Follow the leader: Star Blue returns to leadership group

THERE will be a familiar face in new black and white stripes at the captains' day, while for a few clubs, consistency is key when it comes to their leader.

Who'll be tossing the coin next season (among other, much more important duties), and who will they be supported by?

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This article will be updated as clubs announce their leadership groups.

ADELAIDE

Two-time premiership skipper Chelsea Randall will continue as standalone leader after Erin Phillips opted to step down from her co-captain role. The pair had led Adelaide for four years together.

Randall will be supported by Ange Foley and Sarah Allan, with young rising forward Eloise Jones joining the leadership group for the first time.

"I feel absolutely honoured and privileged to lead this amazing group of women, alongside Angela Foley, Sarah Allan and for the first time, Eloise Jones," Randall said.

"Our members and supporters should be extremely excited for this leadership group, they are incredible leaders and people.

"I look forward to working with them throughout the season and to continue the legacy of former leaders such as Erin Phillips, Courtney Cramey, Jessica Foley, Marijana Rajcic and Sally Riley."

BRISBANE 

In line with their quiet trade period, the Lions have opted for stability, once again electing Emma Zielke captain. It will be the fourth season the inaugural Brisbane midfielder has been in charge, only missing out in 2019.

Unheralded midfielder Breanna Koenen has taken the vice-captaincy reins from Sharni Webb, who has stepped down from the leadership group.

Emily Bates and Kate Lutkins will take their fourth stint in the leadership group, while hard-nosed defender Shannon Campbell joins for the first time.

"[Zielke] is highly respected within the group and has shown enormous growth as a person and leader over the five years whilst maintaining a high output on match day," coach Craig Starcevich said.

"Emma has become one of the competition’s most credentialed captains, having lead her club to two Grand Finals and dealt with the challenges of guiding and uniting the team through two turbulent years of expansion."

CARLTON

Kerryn Harrington and Katie Loynes will co-captain the Blues for the second straight year, while Darcy Vescio returns to the Blues' leadership group after she was left out last year. 

Alison Downie and Nicola Stevens rounds out the five-woman group.

"All five players bring different styles of leadership and complement each other really well," coach Daniel Harford said.

"One thing they all share is a real focus to make us the most successful club we can possibly be and that becomes infectious through the entire playing group.

"Their leadership helps make sure we are in a strong position heading into the season next week, which can’t come quick enough. We cannot wait to run out in front of our members and supporters once again."

COLLINGWOOD

There's a slight change at the top at the Magpies. Winger Steph Chiocci will once again lead the team - for a fifth successive season - but she will be joined by former Blues captain Brianna Davey as co-captain.

Davey skippered the Blues in 2018 and 2019, before taking on a vice-captain role in 2020 when she moved to the arch-rivals in Collingwood.

Former vice-captain Ash Brazill has stepped down from her leadership position to focus on the rehabilitation of her ACL (as well as her commitments with Collingwood's netball side), with ex-Australian netball skipper and All-Australian ruck Sharni Layton taking on the role.

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"As our foundation captain, Steph has proven to be an exceptional ambassador for Collingwood and is highly regarded by the players and staff," Collingwood head of women's sport Jane Woodlands-Thompson said.

"Bri is known as an elite on-field leader who brings a skillset to complement that of Steph’s.

"Whilst a standalone captain has been the preferred model by the panel in past seasons and served us well, the panel felt the timing as well as the ideal skillset balance between Steph and Bri made a co-captaincy model the right choice for us this season.

"Sharni's prior experience as a leader of an elite sporting code made her the ideal candidate for the vice-captaincy position."

Brianna Davey will join Steph Chiocci as co-captains at Collingwood next season. Picture: AFL Photos

FREMANTLE

The Dockers will take an unchanged leadership team into the season, with Kara Antonio set to skipper the side for a fifth consecutive year. 

Antonio will be supported by Kiara Bowers, Ebony Antonio, Hayley Miller and Gabby O'Sullivan.

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Bowers is also entering her fifth season in the leadership group, despite having to sit out the first two years with persistent knee injuries, while Ebony Antonio and O'Sullivan are coming up for their third stint.

