When over 20,000 people flooded Ikon Park in Carlton, forcing the AFL to lock out approximately 2000 more footy fans of the ground, many people around the nation believed that it was the beginning of something special.
The AFLW has gone three rounds through this seven-round competition and already we've experienced some wonderful moments and have read and witnessed some fascinating stories come into fruition. Today on Bulldogs Centre, we go through the season so far, and what my prediction is for the end of season awards.
Pre-Season Predicted Ladder
1. Western Bulldogs
6. Brisbane Lions
8. GWS Giants
Actual Standings (After Round 3)
2. Brisbane Lions
5. Western Bulldogs
6. GWS Giants
Earlier in the year, I had a go at predicting which team would finish where, and given that it's the first year of this competition, I will admit, the chances of it going all wrong were very big, but I've still found it surprising that things haven't turned out the way I'd been expecting. You can see my pre-season predictions in full here
Adelaide and Brisbane have been the surprise packets of this competition without a shadow of a doubt. Many predicted they would finish around the bottom of the ladder, are occupying the top two spots on the AFLW ladder. Both the Crows and the Lions are the only remaining unbeaten teams on the ladder, sitting at 3-0.
Adelaide, under coach Bec Goddard are playing some inspiring footy right now. Led from the front by co-captains Chelsea Randall and Olympian Erin Phillips, the Crows play with such passion and having witnessed them dismantle the Bulldogs a couple of weeks ago, seeing them celebrating that win almost like they won the flag just shows how much their football means to these ladies. Midfielder Ebony Marinoff has lived up to the pre-season hype and has emerged as a front-runner to the AFLW's inaugural Rising Star award and Sarah Perkins is currently making a mockery of all those recruiters who passed her on draft day, her skill-set and booming kick has been a joy to watch so far this season.
As for the Lions, Nobody expected them to go unbeaten three rounds into this competition. Most people saw their win over Melbourne in round one as a fluke, given that the conditions that day at Casey Fields were appalling, but you must give credit where it is due for the Lions, their brand of footy has been exciting to watch at times. Furthermore, whilst names like Emma Zielke, Kate McCarthy, Sabrina Fredrick-Traub and Kaitlyn Ashmore aren't exactly household names down here in Victoria, they are quickly establishing themselves as very dangerous players in the maroon, blue and gold.
While on the other end of the spectrum, I've been hugely disappointed in both Collingwood and Fremantle, as both have the talent to do so much better. Both sides haven't won a single game in three rounds, but at least the Dockers have some premiership points under their belt, having being a part of AFLW's first ever draw on the weekend - to Greater Western Sydney.
The Pies though, even with their star goal-kicker Moana Hope, have been struggling from day one of the competition. Hope, who kicked over 100 goals in the VWFL last year, has only managed one goal in three outings and has averaged only three disposals a game, but it's not entirely her fault as she has been subjected to double-teams and triple-teams. In addition to that, it's been their midfield group that's been the worst out of the Collingwood bunch, they are very poor by foot and are very inconsistent. Their captain Steph Chiocci has only averaged 10 disposals when the elite midfielders have doubled that average this year, and apart from her, are struggling to get regular contributors. Sarah D'Arcy, Brittany Bonnici and Amelia Barden all give it a crack, but aren't getting 20-plus possession games.
I was a little less stunned to see Fremantle also struggling, but I must admit, I am a little surprised that they haven't been able to win a match to this point. The Dockers still have good talent even if some of the best talent from WA are at different clubs. Things haven't exactly worked out for Michelle Cowan's troops when some expected them to be in contention for the first-ever AFLW Grand Final. It doesn't help that one of their marquee players in Kiara Bowers is out for the year, but it shouldn't count as an excuse. The reality for Fremantle fans is that it's being left for too few. Kara Donnellan, as talented as she is, looks like she's shouldering much more than she's capable of, and despite three goals from Ashley Sharp this past weekend, they look like they've looked a little unsettled up forward for my liking.
Alex Docherty's Mid-Year All-Australian Women's Team
B: Hannah Scott (WB), Bailey Hunt (WB), Sam Virgo (BL)
HB: Mel Hickey (MELB), Brianna Davey (CARL), Lauren Arnell (CARL)
MID: Emma King (COLL), Emma Kearney (WB), Daisy Pearce (MELB), Ellie Blackburn (WB)
HF: Kate McCarthy (BL), Tayla Harris (BL), Erin Phillips (ADEL)
F: Darcy Vescio (CARL), Sarah Perkins (ADEL), Phoebe McWilliams (GWS)
INT: Emma Zielke (BL), Elise O'Dea (MELB), Karen Paxman (MELB), Ebony Marinoff (ADEL), Chelsea Randall (ADEL), Erin McKinnon (GWS)
It is a little difficult to decide on an All-Australian team based on only three games, but I think it is fair to say that these ladies have done plenty in only such a short time.
