If you took yourself overseas for a couple of months at the end of last year, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd flown through a worm hole on your way home, such has been the impact of the AFL's manner in promoting their prized new AFLW competition.
Women's football has afforded the AFL the courage to move beyond their traditional linear conceptualisation of what sport is and how to promote it. The competition's mantra, 'See what we create', appears to not just apply to the competition, but to the AFL's ideology itself. The AFLW marketing investment has been unlike anything they've ever produced. With AFLW celebrating what women do and not what they look like, the AFL can now be viewed through a different lens.
They've broken their own mould in how they've made players such as Darcy Vescio and Katie Brennan household names, whose faces now adorn badges and weekly billboards glued to train underpasses promoting games.
In the spirit of 'See what we create', the competition is unveiling a new generation of future stars still shy of their 21st birthdays that will shine brightly, long after this current crop of elite players is folklore.
Adelaide's Tayla Thorn, 18, is one the competition's most promising indigenous talents. The former Northern Territory Under-18 captain has demonstrated her fearless ability to run through the ruck against taller opponents, and has also impressed by scrapping her way to the bottom of packs. Her tackling numbers are comparable with some of the game's biggest names, but it was her round two contribution to the Crows' now unsurprising win over the Western Bulldogs where she helped nullify Katie Brennan that showed glimpses of what we might come to expect of Thorn.
Brisbane, reaping the rewards of years of investment in young talent, has unleashed homegrown prospect, Tahlia Randall. Randall, 18, who cut her teeth playing football with the boys from age six, enjoyed Under-18 All-Australian honours and AFL Women's Exhibition Match selection from age 17. Randall's height and athleticism allow her to impact opposition forward structures and rebound with confidence. With kicking efficiency of 50 percent, Randall is coping well with the responsibilities of a rebounding defender, and is becoming an important part of the Lions' forward entry structure.
With Carlton's Isabella Ayre only turning 18 in December, she's understandably taken some time to grasp the fastest women's football ever played. A multiple Under-18 All Australian, the key forward's youthfulness has freed her of being her team's forward anchor, giving her time to adjust, and adjust she has. Ayre's hands are renowned around Australia, and she has the height and the strength to develop into a dangerous forward. Add her kicking efficiency, at 75 percent, and the fact that 53 percent of her disposals have resulted in a score, Carlton is on to a winner.
Collingwood's Caitlyn Edwards, inspired by her mother's football career, took up the cause at age ten. Her resultant knowledge of the game is outstanding, and the running defender has been an important part of the Pies' rebounding strategy. Kicking efficiency of 60 percent has been crucial given the frequency at which she has been charged with kicking inside 50. Edwards' leg speed made the former Under-18 Western Australian representative one of the Pies' most important players in the club's two wins.
With much of Western Australia's forward firepower recruited interstate, Fremantle, building a forward line for the future, has placed former Under-18 All Australian, Ashley Sharp, as its foundation piece. The Round 3 Rising Star nominee's agility and speed are hard to match up on and complement Sharp's knack of receiving numerous handballs en route to goal. The 19-year-old leads Fremantle's disposal efficiency in an under pressure forward line, and with a third of her disposals resulting in a score, it's no surprise Sharp is their leading goal scorer.
Greater Western Sydney's Rebecca Beeson, 19, showcases AFL NSW/ACT's efforts to build local talent. The former Under-18 All Australian's consistency has been crucial to the Giants' emerging success. Beeson's signature hard running and handballing efficiency across half forward fit in perfectly with the Giants' running game. She currently leads their forwards for disposals, tackles, handball receives, inside 50 and rebound 50 kicks, and is floating around the top ten when you consider her among all AFLW forwards.
Melbourne's plethora of highly talented youngsters is making their climb up the AFLW mountain. Round 4 Rising Star nominee and a smoky for the award, Jasmine Grierson, 18, spent only a year in the Under 18 high performance pathway, but is demonstrating seasoned maturity and composure across the Demons' half back line. She holds marks in wet conditions, rebounds with poise, and makes decisions beyond her years. With a disposal efficiency of 75 percent, Grierson executes better than many of the game's elite.
The Western Bulldogs' Hayley Wildes, 20, is a big game player working out how to bring it on the big stage. The midfield apprentice to Ellie Blackburn and Emma Kearney is learning the art of gut busting running from the best. Highly effective with ball in hand, Wildes knows when and where to be to bolster her team's attack. She's as coachable as the best, and brings fairness and discipline to her game - she's the only Bulldog, and one of only eight regular AFLW players, to not give away a free kick this season.