"It’s obviously a massive honour and speaking to the group when it was announced, it felt like I've got the best job in the world, being able to captain such an amazing group of people," Antonio told The West Australian. 

"I’m really proud to captain such a proud WA club and such an incredible group of girls." 

Kara Antonio will captain Fremantle in 2021 alongside an unchanged leadership group in Hayley Miller, Kiara Bowers, Gabby O'Sullivan and Ebony Antonio. Picture: fremantlefc.com.au

GEELONG

The Cats will have a new face at the top, with Meg McDonald taking over from the retired Melissa Hickey.

Unheralded forward/midfielder Jordi Ivey will step into McDonald's old vice-captain role, while veterans Aasta O'Connor and Renee Garing will once again be in the leadership group.

They will be joined by new faces Maddy Keryk and Nina Morrison.

"I consider it a great privilege and very special to be part of this team, this program and this footy club. So to be asked to help lead this group, to reflect it, and to represent it is a great honour and I’m very thankful," McDonald said.

"I’ve got some big biceps to fill and we’re all better for the captaincy and the leadership of Melissa. 

"I’m so pleased to continue to work with Renee, Aasta and Jordi having learnt so much from them and with them this year. To see the group expand with Nina and Mads and better reflect the demographic of our team is so important."

Cats leaders (L-R) Aasta O'Connor, Maddy Keryk, Meghan McDonald, Jordan Ivey, Nina Morrison and Renee Garing. Picture: geelongcats.com.au

GOLD COAST

Midfielder Hannah Dunn has been promoted to co-captain the Suns alongside Sam Virgo for the club's second season in the competition.

The pair will be joined by inaugural club champion Jamie Stanton and new faces Sarah Perkins and Jade Pregelj in the leadership group for 2021.

Dunn established herself as one of the team's most important players and has been rewarded with her promotion to the captaincy role.

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"I'm looking forward to leading by example both on and off the field and helping our group however I can to deliver the success we're all striving towards," she said.

After being drafted by the Suns in October, Perkins been a standout both on and off the field, providing valuable experience to the club's youngest players.

"I've loved coming into the club. It's an exciting program to be a part of, with a young and talented list and hopefully I can use some of my experiences to help develop and educate the next generation of AFLW footballers," Perkins said.  

GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY

Unsurprisingly, respected leader Alicia Eva will captain GWS for a second season after taking over from the retired Amanda Farrugia.

In fact, the Giants are sticking to what has worked in the past, opting for an unchanged leadership group - Jess Dal Pos, Cora Staunton, Pepa Randall and Britt Tully - after an incredibly difficult few months for the club.

"It’s important that you don’t dismiss or try and hide the fact that we’ve had really significant challenges in the last 12 months and particularly the last six months," Eva said.

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"We have an incredibly resilient group. We have lost one of our own (Jacinda Barclay) and that’s still very raw for our group.

"We’ve just been really big on making sure we support our team - not just the players, but our staff and everyone in the wider club. 

"The focus is on making sure we acknowledge that but we put ourselves in a great position to support our people. When we’ve got good support around us, that enables us to focus on the task at hand."

Alicia Eva during pre-season training in December, 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

MELBOURNE

The Dees are introducing an entire leadership group to work with skipper Daisy Pearce and vice-captain Karen Paxman.

In years past, Melbourne has elected to run with just the senior pair, but an additional six players have been named leaders in 2021: Libby Birch, Maddy Gay, Kate Hore, Sarah Lampard, Lily Mithen and 20-year-old Tyla Hanks.

"The time is right to invest in our future leaders and our leadership group this year reflects that," coach Mick Stinear said.

"We have selected six players that possess leadership qualities and have established themselves as consistent performers on and off the field.

"These players will support and learn from our captain and vice-captain, while developing their own leadership style and skills."

NORTH MELBOURNE

There's no surprises at Arden Street, with Emma Kearney elected captain for a third successive season.

The hard-running Roo will once again by supported by Jasmine Garner and Emma King.

