Young, gifted and flash: Samantha Lewis picks nine Westfield W-League young guns to watch

A whole host of talented youngsters are threatening to hit the big time this season. Samantha Lewis picks out nine Westfield W-League players to keep an eye on.

Adelaide United: Chelsie Dawber (21)

After her best-ever outing with South Australian NPLW club Adelaide City, where she won the competition’s Golden Boot with 34 goals, 21-year old striker Chelsie Dawber returns to Adelaide United for her third consecutive season.

With just a handful of W-League appearances to her name so far, though, the upcoming pandemic-affected season could see Dawber play a much more significant role than in years past.

A pacey centre-forward with clinical finishing skills and an anticipatory football brain, Dawber is already exceeding her state-based peers and this Westfield W-League season could finally see her given the national platform to springboard into the next stage of her career.

Brisbane Roar: Jamilla Rankin (17)

With just a single Westfield W-League cap to her name, defender Jamilla Rankin will be hungry to prove why she’s so widely regarded in youth development circles in both Queensland and national team set-ups.

Having represented the under-17s team at multiple competitive tournaments, Rankin’s athletic style coupled with her powerful left-footed cross make her the quintessential modern-day full-back.

After winning the first ever Sue Monteath Award for the Queensland Academy of Sport’s Player of the Year in 2019, Rankin was one of the youngsters called into November’s Women’s Talent Identification Camp and will likely become Brisbane’s starting left-back, either this season or in future ones.

Rankin, Murphy, Heatley, Hecher, Margraf, Freier

Canberra United: Bianca Galic (21)

Regularly impressing for NSW NPLW club Sydney University, particularly over the past three seasons, 21-year old Bianca Galic has signed her first-ever professional contract with a Westfield W-League club, joining several University team-mates at Canberra United.

Having played almost every minute of Uni’s historic Premiership-Championship trophy haul in 2020, Galic has slowly built a reputation as one of the state’s most exciting young defensive midfielders.

With silky ball control, a sharp turning circle, enviable cross-field vision and penetrative passing skills, Galic has not yet been capped at national team level, but a break-out season with Canberra could see that change within months.

Melbourne City: Hollie Palmer (19)

After debuting for Brisbane Roar in 2017, 19-year old midfielder Hollie Palmer now leaves her hometown club for the first time, coming into a Melbourne City set-up that has just begun its first significant squad rebuild.

Palmer played an increasingly larger role at Brisbane before her switch and scored in key games during the 2019/20 season, including once in a 2-1 win over Newcastle and one of the four goals against City as they stormed to their second undefeated Premiership-Championship double.

The dynamic box-to-box midfielder has also represented the Young Matildas several times and will look to capitalise on City’s squad situation to become a household Westfield W-League name and ensure her name is in the mix for future national team camps.

Melbourne Victory: Kyra Cooney-Cross (18)

Despite earning her first Westfield W-League call-up for Melbourne Victory back in 2017 as a 15-year old, it took a loan move to Western Sydney for Young Matilda Kyra Cooney-Cross to burst onto the public stage.

Her impressive season with the Wanderers, which saw her score four goals and assist two more, was bested only by Ellie Carpenter at City in terms of the league’s best young players.

Now back at the club where it all began, the creative number 10 will likely be Victory’s key to unlock stubborn opposition defences, having further honed her 360-degree vision, passing accuracy, physicality and link-up play over the past 12 months.

Newcastle Jets: Sophie Harding (21)

Like Galic, Sydney-born striker Sophie Harding has not yet had a taste of Australia’s top tier, but that could all change as the 21-year old heads into her first season with Newcastle.

After impressing for the North-West Sydney Koalas in the NSW NPLW, finishing third on the 2020 Golden Boot tally, the lightning-quick forward has been recruited as a replacement for departed winger Teigan Collister.

Given the Jets have leaned into a counter-attacking style of play in recent seasons, having one of the fastest attackers in NSW on your books to complement the clinical finishing of Jets veteran Tara Andrews could result in some exciting potential upsets over possession-heavy sides.

Perth Glory: Hana Lowry (17)

Announcing herself onto the Westfield W-League stage with a rocket header last season, Perth native Hana Lowry is widely touted as the natural successor to Emily van Egmond as the Matildas’ future number 10.

The Junior Matilda was a stand-out during the U-16 AFC Women’s Asian Championships in late 2019 where she scored three goals, including one against heavyweights China in the final group game, and displayed a game awareness and passing vision that belies her 17 years.

Coupled with a traction-engine of a left foot and an ability to score goals from distance, Lowry is shaping up to play a central role in Perth’s emergence from their post-Sam Kerr hangover and prove herself as Australia’s next superstar.

Sydney FC: Rachel Lowe (20)

Just as Rachel Lowe was getting started in the Westfield W-League, making her debut for Western Sydney in 2016, she disappeared into the USA college system, joining Melbourne City goalkeeper Teagan Micah at UCLA for two years.

Now, the 20-year old is back, signing with Sydney FC in the off-season and looking like a crucial player as the club aims to maintain their historic top-four record.

In her early Westfield W-League appearances, the Young Matilda showed bursts of creativity and vision to rival both Lowry and Cooney-Cross, but her experience abroad has almost certainly sharpened those natural instincts – which will be all the more important as Lowe is the only clearly-identifiable attacking midfielder in Sydney’s squad this season.

Western Sydney Wanderers: Courtney Nevin (18)

As the only regular starter from the Wanderers’ impressive 2019/20 campaign to have re-signed this season, Courtney Nevin’s return to Western Sydney is a signal that she is part of coach Dean Heffernan’s long-term plans.

The 18-year-old full-back played in every game last season, and despite a handful of defensive hiccups, proved herself more than capable of matching it with some of the league’s strongest attackers, particularly on the physical level.

In addition, Nevin’s left-footed crossing ability combined with her talents over a dead ball, make her an important multi-dimensional asset, especially following the loss of Cooney-Cross in the off-season.

Courtney Nevin