So, we’re at the halfway point and the contenders have emerged. Here is our Mongrel team wrap up of the Round Four AFLW action.

 

MELBOURNE 7.4.46 DEFEATED COLLINGWOOD 4.2.26 – HB MEYERS

We came into this game with two of the more dominant players of the season looking to carry their teams to victories.

For the Dees, Karen Paxman has been solid as a rock, whilst for the Magpies, Jaimee Lambert had been perfect as far as the coaches were concerned, picking up 30 of a possible 30 votes through the first three rounds.

The Dees would prevail on a night soured by a knee injury to Ash Brazzill.

Here’s what stood out.

 

PAXMAN-IA

So, if this were a title fight, between Lambert and Paxman, the final bell rang with Paxman gaining a win not only on the scoreboard, but in what was a personal duel with Lambert as well.

Paxman played four solid quarters, despite being under the pump early in the game. The Pies were hot whenever Paxman had her hands on the ball, and managed to catch her with the footy a couple of times, but she was able to gather herself and spearhead the Melbourne midfield as they steadied the ship, taking everything the Pies could throw at them and hitting back hard.

For the evening, Paxman gathered 24 touches to lead all players, and has really put her stamp on this season.

 

A BURST OF LAMBERT BRILLIANCE

Lambert copped an errant elbow early in the game and had to lead the field due to blood flowing down her face. It was a good look for her – she is hard as nails and returned the field patched up and with a nice shiner starting to develop. It suited her – and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Lambert is a warrior, and to start the third quarter, she gave the league a reminder as to why she was judged best on ground in the first three weeks of the season.

Her centre square work with Sharni Layton was exceptional. She had two touches in the first 20 seconds and refused to allow her team to go quietly into the night. Her tackle on Sinead Goldrick in the second quarter was bone-jarring, and her willingness to put her head over the footy earned her a goal.

I have a feeling Lambert may be judged second best on ground in this game, but there is no doubting her influence on this competition this season. She is a star.

 

TWO GENUINE CLASSY FORWARDS

I don’t hear much about Shelley Scott, but I know a natural footballer when I see one. She gets to the right spots, takes marks or wins the footy at ground level, and is always looking at doing something creative with it.

Her combination up forward with Kate Hore is one of the best, and most unsung forward combinations in AFLW at the moment.

Both women look fluent when they get the ball – as though it is second nature to have the footy in their hands. Hore moves beautifully, whilst Scott’s reading of the play makes her one of the best in the league at being in the right place at the right time.

The more I watch the Dees, the more I think they may have found the right combination to give the flag a shake, and the combination of Hore and Scott go a long way to making me think that way.

 

LIBBY BIRCH

A lot was made of Libby Birch’s return game against the Western Bulldogs the other week, and whilst she was good in that one, she was very good in this one again.

One of the few who refuse to be drawn to the contest, Birch plays her role well, dropping back to goal keep when the opposition presses and drifting off her opponent to make a spoil and help teammates out.

My guess is that there isn’t a heap that’ll be written about Birch in this game, but from what I saw, her presence was vitally important to the Demons’ defensive structure, and I’d estimate that she would have been worth a couple of goals in this game.

 

THE KNEE

Collingwood’s finals chances took a nosedive with solid defender, and reigning All-Australian half back, Ash Brazzill crumpling to the turf as her knee gave way. If you’ve ever hurt your knee, this is exactly how you don’t want to do it.

Foot planted, trying to change direction and you just feel something go. It’s horrible.

The game stopped as Brazzill was stretchered from the ground. Hoping she has a speedy recovery.

 

QUICK BITS

I liked what I saw from Brit Bonnici in this one. A solid four quarter effort.

Katie Lynch showed a bit in limited opportunities – her pressure was very good, and her attack on Katie Hore at one point was very nice.

It was the best game I’ve seen Sharni Layton play, and she really managed to impose herself at points. She still gets around like a baby giraffe, but she is learning how to use her body to make space, and her tackling efforts were particularly impressive.

Eden Zanker… she is a bit like a car crash at times. It’s scary, yet I can’t look away. She is all arms, legs and multiple directions, yet she is compelling, and always attracts attention whenever she is even remotely near the ball. She gets both hands to the footy often, but needs to start clunking marks.

Tyla Hanks is starting to look really poised with the ball in hand. At 19, she has a lot to work with.

And Daisy… how can you not like Daisy? I did see her get caught holding the ball in this one, which rarely happens, but given it was Lambert that got her, there is no shame in this. She still has great hands, and I hope that she is able to move into the midfield and get back to her best next season – kids really knock you around.

