As the AFLW competition continues to expand, one of the key things to balance is the dispersion of elite talent.
The expansion teams have all taken different approaches to building their squads, with different rules in place for the four teams coming in this year, as opposed to Geelong and North Melbourne last season.
North were given a lot of wiggle room to sign players and they took full advantage of that allowance, while Geelong received the top two picks in the draft.
St Kilda AFLW coach Peta Searle admits she was a bit annoyed at not getting some of the advantages the Roos and Cats received.
“Oh 100% (it was frustrating),” she told SEN's The Boundary AFLW Podcast.
“I feel like there have been a lot of kickbacks in that sense.
“We can’t do anything about it. That’s what we have been given. We still believe strongly in what we have got and our job is to grow and make everyone better footballers.”
With 14 teams now in the competition, here’s how the top 40 players (as of the beginning of the 2020 season) are spread out.
Top 40 players: Erin Phillips, Ebony Marinoff, Anne Hatchard, Courtney Gum, Chelsea Randall*
The reigning champions not only boast five elite players on their list, but they have another nine or 10 who are right on the fringes – they literally have 41 (Stevie-Lee Thompson) and 42 (Courtney Cramey) on my list.
Phillips and Marinoff have been stars since the first season, while Hatchard broke out last year to become an All-Australian midfielder.
The signing of Gum almost out of nowhere was a huge boost for them, but was somewhat offset by Randall’s torn ACL.
Top 40 players: Emily Bates, Kate Lutkins, Ally Anderson and Jess Wuetschner
The Lions have their fair share of star talent, with two midfielders a key defender and one of the few star forwards of the competition.
Unfortunately for them, the introduction of the Gold Coast coupled with a couple of rough years with players being picked off by expansion sides has left them relatively thin outside of those four.
Brisbane will be hoping their youngsters can take the next step and fill some of the void behind their guns.
Top 40 players: Maddison Prespakis, Tayla Harris and Kerryn Harrington
Last year’s Grand Final runners up have a star player on all three lines.
Harris, Harrington and Prespakis are all players who are only getting started in the competition and have plenty of room for improvement, despite already being in the top 40.
Carlton will be hoping number two draft pick Lucy McEvoy can follow Prespakis’ lead and jump immediately into the elite category.
Top 40 players: Brianna Davey, Jaimee Lambert, Chloe Molloy and Ash Brazill
The Pies not only have four players in the top 40, they have four in the top 20.
Molloy missed all of last season with a foot injury, while the club traded for superstar Carlton captain Davey – two reasonably handy additions to their side.
Collingwood had an incredibly disappointing 2019, but coming off a VFLW premiership they have a lot of momentum and a strong side on paper.
Top 40 players: Kiara Bowers, Kara Antonio (nee Donnellan), Ebony Antonio
Kiara Bowers finally got her shot at AFLW level after injury derailed her first two seasons and reminded everyone why she was one of the inaugural marquee players.
Ebony and Kara Antonio are certainly the only married couple in the top 40 and both will be key parts of Fremantle’s 2020 season.
Kara had an incredible 2017 and 2018, but took a slight step back last year, despite Fremantle’s sharp improvement. Watch out if she gets back to her best.
Top 40 players: Meg McDonald and Richelle Cranston
The Cats built through their VFLW team, but veterans McDonald and Cranston lead from the front.
McDonald is one of the best defenders in AFLW, while Cranston has broken out as a dangerous midfielder/forward.
Former number one pick Nina Morrison likely would have been a lock for this list had she not torn her ACL last year, while Maddy McMahon, Olivia Purcell and Phoebe McWilliams are also capable of elevating themselves.
Top 40 players: None
The Suns have put together a young team surrounded by cagey veterans and whoever they could lure over from Brisbane.
Because of this, and because we simply have not seen the vast majority of their players at AFLW level, it’s hard to judge them at this stage.
Jamie Stanton sits just outside the top 40, while Leah Kaslar would also be in consideration.
Top 40 players: Alicia Eva and Rebecca Beeson
The Giants have put together a quality midfield unit, led by captain Eva and one of the most improved players of 2019 in Beeson.
Beeson averaged 16 disposals per game in 2019, up from 11 the previous season, while Eva has been one of the most reliable midfielders across all three seasons.
The two are joined by multiple players on the fringes of the top 40, including ruck Erin McKinnon, second-year midfielder Alyce Parker and Jess Dal Pos.
Top 40 players: Karen Paxman, Daisy Pearce, Elise O’Dea and Lauren Pearce
Paxman and O’Dea have been incredibly consistent for the Demons across all three seasons as leaders of their midfield.
The question marks will be on the Pearce’s, with Daisy making her return to footy following the birth of her twins. It will be interesting to see whether she can maintain her status as one of the game’s absolute elite.
Lauren meanwhile is reportedly dealing with an injury that could see her miss the start of the season.
The Demons have quite a few players who could break into the top 40, including Lily Mithen, Tegan Cunningham, Bianca Jakobsson and more.
Top 40 players: Jess Duffin*, Emma Kearney, Emma King, Jasmine Garner, Kaitlyn Ashmore and Jenna Bruton
North accumulated six top 40 players from other clubs last season, putting together an incredible team on paper.
Duffin is pregnant and unavailable for the season and is a huge loss as a top five player in the competition.
The Roos still boast another top five player in Kearney, while also having stars all over the field. They will be tough to beat in 2020.
Top 40 players: Monique Conti, Sabrina Frederick, Christina Bernardi and Katie Brennan
The Tigers signed three star forwards to build their team around in Bernardi, Frederick and Brennan.
All three are flexible enough to play all over the field and give the Tigers a hand wherever it is needed.
Conti meanwhile is one of the competition’s brightest young midfielders and could be anything with the team built around her.
Top 40 player: Kate McCarthy
Another expansion team with numerous players we simply haven’t seen at AFLW level, the Saints have a well-constructed team without many standouts at this stage.
Kate McCarthy is one of the most dangerous forwards in the game, with her speed and acceleration making her hard to cover when she gets out the back.
Nat Exon is a similar player with plenty of pace and only just misses out, while Georgia Patrikios and Molly McDonald are ones to keep an eye on as the season unfolds.
Top 40 players: Dana Hooker
Again, the simple issue here is the vast majority of West Coast’s team haven’t played at AFLW level.
Dana Hooker however is a great centrepiece to build around, consistently performing as one of the elite midfielders of the competition.
Kellie Gibson misses out on the top 40, but is around the mark, while Emma Swanson may be unleashed in new colours.
Top 40 players: Ellie Blackburn
The Dogs wouldn’t be too concerned about only having one representative in the top 40, given the amount of players that have departed the club in the last two seasons.
Isabel Huntington will crack the list if she can put a healthy season together and they also boast four of the top Victorian selections from this year’s draft. Their stocks will be replenished sooner or later.
Ellie Blackburn is a great player to build around, one of the game’s best attacking midfielders.