One new face in the leadership group is Ash Riddell, with Britt Gibson making way for the midfielder.

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"It's always nice to know that you’re well supported by your peers and that you’re leading the team in the right direction," Kearney told North Melbourne's website.

"I take a lot of feedback from the playing group and the staff and I’m always looking to improve my leadership. I feel like I’ve been able to do that going into our third season at the club.

"It’s quite a privilege to lead a club with a rich history like North Melbourne's, so I’m looking forward to the season ahead."

RICHMOND

Inaugural skipper Katie Brennan will once again lead the Tigers in 2021, but will be supported by an extended leadership group.

Recruit Sarah Hosking has had an immediate impact, named vice-captain after crossing from Carlton.

Phoebe Monahan and Christina Bernardi will once again take their place in the leadership group, and will be joined by Sabrina Frederick, Alana Woodward and former Dee Harriet Cordner for the first time. Last year, the group numbered four (including the now-retired Lauren Tesoriero).

"I’m honoured and proud to be able to represent the group and am just extremely excited for the year ahead under ‘Ferg’ (new AFLW coach Ryan Ferguson)," Brennan told Richmond's website.

"He has really given us the keys to drive all of the standards and expectations, which is what our leadership group has been phenomenal at doing, and we are excited about where 2021 can take us.

"Our leadership group dynamic is amazing; we are covering off all different personalities, and each leader will be able to cater to and support all members of our team, not only the playing group but all staff as well."

Richmond's leadership group (L-R) Harriet Cordner, Phoebe Monahan, Sabrina Frederick, Katie Brennan, Sarah Hosking, Christina Bernardi and Alana Woodward. Picture: richmondfc.com.au

ST KILDA

Not content with a four-way tie in its best and fairest, St Kilda has elected a quartet of captains, with defender Hannah Priest - who was not in the leadership group last year - joining existing skippers Rhi Watt, Cat Phillips and Kate Shierlaw.

Tilly Lucas-Rodd and Kate McCarthy will once again be in the leadership group.

"With such a young list, having more experienced heads at the helm is something which will be extremely beneficial for the future and something for our emerging leaders to aspire to," coach Peta Searle said.

"We were really pleased at how the shared captaincy model worked in our first season and we’re very confident Hannah will round out that group extremely well this year.

"She consistently leads by example and is one of our toughest players, but she also has a kind heart, enormous empathy and understanding with all players on our list."

WEST COAST

Emma Swanson has been appointed skipper of West Coast after leading the club in its inaugural season. 

Fellow midfielder Dana Hooker is once again vice-captain, with Alicia Janz and Courtney Guard also in the leadership group for a second season.

Ruck Parris Laurie has joined for the first time, with Maddy Collier taking a step back. 

"Last year was a unique experience and everyone was excited to get their hands dirty, but now I feel like they understand what is expected of them as leaders and they have really been proactive with how they have dealt with the start of pre-season, particularly around creating a supported environment and setting standards," new coach Daniel Pratt said. 

"'Swanny' and 'Hooks' have been leading the charge along with so many other girls. It’s pleasing to see that they’ve taken those steps so quickly." 

Emma Swanson will captain the Eagles in 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

WESTERN BULLDOGS

The Dogs have significantly expanded their leadership group to support skipper Ellie Blackburn, who will lead for a second year outright and fourth year overall.

The unheralded Brooke Lochland will once again serve as vice-captain.

Izzy Huntington and Kirsty Lamb will continue in their roles, with Bonnie Toogood, Bailey Hunt and Ash Guest joining the ranks, in a nod to the changing age profile of the team. Hannah Scott and Lauren Spark are no longer in the leadership group.

"One of the staples of being a great leader is leading by example, and Ellie absolutely has that covered," coach Nathan Burke said.

"This pre-season, she has really taken her fitness, training and attention to detail to a new level, and the other players have recognised that as well.

"The other side of it is having that maturity – Ellie has developed an ability to have deeper conversations and understand her teammates’ situations, their thoughts, and their feelings, and be able to relate to them on that level."