HPN fully intended to do a long series of AFLW previews, including of each team outlining strengths and weaknessses. But, due to a project that we have been working on for the last year or so hitting deadline, we couldn’t find the time. Instead, we’re going to lay out the nuts and bolts for you right here right now.
AFLW Player Approximate Value (PAV)
A couple of people asked us to compile our PAV ratings for the 2017 and 2018 AFLW season, so we jumped on it. For a refresher on PAV, please see this link.
Method note – we couldn’t find inside 50s against per team, so we had to estimate using rebound-50s and goals conceded. It should provide a decent simulation of the measure, but may not be perfect.
The entire 2017 PAV dataset is at this link, but here’s the top ten:
After running the calculations the first time, we couldn’t believe the results, so we ran it again. Quite simply, Erin Phillips’s 46 PAV season is beyond what we had believed possible under our PAV system. By comparison, Patrick Dangerfield’s sublime 2016 season only achieved 31.97 PAVs – the highest AFLM PAV since at least 1988. Phillips’ PAV is roughly 4.6 times that of the average player – and she finished finished first for MidPAV and third for OffPAV. You could have split Phillips’ performance across two players and both would have been good enough to warrant All Australian selection.
Of the top 40 in AFLW PAV for 2017, 29 were named in the 40 player All Australian Squad. The lowest ranked All Australian according to PAV was Nicola Stevens, ahead of Tayla Harris. At the other end of the scale, PAV suggests that the Laurens, Pearce and Arnell, were the harshest omissions by selectors. We feel that this hit rate, comparable with the rate at which PAV identifies AA players in the AFLM, is a decent sign that using PAV for the AFLW is worthwhile.
There are a couple of reasons that Phillips was able to accrue such a high PAV, beyond her undoubted ability. One is the strength of the Adelaide side, who won the Premiership for a reason. The strength of a side plays a large role in the formulation of PAV by determining how many points are available to players. Adelaide was the strongest side in 2017 according to our team ratings and in particular, their midfield strength gave them almost 50% more midfield PAVs compared to an average midfield like the Bulldogs’:
Phillips was extremely dominant. We suspect that several AFLW specific factors contributed to a higher concentration of involvement for the better players.
Firstly, the reduction of players to 16 onfield at any time has an impact, evidenced by the higher ratings of other players on the list. Some of the 21st and 22nd ranked players played less than 30% time on ground, whereas the more dominant players (such as Phillips) clocked up 90% game time. That makes a big difference over the course of the competition. 2018 will see the bench reduced to 5, meaning one less player to share in time on ground and PAVs.
Secondly, it’s possible that as a year-one semi-professional competition drawn from pre-existing talent, the talent pool is more uneven than the fully professionalised AFLM with its well-established recruitment and development practices. If this is a factor, we’d expect to see the PAV for the AFLW become more evenly distributed in future years, as more recent talent development programs kick in.
Finally, the short season gives a small sample size which means that short periods of brilliance aren’t necessarily tempered by reality as they might be in a 22-game season. Consider Rory Sloane’s blazing start to 2017 and the way he was eventually brought back to earth. HPN would suggest it may be unlikely that Phillips will be able to repeat her 2017 performance again this year after a year of other clubs developing counters – but there is literally only one way to find out.
Strengths: In 2017, Adelaide had by far the strongest midfield in the competition, per HPN’s PAV method. Their ability to move the ball up forward and lock it up there enabled the Crows to kick massive scores at times, despite not having the greatest forward set-up in the competition. According to PAV, three of the top six players in the competition were Adelaide midfielders (ish) – no other team came close to this concentration of top end talent, let alone concentration in one part of the ground (at times).
The Adelaide defence, while asked to do less than practically any other in the competition, also performed well when called upon. Former marquee player Kellie Gibson was a key contributor to both these areas in 2017, but during the offseason she made a move back to her home state of WA and was slated to play with Fremantle until she suffered a potentially season ending injury in the preseason.
Weaknesses: This is nearly nitpicking Bec Goddard’s all-conquering side, but Adelaide’s forward efficiency (points per inside 50) was below league average in 2017, and it is hard to immediately see where improvement will come from in what is essentially the same list. The Crows forward line is anchored by two transcendent talents in Sarah Perkins (who was bizarrely passed on by all Victorian clubs in 2017) and Phillips – who contributed 21 out of the Crows 55 goals in 2018. If one gets more effectively marked, or is injured this year, or if their midfield declines from their historic 2017 performance, the Crows might struggle to find consistent paths to goal.
