In the first of a two-part series reviewing the 2022 rebel VFLW season, VFL reporter Brendan Rhodes assesses the six teams that played finals this year.

Continue below for a club-by-club review of each of the finalists.

Position: Premiers
W-L-D (%): 15-0-2 (397.07)

Players used: 35
Played every match:
A Radford, C Ugle
Debutants: 13

Longest winning streak: 6 (Rounds 6-11)
Best win: Grand Final: Essendon 6.6 (42) def Southern Saints 0.7 (7)
Biggest win: Round 1: Essendon 15.8 (98) def Western Bulldogs 0.0 (0)

Lambert-Pearce Medal: G Nanscawen 33 (winner), M Clifford 11, F Frew 5
Coaches MVP: G Nanscawen 69 (winner), A Radford 37, F Frew 26
Top 3 goalkickers: F Frew 35 (winner), M Clifford 21, R Tierney 18 and C McIntosh 18 

Disposals: G Nanscawen 374 (2nd), A Radford 360 (3rd), J Zanchetta 285 (5th)
Kicks: A Radford 211 (2nd), G Nanscawen 202 (4th)
Marks: M Clifford 71 (1st), R Tierney 63 (3rd), D Marshall 60 (5th), A Radford 55 (8th)
Handballs: G Nanscawen 172 (1st), J Zanchetta 167 (2nd), A Radford 149 (4th), C Ugle 102 (10th)
Tackles: G Nanscawen 131 (2nd)
Hitouts: S Nalder 403 (1st)

What went right: Pretty much everything. The Bombers took all before them in compiling an undefeated premiership season to put together the perfect warm-up to their ongoing AFLW debut. Georgia Nanscawen won her second consecutive Lambert-Pearce Medal and also claimed the inaugural rebel Coaches MVP. Federica Frew dominated the leading goalkicker award ahead of her co-captain Mia-Rae Clifford after being repurposed as a forward. Amelia Radford was the breakout star of the season, Alana Barba was best-on-ground in a Grand Final they won without conceding a goal. The Bombers also had the No.1 player in marks (Clifford), handballs (Nanscawen) and hitouts (Simone Nalder).

What went wrong: Not much. Being held to draws by Southern Saints early in the season and Hawthorn just before the finals was as close as it got to a hiccup for Essendon, while Nanscawen’s knee injury late in the last quarter of the Grand Final put a slight dampener on the premiership celebrations.

Summary: Five-year plans don’t often come to fruition, but this one could not have gone any better for Brendan Major and his team. The Bombers entered the competition with a one-win wooden-spoon season in 2018 and grew to make a preliminary final last year before becoming the unstoppable juggernaut they were in 2022. Major rides off into the sunset after a job well done, with the team well set to thrive into the future.

Grade: 10/10

Position: 2nd
W-L-D (%): 12-5-1 (122.68)

Players used: 43
Played every match:
I Gentile, A Hynes, D Jolliffe, R Neaves, H Stuart
Debutants: 9

Longest winning streak: 4 (Rounds 9-12 and Rounds 14-Preliminary Final)
Best win: Preliminary Final: Southern Saints 5.5 (35) def Casey Demons 2.3 )15_
Biggest win: Round 9: Southern Saints 9.4 (58) def Darebin 1.3 (9)
Longest losing streak: 1 (five occasions)
Worst loss: Grand Final: Southern Saints 0.7 (7) lost to Essendon 6.6 (42)
Biggest loss: Round 6: Southern Saints 1.2 (8) lost to Casey Demons 14.13 (97)

Lambert-Pearce Medal: H Stuart 14, G Buchan 6, A Peck 5
Coaches MVP: H Stuart 63, G Buchan 27, W Laing 27
Top 3 goalkickers: T Kearns 15, C Slater 12, O Flanagan 10 and G De Angelis 10

Disposals: H Stuart 405 (1st), G Buchan 271 (8th), R Neaves 256 (10th)
Kicks: H Stuart 253 (1st), G Buchan 201 (6th)
Marks: G Buchan 62 (4th)
Handballs: H Stuart 152 (3rd), R Neaves 111 (8th), W Laing 103 (9th)
Tackles: H Stuart 119 (4th), A Woodward 78 (10th)
Hitouts: S Black 304 (5th)

What went right: The Saints showed what they were capable of at certain times throughout the season, drawing with and pushing Essendon in both their matches after ending Collingwood’s unbeaten streak in Round 1, while they also knocked off last year’s grand finalist Geelong in Geelong twice, including in an elimination final. Hannah Stuart took the competition by storm to earn a spot on St Kilda’s AFLW list, while several other players are also now living their AFLW dreams.

What went wrong: The loss early to Carlton in the season ended up costing the Saints a home final, and although they overcame that with three wonderful upset away victories in June, it probably caught up with them in the biggest game of the year when they were simply smothered by the Bomber machine.

