Bonnie Toogood marks in front of Yvonne Bonner during the AFLW R3 match between Essendon and Adelaide at Unley Oval on September 16, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

CONTROLLING the air has always been a key to success in AFLW. Star players taking big pack marks have littered highlight reels since the competition launched in 2017, but this season individual players have used that aerial contest to take games by the scruff of the neck.

While Tayla Harris remains the all-time contested marking record holder in the AFLW, and the only player to have taken more than 100 in the competition's history, a slew of players are now nipping at her heels.

2023 contested marking leaders

No. of contested marks



Tayla Harris

Emma King

Breann Moody

Bonnie Toogood


Dakota Davidson


Jackie Parry


Aine Tighe


Gemma Houghton

Rebecca Privitelli

Eden Zanker

On feel alone, the prominence of contested marks in the game this year has been obvious to Essendon captain Bonnie Toogood.

"I think people are able to use their body much more. Protecting the zone and are stronger in their hands, in their arms, to actually complete the mark," Toogood told

Toogood herself is one of the players who have developed their aerial game significantly this season, already equalling her personal-best 12 contested marks in a season after just five games.

"I've just done a lot of craft," Toogood said, noting endless sessions with coach Natalie Wood throughout the 'pre-preseason'.

"Just getting reps and reps and reps under my belt of different scenarios that I could find myself in, and how to engage the body more… being able to use your body and protect space when kicks aren't coming to necessarily perfect."


Another contested marking leader this season, Brisbane forward Dakota Davidson views her ability to take those big marks as critical to her role in the team. And it is not just from a practical perspective of maintaining possession of the footy, but in terms of emotionally lifting the team with a big moment.

"It's vital for my game is a key forward and being able to take the mark to either have a shot or keep it locked in our forward half," Davidson told

"If you've got the ball in your hand, you've got all control the game. So, if you're taking big marks … it hugely controls the tempo of the game as well and how fast you can move it or slow you want to move.

"It's a one per cent moment, you see key forward taking a big mark and it gets you fired up. So, I think it's vital."


This season both Davidson and Toogood have set new personal bests in terms of contested marks, taking six and five in a single game respectively, while both Fremantle's Aine Tighe and Carlton's Breann Moody have also registered five in a game this year.

Consistency in that aerial presence from individual players is at an all-time high, with 51.1 per cent of games over the first five rounds featuring a player taking three or more contested marks.


No. of 3+ contested mark performances

No. of games played

Percentage of games with a player taking 3+ contested marks

2023 (RD 1-5)




2022 (S7)




2022 (S6)
























That ability to be a constant threat in the air comes down to two things according to Toogood and Davidson - improved fitness and time in the system.

"I definitely got fitter and stronger," Davidson said. 

"I know that that's my strength within the team, so I definitely worked on that at training. I did more upper body stuff in the gym, and I am fitter, therefore able to cover the ground a lot more."

For Toogood having that layer of fitness established, it meant she could switch her focus point in-game.

"You can actually focus on the craft a little bit more, instead of getting to the spot you need to get to and being spent, you're like 'I'm getting to my spot, now I know how to actually execute the craft'," Toogood explained.

Charlie Rowbottom takes a strong mark in front of Niamh Kelly during the AFLW R5 match between Gold Coast and Adelaide at Unley Oval on October 1, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

And that craft? It's all about the footwork, according to Toogood.

"It's actually more to do with your footwork than it is anything else, and making sure that you're able to get your feet in the right position so you're actually launching into the zone that you've protected," she said.

Combining that increased fitness with consecutive pre-seasons, time developing chemistry with teammates, and improving game awareness has created the perfect storm for players like Toogood and Davidson to dominate the air.

"The predictability of the game and the speed and level at which AFLW is played, you can't replicate it at any other level," Toogood said. 

"So actually just getting used to how the ball could come out of stoppage, if it's just a dump kick how that is different to then actually getting out on a lead. And you're constantly anticipating… so you're reading, reading and reacting to the play before your opposition does because they're going to be worried about you."

For Davidson, the chemistry she has developed with those sending the ball forward in recent years has been just as important to her increased output as her fitness.

"I think judgment of the game and obviously playing with the same group of players like Ally Anderson and Belle Dawes, understanding how they're going to come out of contests, how they like to hit those short kicks," Davidson said. 

"Understanding my players but also understanding my game and the pace of it and how everything works, and just being around the ground a lot more. And I think being in the system a long time has definitely given me an advantage."

Harriet Cordner flies for a mark during the AFLW R4 match between Carlton and Richmond at Ikon Park on September 23, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

While individual players are coming to the fore, there are also teams that are utilising contested marking in their gameplan, and others who rise to the occasion when challenged in the air.

Round one's Showdown between Adelaide and Port Adelaide saw the equal-third most contested marks taken in an AFLW game, with 17 different players taking at least one for the game. Eight of those were from Port Adelaide in its second AFLW season, nine from Adelaide in its eighth.

Both sides sit in the top third of the competition for average contested marks this season, trailing only Melbourne and Carlton in the metric.

Most average contested marks in 2023

Avg. contested marks










Port Adelaide

And as the game continues to evolve, with players spending more time developing their craft thanks to increased contact hours, and clubs able to dedicate more hours to that team connection piece thanks to longer training sessions, contested marking will further rise in prominence.

In the meantime, there's one thing Davidson is sure of when it comes to contested marks.

"I love taking them."