AS PRE-SEASON training gets underway for the 2022 NAB AFLW season, it's a timely opportunity to look back at a massive 2021.
It's been quite the year, so if you're a little fuzzy on the details, here's a refresher.
Who is the reigning premier?
Brisbane knocked off Adelaide by 18 points in front of a heaving crowd at Adelaide Oval in April. Key defender Kate Lutkins was named best on ground after a tremendous intercepting effort, while Courtney Hodder lit up the field with two electric goals. Adelaide stand-in captain Ange Foley ruptured her ACL, and Lions veterans Emma Zielke and Lauren Arnell retired with premiership medals.
Who else performed well?
Fremantle blew away a few teams with its multi-pronged forward line, while North Melbourne's midfield also overwhelmed a couple of sides, but both struggled to make inroads into the top four. Melbourne had an excellent record against its fellow finalists, particularly late in the season, and Collingwood was one kick away from making the Grand Final.
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What about individual efforts?
For the first time, we had a draw for the AFLW best and fairest, with midfielders Kiara Bowers (Fremantle) and Brianna Davey (Collingwood) tying for first spot in a thrilling count. Davey had already sewn up the AFLPA MVP, while Bowers took out the AFLCA equivalent. Melbourne pocket rocket Tyla Hanks took out the NAB AFLW Rising Star, while Davey was also named All-Australian captain.
Who was my club's best player?
Adelaide: Ebony Marinoff
Brisbane: Ally Anderson
Carlton: Darcy Vescio
Collingwood: Brianna Davey
Fremantle: Kiara Bowers
Geelong: Amy McDonald
Gold Coast: Lauren Ahrens
Greater Western Sydney: Alyce Parker
Melbourne: Tyla Hanks and Karen Paxman
North Melbourne: Jasmine Garner
Richmond: Monique Conti
St Kilda: Georgia Patrikios
West Coast: Isabella Lewis
Western Bulldogs: Ellie Blackburn
Who are the teams looking to improve?
Gold Coast and Geelong ended the season in fairly grim fashion, playing off for the wooden spoon in the final round. The Cats were victorious, leading the Suns to a winless season after a promising 2020. St Kilda and Richmond recorded a few strong wins mixed in with a couple of poor losses, while Carlton has publicly rued the collective 12 minutes which lost it three games.
How did COVID change things?
The fixture flew out the window, as changes were made weekly to accommodate for the open-and-shut nature of state borders. GWS went on the road at the start of January and didn't return home for six weeks, while many sides were required to quarantine for short periods or missed a few training sessions as part of short snap lockdowns. In all the chaos, just one match-up was repeated – the Western Derby was played twice, with Fremantle triumphing on both occasions.
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Have there been any coaching changes?
Yes, there'll be plenty of fresh faces in the coaches' boxes. Geelong's Paul Hood has been replaced by Daniel Lowther, Cam Joyce has stepped in for David Lake at Gold Coast, while Nick Dal Santo has taken Peta Searle's role at St Kilda.
I'm keen for an AFLW fix before January – which games should I rewatch?
St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs played one of the games of the season in round one in a high-scoring, freewheeling affair at RSEA Park. Melbourne and North Melbourne put on a show in round three while Richmond and Carlton saw twins Jess and Sarah Hosking face off.
Erin Phillips delivered a clinic against Brisbane in round four and Sabreena Duffy turned the game against Carlton in round seven. Round nine saw two finals-shaping thrillers, while Collingwood's two finals delivered in spades.
All replays can be watched via the fixture page on womens.afl.
Who did we say goodbye to?
As above, Zielke and Arnell finished on the highest of highs, chaired off after a flag. Sharni Norder's exuberance will be missed, while Aasta O'Connor's tired knees finally had enough. The Suns lost plenty of experience in Sam Virgo and Sally Riley, while Leah Kaslar was delisted, and the Dees farewelled bookends Meg Downie and Tegan Cunningham. Premiership Dogs Lauren Spark and Ange Gogos also hung up the boots.
What about the new teams?
Don’t worry about them yet, but prepare yourselves for an 18-team competition starting at the end of 2022. It's sure to be a hectic Sign and Trade Period following the 2022 season.