THE COUNTDOWN is on until Round 1 of the AFLW season, with Melbourne’s campaign kicking off at Casey Fields on Saturday afternoon.

There will be plenty of excitement around the return of Daisy Pearce, while the likes of Karen Paxman, Elise O’Dea and Aliesha Newman will be lighting it up for the Demons once again.

But there are some girls that have been flying under the radar over the off-season and have the ability to take their games to the next level this year.

Get up to speed with some of the Dees’ brightest young talents below.

Maddi Gay

Maddi Gay is gearing up for her second season in the red and blue and appears ready to become a star of the AFLW competition.

The former Blue is still relatively new to Aussie Rules, but she reads the game as well as anyone and is one of the classiest ball users in the side.

Gay played the majority of her footy across half-forward in 2019, but she looks like an onballer who could be a weapon for the Dees in the centre.

The 23-year-old is relentless in her attack on the footy and isn’t afraid to put her body on the line for the team.

Melbourne looks to have a stacked midfield group with Pearce, Paxman and O’Dea to join forces, but expect Gay to help out at the stoppages and hit the scoreboard when pushing inside 50.

Tyla Hanks

Tyla Hanks is arguably the most natural footballer on the Demons’ list.

She’s incredibly balanced, shows poise with ball in hand and has elite skills by foot.

While Hanks is entering just her second season in the AFLW, she has already proven her capability at the top level.

The talented 19-year-old was selected with pick No.6 in the 2018 AFLW Draft and played all seven games in her debut year.

Hanks is a dynamic small forward who will play predominantly inside 50 in 2020, but similarly to Gay, has the ability to have a major impact in the centre of the ground.

There will be no expectations on Hanks to perform so early in her career, but the youngster thrives on the big stage and is more than ready to be a match winner for the Dees this season.

Chantel Emonson

Chantel Emonson is proving to be a great find by the Melbourne recruiters after being selected as a rookie in the lead up to 2019.

The smooth-moving half-back flanker cemented her spot in the side last year, averaging 10 disposals in her seven games for the Dees.

While Emonson has the potential to use her run and carry up the field, she may find herself playing a crucial defensive role on the back of injuries to Katherine Smith and Shae Sloane.

The 26-year-old is a non-fuss competitor who receives little credit for her efforts, but will continue to win her one-on-one contests and clear for the ball for her side.

Emonson is a talented cricketer who has adapted to footy quickly and will only get better with every game she plays.

Eden Zanker

Eden Zanker was selected in the first round of the 2017 AFLW Draft, and in her first two years with the Dees, has shown exactly why.

The highly rated youngster stands at 183cm and can take a strong mark inside 50.

Zanker is a flexible key forward who has a knack for the goals, but will also play an important role in the ruck early this season due to the absence of Lauren Pearce.

The 20-year-old has had a big pre-season and is a true professional in the way she prepares for a game.

While Zanker may still be years away from her best footy, what she can deliver this season is exciting in itself.

Shelley Heath

Shelley Heath may just be 160cm tall, but she’s as tough as they come.

At eight years of age, Heath was an Australian Taekwondo champion, and she has since been able to put her skills to use on the footy field.

The 19-year-old made a promising start to her career playing two games in her debut season and looks to be a great find at pick No.44 in the 2018 AFLW Draft.

Heath will be a much more prominent figure in the side this year, expected to move up onto the wing to make use of her endurance and work ethic.

She is a fierce tackler and a nimble player who will continue to improve as 2020 wears on.