Finally, Chloe Molloy – I watched her in her rookie year and thought she could be the best player in the game. The injury she suffered in 2019 is the kind of injury that can slow anyone, but I reckon it’s time she takes the bull by the horns, or some other part and gives it a bit of what for. It’s time Chloe Molloy takes a game over and makes it hers.

 

GEELONG 10.7 (67) DEFEATED RICHMOND  – DANIEL JON KERSHAW

Richmond and Geelong met on Queen Elizabeth Oval in Bendigo to battle for the mantle of best team with a feline mascot who are not named Brisbane. While it was awarded to the Cats, Tigers supporters will be reassured that there was a significant improvement in this week’s game.

By all accounts, this should not have been a close game. Geelong dominated the possession and inside 50s count, but the Tigers were able to stay in touch with good pressure in the second half and a quick scurry of goals in the third.

The highlight of the game was the score. At an aggregate score of 112, it was just 5 points shy of the highest scoring game ever in the AFLW. I was really hoping the record would be broken, but the goals dried up in the 4th.

The lowlight was the ugly bump on Richmond captain Katie Brennan by Jordan Ivey. Going for a bump while your opponent is crumbing for the ball is straight out reckless and if the recent decision on Roos defender Marley Williams is anything to go by, Ivey should miss a couple of weeks for high contact, especially since Brennan didn’t see the game out.

Now, with all that out of the way, let’s have a look at some of the standout performances for the game.

Richelle Cranston

Geelong forward Cranston has a nickname of Rocky and it was on show during the game as she looking extremely menacing in the forward 50, bouldering her way towards the ball and taking a few great contested grabs. Richelle kicked two goals, but what really demonstrated her impact on the game was her 15 possessions.

Olivia Purcell

At just 19 years of age, Olivia Purcell is destined for a very big future. Not only was she instrumental in the Geelong engine room with 20 touches, but she also threw her small forward boots on with a sneaky goal in the third. She’s one of those rare players in the AFLW that are swing up and make an impact on the board. Keep an eye on this one in the next few years. She’s a very exciting prospect.

Monique Conti

Conti was the shining light for Richmond with a game-high 28 possessions. In a game where Geelong were often unstoppable in the middle, Conti helped keep the game in check with her clean possessions and aggression (5 tackles).

It will surprise no one to learn that her beautiful hand skills and ability to find teammates in a hotly contested battle derives from her basketball background, a term commentators love banging on about. But the fact remains is she is an amazing athlete, reaching the status of elite in two separate codes.

Courtney Wakefield

The other great performance to come from the Tigers was from key forward Courtney Wakefield. In AFLW, teams sometimes struggle to find two majors in 60 minutes, but Wakefield was able to kick three by herself. She has previously said she bases her game on Jack Riewoldt, which shows with her fantastic positioning up forward.

Overall, an entertaining game that displayed sleek ball movement and a shower of goals. You can’t ask for anything more.

 

WEST COAST EAGLES 4.6.(30) DEFEATED WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.8. (26) – ALEX DOCHERTY

Firstly, congratulations to the West Coast for winning their first game in the AFLW. As a Dogs’ supporter, it absolutely sucks that it has to be at our expense, but as a supporter of the league, you can’t help but feel happy for them after what has been a rough initiation – especially their last two weeks.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I started genuinely believing that they would go through the year without a win in conference B, the way they were churning out performances. But they were bound to turn the corner eventually. And it had to start with their pressure around the ground, as they expertly applied in the first quarter.

Seems to be a common theme here, the Bulldogs were caught unawares at the start for the third straight week and the Eagles could do what they like. I don’t know if it’s a mental issue or not, but it needs to be looked at quick-smart, otherwise a side like Collingwood, Fremantle or North – who the Dogs play in the next three weeks – will have the match sewn up by quarter time.

After the Bulldogs wrestled momentum back in the second term, it was the Eagles’ turn. They did it with a couple of clever goals in the third quarter. Emma Swanson’s snap to start the term was a beauty, before Hayley Bullas pulled off one of the flukiest goals you’ll ever see. She was planted on her backside, but not before the heel of her boot tapped the ball through the big sticks. That’s how I knew it wasn’t going to be the Dogs’ day.

