The AFLW competition has come a long way since the inaugural eight teams selected their marquee players.
For those unfamiliar, the eight sides all got to select two players to be the faces of their respective sides over and above the draft.
These players were seen as the best talent available to respective states at the time.
In the four years since, player movement and injuries have played a huge part in their performances, but most have lived up to the billing as the game’s top players.
Of the initial 16 marquees, only six remain at their initial club. One recently announced their retirement, while another was delisted by their second team.
From 16th to 1st, here’s a ranking of every AFLW marquee player based on their on-field performance and the impact they had on their respective teams as leaders and public figures.
16. Moana Hope (COL/NTH)
As far as on-field contributions go, Moana Hope would not be 16th on this list. She kicked 23 goals in her 20 games for the Magpies and Kangaroos and did her job as a key forward. However, she found herself on the outer at the Pies and then delisted by North Melbourne after one season, the only marquee to be cut. While other players on this list have missed long stretches of time with injury, Hope was the only one who was not on a 2020 list.
15. Kellie Gibson (ADE/FRE/WCE)
Gibson is the only marquee who has played for three times. Leaving the Crows to return home to Western Australia, she moved to the Dockers before joining the inaugural West Coast team. She was a part of Adelaide’s 2017 premiership, but missed the majority of 2018 with the Dockers and has never really made a big impact as a forward.
14. Renee Forth (GWS/ADE)
Forth was rated as one of the top players in the country coming into the first season of the competition, but tore her ACL in 2016 and missed all of 2017 and patches of 2018. She was then traded to Adelaide and has played all 15 games with the Crows through the midfield and in various roles. Unfortunately she did not recapture the top form she showed at lower levels before the knee injury.
13. Katie Brennan (WBD/RIC)
Injuries have completely derailed Brennan’s AFLW career to this point, with the forward playing 17 total games for the Dogs and the Tigers in four seasons. Brennan showed why she was so highly rated coming into the competition at the beginning of the inaugural season for the Bulldogs, kicking three goals in the club’s first game before succumbing to an ankle issue. She made the switch to Richmond for 2020, but struggled to excel in the poorly performing side and was then hit with a serious concussion that ended her season.
12. Sabrina Frederick (BRI/RIC)
Frederick was a great signing for the Lions at the time and was a key part of their early success, including making the 2017 Grand Final. She has also been durable, playing a total of 29 games, however her style of footy as a deep key forward has become less effective as the years have gone on and game styles have become more dynamic. Frederick has kicked four goals in her last 13 games and averaged a career-low seven disposals this year with Richmond.
11. Emma Swanson (GWS/WCE)
Swanson had a brilliant 2020 season for the Eagles and will likely be rewarded with a spot in the All-Australian squad because of it. She averaged 17 disposals through the midfield and was ranked second for clearances per game. Hopefully the West Coast captain can now play her best footy, after dealing with injuries at GWS. Swanson was also named in the 2017 All-Australian squad.
10. Melissa Hickey (MEL/GEE)
Hickey will go down as one of the greats of this generation of women’s footy, but most of her best work came in the VWFL before the spotlight came down – winning seven flags with Darebin. A reliable defender who could win the ball and lock forwards down, Hickey was named in the 2017 All-Australian team on the bench before moving to Geelong and becoming their first captain. She announced her retirement at the conclusion of the 2020 season and will go down as a foundation piece of two teams.
9. Emma King (COL/NTH)
This is where the rankings get really, really tough. King has played 24 games across four seasons with the Magpies and Kangaroos, making the 2017 All-Australian side. She has been the standard bearer in the ruck since the beginning and has shown patches of dominance inside 50. She had a statistically quiet 2020 season playing mostly as a key forward for North Melbourne, but she played her role in creating a contest and bringing the ball to ground.
8. Darcy Vescio (CAR)
Vescio had a brilliant first season with the Blues, finishing as the competition leading goal kicker, making the All-Australian team and winning Mark of the Year. She struggled to impact games across 2018 and 2019 however, in a similar boat to Frederick as a stay-at-home key forward. Vescio bounced back in 2020 still playing as a forward, but was also given the license to push into the midfield and even behind the ball. The 26-year-old was hugely influential for the Blues in tight games and is thriving with greater freedom.
7. Kiara Bowers (FRE)
Kiara Bowers is about to be a back-to-back All-Australian and has broken the record for most tackles in a season two years in a row. She is unquestionably among the 10 best players in the game right now and has been a key part of the Dockers’ resurgence across 2019 and 2020. However, she did completely miss the first two seasons with knee injuries which impacts her positioning on this list.
6. Brianna Davey (CAR/COL)
Davey is another player whose position on this list is impacted by time missed, tearing her ACL early in the 2018 season. She needed a few weeks to work into both the 2019 season with Carlton and the 2020 season with Collingwood because of injuries, but finished both years among the best midfielders in the game. At her best, Davey is close to unstoppable through the middle and was also an All-Australian defender back in 2017. She captained Carlton in 2018 and 2019 and also won two B&Fs with the Blues before making the move to the Magpies.
5. Kara Antonio (FRE)
Kara Antonio has been a rock of reliability for Fremantle since day one, serving as captain of the team. Her first two seasons were outstanding as one of the game’s best midfielders and she was rewarded in 2017 as an All-Australian. Her last two seasons have statistically been down compared to the first two, but she remains a key cog for the Dockers in the midfield, even if she is playing a less prolific role. They went unbeaten in 2020, so it’s hard to argue with results.
4. Tayla Harris (BRI/CAR)
The talent was unquestionably always there with Harris, but she has now stamped herself as the most dangerous forward in the game. Still only 22, the key forward has kicked 25 goals across four seasons, including 16 in her last two. She was the only player in the competition to kick a goal in every single match in 2020. Harris has consistently been the game’s best contested marker and has added strings to her bow at ground level with the Blues which bring her teammates into the game. The best of Harris is still unquestionably in front of her at this stage.
3. Daisy Pearce (MEL)
Pearce would likely be the number one on the list had she not sat out a season to give birth to twins. The midfielder turned defender has served as the face of the game since beginning and been the captain of Melbourne since day one. Pearce will likely become a three-time All-Australian very soon and potentially even a three-time best and fairest winner. She has made the transition into defence this season and done so without missing a beat.
2. Chelsea Randall (ADE)
Randall is another player who would have a claim to the number one spot had injury not gotten in the way. The Adelaide captain missed the 2020 season with a torn ACL, a shame given the form she was bringing into the season. Randall is a two-time premiership captain, a three-time All-Australian defender and won the AFLPA Most Courageous award in all three seasons. Hopefully the 28-year-old returns to her best next season and helps lead the Crows back into finals.
1. Ellie Blackburn (WBD)
Ellie Blackburn has been a top 10 player in the competition since game one and remains so now. She has barely missed a match and has served as club captain since the middle of the 2018 season. Blackburn is a premiership captain, two-time All-Australian and will soon likely be a two-time best and fairest winner. The 24-year-old is an elite midfielder capable of kicking goals, and through her combination of on-field excellence and durability, claims the top spot on this list.