Summary: The Saints came to life late in the season, winning eight of their last 10 games and only losing to the Bombers in that time. And they did it without calling heavily on their St Kilda players, with only 10 AFLW Saints lining up at VFLW level and playing just 24 matches between them – 16 of those between now Swan Annabel Woodward and Lucy Burke. Forget the Grand Final loss, there is so much at Trevor Barker Oval to build on in 2023.

Grade: 8/10

Position: 3rd
W-L-D (%): 12-5-0 (170.35)

Players used: 51
Played every match:
M Hogg, A Kirkwood
Debutants: 21

Longest winning streak: 9 (Rounds 1-9)
Best win: Round 7: Casey Demons 5.6 (36) def Collingwood 3.11 (29)
Biggest win: Round 4: Casey Demons 15.7 (97) def Western Bulldogs 1.0 (6)
Longest losing streak: 2 (Rounds 10-11, 2nd Semi-Prelim)
Worst loss: Preliminary Final: Casey Demons 2.3 (15) lost to Southern Saints 5.5 (35)
Biggest loss: 2nd Semi Final: Casey Demons 1.3 (9) lost to Essendon 11.10 (76)

Lambert-Pearce Medal: S Johnson 10, B Tarrant 6, E West 6
Coaches MVP: S Johnson 40, T Fellows 34, M Hogg 18, E West 18
Top 3 goalkickers: T Fellows 12, C McCrossan 11, A Dowler 11

Disposals: M Hogg 285 (6th)
Handballs: M Hogg 129 (5th)
Hitouts: L Wales 198 (10th)

What went right: The Demons started the season like a house on fire, winning their first nine matches while also using the second-highest number of players throughout the season. The streak included first-ever wins over Geelong and Collingwood while they smashed eventual grand finalist Southern Saints by almost 15 goals. Tahlia Fellows dominated to the extent she was picked up by AFLW newcomer Hawthorn, as was first-year ruck Lucy Wales, while Brenna Tarrant went the same way to Sydney. Irishwoman Cara McCrossan was a revelation in her first full season of footy and Sammie Johnson and Mel Hogg led from the front.

What went wrong: Things became a lot tougher once the winning streak was ended by Hawthorn in Round 10, coinciding with a run of games against fellow premiership contenders. They lost five of their last eight games – two to the Bombers, although they almost sprung an upset in Round 14 – plus the Hawks, Magpies and Saints in the preliminary final. Losing Fellows during that run was probably the major factor in that drop off.

Summary: The Demons can be well satisfied with their season as they continue to build towards a premiership tilt. They beat Collingwood twice, including winning a final for the first time, they had several players drafted and were able to hand debuts to no less than 21 players as they kept one eye on the future. Expect them to be right in the mix again next year.

Grade: 8/10

Position: 4th
W-L-D (%): 12-3-1 (251.94)

Players used: 48
Played every match:
N Garner, S Perrott

Longest winning streak: 9 (Rounds 3-11)
Best win: Round 10: Hawthorn 7.11 (53) def Casey Demons 2.2 (14)
Biggest win: Round 5: Hawthorn 16.12 (108) def Western Bulldogs 1.1 (7)
Longest losing streak: 2 (Qualifying-1st Semi)
Worst loss: 1st Semi: Hawthorn 6.3 (39) lost to Southern Saints 8.7 (55)
Biggest loss: Qualifying: Hawthorn 1.1 (7) lost to Essendon 8.12 (60)

Lambert-Pearce Medal: T Luke 20, J Mifsud 8, T Cunningham 5, A Holmes 5, L Szigeti 5
Coaches MVP: T Luke 43, D Carbone 31, K Stratton 24
Top 3 goalkickers: J Williams 21, K Stratton 21, T Luke 13

Marks: T Luke 58 (7th)
Hitouts: S Perrott 238 (8th)

What went right: After winning just five of 14 games in 2021, the Hawks were the breakout team this year and one of the best two line-ups in the competition for most of the season, with their only loss during the home-and-away campaign being a low-scoring affair against Geelong at Geelong in Round 2. They twice kicked over 100 points – the only team to do so – twice held an opposition team goalless and conceded no more than 33 points in any home-and-away game.

What went wrong: The announcement that AFLW Season 7 would be brought forward to an August start saw the Hawks understandably turn their attention to their debut campaign at the top level. Hawthorn struggled to put Williamstown away in the last game of the regular and was thrashed by Essendon in the qualifying final before falling short in a tight contest against the Saints in a home first semi to end their premiership hopes in straight sets.

Summary: The Hawks got everything they wanted out of the VFLW season before joining the AFLW competition. They showed they were good enough to win the premiership at full strength, found out who they wanted to take forward into the elite competition and saw several players also win opportunities on other AFLW lists after strong form in brown and gold, including Aimee Whelan, Lauren Szigeti, Emma Humphries, Jaide Anthony and Montana Beruldsen. They also got games into one of the next big things in Bridget Deed.