Prediction: 1st. With most of the 2017 side back, it’s hard to go past the reigning premiers to be favourites at this point, despite how much of a target they’ll have on their backs. However, given how much the competition has improved over the offseason, this ranking is far from being locked away.
Strengths: Brisbane’s league-best defence largely carried them to the Grand Final, with the Lions often bending and not breaking under a weight of entries. Chief contributors in defence included Leah Kaslar, Shannon Campbell, Tahlia Randall, Kate Lutkins and Samantha Virgo. The trouble for Brisbane is that Virgo is out for the season with an ACL injury.
Virgo was a visibly handy rebounding defender, and will be a loss, but was only rated 5th at the Lions in defensive PAV output behind the more defensive defenders including Kaslar and Lutkins. The hole Brisbane need to fill is specifically that smaller defender role, rather than overhauling their whole defensive unit.
Weaknesses: Brisbane’s midfield was below average in terms of preventing opposition inside-50s and producing their own, giving them a slingshotting or counterpunching sort of game style based on deep defensive power. They’ve recruited with a focus in the centre. Jordan Zanchetta is a past star of the Queensland state side who walks in as a welcome return from injury. Nat Exon should also contribute well.
The highest profile off-season move was Tayla Harris requesting a trade to Victoria. Brisbane were merely average up forward in 2017 even with Harris as a target. The likely direct structural swap, Bella Ayre from Carlton, is a 19-year old and potentially an upgrade up forward based on 2017 Offensive PAV, due to the impact she had at Carlton. Harris surprisingly didn’t actually rate particularly highly in PAV terms, with Ashmore, McCarthy, Wuetschner and Zielke all providing more output up forward under our rating system. However, Harris’s importance to Brisbane can’t be denied, with her being deployed in different roles, forward, back and mid, as the game required. Up forward, Harris effectively presented as a threat, drawing attention and clearing space for other options to emerge, and breaking a couple of games open. Can Ayre or a redeployed Frederick-Traub similarly leave opposition defences preoccupied, enabling Brisbane to score enough to win games?
Finally, although it was just the preseason, the 50 point loss against the Giants was such an incongruous result that it raised some questions here at HPN.
Prediction: 3rd. Brisbane was unlucky to miss out on the premiership last year, and they had a pretty solid offseason. However, Melbourne’s recruitment and potential growth probably just shades the available Lions side.
Strengths: Darcy Vescio was the game’s pre-eminent forward in 2017, with Carlton building a very effective offence around her. According to HPN’s Team Ratings, the Blues had the league’s most efficient attack; one which dragged them to the cusp of finals in 2017. This year, two of the key contributors to that forward line are gone (Bella Ayre and Bianca Jakobsson), replaced by former Brisbane marquee player Tayla Harris. When performing well, Harris is a game-changing talent, able to swing momentum in a heartbeat. However, last year she perhaps played second fiddle to ruck-forward Fredrick-Traub at the Lions, roamed up the field regularly, and often seemed a decoy option, and it is likely she will have to similarly work around Vescio.
Weaknesses: Carlton’s midfield often struggled to get and keep the ball up forward last year, with the second worst midfield strength rating according to our system. Over the off-season it did not appear that Carlton directly addressed this issue, and they may even have gone backwards with the loss of Nat Exon. They’ll likely have to work overtime at either end of the ground to stay in games.
Prediction: 6th. Despite the recruitment of Harris, it feels like Carlton’s midfield issues still remain and maybe the list has gone relatively backwards to other clubs with the loss of four best-21 players in exchange for Stevens and Harris. The ins may both be upgrades on their direct equivalents, but there’s a question about depth here.
Strengths: Addressing Collingwood’s performances from 2017 is tough because it was like watching two different sides – the one in the first half of the season and the one in the second half. In the last round of the season the Pies didn’t fall that far short of knocking off eventual premiers Adelaide, and keeping them out of the Grand Final. But their best footy was substantially different from their worst early in the year, where they looked stagnant and punchless.
Across the season as a whole, their strongest part of the ground appeared to be up forward, and that is the area they seemed to strengthen more before 2018 through Victorian draftee Chloe Molloy (rising star and joint leading VFLW goalkicker) to play alongside their best 2017 forwards Jasmine Garner and Jessica Dufflin (nee Cameron). The way that Collingwood will win is by kicking big scores.
Weaknesses: In net terms, the Pies went for a mild rebuild in the off-season, targeting the draft with which coach Wayne Siekman will be quite familiar from his previous gig at the Victorian under-18s side. The Pies traded out their best and fairest winner and runner up for better draft access and another established player. They replaced Alicia Eva with an upgrade in Bulldogs star Jaimee Lambert in the midfield (she was hampered by injury at the Dogs last season and still looked pretty good), and lost Stevens from defence. The Pies were already struggling defensively and will miss Stevens. The Pies are really in trouble through the middle too – with five-time leading VWFL goalkicker Mo Hope slated to start in the middle, that doesn’t seem an optimal centre loadout.
If improvement is to come it’ll probably have to come from either the successful integration of their draft picks, or better preparation.
Prediction: 8th. Midfields really matter in the AFLW, and Collingwood probably have the weakest one at this point. Their excellent looking forward line will be unable to score unless they can get the ball, which is in doubt at this early stage.
Strengths: That they don’t have to replay the 2017 season. Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong last year did, and the loss of a large number of players interstate exposed a surprising lack of depth in the WA talent pool (this may well have cost the Eagles priority entry to the competition next season).
According to PAV, Freo only had one top 30 player in the competition last year in the sublime Kara Donnellan, where the average team could expect between 3 and 4 such players. Donnellan didn’t play a lone hand for the Dockers, with their midfield combination actually performing above league average. Fremantle ended up delisting 12 players – equal most for the competition with fellow cellar dwellers GWS.
Bringing home two very good players in Kellie Gibson and Alex Williams should in theory help them, however Gibson appears to be out for at least the first month of the season – further bad luck for the Dockers.
Weaknesses: They were the worst team in the league at both ends of the ground and they’ve been hit by injuries again. Marquee Kiera Bowers won’t be available round 1, Gibson will miss most of the season, Kirby Bentley is out completely.
Williams should strengthen the Dockers’ league-worst defence, potentially allowing the side to explore different options up forward to hit the scoreboard. This will be important because the biggest weakness has been up forward where Fremantle finished dead last for Offence Score in 2017, and by some margin. No player was able to kick more than four goals across the season for the Dockers, indicating how hard they found it to get a reliable forward set up. PAV doesn’t highlight any obvious targets – Kara Donnellan was the most productive offensive player and she’s a midfielder. Stacey Barr and Amy Lavell are the nominal forward targets, and the Dockers will need a lot more from them.
If Fremantle can drag their attack to somewhere approaching league average, and improve their defence, they might actually be able to benefit from their decent midfield and win a few more games than last year.
Prediction: 7th. If they weren’t missing several of their top 10 players for at least half the season, then we’d have them higher; perhaps even pushing Brisbane. As it stands, this feels like it could be a repeat of last year’s frustration.
Strengths: Development market strugglers GWS were actually near league average for forward line efficiency, meaning they could score when they actually got the ball up there. GWS’ forward setup centres around Phoebe McWilliams, Jacinda Barclay, supported by ruck Erin McKinnon as a marking but not scoring option. They all generated most of their value offensively.
GWS’ defence was below average, but probably okay, considering the pressure they faced. They’ll look different down back this year with the loss of Alex Williams back to Freo. That’s probably offset by Privitelli from Carlton and Randall from Melbourne, as well as 32-year old Diamond Creek veteran draftee Tanya Heatherington, who missed inaugural AFLW selection still recovering from an ACL injury.
The biggest wildcard for GWS is the recruitment of Cora Staunton, a multi sport champion from Ireland with perhaps the most intimidating CV a cross-code recruit has yet brought to the AFLW. Staunton has won Irish titles in Gaelic football, soccer and rugby union, captaining at least two of those. She debuted in senior Gaelic football for Mayo at 13, has been named an All-Star 11 times, has played in 10 finals across the two senior Gaelic football competitions. She also has presumably the only double of scoring in both a UEFA Europa competition and an All Ireland Final. At the age of 36 she’s turned her attention to the AFLW after playing for Ireland in International Rules.
Oh, and in her first ever footy match she kicked a casual over the shoulder snap goal on her non-preferred:
— GWS GIANTS (@GWSGIANTS) January 21, 2018
Weaknesses: Midfield. Their midfield rating was by far the worst in the competition, meaning a beleaguered defence was hammered with nearly twice as many inside-50s as their starving forwards received. The Giants were also noticeably light-on for midfielders contributing up forward, with Jess Dal Pos and Nicola Barr having relatively low offensive PAVs for dominant midfielders in the AFLW, most of whom at other clubs also helped up forward in 2017.
The hope spot for the Giants is that they’ve recruited hard and regained talent in this area. Alicia Eva is a big get in exchange for draft picks the Giants had no use for. The return of marquee signing Renee Forth from a season-ending injury last year is also a huge boost. Emma Swanson only managed 5 of 7 games returning from a hamstring injury last year as well and has also not been named for round 1 of 2018, instead expected to be “in contention for round 2”.
Throw in a couple of ready-made draftees who should be useful cogs, in particular 20-year old Jodie Hicks who is returning from WBBL, and 35-year old Courtney Gum who just won an SANFL best and fairest, and they should collectively more than cover the loss of Ashleigh Guest and improve here.
Prediction: 4th. This might be a little high, and we might be going a little early on the Giants on the back of a huge preseason win over Brisbane, but the turnover looks almost all positive, with the potential for a breakout year. The Giants have a practically new side in 2018, with nine new faces replacing the entire back end of their list. And we’re really excited about Staunton who may be a genuinely world class footballer who can quickly adapt.
Strengths: Coming into 2018, the Demons have the most balanced team on paper. They were the only side to rate above average in all three categories according to the HPN Team Ratings and haven’t lost any major pieces. Melbourne seemingly focused during the offseason on working on fixing their weakest area (their forward line), picking up Bianca Jakobsson from Carlton via trade and seemingly ready-made former Australian Opal Tegan Cunningham. For a side that was only a couple of poor quarters away (and a couple of kicks) from a Grand Final, this bodes well.
The Demons were so happy with their list that they ended up delisting just six players at season’s end last year, eventually resigning one (Cordner) not long after. The Dees also lost Berry and Boyd via trades, but according to PAV they shouldn’t be major losses for the club.
Weaknesses: Perhaps the two biggest questions about the Demons are adaptability and depth. Last year the Demons were exposed when conditions were less than perfect, and they struggled to recover with alternative game plans when the game was taken away from them. While they shouldn’t face conditions like they did in round 1 against the Lions again, finding the resilience to come back from an off-pace performance like they suffered against GWS will be necessary if they want to make the Grand Final this year.
Like all sides, the top end of the Dees list (Paxman, the Pearces, O’Dea et al) provide a lot of the driving force for the Demons. In their preseason hitout, the Demons raced out to a a 29-point lead against Collingwood before being chased down in the last quarter, with stars Pearce, Hickey and Paxman watching from the bench. For all the talk about the preseason not mattering, it is a indication how much the Demons rely on these players.
Prediction: 2nd. The Demons should make the Grand Final that they narrowly missed last year, and as 2017 showed anything can happen from there. While the betting markets have them as favourites, it’s hard to elevate them to the top spot until either Adelaide shows weakness or the Dees show improvement.
Strengths: When the Bulldogs had their full squad on the field in 2017 they absolutely hummed, led from the front by Blackburn and Kearney. Both players can dominate in the midfield and go forward, rendering Jaimee Lambert somewhat expendable over the offseason. When Katie Brennan was able to get on the park, the Dogs were able to find enough firepower to enable their midfield to go to work, which ended up opening up their entire game.
In the end, the Dogs ended up with more points scored than conceded, and lost three games by less than two kicks. You could say that they Dogs probably weren’t that far from being at the pointy end of the ladder, if not for a few short, and regrettable, minutes of football.
Weaknesses: Other than their poor performance in close games, perhaps the Dogs weakest area was their backline. Lambert was forced into action down back regularly last year, so the Dogs will instead look to number one draft pick Isabel Huntington to shoulder an immediate load in defence. Aasta O’Connor should also be better than she was last year, which should help the Dogs occasionally porous backline.
Prediction: 5th. It’s tempting to chuck the Dogs as bolters into perhaps 3rd or even 2nd, but also equally tempting to look at the lack of mature age list improvement and think that they will slide down the ladder as low as 7th. In the end, we’ve opted for somewhere in the middle, and somewhere they are perhaps unlikely to exactly land.