Sarah Black's top 30: And the AFLW's No.1 player is...

EVERYONE loves a good countdown.

To celebrate the impending return of the NAB AFLW competition, womens.afl has gone back with the flight of the ball, putting its body on the line and has ranked the top 30 players across the 14 sides.

FULL FIXTURE Every round, every game 

Aspects considered included impact on games and pure talent, with extra weight given to consistency of performance.

At times it felt like splitting hairs, or attempting to separate the Hosking twins, and apologies are to be made to Darcy Vescio and Sam Virgo, who just missed the cut.

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With total player pool of 420 to choose from, this 30 represent the top 7.1 per cent of the competition.

30. Alicia Eva (Greater Western Sydney)

The newly minted GWS captain and a coach on the rise is quite the handy player in her own right.

A tenacious midfielder standing at 163cm, Eva has a strong game both on the inside and outside of contests, and made the Virgin Australia AFLW All Australian team in 2018.

Eva is clean by foot with a strong footy IQ and has an AFLW career average of 15.4 disposals and five tackles a game.

She came second in Collingwood's 2017 best and fairest, won the Giants' Gabrielle Trainor Medal in 2018 and finished equal-second in 2019.

29. Jasmine Garner (North Melbourne)

The hard-running forward is poised to have a breakout season after spending some time in the midfield during the VFLW season.

Originally a Collingwood player, Garner's first AFLW coach Wayne Siekman often said he believed she has the best marking hands in the competition, and it's a claim that's stood up in recent times.

Garner has an uncanny goal sense and has that useful knack of turning a game on its head in a ten-minute burst of brilliance.

An All Australian in 2019, Garner has averaged 11.5 disposals and 3.7 marks over her three seasons, kicking 15 goals. She also finished second in the Pies' best and fairest in 2018.

28. Rebecca Beeson (Greater Western Sydney)

The reigning Gabrielle Trainor medallist as the Giants' best and fairest, Beeson took her game to a whole new level in 2019.

An elite ball-winner, the midfielder is damaging breaking away from stoppages and has a neat kick.

Beeson, 22, can be difficult to lock down. She has a career average of 12.6 disposals, but her 2019 output was well above, recording an average 16.3 touches a game.

Also quite handy in front of goal, Beeson is a steady set shot and more often than not puts her teammates in the right position with cleverly placed disposals.

27. Tayla Harris (Carlton)

What more can be said about Tayla Harris? She was All Australian in 2017 and 2018, leading goalkicker for Carlton in 2018 and 2019, took the mark of the year in the past two seasons and has a (NAB-issued) statue to boot.

Accuracy in front of goal can be an issue (she's often more comfortable from a distance), but there's no doubting her contested marking ability, a rare commodity in AFLW.

A true spearhead of Carlton's attack, Harris is highly athletic and fearless in the air.

Harris at her best is also a hassling presence at ground level, with surprisingly sharp closing speed for a player of her height.

26. Ally Anderson (Brisbane)

Anderson steadily developed into one of the premier midfielders of the competition. 

A very quiet first season saw her average just seven touches. In 2019, she was picking up 21 disposals a game and was a vital cog in the Lions' engine room.

Her stellar season saw Anderson named All Australian and winning Brisbane's best and fairest.

Anderson isn't just content with hunting the ball; she is a fierce tackler and despite her small frame, can crash through packs.

25. Chloe Molloy (Collingwood) 

She's played just one season, but what a season it was.

Molloy, a noted goalkicker as a junior, burst onto the scene in 2018, with then-Collingwood coach Wayne Siekman raising eyebrows by playing her in defence.

It was a role she took to with ease. Molloy reads the play very well, is incredibly composed with ball in hand and a vital cog in rebounding from the backline.

A fiercely contested player, the 2018 NAB AFLW Rising Star (who also finished equal-second in the AFLW best and fairest) sat out last season with a foot injury, but is raring to go in 2020.