With any All-Australian predictions there are always a few that are unlucky to miss out, so I'll give out special mentions to Carlton's Bianca Jakobsson, Fremantle's Kara Donnellan, Western Bulldogs' Katie Brennan and Brisbane's Sabrina Fredrick-Traub.
The back six has a very Victorian feel to it, with five of the six players playing for Victorian clubs, with Brisbane's Sam Virgo the other player named, but whilst she isn't a big possession-accumulator (Averages just under 11 a game), she does what a defender is supposed to do and that's to stop goals. On the other pocket, there's Hannah Scott, one of four Dogs named in this team, and just like her team mates, she loves to run and carry. She registered disposal numbers of 20 and 16 in her last two games playing off half-back.
Scott's team mate Bailey Hunt is one of the more underrated key defenders in the league and her round one nomination for the Rising Star award is just the start of what looks like a great career. The other key defender Brianna Davey is amongst the leaders in disposals per game, but spends a bit of time in the midfield, but because she can float back and take intercept marks whenever she pleases, she is gifted a spot in the back six. Marquee Mel Hickey and Carlton captain Lauren Arnell occupy the flanks. Both are hard-at-it types and can run and give plenty of drive wherever you put them.
The midfield group was possibly the easiest as there are a number of players who are standing out from the rest. Starting at ruck will be Collingwood's marquee player Emma King, who has won over 60 percent of her ruck contests this season and she will rotate with GWS' Erin McKinnon, who - at 19 years of age is putting together a fine season, winning over 50 percent of her ruck contests so far.
In terms of picking midfielders, Daisy Pearce is obviously the first choice to put in any midfield brigade. She's just averaging a touch over 20 disposals per game and has shown to be a tackling machine too, averaging just under eight tackles per game too, but she's not the only Melbourne mid in the squad. Karen Paxman and Elise O'Dea have had great years in the engine room too, with Paxman averaging 22 disposals a game, and O'Dea averaging 17 per game.
Joining the Melbourne's 'Big Three' include Brisbane captain Emma Zielke is criminally underrated here in Victoria, but her work as an inside midfielder can't be ignored, Adelaide duo Chelsea Randall and Ebony Marinoff - both of whom are ball-magnets and Western Bulldogs pair Emma Kearney and Ellie Blackburn who are easily the Doggies' two best players on their roster right now, and if it wasn't for them, they could've found themselves easily at 0-3. Kearney leads all women in disposals, averaging just under 24 touches per game and Blackburn isn't far away, averaging just under 20 disposals per game.
The obvious one here is Carlton marquee Darcy Vescio, who currently leads all players in goals with seven majors in three games, but the full-forward spot goes to crowd favourite Sarah Perkins who despite her frame being larger than the average female footballer, has shown so much in only three games this year, with three goals to her name she not only a capable player, she is worthy of a spot down forward.
Also filling up the forward spots include Phoebe McWilliams and Erin Phillips, both have starred down forward for GWS and Adelaide respectively, each kicking four goals so far this season whilst Brisbane pair Kate McCarthy and Tayla Harris have been instrumental to the Lions' early season success. McCarthy's speed and skill have translated into goals and it's been a pleasure to watch, and Harris has already proven to be one of game's elite female forwards. She averages three contested marks per game whereas the next best player averages just over one and a half.
AFLW Best And Fairest Prediction
At this point it's hard to say a clear winner, and come the end of the home and away season, I'm not so certain it will get any clearer, but there are a few players you should look out for at the second half of this women's season.
Anyone who even knows half of the women's footy will expect Daisy Pearce to be amongst the contenders of the AFLW's inaugural best and fairest awards, although I wouldn't be too shocked to see her team mates Elise O'Dea and Karen Paxman up there as well as she's been putting up solid numbers. Western Bulldogs midfielder Emma Kearney would have to be up there as well as she finds herself in the thick of it and is a ball-magnet, however Ellie Blackburn might threaten to nab a couple of votes away from her. Brianna Davey also would've mounted a serious claim before she got injured during Carlton's match against Adelaide which handed the Blues their first loss of the season, but Darcy Vescio might find a way to take over and become a force in the midfield, as well as a goal-kicker.
As for the undefeated teams, I'm not sure if any of the Lions players will be up there as none of the players stand up - they play a very team-oriented game, Emma Zielke might pop up for a couple of votes here and there, maybe even Tayla Harris could nab some votes. I also wouldn't be too shocked if Adelaide pair Ebony Marinoff and Erin Phillips find themselves with a bunch of votes come awards night as both have been consistently solid so far, Marinoff in particular is the strong favourite to take home the AFLW's Rising Star award at the moment. She was nominated for her performance in the Crows' round one win. Imagine the AFLW's best and fairest as the league's Rising Star winner as well, it may very well be possible