The Dogs had their chances in the last quarter, but they couldn’t put them away where they needed to. Kirsten McLeod is one of the AFLW’s greatest tease. I have loved watching her play the past few weeks – has done everything except put the goals on the board consistently. She kicked 0.3 – including one that would’ve put them ahead late in the piece. All I can say is that I hope she continues to play the way she has been playing – I hope the goals will come to her, eventually, she’s a good talent. Gabby Newton had her best game of the season I thought. She just puts her head down and you know you’re going to get a good performance out of her. She showed flashes of brilliance with her disposal at times, and that’s perhaps the one thing I’m excited to see from her in five years’ time: Just watching her flourish into a superstar midfielder. Ellie Blackburn worked hard for her footy, but I thought her disposal let her down at stages during the game and only laid one tackle, which I’ll be frank, isn’t good enough.

I think this was the first time I’ve mentioned Eleanor Brown in the best players. I really liked her work across the defensive 50, she was plucking intercept marks, strong contested grabs and was getting involved in the run and carry out of defensive 50. Naomi Ferres as well had another strong game in defence and did everything she could to keep the Eagles from scoring. Gemma Lagioia I thought was also terrific playing across half-back and the wing. She often found herself on the end of some plays that enabled her to run with the footy and use it by foot – often hitting the target.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been firm in my belief that Eagles’ captain Emma Swanson was not an A-Grade midfielder, but on Saturday, she did a bloody good job to convince me otherwise. She was the best player on the ground. The Vice-captain Dana Hooker just continued to do what she does best and that’s win the football at the coalface. These two are just amazing how they take hits and keep on going.

I was very impressed with the Kelly sisters. Obviously, there were some big wraps for the both of them, coming from Ireland and given the AFLW’s track record in producing quality talent from there. This was their breakout games. Niamh Kelly on the wing was electric with her 16 disposals, whilst Grace up forward gave the Bulldogs defence problems all game long and she was finally rewarded with a goal in the last quarter. I also liked Parris Laurie’s game in the ruck. She was able to provide first-use in the ruck all day.

 

NORTH MELBOURNE 6.11. (47) DEFEATED GOLD COAST 5.4. (34) – ALEX DOCHERTY

Aside from watching my own side this weekend, this was the game I was very keen to watch. A bona fide premiership contender in North Melbourne against a side that has truly captured my interest for their ability to make their games a real fight, in the Gold Coast Suns. The fact that it was the first game at North’s beloved home of Arden Street in what must be eons is just a sentimental bonus.

My expectation was that it was going to be an exciting contest, and it didn’t disappoint. North were expected to win this game, and whilst they took home chocolates, it certainly didn’t come without a challenge from this Gold Coast outfit. I think that’s the thing I love the most about the Suns – they don’t give a damn who they’re playing, they give a damn about turning up and showing out to the sides such as North Melbourne.

Just 13 points separated the Roos and the Suns by full-time, but one has to wonder what would happen if North could’ve kicked straight – 17 scoring shots to nine meant that the Roos could’ve won by far more, realistically. However, the way the Suns kept willing themselves contest to contest just confirms what I knew about them round one – they’re tough, exciting to watch and they’ll take nothing from no one – they are that determined. They have a record of 1-2 and a draw. They are definitely playing well above that.

Emma Kearney started the game like a house on fire, registering eight disposals in the first quarter and finished with 26 disposals for the evening. It was almost like a virtuoso performance of her 2018 days when she still had that little bit of red on her jumper. Jasmine Garner – is she the best player in the competition this year? Not only is she doing her usual bit up forward, providing a presence inside 50, but her work in the middle has been unbelievable. It’s almost Erin Phillips-like the way she operates.

Ellie Gavalas had her best game in the blue and white this year. I love how she gets her hands to the footy, but her ability by foot leaves a bit to be desired – brush that up and she’s up there for recruit of the year. Ash Riddell continued her brilliant start to the year with another big game in the middle and the Irishwoman Aileen Gilroy did plenty of nice things working on half-back, showed great bursts of pace and certainly can use the footy.

There’s always one Gold Coast player that gets my attention per week. Jamie Stanton, Kate Surman and Kalinda Howarth were the ones that I liked in the first three weeks. This week it’s Lauren Bella. I rated her highly in her under-18s days, and yesterday showed exactly why. She was dominant in the hitouts, but the one thing that I think has impressed me has been her second and third efforts. 10 disposals and three marks to go with her 21 hitouts.

Howarth bobbed up again with two goals to back up her bag of three she had last week in the Q-Clash. Watching her, Surman and Britt Perry in the forward 50 is a joy to watch. Jamie Stanton was fantastic in the middle as she has been all season, as has been Jacqui Yorston, who continues to impress as a contested ball winner. Whilst watching Jade Pregelj and Lauren Ahrens hold the line in the defensive 50 were very impressive. One of those two will most likely be Sun of the week next round.