24. Meg McDonald (Geelong)

A reliable presence in the backline, McDonald's return to the AFLW in 2019 after a year at state level saw her play for a new club at the opposite end of the ground.

One All Australian season later, McDonald is now regarded as a tough opponent who stands up well under pressure.

The 28-year-old also won Geelong's best and fairest in 2019, despite playing the last few games of the season with a stress fracture in her foot.

McDonald has a safe pair of hands and reads the ball very well in the air.

23. Maddy Prespakis (Carlton)

Prespakis had a stunning debut season in 2019, winning the NAB AFLW Rising Star by 10 votes and named as an on-baller in the All Australian side.

The fierce midfielder is strong on both sides of the pack, a noted ball-winner who's deadly by foot.

Prespakis has excellent footy smarts, regularly putting teammates in better positions with smart kicks, and is particularly dangerous heading inside forward 50.

At just 19, expect many more years of excellence to come from the young gun.

22. Jaimee Lambert (Collingwood)

A very difficult player to match up on, Lambert causes opposition headaches wherever she goes.

The diminutive forward/midfielder is surprisingly strong overhead for her height (162cm) and deadly when the ball is on the deck.

Lambert was crowned Collingwood's best and fairest in 2019 after a strong season which saw her average 15.6 disposals, 5.3 tackles and 1.0 goals a game.

Put simply, Lambert makes things happen.

21. Kate Lutkins (Brisbane)

A true general in defence, Lutkins came into her own in the 2018 season and was quite unlucky not to win the best on ground medal in a losing Grand Final.

Lutkins has a booming boot out of the backline, and often plays a sweeping role to great effect, patrolling the goal-line.

Across her AFLW career, Lutkins averages 13.1 disposals, 3.0 marks and 2.9 tackles per game.

She won Brisbane's best and fairest in 2018 and was also named All Australian, and finished third in the Lions' count last year.

20. Ebony Antonio (Fremantle)

Possibly the most effective flanker in the competition, Antonio can play back and forward with ease, often within the same game.

Highly athletic, the Docker reads the play very well in defence and is an excellent intercept mark.

Antonio is courageous in the air and has strong kicking skills to boot, playing a more permanent role in attack for the first half of 2019, kicking 5.5.

She took out Fremantle's best and fairest in 2018 and was also named All Australian for that season.

19. Emma King (North Melbourne)

One of the premier rucks in the competition, King flexed her muscle as a full-forward in 2019.

The Kangaroo's height (187cm) and strong hands overhead made her lethal leading out of the goalsquare, kicking eight goals, up from just one over her first two seasons at the Pies.

King was named All Australian in 2017 and 2019 and is capable of changing the course of a match in the space of 10 minutes.

She's a strong tap ruck, who at 25, is coming into her prime.

18. Emily Bates (Brisbane)

Brisbane's inaugural best-and-fairest winner, Bates can sometimes fly under the radar of opposition fans.

The two-time All-Australian midfielder is a classy ball-winner who reads the play around her very well.

Bates' disposal sets her apart in the frantic inside of packs; she is crucial in releasing the ball for teammates to clear.

She has an AFLW career average of 16.5 disposals and 4.5 tackles, having played every possible game for the Lions.



17. Anne Hatchard (Adelaide)

Rocketed up the midfield ranks in 2019, lifting her disposal average from 7.5 to 18.9, culminating in her maiden All-Australian guernsey. 

Hatchard is strong on both the inside and outside of packs and is an excellent clearance player. 

A real all-rounder, she is capable of playing at both ends of the ground and can even pinch-hit in the ruck if required.

The two-time premiership Crow will be one to watch in 2020, particularly if teammate Erin Phillips isn't fit to play at the start of the season.

16. Lauren Pearce (Melbourne)

Established herself as the premier ruck of the competition in 2019, named All Australian and winning the VFLW best and fairest medal. 

PLAYERS' SURVEY Who is the best ruck in AFLW?

Pearce, a former basketballer, is effectively a tall midfielder, such is her prowess in clearances and work around the ground.

