AT TIMES, it's felt like we've staggered to the finish line, but 2021 is now in the history books.
As we enter the sixth NAB AFLW season – the last one before the final round of expansion – everyone's a little older, wiser and just as hungry for the flag.
2022 FIXTURE Every match, every round
New year equals new hopes and resolutions, whether we stick to them or not.
What will your club's new year's resolution be?
While "winning the flag" will clearly be a goal of everyone, there's an extra layer of romanticism attached to Adelaide's 2022 quest. For the entire existence of the AFLW, the Crows have been the benchmark of the competition. They've got one last hurrah before Port Adelaide enters the League in 2023 and changes the complexion of South Australian women's football.
How do you improve on a premiership win? The Lions have a young and stable team and are as well-rounded a squad as we've seen in the five years of AFLW. Resolving to introduce the next generation of Lions – Zimmie Farquharson, Maggie Harmer (pictured below), Bella Smith, Ruby Svarc and co – to senior footy is the next step for Brisbane.
There were two glaring issues with Carlton in a disappointing 2021, which saw it slip from flag favouritism to outside the top six: slow starts and short but costly defensive lapses. Converting midfield dominance to scoreboard pressure and a strong, focused structure at contests should be resolutions for 2022.
A dodgy bounce of the ball on the goal line could have been the difference between a preliminary final win and loss for the Pies in 2021. Collingwood has since loaded up on tall forwards (Sabrina Frederick, Imogen Barnett), making for an intriguing selection mix. Resisting the temptation to go too tall is the aim for 2022.
Coach Trent Cooper has been admirably honest in his public reflections on the 2021 season, saying the team and his coaching just didn't improve from year to year. He spoke about the need to be brave with selection – in the absence of Sabreena Duffy and Ash Sharp, the forward line is the ideal place to start. Resolving to back in the likes of Aine Tighe, Amy Franklin, Ann McMahon, Mikayla Morrison and Makaela Tuhakaraina is a good place to start.
There's some optimism at Kardinia Park this pre-season, with new coach Dan Lowther at the helm bringing a fresh game plan for a revamped midfield. Despite that, the Cats remain some way off most of the original eight clubs, and resolutions should be around continuing to give game time to future stars of the club Darcy Moloney, Laura Gardiner, Liv Barber, Steph Williams, Zali Friswell and of course, Georgie Prespakis (pictured below).
First order for new coach Cam Joyce is a win, but how will that breakthrough victory come? The Suns have lost 10 games in a row, dating back to the 2020 semi-final. A lot of Gold Coast's woes last season stemmed back to a disconnect between the midfield and forward lines. Resolving to steady that connection – boosted by additions Charlie Rowbottom, Alana Barba (pictured below) and Claudia Whitfort – will give forwards more opportunities to hit the scoreboard.
Led by Alyce Parker, Bec Beeson and Alicia Eva, the Giants have genuine ball-winners at their disposal but were the fourth-lowest scoring side in 2021, ahead of just West Coast, Geelong and Gold Coast. The connection going forward was lacking, and Cora Staunton did the bulk of the heavy lifting in attack. Resolving to give game time to draftees and forwards Jess Doyle and Georgie Fowler should help.
The Demons have signalled to the football world they are going all out for a flag, landing big-name recruits Liv Purcell and Tayla Harris. While Melbourne definitely reduced the gap between its best and its worst in 2021, goalkicking accuracy remained a concern. While it's impossible to control the wind at Casey Fields, resolving to do a little more practice in front of the big sticks will help.
After a strong first two seasons, North Melbourne came back to the pack somewhat in 2021. The Roos looked slow in defence against the top sides and struggled under physical pressure and tight-knit defences. The addition of Kim Rennie to the ruck will allow Emma King to spend more time up forward, but resolving to play with more composure and confidence will help against the top-four sides.
It was a much-improved 2021 for Richmond under new coach Ryan Ferguson, but the Tigers still had moments of madness and messiness. With a fairly gentle draw as it stands, they've got the opportunity to improve on 2021's 10th placing. The real challenge will come against more senior sides – resolving to be calmer, sticking to structures and playing with composure when facing disciplined teams will help.
It would be an understatement to say it's been a stressful pre-season for St Kilda, losing its two best midfielders in Georgia Patrikios (vaccine) and Tyanna Smith (ACL). Finding alternative ball-winners will be key if the Saints are to win games in 2022. Tarni White (pictured below) has been earmarked to return to her junior midfield role, Liv Vesely is on the comeback from a serious calf injury, while Alice Burke should be given more time in the middle.
It's a simple resolution, but staying injury free in 2022 will go a long way to changing the Eagles' on-field prospects. West Coast was reduced to as little as 12 or 13 fit players during the 2021 pre-season, and never really recovered. Dana Hooker (pictured below) avoiding kitchen knife accidents will also help matters considerably!
It's been a common refrain for the Western Bulldogs for a few years now, but finding greater midfield support for Ellie Blackburn and Kirsty Lamb will help elevate the side into finals contention. Jess Fitzgerald will be better for having a year under her belt, while Elle Bennetts will add some height and can play both inside and outside. Draftees Amanda Ling and Aurora Smith should also be given a run.