AS CLUBS prepare for the eighth AFLW season later this year, identifying areas of improvement and players who can fill gaps is paramount. Ahead of the trade and sign period, some sides will be more active than others, but what kind of players should your team target?
Adding some depth in attack is likely Adelaide's number one priority. Having lost Erin Phillips and Ashleigh Woodland to Port Adelaide over the last two off-seasons, the Crows are lacking for contested marking forwards. Caitlin Gould has sporadically played that role well, but her value through the ruck is too great, and Danielle Ponter seems destined to continue splitting her time between attack and the midfield, so some support in that forward role will will serve the Crows well.
Although the cut of losing both Emily Bates and Greta Bodey is a deep one, Brisbane is still in a position to challenge for several years thanks to their combination of youth and experience, but that requires keeping their key core together from here on in. On top of this, adding some key defensive depth wouldn't hurt. Given the age of Kate Lutkins (34), Phoebe Monahan (29) and Breanna Koenen (28), now is the time to prepare for the future.
Injuries to teenager Mia Austin and experienced campaigner Phoebe McWilliams really exposed Carlton's lack of forward depth last season, and this was further exacerbated when Darcy Vescio was moved into defence. Retrospectively, Vescio's move may have been good preparation as the Blues look to cover the departure of utility Lucy McEvoy. So much so, that the Blues averaged the lowest scoring efficiency in AFLW history, taking a shot on goal from just 28.9 per cent of their forward 50 entries. Adding one or two forwards who can spread that load in attack, support Austin's development, and reliably take contested marks will alleviate some pressure currently on the Blues.
The connection between Collingwood's midfield and forward line is lacking, and although co-captain Brianna Davey's return from an ACL injury will greatly assist in this, she cannot be the side's only reliable conduit to attack. Adding some midfielders/wingers who can identify valuable options inside 50 and have the skills to back up that decision-making, will help the Pies draw more out of their forward make-up.
For all of Essendon's strength through the midfield and up forward, the side lacked in its defensive stocks in its inaugural season. Bringing in Brooke Brown from North Melbourne via the Priority Signing Period is a big win, but adding another tall who can combat key forwards like Jesse Wardlaw and Aine Tighe, and a small lockdown player who can shut down dangerous ground level forwards will release players like Sophie Van De Heuvel and Steph Cain to rebound more freely.
The Dockers really felt the loss of Cain last season, and despite the fast development of Airlie Runnalls, they were left wanting for outside run. Although Ebony Antonio's consistent return will help, preparing for the long term will no doubt be on new coach Lisa Webb's mind. A winger with a bit of speed but, more importantly a clean kick, will greatly complement the inside strength offered by Kiara Bowers and Hayley Miller. In addition, adding some key defensive support for Emma O'Driscoll wouldn't go astray given Janelle Cuthbertson's move to Port Adelaide.
For the first time in its short history, Geelong doesn't currently have any glaring holes to fill. The biggest priority is keeping the group together to build on what the side achieved in season seven, and developing fringe players like Gabbi Featherston and Kalani Scoullar through the VFLW. That being said, adding some shut-down defensive depth wouldn't hurt for long-term development.
The Suns are one of the most contested, stoppage-heavy teams in the competition. Part of this is by design – playing accountable, defensive midfielders – but this is also due to a lack of composure exiting the contest, resulting in repeat stoppages or turnovers. Finding some reliable ball-users who can neatly shift to the outside and drive into attack is the critical next phase of the side's development.
After the retirement of Tanya Hetherington and an unfortunate ACL injury to Pepa Randall, the Giants desperately need to add to their key defensive stocks. Players who can nullify marking key forwards, and offer freedom to rebounding defenders like Tarni Evans and Madison Brazendale, will be vital in the club achieving its hard-running, attacking game style under Cam Bernasconi.
In its first season Hawthorn averaged the third-lowest disposal efficiency in AFLW history, hitting targets just 53.9 per cent of the time, and the second-fewest contested marks for the season, taking 3.9 per game. Of that 3.9 each week, the retired Jess Duffin was responsible for almost a third. The Hawks need to find more consistent control in games, and Bates and Bodey certainly help in this respect, but to address both areas more effectively they will no doubt be looking to bring in some more contested marking options and strong ball users, ideally right across the field.
As one can imagine, the reigning premiers are well positioned for the coming season, but adding to their quick, rebounding defensive depth wouldn't go astray. Sinead Goldrick, who is structurally vital to the Demons, is 32 years old and will inevitably retire in the coming years. While Sarah Lampard and Shelley Heath both offer similar speed out of the back half, they are also important to Melbourne's versatility in-game, moving to the wing and midfield respectively.
After undertaking a significant shift in its playing list last off-season, North Melbourne isn't desperately wanting for any specific kind of player, but bringing in some composure across half-forward could be the difference between a preliminary final loss and a premiership, particularly now without Brooke Brown's drive from the back half. The Kangaroos have all the pieces across the field, but at times the connection is lacking – especially when going inside 50. Adding a calm decision-maker to that half-forward line will elevate the Roos.
Port Adelaide's head of AFLW Juliet Haslam has been open about the side's lack of height, and a need to address that during this off season. That task has begun with the addition of Ashleigh Woodland from Adelaide and Janelle Cuthbertson from Fremantle - handy experienced bookends to support their youth. From here, a ruck is likely the Power's number one focus, with Elizabeth McGrath delisted and Olivia Levicki in need of some help in the air.
With Courtney Wakefield now retired, some support up forward for Stella Reid as she develops will best serve not only Richmond, but Reid herself. In addition, some outside movers will help fundamentally change the Tigers' attacking movement. Last season when up against it they often found themselves stuck playing straight-line footy without any players maintaining width, or a desire to use the width of the field. Adding one or two disciplined players at half-forward or through the middle could help fix this problem.
The Saints are in need of a point of difference through the midfield and on the wing. They have an abundance of strong bodied, hard-tackling midfielders, but are found wanting for classy movers. Tyanna Smith's return will certainly help in this respect, but more depth in that dynamic, running midfield role will do wonders for St Kilda's improvement, and offer more versatility in-game to respond to where opponents may be opening them up.
The Swans have finally landed two big fish in Lucy McEvoy and Chloe Molloy via the PSP, both of whom have the capacity to assist through the midfield and their respective lines. From here, there are still several areas that Sydney would no doubt love to bolster throughout this off season, but above all, adding some composure behind the ball to allow it to maintain better territory control throughout games will be vital if the Swans are to break through for their first win in season eight.
The Eagles boast several talented, skilful midfielders and have formed a newly strong backline thanks to young duo Sophie McDonald and Charlie Thomas' chemistry with Belinda Smith. Where they have consistently lacked, however, is when they move into attack. Currently Aimee Schmidt is their main forward target, but she needs support, particularly in terms of contested marking targets in the front half. Aerial forward targets do take time to develop, so their chosen players may not immediately solve all their issues, but ideally will be long-term solutions.
Currently the Bulldogs rely heavily on captain Ellie Blackburn to shift momentum in games, or come up with match-winning moments. Finding some others who can achieve similar game changing feats will do more for the side than any specific position. As a very young side, that development across the board will no doubt continue, but finding those big game players will be key.