 

CARLTON 5.6. (36) DEFEATED ADELAIDE 4.4. (28) – MATTHEW PASSMORE

Carlton travelled over to Adelaide for the grand final rematch. Hoping for a much more competitive effort than they could manage in front of fifty thousand at the Adelaide oval, the Blues girls were hoping that another pre-season could close the gap between them and the best. An up and down season found Adelaide wanting a win, and they were rightly boosted by the return of stars Erin Phillips and Rhiannon Metcalfe from long injury lay-offs.

The first quarter was all Adelaide as Phillips played as if she hadn’t missed a match. The Crows’ superstar controlled the 50 and used her great kick and decision making to bring in the Adelaide’s forwards, setting up an early a shot on goal to Hatchard. The other returning player in Metcalfe opened her return to the game with a genuine mongrel punt, which found its way through for the opening goal of the match.

The Carlton girls weren’t about to go away though. After conceding the first ten or so minutes of footy to their adversaries, the Blues got organised both behind and in front of the ball. Generally, the Crows are much cleaner by hand when it comes to ground ball, but the Blues are very good at controlling the game by air.

The pressure in each side’s forward line was terrific early, with clear possession difficult to come by. Adelaide managed to manufacture goals and forward 50 from nothing, but the Blues were looking to be much more structured and organised with their forward 50 entry. The slower speed of the Blues played into the hands of the Crows’ back five, but once the Blues started finding space and targets (and a pretty lucky free kick) they were able to kick two in a row to bring the half time margin back to five points.

The start of the second half showed the difference between the two sides. An easy clearance for the Blues turned into 4 handballs, a fumble, turn over and two kicks later the Crows had another goal on the board. Knowing when to handball and when to kick long is a skill that is often lacking in younger or less good sides. Fortunately for the blues, though, they replied quickly, and a second goal to Tayla Harris put the blues in front.

In the end, Adelaide looked tired. They never stopped fighting, but they weren’t able to maintain their early pressure which allowed Carlton to control the ball and gain ascendency. As Carlton took the lead, Adelaide began worrying and that worry turned into some clumsiness I hadn’t seen from them for the entire game.

I must admit, for most of the game I thought Adelaide were going to win and win with relative comfort. They just looked cleaner and faster than the Blues. However, the organisation and control in which the Blues played their footy was enough to wear down the admirable Crows and see them win what was a pretty good game of football.

 

My thoughts from both sides:

I thought the Blues structure themselves very well. Their defence is difficult to penetrate and they regularly intercepted Adelaide’s attempts to kick the ball long out of defence.

The way the Blues control the ball by air is excellent. They move quickly, but with patience, and look for the best target to deliver the ball to by foot. Once it’s on the ground, though, they panicked under pressure and often over handballed to their own detriment. With their strong defensive structures, they need to learn that sometimes kicking the ball forward and risking a turn-over there will hurt them much less than turning the ball over from a handball.

I liked Harris’s game up forward. She was most threatening for the Blues up forward, but her accuracy took away her chance to kick a bag. She finished with 2.3 and really led from the front in a good performance.

I thought Vaomua Laloifi was terrific for Carlton. In a team who requires structure and a mark-kick strategy to move forward, Laloifi is a live-wire. She hits the ball hard and is much cleaner than her team, really being the only player who you could trust to create an opportunity out of nothing. She was rewarded with a great goal in the last quarter to put the Blues 9 points up.

Maddy Prespakis was fantastic around the ground. The forward gathered 20 touches and was dominant in the second quarter particularly.

I liked Adelaide’s speed and pressure that they played with. For the most part, they were the cleaner team and needed fewer disposals to penetrate their 50, and generally looked much cleaner when they did. However, their pressure died off somewhat, and they lost structure both forward and back which allowed Carlton to be more patient with their ball use in the second half. The Crows looked a much more dynamic team, but also tended to kick forward to a turnover when a bit more patience could have allowed them to better form a contest or set up better in case a turn-over happened.

I thought Phillips was good in her return game. She started at CHF and controlled the forward 50. Later, as the Crows felt the pressure, she moved herself to the midfield and lead from the front there.

Anne Hatchard was very good for the entire game, controlling much of Adelaide’s ball use. 26 touches and a goal is usually enough to be best on ground for any side.

 

Injured Jess Foley – Ankle

 

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS – HB MEYERS

I was really interested to see how Erin Phillips went in her comeback game and whilst she had moments, she was always going to take some time to adjust to life at the highest level.

I particularly liked the way Vaomua Laloifi shook Phillips as she tried to evade her. When someone has a knee injury, it is the change of direction you worry about most. Laloifi changed directions a couple of times in as many seconds before darting away from Phillips. Very intelligent play.

