It didn’t take long for Carlton to show why they were one of the favourites heading into an inaugural season; triumphing with a 35-point victory over Collingwood.
However, their perfect start couldn’t be replicated as the Blues struggled to find consistency finishing fourth.
Having fallen short in their first soiree, Carlton has since renovated their squad, seizing the opportunity to make a premiership in 2018 after signing some of the league’s biggest names in the offseason.
Tayla Harris, perhaps the poster girl for women’s AFL in Australia, made her way south from Brisbane in what will likely result in a dangerous partnership with Darcy Vescio in the forward line.
The Blues were required to cough up a sizeable ransom for the pair, losing Nat Exon and Bella Ayre to the Lions, and Bianca Jakobsson to Melbourne for pick 12 in the draft.
Carlton then opted to select Georgia Gee.
The Blues will also welcome back midfielder Jess Hosking who missed last season through various injuries.
Carlton’s aggressive approach through the offseason with their big-name acquisitions has again shaped them as favourites and while it remains to be seen whether they can challenge the league’s best, anything short of a top three will be a disappointing result.
After claiming a 16-point practice game win over the Western Bulldogs, which included three goals from 2017 leading goal kicker Darcy Vescio, improvement looms imminent in 2018.
Carlton lost only three games in 2017 all by narrow margins against Adelaide, Melbourne and Fremantle, as well as holding Brisbane to a draw.
Only one loss attracted a margin exceeding six points.
A tad of luck this time around and a Grand Final spot is not out of the question.
However, Carlton boasts one of the most prominent groups of key position players this season; in large due to the arrivals of Harris and Stevens in the offseason.
Vescio is already among the competition’s best threats inside fifty, and if Carlton can squeeze the best out of Harris, opposition teams will struggle to contain the pair.
Similarly, Laura Attard and Danielle Hardman formed a formidable duo in the key defensive posts and will be aided by Stevens given her ability to play either tall or short and provide plenty of run from defence.
As has been the case for most teams ahead of the season, the midfield looms as an area of concern.
In 2017, the Blues ranked last in the league for the number of centre clearances conceded, while offensively, they were marginally better; ranking seventh for clearances.
If Carlton is unable to win the ball out of the middle, Vescio and Harris will lack the chance to bare any influence on games.
After rotating through the midfield and defence last year, Brianna Davey may operate purely as a midfielder in a move which would reap undeniable benefits.
As perhaps the league’s most ruthless inside midfielder, Davey’s importance to the game plan is unmeasurable.
If head coach Damien Keeping desires the improvement this year, which all indications suggest, she simply can’t spend time in defence.
Key Player: Alison Downie
Alison Downie may not be Carlton’s most talented player but she was as consistent as any in 2017. With the exception of Collingwood’s Emma King, Downie is arguably the league’s most prolific ruckman in the league, showing a knack for dominating opponents last year in more ways than one. Downie ranked fifth for hitouts and despite missing games at the end of the season, she was also one of only three qualified ruckmen to post over 80 hitouts to find the ball over 50 times in 2017.
One to Watch: Jess Hosking
An ACL tear sidelined Carlton midfielder Jess Hosking for the entirety of the first AFLW season, but the 22-year old will likely be named in Carlton’s round one side this year. After picking up the sport with her twin sister and teammate, Sarah, less than two years ago, Hosking is still new to the game. However, if she finds her feet in the competition, she will provide incredible worth to the Blues’ midfield. Carlton is in high demand for a durable inside midfielder, and Hosking fits the bill. If she can, it also allows the flexibility of swinging Davey back into defence should the need eventuate.