She averaged 19.9 hitouts and 12.7 disposals a game in the 2019 AFLW season but will be sidelined for at least the first few rounds of 2020 with a knee injury.

15. Ebony Marinoff (Adelaide)

The tackling queen of the AFLW, Marinoff holds the record for both the most tackles (21) and the highest number of disposals (33) in a match. 

Marinoff was crowned the NAB AFLW Rising Star winner in 2017 and is a two-time All Australian.

She is a relentless attacker of the ball and is very difficult to keep quiet for an entire match. 

Marinoff has a career average of 18.4 disposals and 9.7 tackles a match, and finally broke through to kick her first goal at AFLW in 2019, much to her delight.

14. Elise O'Dea (Melbourne)

One of the premier midfielders of the competition, O'Dea is a two-time All Australian who co-captained Melbourne in 2019.

O'Dea has excellent game awareness and a booming kick which she uses to great effect.

The Demon can also be a strong presence across the half-forward line, where her safe hands make her an important cog in scoring chains. 

O'Dea has an AFLW career average of 18.4 disposals, 4.8 tackles and 3.4 marks a game over her 21 matches.

13. Monique Conti (Richmond)

Conti comes in at 13 with a bullet after a best-and-fairest season at the Western Bulldogs when she was just 19 years old.

The new Tiger and WNBL basketballer has elite skills and excellent spatial awareness, capable of gliding out of packs where there's seemingly no room to move.

Conti has very strong hands overhead despite her small stature and had an All Australian 2019 in the midfield after moving from half-forward.

She also has a best-on-ground medal under her belt from the Dogs' 2018 premiership triumph.

12. Katie Brennan (Richmond)

Injuries have robbed us of seeing Brennan's consistent best in the AFLW, but the new Tiger has talent in spades.

Brennan is one of the best contested marks in the competition and has good goalkicking accuracy, even from difficult spots on the ground.

Look for her to line up in the midfield after spending most of her time up forward with the Western Bulldogs, where her speed and agility coupled with her height will hold her in good stead.



11. Kiara Bowers (Fremantle)

It took two-and-a-half years for Kiara Bowers to shake off persistent knee injuries, but when she did it was an impressive debut ... to say the least.

A bullocking midfielder, Bowers knows only one way to play – the ball. And if someone else has the ball, she makes it her personal mission to get it back.

Bowers isn't just a fierce tackler, she's a classy user with an uncanny ability to position herself in the most valuable position on the ground at any particular moment.

Her first AFLW season yielded a best and fairest and an All-Australian jumper, averaging 17.1 disposals and 11.1 tackles a match.

10. Ellie Blackburn (Western Bulldogs)

Blackburn brings the X-factor to the Western Bulldogs and is a very difficult player to stop.

The midfielder is incredibly strong and tough to bring down; her breakaway ability from stoppages and accurate disposal gives her a place in the top 10.

She's got a fistful of accolades: two-time All Australian, the 2017 best and fairest, a two-time best and fairest runner-up, a premiership (acting) captain in 2018 and co-captain in 2019.

Having played all 22 games for the Dogs, she has an AFLW career average of 17.8 disposals, 3.6 tackles and 0.5 goals a match.

9. Jess Duffin (North Melbourne)

While she'll miss the 2020 season through pregnancy, Duffin is a high-class player at both ends of the ground.

Duffin was an early favourite for the 2019 AFLW best and fairest, such was her form playing in the backline for North Melbourne. 

She reads the play with ease, has excellent hands overhead and is a steady head coming out of defence.

When required, she can also be a hard-running forward with strong hands and a consistent set shot for goal.

8. Karen Paxman (Melbourne)

Not one to seek the limelight, the Melbourne midfielder is one of the best ball magnets in the competition.

Like all the players in the top 10, Paxman has an uncanny ability to be one step ahead of the play, camping herself behind the play when the ball is in attack and thwarting opposition attempts to rebound.

One of just three players to be a three-time All Australian, the Dee averages 20.1 disposals a game.

