IT WAS a season of two halves for Carlton this year. Across the side's first six games, it really struggled to find any kind of system, but toward the end of the season it came home with a wet sail.
What Blues fans can hang their hats on is the form of youngsters Mimi Hill, Keeley Sherar and Brooke Vickers, with a look toward the future.
Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the seasons of the 14 AFLW teams in reverse ladder order.
Coach: Daniel Harford
Leadership group: Kerryn Harrington (captain), Darcy Vescio, Elise O'Dea (vice-captains)
2022 home and away finishing position: Eighth, four wins and six losses, 84 per cent.
Best team performance: The Blues' 46-point round seven win over St Kilda was the most complete team performance from the side this season. Carlton got the fast start, kicking multiple goals in the opening quarter for the first time this year, and off the back of strong performances from Georgia Gee, Mimi Hill and Maddy Prespakis held the Saints goalless for the first time in their history.
Best individual performance: Captain Kerryn Harrington has always led her side out of defence, but there has never been a better example of that than her performance in round two against Geelong. Harrington broke her own record for most disposals at 100 per cent efficiency with 23. More impressive, however, was the way Harrington set her Blues up expertly out of defence, reading the game beautifully and looking to switch the ball whenever possible. It was that consistent choice that broke Geelong's attempts to defend up the field and ultimately saw Carlton win the game.
NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Keeley Sherar, Mimi Hill (winner)
Debutants: Jess Good, Courtney Jones, Annie Lee, Poppy Schaap, Keeley Sherar, Paige Trudgeon, Brooke Vickers (AFLW debut), Jess Dal Pos (club debut)
Retirees: Yet to be announced
Delistings: Yet to be announced (Maddy Prespakis and Georgia Gee have announced their intentions to join Essendon via expansion)
Most improved: There was plenty of enthusiasm around Mimi Hill last year after she was drafted with pick 12 thanks to her intelligence and slick hands. In 2021 Hill spent much of her six games out on the wing before going down with an ACL injury. This year she made her triumphant return in round five and was arguably her side's best, with 26 disposals and 349 metres gained. Over her six games this season, Hill averaged an incredible 21.5 disposals, three clearances and 282.2 metres gained, ultimately seeing her honoured as the NAB Rising Star.
Star recruit: Despite having been on Carlton's list for a couple of years, Courtney Jones' debut season this year was an impressive one. She was an important cog in the Blues' forward line, averaging 2.6 score involvements from 9.4 disposals. Leading her side for goals with eight, Jones kicked a bag of three against Brisbane in round three.
Unsung hero: Added as an inactive player replacement last year, key defender Paige Trudgeon got her opportunity this season, effectively forcing first 21 player Charlotte Wilson out of the side. Week in, week out, the 21-year-old was tasked with the opposition's most dangerous key forward and played a tight, tough one-on-one role. Slotting beautifully into the Blues' defence, Trudgeon used her 10.2 disposals per game at 70.6 per cent efficiency and averaged 4.6 intercepts over her 10 games.
- Carlton's defensive profile has been strong this season, focusing on backs who use the ball well and want to play strong, rebounding footy. Between Harrington, Trudgeon, Gab Pound and Vaomua Laloifi - the side's key defensive quartet - they are using the ball at 74.4 per cent disposal efficiency out of the back half.
- The young midfield talent that the Blues have been able to secure in recent years bodes well for the future. Rising Star Mimi Hill obviously leads the list, but Keeley Sherar, Brooke Vickers and Maddy Guerin all have the potential to take charge of that midfield group in coming seasons.
What needs improvement:
- It was very evident that the Blues' forward line lacked a big target for mid-sized forwards Nicola Stevens, Courtney Jones, and Darcy Vescio to work off. While Serena Gibbs and Imogen Milford are both on the list, it would be wise for the Blues to look for a strong key forward who can help structure their attack more effectively next season.
- What the club really struggled with in the early part of the season was a lack of defence high up the field, and that unwillingness to defend through the middle of the ground really put their defence under pressure. Finding consistency in that effort throughout a full season will do wonders to Carlton's fortunes going forward, and will allow the side to really tap into the skill they possess in the back half of the ground.
Early call for next season: Carlton will back in their young talent to set up the club for the foreseeable future, which may not prove fruitful immediately but important for the long term.
Season rating: 6/10