WE'VE REACHED the halfway point of the season, and a clearer picture of how teams sit is starting to emerge.
It's also a good opportunity to acknowledge the improved form of individual players across the competition.
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Who's your club's most improved player this year?
Gore's numbers haven't risen dramatically from last season to this one, but her composure under pressure and influence on games have been impressive. She's now well-settled in defence after playing as a defensive forward, averaging 8.4 disposals (up from 6.5) and 2.6 marks (1.3). A highly rated junior prospect – taken with the Crows' first selection in 2018, pick No.8 – Gore has found her feet at AFLW level in her third season.
Honourable mentions: Lisa Whiteley (based on previous season at GWS), Caitlin Gould, Chloe Scheer
It feels somewhat odd to be nominating a soon-to-be 34-year-old in this category, but Arnell has dominated games this season across half-forward, her smart play setting up her teammates in scoring positions. While her numbers have settled somewhat after disposals in the high teens at the start of the season, Arnell is still averaging a career-high 14.2 touches and 3.6 marks, as well as 2.8 tackles.
Honourable mentions: Greta Bodey, Belle Dawes, Nat Grider, Orla O'Dwyer
Having played primarily in defence in her previous three AFLW seasons (Hosking missed the first with a shoulder injury), the Blue has thrived in the midfield with the occasional forward stint. Hosking is averaging a career-high 15.8 disposals (11.0 last year), 205.1m gained (up from 134.8m) and 1.8 clearances (didn't have a single one last year).
Honourable mentions: Abbie McKay, Nicola Stevens, Darcy Vescio
The defender has literally come on in leaps and bounds in her fourth AFLW season, storming out of defence to set up the Pies with numerous scoring opportunities. After an injury-interrupted 2020, Schleicher is averaging 15.0 disposals (5.5 last year), 4.4 marks (0.5) and an incredible 311m gained (131.7m) as her confidence and ability to take the game on has developed.
Honourable mentions: Lauren Butler, Ebony O'Dea, Aishling Sheridan
In a year of sterling defensive performances, Cuthbertson has been exceptional as the focal point of the Dockers' stingy backline. The former tennis player is now in her second season of AFLW, and is averaging the most intercept possessions (9.4) in the competition, a marked increase on last year's 4.6 intercepts. Cuthbertson's average disposal has also doubled (11.2 from 5.4).
Honourable mentions: Steph Cain (based on 2019, injured in '20), Matilda Sergeant, Kara Antonio
Playing in the midfield and off half-back, McDonald has been a shining light for the Cats in a very difficult season for the club. She's found plenty of the footy, and despite her unorthodox kicking style, has used the ball well. McDonald is averaging 18.8 touches (up from 12.7) and two additional clearances a game.
Honourable mentions: Georgie Rankin, Denby Taylor
Unfortunately for Ahrens, she's had a lot of work to do over the past few weeks as the Suns have struggled to stem the flow in the midfield, but the key defender has been equal to the task. The second-year AFLW player is averaging 15.2 disposals (up from 14.7), 297.3m gained (242.6m) and 8.2 intercepts (up from 6.6) and is a safe pair of hands overhead.
Honourable mentions: Kate Surman, Ali Drennan (based on previous season at St Kilda)
Inaugural Giant Beeson has had a few different stanzas in her career, moving from the forward line to the midfield in the early years, but her latest season has been her best. Now a genuine ball-winner, she's averaging a career-high 23.8 touches (from 16.0 last year), 223.4m gained (166.9m) and 6.2 clearances (nearly tripling last year's 2.4).
Honourable mentions: Taylah Davies, Emily Goodsir
All summer, the buzz coming from Demons was centred on the impact Hanks was set to have in 2021, and it was on the money. The diminutive midfielder started her AFLW career in 2019 as a forward, but has now graduated full-time to the engine room, and is holding her own against bigger opponents. Hanks' numbers have lifted drastically, averaging 19.6 disposals (up from 10.4), 5.0 clearances (2.0) and 10.6 contested possessions (5.1).
Honourable mentions: Shelley Heath, Maddi Gay, Lily Mithen
Despite the fact she came fifth in last year's best and fairest, Gilroy has gone to another level in 2021. The rebounding half-back from Ireland's County Mayo is in her second year of football, and while her disposal numbers haven't risen dramatically (12.8 from 9.7) her metres gained have exploded (342.7 up from 191.2) as she takes on a more attacking role.
Honourable mentions: Daria Bannister, Tahlia Randall, Mia King
The rangy key defender struggled to find her feet at AFLW level last year and was occasionally (and oddly) thrown onto the wing at times. But Miller's confidence is through the roof this year, given the additional support of Harriet Cordner and Sarah D'Arcy, taking on opponents when rebounding and using the ball well. She's averaging 7.8 disposals at 74.4 per cent efficiency, up from 6.7 at 62.5 per cent.
Honourable mentions: Gabby Seymour, Maddy Brancatisano, Hannah Burchell
Coach Peta Searle was thrilled with Shierlaw's summer, mentioning it on multiple occasions, and it's translated on-field. The key forward has become a key marking target further up the ground, providing a crucial link in the scoring chain. The 32-year-old is averaging a career-high 9.4 disposals, 4.4 marks and has kicked four goals (beating all her previous tallies already) in her fourth AFLW season.
Honourable mentions: Hannah Priest, Rosie Dillon, Rhi Watt
A slightly difficult choice with the Eagles, given their large turnover in the off-season, but young star Mikayla Bowen has relished her extra responsibility in the absence of the injured Dana Hooker. Adding some outside nous to her strong contested game, Bowen is averaging 14.6 disposals, 4.0 marks and 217.5m gained this year, up from 10.3, 0.8 and 118.8m in her first season of AFLW.
Honourable mentions: Belinda Smith, Maddy Collier
There's been a lot of attention on the outstanding season of Ellie Blackburn, but her partner in crime Lamb has slipped under the radar somewhat. Having also improved her fitness over the off-season, Lamb's numbers have consequently risen. The midfielder is averaging 17.6 disposals (up from 13.7), 251.8m gained (166.1m) and 3.6 clearances (2.3).
Honourable mentions: Ellie Blackburn, Katie Lynch (based on previous season at Collingwood), Eleanor Brown
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