Paxman took out Melbourne's best and fairest in 2019, after coming second in 2017 and third in 2018, such is her consistency.

7. Ash Brazill (Collingwood)

Arguably (or definitely) a bolter that will cause some discussion, Brazill's form was so hot in 2019 she was named as an All-Australian key back in her first full season.

Having missed most of 2018 with a hamstring injury, the Pie held firm under enormous duress last year in a defence which was constantly under the pump. 

Brazill combines the best of both worlds: a tall lockdown defender who takes the opposition's best forwards and is a strong intercept mark, but can also be a dashing rebounder with a booming kick.

6. Chelsea Randall (Adelaide)

One of only three three-time All Australians, the two-time premiership co-captain of Adelaide has accolades to spare.

Randall is a stunning defender to watch, one of the strongest aerial marks in the game combined with a steady head when behind the ball.

PLAYERS' SURVEY Who is the best defender in AFLW?

The Crow won her club's 2018 best and fairest and finished second in 2017.

She'll be sitting out this year with a torn ACL, bringing to an end her three-year reign as the AFLPA's most courageous player, but there's no way this is the last we've seen of Randall.

5. Daisy Pearce (Melbourne)

Queen Daisy will return to the field in 2020 after sitting out last year due to pregnancy, but her talent is such that she comfortably sits in the top five despite missing a season.

One of the most natural footballers in the competition, Pearce appears to think faster than most on the field and leads from the front.

PLAYERS' SURVEY Who is the best midfielder in AFLW?

The midfielder is clean, classy and stands up when she's needed most, averaging 20.0 disposals and 5.2 tackles a game.

Pearce has two best and fairest wins and two All Australian berths under her belt, and will be looking to add to the collection in 2020.

4. Dana Hooker (West Coast)

One of the classiest, most consistent midfielders going around, Hooker will be a huge boon for West Coast in its first season. 

The former Docker is an elite runner and true onballer, covering the ground with ease, averaging 17.1 disposals and 5.2 tackles a game. 

Hooker's form has been so strong, she has finished second in the past two AFLW competition best and fairest awards.

She also took out the Dockers' inaugural best and fairest and finished second in 2018-19.

3. Brianna Davey (Collingwood)

When Davey's near the ball, things happen.

Arguments have raged about her best position, whether it's as a general in defence or a bullocking midfielder causing havoc in the middle of the ground.

Now at Collingwood, Davey is very difficult to stop in full flight; a strong ball-winner whose big kick gets her team out of trouble more often than not.

The 2017 All Australian skippered Carlton for the past two seasons and was named AFLPA captain of the year after helping the Blues rise from wooden spooners to Grand Finalists.

2. Emma Kearney (North Melbourne)

One of only two AFLW best and fairest winners, Kearney can turn a game with a five-minute burst out of the middle of the ground.

The dynamic North Melbourne skipper has a deadly combination of speed and skill, capable of winning the hard ball and bursting from a stoppage, leaving a trail of opponents in her wake.

COACHES’ SURVEY Who is the best midfielder in AFLW?

Kearney is a three-time All Australian and two-time Western Bulldogs best and fairest winner, finishing second in North Melbourne's count last year.

She averages 20.1 disposals, 4.4 tackles and 3.0 marks a match.

1. Erin Phillips (Adelaide)

There could only be one player named the best in the competition.

Quite simply, Erin Phillips is a class above. She's won two AFLW best and fairests (the second by a whopping eight votes) and two best-on-ground medals in the 2017 and 2019 Grand Finals. 

Is she best as a midfielder or a forward? No one really knows, but what can't be questioned is her impact on matches. 

Equally dominant in the air or on the ground, Phillips' power and strength wriggle her out of sticky situations and she's very tough to bring down. 

Even when restricted to the goal-square in 2018 due to a quad injury, she still topped the Crows' goalkicking tally. 

Phillips will be sidelined for at least the first few games of the AFLW season, recovering from a torn ACL, but she's determined to return at some point in 2020.

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