THIS year marks the fifth edition of the NAB League girls' competition (formerly TAC Cup), meaning 2021's stars were only 13 or 14 when top-flight under-18 footy was introduced to Victoria.
That first season saw the Calder Cannons – spearheaded by two likely types in Chloe Molloy and Maddy Prespakis – crowned premiers after a five-round undefeated season, finishing ahead of Grace Egan and Millie Brown's Murray Bushrangers.
Those young teenagers have been able to grow up and develop their footy with a discernible goal in mind: to play at the top junior level in Victoria, and hopefully graduate to the NAB AFLW competition.
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To celebrate International Women's Day and the progress and development of women's footy over the past five years, womens.afl sat down with national academy coach Tarkyn Lockyer to get an insight into the stars of the future currently playing NAB League.
Maykayla Appleby (Northern Knights)
A versatile running player, Appleby can line up on the wing, at half-forward or off the half-back flank. She's quick with great skills, which coupled with her ability to read the play, makes her a dangerous prospect. Appleby is dangerous when out in space and is damaging with her disposal.
Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)
A very powerful athlete who's damaging at either end of the ground. Dojiok's marking ability means she's equally adept at intercepting in defence or taking a strong contested grab in front of goal. She reads the play well and according to Lockyer, has all the attributes of a key forward. Dojiok has been named in the Rebels' best once this season in their three matches.
Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)
A forward/midfielder, Friend started playing her footy with Horsham. Friend is a really strong contested-ball winner who has a knack of impacting a game wherever she is on the ground. She has been in the Rebels' best once this year in their three matches, kicking two goals.
Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons)
Now in her third NAB League season, having started as a 16-year-old, Gillard is a ruck who's equally adept up forward. The Cannon has a strong aerial game, but it's her ability to play like a small which makes her incredibly dangerous. She's good below her knees and moves well. Gillard has been in the Cannons' best in all three matches this year, kicking a goal.
Perri King (Tassie Devils)
A Tasmanian who falls into North Melbourne's draft zone (and would become the fourth non-related King on their list if selected), King has come on in leaps and bounds over the past 12 to 18 months. A strong-bodied midfielder who loves to win the contested ball, she's a clever player who's clean in traffic. She's been named in the Devils' best in two out of three matches.
Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers)
A ruck/forward who is in GWS' academy zone, living north of the NSW/Vic border, Morphett is a very mobile player with a strong presence on the ground. She is a good overhead mark with strong tap work, and can cause havoc when pushing forward. Morphett has been named in the Bushrangers' best in both games she has played.
Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)
She already carries a famous AFLW surname, but Georgie is an outstanding player in her own right. More of an inside player than her older sister Maddy, Prespakis is a strong ball-winner with elite hands. An explosive midfielder, she uses her footy nous to set her teammates up for goals. She's been named in the Cannons' best on all four occasions this year, kicking one goal.
Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)
The Chargers captain is a tall midfielder who can be very dangerous when pushing forward. Rowbottom has a strong presence on the ground, makes good decisions and is a strong contested ball-winner, using her height to her advantage. The sister of Sydney's James, Rowbottom has kicked five goals from her four matches, named in her side's best in every game.
Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers)
An incredibly versatile player from Bendigo, Slender can slot into most positions on the ground, but is generally found in the midfield or up forward. Slender's strong overhead marking is a key attribute, and her agility means she's good in traffic. She's been in the Pioneers' best on all three occasions this year.