Grade: 8/10

Position: 5th
W-L-D (%): 10-5-0 (159.47)

Players used: 46
Played every match: I Hill
Debutants: 21

Longest winning streak: 5 (Rounds 10-14)
Best win: Round 2: Geelong 5.3 (33) def Hawthorn 2.3 (15)
Biggest win: Round 1: Geelong 11.7 (73) def Carlton 2.2 (14)
Longest losing streak: 3 (Rounds 4-6)
Worst loss: Elimination: Geelong 2.6 (18) lost to Southern Saints 4.2 (26)
Biggest loss: Round 6: Geelong 1.5 (11) lost to Essendon 13.11 (89)

Lambert-Pearce Medal: P Sheppard 12, R Caris 8, L Gardiner 8
Coaches MVP: P Sheppard 62 (3rd), L Gardiner 50, T Smith 28
Top 3 goalkickers: M Skinner 21, M Bragg 8, S De Giacomi 6 and P Scott 6

Disposals: P Sheppard 283 (7th)
Kicks: P Sheppard 190 (8th), T Smith 189 (9th)
Handballs: L Gardiner 124 (6th)
Tackles: T Smith 123 (3rd), P Sheppard 85 (8th)

What went right: Last year’s grand finalist looked like picking up where it left off with three big wins to start the season, while the Cats also gained the bragging rights over the premiership decider that never was with two convincing wins over Collingwood. The early win over Hawthorn looked better the longer the season went. Paige Sheppard’s brilliant season saw her picked up by Sydney’s new AFLW team while Laura Gardiner broke all sorts of records during a crazy mid-season run. Mia Skinner’s 21 goals in her first season as a forward was another highlight.

What went wrong: Similar to Hawthorn, the Cats prioritised the AFLW once Season 7’s start date was brought forward, and it proved to be the end of their premiership chances. Losing Gardiner was a blow they couldn’t overcome and they would be disappointed to drop their home elimination final after earning that right with five straight wins, even though the Saints went all the way to the Grand Final.

Summary: Inconsistency was probably the biggest issue with the Cats’ campaign and losing three home matches in a row to the Saints, Demons and Bombers showed exactly where they were at this season. But they showed plenty at important times – those last five home-and-away wins all came away from home, while their AFLW form has justified what they did back in May and June.

Grade: 7/10

Position: 6th
W-L-D (%): 7-8-0 (84.56)

Players used: 44
Played every match:
N Hales, D Hallett, M Neal
Debutants: 12

Longest winning streak: 4 (Rounds 10-13)
Best win: Round 11: Collingwood 4.7 (31) def Casey Demons 3.3 (21)
Biggest win: Round 10: Collingwood 8.7 (55) def Darebin 3.3 (21)
Longest losing streak: 4 (Rounds 6-9)
Worst loss: Round 6: Collingwood 4.8 (32) lost to Carlton 5.5 (35)
Biggest loss: Round 9: Collingwood 3.3 (21) lost to Essendon 14.10 (94)

Lambert-Pearce Medal: M Zander 14, E O’Dea 8, N Dojiok 4
Coaches MVP: M Zander 54, E Jackson 23, N Hales 22
Top 3 goalkickers: N Dojiok 9, M Zander 9, M Dematteo 7

Kicks: M Zander 202 (4th), N Hales 186 (10th)
Marks: N Hales 59 (6th)
Tackles: D Hallett 135 (1st), M Neal 112 (5th)

What went right: The wins were more individual for the Magpies this year, with their brightest spot as a team being the four-straight wins late in the year as they rallied to secure a finals berth. Matilda Zander got better as the season went on to finish third in the Lambert-Pearce Medal, Demi Hallett tackled like a woman possessed to lead the league, Nic Hales and Katie Lee produced strong campaigns and Nyakoat Dojiok showed herself to be a player of the future.

What went wrong: The Magpies were never able to build any momentum, going 1-6 against the other five finalists, with the four straight losses in the middle of the year putting paid to any real chance to defend their 2019 premiership. Going down to Carlton for the first time will also rankle them until they get a chance to put that right.

Summary: Having gone undefeated in 18 matches stretching back to 2019, the Magpies entered the season as flag favourites and within two wins of breaking Darebin’s VFLW record of 20. That was knocked on the head immediately by the Southern Saints and they never really recovered, having to fight and scrap all season just to make the top six, where they were promptly brushed aside by the Casey Demons. They used only 11 AFLW players for a combined 31 matches, which explains the drop off a bit. Expect them to bounce back quickly.

Grade: 6/10

Up next: A review of the six teams that missed the finals in 2022