There will be a number of new faces taking the field for Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs this weekend. With the AFL’s women’s exhibition series expanding to include teams from Western Australia and Queensland in 2016, players from those states will not represent the two Melbourne sides in the first two rounds of the series.
Instead, 29 players from AFL Victoria’s Women’s Academy will step up and fill the two teams on Sunday. These players have been part of an intense training program for the past four months and have spent their summers getting fitter and stronger.
When you take away retained players, injured players and interstate players, there were 29 spots available – 16 for the Demons and 13 for the Bulldogs.
Selectors had the painstaking task of having to not only choose the best players for their teams, but also the best players suited to the positions available.
Here are four players who weren’t part of last year’s series who have the ability to change the game;
Karen Paxman (Western Bulldogs)
Paxman is a classy midfielder with excellent skills, great decision-making and a fantastic tank. She was picked at number six in the 2013 in the draft and a retained Bulldogs player in 2014. After taking a break from football in 2015, Paxman returns to footy this year without losing any fitness or skill. Paxman won the academy’s 2km time trial with the outstanding time of 7 minutes 24 seconds.
Kate Gillespie-Jones (Melbourne Demons)
This 179cm tall-forward/ruck impressed last year winning her division’s best and fairest award. Her team, Seaford, has now been promoted to the VFL Women's State League and it seems Gillespie-Jones has put herself in the best position to make the most of the opportunity. She has become one of the fittest ‘talls’ at academy, taking out the 2km time trial in 7 minutes 31 seconds. The 24-year-old will be looking forward to showing what she has to offer at the highest level.
Richelle Cranston (Western Bulldogs)
Cranston is in the same position as Gillespie-Jones. Her team, Geelong, has also been promoted to the VFL Women's State League this year. Cranston’s improvement over the summer has been outstanding, with the mobile forward saying she feels “fitter than ever”. Cranston has the natural ability to take the game on and kick goals from impossible angles. Cranston and Moana Hope from the St Kilda Sharks will definitely bring the “x-factor” to the Bulldogs’ forward line.
Alicia Eva (Melbourne Demons)
Eva (pictured) is another player who took a break from football last year. She was chosen at pick 27 for the Demons in 2013 and was a retained player in 2014, however last year Eva spent her days travelling around Europe. Now back and refreshed, Eva has hit the ground running. Eva has excellent skills and will provide plenty of run for the Demons off the half back line as well as through the midfield. Eva has an excellent football brain and knowledge of the game.
*Photo: Darrian Traynor - Getty Images