-forward, demonstrating a strong pair of hands and positioning herself in the most dangerous areas of the field. She leads the league in average marks (6.4, up from 2.4 last season), as well as averaging 11.7 touches at 73.2 per cent efficiency. Garnett has also kicked three goals.
Others in the mix: Jodie Hicks, Tarni Evans
Hawthorn - Akec Makur Chuot
After spending much of her career playing in defence, Akec Makur Chuot has been released on the wing by Hawthorn coach Bec Goddard and the Hawks are reaping the rewards. Using her athleticism and speed to cover the ground with ease, Makur Chuot's defensive mindset has her regularly pushing back to support the backline, before rebounding and initiating running chains of play that have been a signature of the Hawks' game style. Last week she was even able to kick a neat goal from the forward pocket, a kick that was emblematic of her improved skill and composure with the ball.
Others in the mix: Aileen Gilroy, Ainslie Kemp
Melbourne – Eliza West
The basketball convert has thrived in her second AFLW season. The 25-year-old spent 2021 playing for Casey before being promoted to Melbourne's primary list for the 2022 seasons. While her kicking efficiency still needs a little work, her handballing is sublime, and her creativity and dash at stoppages have won Melbourne more than a few games this season. The more footy West plays, the more her confidence rises, and she's now averaging 18.4 disposals, 5.8 tackles and 3.8 clearances, an increase from 12.8, 4.3 and 3.3 last season.
Others in the mix: Liv Purcell, Tahlia Gillard
North Melbourne - Brooke Brown
Last season, Brooke Brown solidified herself in North Melbourne's backline. This season, she has taken that foundation and stepped up to a new level. Encouraged by coach Darren Crocker to play more aggressively in her rebounding, Brown's run out of defence has been impressive, as she averages 273.4 metres gained from 12.4 disposals, which has resulted in a career-high two score involvements per game this season. Added to this, Brown uses the ball at 73.7 per cent efficiency, setting up teammates beautifully with her disposal.
Others in the mix: Tess Craven, Alice O'Loughlin
Port Adelaide – Maria Moloney
All Moloney needed was a chance at the top level to show that she truly belonged. Stuck behind a long list of top-quality midfielders at Brisbane (she was perennially an emergency in season six), Moloney has loved her time at expansion club Port Adelaide. She played three games for the Lions in season six (one affected by COVID, spending time forward), averaging 6.7 disposals and 1.0 clearances, jumping up to 10.1 and 2.0 this campaign. Moloney is a strong body around the contest with excellent endurance, working well in tandem with and providing guidance for first-year guns Abbey Dowrick and Hannah Ewings.
Others in the mix: Ebony O'Dea, Jacqui Yorston
Richmond - Maddie Shevlin
In a backline that has had to recraft itself on the run over the past two seasons, Maddie Shevlin has been a constant source of composure and leadership. This season, despite copping an ankle injury that has seen her miss the last two games, the 25-year-old has been playing her best footy yet, averaging a career-high 12.3 disposals at 71.6 per cent efficiency, while also averaging 5.7 intercepts and 328 metres gained. In Richmond's huge win over Brisbane in round five where the backline ultimately was the difference, Shevlin won 24 disposals, 10 intercepts and registered 658 metres gained in an all-time defensive performance.
Others in the mix: Libby Graham, Stella Reid
St Kilda – Alice Burke
It must be tough being the child of a club legend, but Burke is slowly but surely making a name for herself in her own right. Drafted as a midfielder, Burke has found her feet as a tenacious mid-sized defender in her third season at the top level. She only missed one game last season, averaging 7.2 disposals, 2.1 intercepts and 1.3 marks, and while her numbers haven't shifted dramatically in season seven – 8.9 disposals, 4.4 intercepts and 1.3 marks – her defensive influence on matches has, a tough thing to quantify.
Others in the mix: Rebecca Ott, Kate Shierlaw
Sydney - Bella Smith
After two seasons constantly in and out of Collingwood's team, Bella Smith has moved to Sydney as a key selection each week – albeit in a weaker side that is just finding its feet. Smith's versatility has evidently been important for coach Scott Gowans, as she has played in attack, through the ruck and now seems to have found a home in defence, where her booming kick is key to clearing the defensive 50 when the side gets trapped. Because of that, Smith is averaging 229 metres gained, almost five times her previous career-best, and 2.9 rebounds each week.
Others in the mix: Brenna Tarrant, Lisa Steane
West Coast – Courtney Rowley
The Eagles are blessed with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to improving players, with Rowley one of a number of women who have taken their games to a new level in season seven. The talented young midfielder was on the fringe of the team in season six – her first at the top level – playing five of 10 matches, but has been a key part of all eight games in the second half of the year. Possessing plenty of speed, agility and sheer determination, Rowley has increased her average disposals from 4.6 to 10.6, with her intercept possessions also jumping from 1.2 to 3.5.
Others in the mix: Sarah Lakay, Sophie McDonald
Western Bulldogs - Isabelle Pritchard
Isabelle Pritchard has graduated to the midfield this season – something coach Nathan Burke tested at times earlier in the year – which has fast-tracked her improvement. Sitting fourth at the Bulldogs for both disposals and clearances, Pritchard is also second at the club for score involvements behind only captain Ellie Blackburn. She has also worked hard defensively, averaging 3.8 intercepts and 3.6 tackles as she continues her journey to become one of the most well-rounded players in the competition.
Others in the mix: Alice Edmonds, Issy Grant