PREVIEW: Eastern Devils v St Kilda Sharks

The countdown to the 2017 Swisse Wellness VFL Women's season is on, with five days to go before it all begins.

Callum O'Connor starts his season preview series with a look at 2016 finalists Eastern Devils and St Kilda Sharks before the teams meet in Round 1.




Coach: Brendan Major (2nd year)

2016 finish: 4th, 13-5

2016 Leading goalkicker: Sarah Perkins - 52 goals

2016 Best & fairest: Jaimee Lambert

AFL W players on list: 14 

Eastern Devils’ coach Brendan Major is standing in the middle of a wide triangle, barking instructions at his players with sweeping hand gestures bouncing between the three cones.

The cold April rain is pouring at the Devils’ home ground Mulgrave Reserve. Not that it bothers Major’s team – you play in a rain belt near Waverley Park, you get used to the conditions.

The Devils are renowned as a tough and uncompromising team. Midfielders Jaimee Lambert, Hannah Scott, Lauren Tesoriero and Sophie Casey made up one of Swisse Wellness VFL Women’s hardest on-ball units in 2016, ably supported by defenders Bec Privitelli, Jess Foster and Tahni Nestor. Yet grit can only take a team so far – their elimination final defeat against Melbourne Uni last year was their first finals appearance since 2013. Sooner or later, any team serious about winning a flag must move beyond its limitations.

“We’ve had the depth in our list, we just haven’t been able to play an outside game,” admits Major, who was part of Collingwood’s inaugural AFLW team as an assistant coach. “We can’t be so predictable.”

The Devils finished fourth in 2016 with a 13-5 record yet twice beat sides above them in St Kilda and Melbourne Uni. Major says the ability to “beat teams when it matters” is his side’s main focus. He will also be using his experiences at Collingwood to help him take his own craft to the next level.

“Your coaching is going to develop working with anyone,” says Major. “Undoubtedly, listening to Bucks talk and [forward coach Brenton] Sanderson talk and [midfield coach Tarkyn] Lockyer and Jared Rivers talk is always going to be beneficial.”

13 of the 2016 Devils played in the inaugural AFLW season, with Sarah Perkins the first VFL Women’s player to be part of a premiership team. Major has not only been blessed with a largely clean bill of health in his returning stars, but has secured the services of arguably Australia’s best ruck in Emma King as well as former Port Melbourne Colts player Stacey Livingstone, both of whom played at Collingwood.

“Emma, as a person, is what your club wants,” declares Major. “That’s how highly I rate her leadership and her work rate.” 

King and Livingstone aren’t the Devils’ only major additions – newly appointed assistant coach John Law, who played 219 games for North Melbourne between 1978 and 1989, is set to come on board. 

“His daughter Lauren’s playing here, so he came down,” says Major. “The big thing for me is, he’s a school teacher. So the way he conveys his messages is just above the required level of knowledge, just to give them something new.”

More than 30 new faces are pushing through the teeming rain at Mulgrave Reserve. While Major faces a challenge in balancing his side – and he rates Canadian recruit Valerie Moreau, ex-Redan player Sophie Alexander and youngster Maddie Johns as new players to watch – he knows his team will never want for drive.

“At pre-season camp, we threw it open to the floor with the senior leadership group and all the seniors in general, and we said, ‘How do we want to play?’ It’s about being able to acknowledge it intellectually, verbalise it, and my job is to then implement it.”

The Eastern Devils face the St Kilda Sharks at Mulgrave Reserve in Round 1. 

CLICK HERE for the 2017 team lists 

CLICK HERE for the updated 2017 fixture




Coach: Shaun Smith (2nd year)

2016 finish: 3rd, 13-4-1

2016 Leading goalkicker: Moana Hope - 106 goals

2016 Best & fairest: Brianna Davey

AFL W players on list: 14 

Former Kangaroos and Melbourne player Shaun Smith could very easily have spent the summer patting himself on the back after his first season at the helm of the St Kilda Sharks.

His side finished the home and away season in second place, their highest position since becoming part of Premier Division in 2008. 13 Sharks were taken by AFL clubs with Brianna Davey (Carlton) and Moana Hope (Collingwood) named marquee players. Smith himself walked away with the inaugural Swisse Wellness VFL Women’s Coach of the Year award.

Yet a straight-sets finals exit on the back of heavy losses to Darebin and Melbourne Uni still plays on Smith’s mind. No Shark is resting on their laurels as they hit the pre-season track at the famous Peanut Farm Reserve.

“It was a bit of a learning curve for everyone,” says Smith. “There’s some stuff we need to change like monitoring workloads and maintaining fitness. It was a really hard lesson to learn in the finals series.”

The elephant in the room is St Kilda’s recent form at the pointy end: Smith’s maiden voyage was the third straight season in which the Sharks have placed in the top four but departed the finals without a win.

Smith says his side has identified fitness as their main area of improvement, citing the appointment of Match Conditioning Coach Jess Gibson as one of St Kilda’s major changes.

“We ran out of fitness towards the end of the year,” admits Smith. “We’re going to use her expertise and she can monitor players so hopefully that won’t happen again.”

The influence of new tactics from players returning from five different AFL clubs is a development Smith is determined on working to his advantage.

“They’re bringing in new ideas,” says Smith of his AFLW stars, who were spread between the four Victorian clubs with key defender/forward Phoebe McWilliams playing for GWS as a priority pick. “I’m not a stubborn coach in that regard, I’m quite open to listening to what they’ve got and it lifts the standard at training.”

St Kilda are looking to the future in their 2017 leadership. Veteran defender Penny Cula-Reid will reassume the mantle of skipper although she is set to take 22-year old midfielder Brianna Davey under her wing as co-captain. The position of vice-captain will also be a passing of the torch as Mia Clifford mentors up-and-coming forward Jasmine Garner.  

“Who knows how long Penny and Mia will keep playing for but we hope those two will step into the role of captain,” says Smith.

The Sharks will retain all their AFLW players although Hope is facing a long rehabilitation process as she recovers from back and knee injuries. 19-year old Collingwood ruck Ruby Schleicher is a welcome addition to the club after electing not to return home to Western Australia during the state season.

“We’ve got a really good feeling around the club.”

St Kilda will play the Eastern Devils at Mulgrave Reserve in Round 1. 


CLICK HERE for the 2017 team lists 

CLICK HERE for the updated 2017 fixture



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VFL 2018 Ladder

Peter Jackson VFL 2018
1 Richmond 56
2 Casey Demons 56
3 Geelong 52
4 Williamstown 52
5 Collingwood 48
6 Box Hill Hawks 48
7 Port Melbourne 40
8 Essendon 36
9 Footscray 32
10 North Melbourne 32
11 Werribee 28
12 Northern Blues 24
13 Sandringham 22
14 Frankston 8
15 Coburg 6