All is not lost: How clubs can replace their departing stars

AMONG the excitement of the final four expansion sides joining the AFLW in season seven comes the bittersweetness of significant player movement. We have already seen several players announce their intentions to join new clubs, but exactly how significant is the loss for the club they leaving? 

Sarah Perkins 

The forward has become the competition’s first-ever four-club player, joining Hawthorn where she will be reunited with her 2017 premiership coach Bec Goddard. 

While Perkins’ ability to hit the scoreboard will be missed by Gold Coast, with a career tally of 25 goals from 35 games, it is her footy nous and leadership in the attacking 50 that has been most valuable to the developing club. Her awareness and willingness to put herself on the line to support younger teammates has allowed the likes of Tara Bohanna and Jacqui Dupuy to find their feet. 

Technically the Suns do have some depth in their key forward stocks, with Bohanna kicking 13 goals in her debut season and both Dupuy and Kalinda Howarth presenting well. Annise Bradfield also spent season six on the sidelines as she rehabs an ACL injury incurred on debut last year, and the status of Maddison Levi’s availability remains up in the air.  

The side has the personnel to cover the loss, sure, but the real question for Gold Coast will be whether someone can take a step up and lead that forward line as Perkins did so well this year. 

Gold Coast's Sarah Perkins kicks the ball during round nine, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

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Steph Cain 

In a somewhat surprising move, Fremantle winger Steph Cain will be making the move east for season seven, joining the inaugural Essendon list. 

With her, Cain brings 44 games of experience and classy ball movement when going into attack – something that will be sorely missed by the Dockers. Her running capacity outside the contest has greatly complemented the engine room powered by Kiara Bowers and Hayley Miller and supported Ebony Antonio on the opposite wing.  

While Fremantle has been able to give Airlie Runnalls experience this season, with the new recruit playing every possible game this year, losing Cain does limit some of the flexibility afforded to the Dockers on game day, particularly in terms of transitioning between midfield and forward. 

The loss is compounded by Gemma Houghton’s move to Port Adelaide, whose ability to get up the field and use her speed to run the ball into attack has been a signature of Fremantle’s game since 2017. 

Stephanie Cain in action during the round one clash between Fremantle and West Coast on January 8, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

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Madison Prespakis 

After four seasons starring in Carlton’s midfield, two-time All-Australian Madison Prespakis is headed to Essendon, the club she grew up supporting. 

For the Blues, Prespakis will be a tough player to replace with her three club best-and-fairests evidence of how highly she is rated internally, not to mention taking out the competition’s version of the award in 2020, in just her second year. 

Since joining the competition in 2019, she has been responsible for 18 per cent of Carlton’s clearances, leading the on-ball brigade. The Blues do boast a number of exciting young midfielders, including tackling machine Abbie McKay and 2022 Rising Star Mimi Hill, but Prespakis’ strength and breakaway power will be missed sorely. 

2019 No.2 pick Lucy McEvoy has been working hard in defence for Carlton this year, but she may just return to the midfield next season to bolster the young group, as the club is also preparing to lose Grace Egan who has requested a trade to Richmond and will be without classy half forward Georgia Gee as she will join Prespakis at Essendon. 

Madison Prespakis fends off a tackle during round nine, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Tilly Lucas-Rodd 

Off the back of the best season of her career, St Kilda defender turned midfielder Tilly Lucas-Rodd is off to join Hawthorn’s inaugural list with 43 games under her belt. 

When the Saints lost both Tyanna Smith and Georgia Patrikios on the eve of the season, new coach Nick Dal Santo turned to the experienced Lucas-Rodd to take charge around the ball. She won the 12th most clearances in the competition this year with 42, which was 22.4 per cent of the Saints’ total clearances and 27 more than any other St Kilda player for the season. 

Typically, Rosie Dillon and Olivia Vesely provide support through the middle, but they missed a combined ten games, effectively leaving Lucas-Rodd to do the bulk of the work. 

Without Lucas-Rodd, and Smith rehabbing her ACL injury with no confirmed timeline, the Saints’ midfield stocks are starting to look thin for AFLW season seven. 

Tilly Lucas-Rodd in action during round seven, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

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Bonnie Toogood & Isabel Huntington 

The Western Bulldogs have taken a double hit to their forward line with Bonnie Toogood heading to Essendon via expansion and Isabel Huntington requesting a trade to Greater Western Sydney

Both players joined the club in 2018, Huntington as the number one draft pick and Toogood as a rookie, and in that time have kicked nearly a quarter of the Dogs’ goals. 

Although Huntington copped an ACL injury in round one this season and was therefore unavailable, Toogood proved her fitness and willingness to work hard, pushing high up the field and then getting back to present as an option in attack.  

The Dogs still boast Nell Morris-Dalton as a key forward option but will need to restructure and recruit shrewdly to form a damaging forward line without the pair available. Gabby Newton is on the way back from shoulder injuries and may become a reliable forward option, and both Richelle Cranston and Kirsten McLeod are handy in front of goal, but Issy Grant’s development as a defender may just end as the Dogs search for tall replacements in attack. 

Isabel Huntington (left) and Bonnie Toogood celebrate a goal during round four, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos