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AFLW Season Wrap: Conference A

With the AFLW 2020 season coming to an untimely end, it’s time to cast an eye over each Conference A team’s performance—looking at what they did well, what didn’t quite work and what each team’s focus should be heading towards 2021.

This week it’s all about Conference A. Be sure to check in on next week’s Siren newsletter for Conference B’s team by team season wrap.


North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos
5 wins, 1 loss, 227.2%

What they did well

Everything, really. The Roos are stacked with talent and have found the best way to fit all those pieces together. Their commitment to their game style was evident, hitting targets by foot after winning the clearance and picking the right options heading forward. Notably they enjoyed 15 individual goal kickers for the season—the most of any side in the competition. They were the highest scoring team of the season by more than five goals, and the scariest aspect was the speed in which they were able to punish sides, piling on huge scores in the space of minutes.

What didn’t work

The only real negative of their game this year was the unwillingness to play Emma King in the ruck until the absolute last moment. Their final against Collingwood was the prime example of this, with the Roos really struggling to contain the Pies until King made the move. This is obviously nitpicking, but it was really the only negative of their season.

The focus for 2021

There should be two targets for North Melbourne heading into 2021. One would be working with Vivien Saad so that Scott Gowans can rely on her and persist with that set up as he seemed to try this year. This isn’t to say Saad was poor, and she had a great season given her limited lead in, but making her a stronger prospect against the better tap rucks in the league would make the Roos that much stronger. The other thing would be ensuring their second tier midfielders don’t drop off or move clubs due to lack of opportunity.

Related – Siren’s 2020 AFLW All Australian Team: too many midfielders?


Greater Western Sydney Giants
4 wins, 2 losses, 123.2%

What they did well

They brought Rebecca Privitelli back into the club and made her the focal point of their forward line. She was the Giants’ first reliable contested mark up forward in a few seasons. So too the re-listing of Tait Mackrill. It’s pretty clear that Mackrill works incredibly hard for every opportunity she gets, and it was rewarded with a rising star nomination in round six. The recruitment of Jess Allan was another big plus for the Giants—her athleticism around the ground and connection with Alyce Parker was damaging. The Giants’ defence was also surprisingly stingy, conceding the second fewest scoring shots in the competition.

What didn’t work

Their connection as a team was off at times—poor decision making and execution really did hurt them. It’s a tough one as the Giants don’t have the luxury of having a large portion of players competing together at state level during the off season. Something that many other clubs are afforded. This means that even with a lot of talent they lack the connection that makes good teams great. Had the Giants been in Conference B, it’s doubtful that they would have landed so high on the ladder.

The focus for 2021

Finding their best midfield combination and a consistent forward structure. We saw how unwilling Alan McConnell was to put Jess Dal Pos in the thick of it, only succumbing once Alicia Eva was missing through injury. Their midfield functions more efficiently with Dal Pos on the ball, so whatever changes need to be made during the off season to accommodate this should be considered. This includes which ruck becomes their number one option. When it comes to their forward line, the addition of Privitelli was certainly a step in the right direction, the next step is to find another forward who is strong enough overhead to act as a foil for Privitelli and stretch defences.


Brisbane Lions
3 wins, 2 losses, 1 draw, 107%

What they did well

The Lions found other avenues to goal, which was the biggest concern surrounding Brisbane leading into the season. Straight off the bat they proved they had recruited a number of reliable goal kickers and sparks up forward. This went hand in hand with the improvement of Jesse Tawhiao-Wardlaw and the return of Sophie Conway. They were also able to maintain their consistent defence thanks to the reliable combination of Lutkins, Campbell and Koenan. The Lions only conceded one goal in third quarters throughout the whole home and away season, which went a long way toward arresting momentum of opponents.

What didn’t work

Brisbane got caught out by teams that were able to move the ball quickly on the outside—their games against Gold Coast and Fremantle being the most obvious examples of this. When teams got the ball to the outside the Lions really struggled to limit that movement and contain the quick entries into 50—this was the only real way of breaking down their solid defence.

The focus for 2021

Finding more outside midfielders/wingers to compliment the strong ball winners they already have. More of these players would not only neaten up their movement forward, but also assist them in quelling other teams moving quickly. Outside of this, endurance across the season will be really important for the Lions, with their young list struggling to maintain the high standard they set early in the season.


Gold Coast Suns
2 wins, 3 losses, 1 draw, 101.3%

What they did well

The Suns came out this year with a really strong brand of footy and it was very clear that each and every player bought into what the team was aiming to do. They were a pressure team who were strong enough to withstand the barrages that more experienced teams threw at them—this was proven by them having the highest percentage of the four expansion sides.

Kate Surman slips a Jas Grierson tackle in a Conference A match up. Image: Megan Brewer
Kate Surman slips a Jas Grierson tackle. Image: Megan Brewer

What didn’t work

While their defence stood strong, they did find themselves trapped in the back half at times and struggled to clear the ball effectively. This was largely due to the numbers they used to overwhelm forwards, leaving them few release options. Well structured defences like Brisbane’s lapped this up.

The focus for 2021

The biggest concern for the Suns would be keeping to formation and learning not to get sucked up to the ball. Keeping some width and depth to their structures will be key to effectively attacking out of their back half, and in turn limit their opponents’ ability to do the same. This will maximise what they’ve already done well—defence, pressure and quick outside ball movement.


Geelong Cats
2 wins, 4 losses, 80.8%

What they did well

The Cats were lethal when they got the ball forward, recording the equal-best efficiency inside 50 of any team. The speed in which they moved the ball in attack was often damaging and the improvement of their group—led by players like Richelle Cranston, Olivia Purcell, Danielle Higgins and Julia Crockett-Grills—was one of the more impressive parts of the season. After being the lowest scoring team in AFLW last year, Geelong was able to improve this by more than two goals a game to sit fifth in the competition this year.

What didn’t work

On the flip side of their forward efficiency, Geelong struggled to win the territory battle in 2020. They were often trapped in their back half, and even with a marked improvement upon the return of Meg McDonald in defence and Kate Darby up the ground, the Cats registered the third fewest inside 50s—bettering only expansion sides Richmond and West Coast.

The focus for 2021

Finding consistent releases out of defence so as not to spend so much time trapped in the back half. Too often their skill exiting defence let them down and piled on the pressure, so assessing ways to combat that more consistently will be important. Another unfortunate issue for the Cats will be detecting a little more midfield depth. After the loss of Nina Morrison to another ACL injury, they really struggled to maintain any semblance of strength in the middle, so improving that depth and player versatility would do them wonders.

Related – Nina Morrison goes down against the Roos


Adelaide Crows
2 wins, 4 losses, 80.4%

What they did well

Blooding new Crows. It was out of necessity, but Adelaide unleashed a number of exciting new talents, and some 2019 inclusions had more opportunity at senior level. Their come from behind win over the Saints in round two was emblematic of this. Najwa Allen, Caitlin Gould, Nikki Gore and Madison Newman were all crucial to their final quarter fightback. 

Courtney Gum of the Conference A Crows takes a one handed mark against the Saints. Image: Dani Brown
Courtney Gum takes a one handed mark against the Saints. Image: Dani Brown

What didn’t work

Finding consistency forward and an even spread of contributors through the middle of the ground was a huge problem for the Crows this year. Granted, Adelaide struggled more than most with injury this year, but their reliance on Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff in the middle of the ground really did cause them issues, particularly when it came to dishing off to outside runners. It was also evident that without Erin Phillips in the team, the pressure on Danielle Ponter to lead their forward line was all too much. 

The focus for 2021

The same focus they needed at the end of 2018—ways to cover the losses of injured players. Their off season recruiting ahead of 2019 was incredible and hit all the places they lacked real depth, and they’ll no doubt be looking at the same strategies heading toward 2021.


Richmond Tigers
0 wins, 6 losses, 35.7%

What they did well

Unfortunately for Richmond fans, not a whole lot. It was more a couple of individual performances that brought some positivity to the Tigers’ season. Phoebe Monahan’s efforts in defence, in the most inundated backline of the competition, showed true leadership. Her skills and decision making were a breath of fresh air for Richmond, and most importantly, she was kicking the ball more often than not in order to alleviate some pressure even momentarily. In the midfield Monique Conti continued to show off her cleanliness below her knees and ease in which she’s able to use the ball. 

What didn’t work

Where to begin? Their reliance on a handful of players left too many passengers, and as a team they seemed way out of sync all season. There was very little two way running which put their defensive unit under enormous pressure all season. This in turn caused them to leak a lot of scores.

Richmond’s forward line was also far too stagnant, limiting the efficiency of any meaningful forward movement they were able to create. When looking into their attacking 50, Richmond midfielders simply saw a mass of bodies with few teammates leading or attempting to create space, and when they did find options for shots on goal they had an AFLW worst 29% conversion rate.

The focus for 2021

First and foremost, Richmond needs to take the off season to work out what they want their brand as a team to be and ensure every single player and coach buys in. Getting everyone at the club on the same page is their first step toward improvement.

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