Tayla Harris is slowly working her way from being useless to being very, very useful, isn’t she? Her marking was really impressive, particularly opposed to Sarah Allan, who didn’t have her most productive day at the office.

I’m still loving the work of Anne Hatchard, and she was powering on in the last quarter while many others were slowed to a walk. The effort she’s put in over the last couple of years is the yardstick for the rest of the competition now. I don’t know how many touches she had in the last quarter, but I’m going to guess it was the most on the park by a decent margin.

And Darcy Vescio… this is the game I’ve been waiting for from her, this season. She was exceptionally clean below the knees, creative with the footy, and when the game needed to be saved, it was Vescio slotting in as the loose player to cut off some last-gasp Adelaide inside 50 bombs. She was excellent.

Others who stood out – Gab Pound in defence, Maddy Prespakis, Grace Egan for the Blues, whilst I thought Jess Mules was solid for the Crows as well.

 

FREMANTLE 3.6. (24) DEFEATED ST KILDA 3.5. (23) – HB MEYERS

Well, look at this any way you like – either the Dockers got out of jail or the Saints threw it away.

Many will look at the error from Molly McDonald in the dying minutes, dropping the ball onto the ground instead of returning it to her opponent after an out of bounds on the full free kick was awarded as the reason the Saints fell over, and let’s face it – in a low-scoring game, it was the kind of moment that stands out.

The ensuing 50 metre penalty saw Kate Flood taken to the goal square, where she brought the Dockers within striking distance. From there, it took the explosive Gemma Houghton, who burst through a pair of Saints and ran into the open goal to kick the winning… point.

But to blame McDonald would be to excuse the third quarter misses, or to discount the misses of the Dockers as well – very kickable goals went begging as a result of poor skills. To blame Molly McDonald would be too easy, so we won’t be doing that here. Too many things to factor in to point the finger at one mistake… like a whole heap of other mistakes. It wasn;t a great game to watch.

I’ll tell you what – Gemma Houghton could be THE marquee player in AFLW if she did the little things right. Watching her today, she had all the physical attributes to control a game – blistering speed, strength, and reads the ball really well. She can lay tackles (as she did chasing down Hannah Priest early in the last quarter) and break them when they try to latch onto her, but there are too many little things she is rushing.

She took off and had a bounce at one point, but as the ball came back up to her, she didn’t have her eyes on it, and she left it behind. At another stage, she took off again, but forgot to have a bounce until someone touched her jumper. The ump called her for dropping it, and rightfully so.

Then there were the two posters in the last quarter… she tried to kick the shit out of the ball when a bit more composure was required. She is so close to being dominant… I really want her to be just that, but as I have been told so many times over the years, just slow down a little bit. J

Massive third quarter from Alison Drennan, and had the saints won, she would have been the hero. She was everywhere. Pretty good third quarter for Kate Shierlaw as well, as long as we don’t factor in her conversion kicking at goal.

Another impressive outing for Nicola Xenos, who has the makings of a match-winning burst player, and other than the error… you know the one, I thought Molly McDonald was really good as well. Her goal in the last quarter was a ripper. Great hands from Rosie Dillon to set it up.

For the Dockers, Kara Antonio almost killed Priest with a brutal tackle in the last minute, Hayley Miller was solid all game, and Philipa Seth battled hard in a game not conducive to free-flowing football.

Yep, the Dockers got out of jail here. They were not the better team on the day, but they were in front when it counted. And if Gemma Houghton is not a star of this competition by the end of the 2020 season, I will happily sacrifice Joe Ganino to a pagan god. And if she isn’t… well, I wouldn’t mind sacrificing him anyway. He’s a dick.

 

BRISBANE 7.9. (51) DEFEATED GWS 3.5. (23) – NICHOLAS SLUGGETT

The Brisbane Lions and GWS Giants were set for a classic contest at Hickey Park. Both teams were sitting in the top three of Conference A, separated by half a game and some percentage. A win for either team would simply be huge in the race for the finals. Brisbane could solidify their place at the top of Conference A and GWS could put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack for the third finals spot.

Here are some of my highlights:

ELITE FORWARD PRESSURE

The Brisbane team applied some fantastic forward pressure on GWS all day. There were so many instances of GWS defenders either gathering the ball or searching for it in defence, only to absolutely belted by a Lions player. It was a clear KPI for the Lions, and a big part of their dominance of the footy all match. The only downside being they probably didn’t get the reward for their efforts with a few missed incorrect disposal calls.

CATHERINE SVARC

What a performance. Svarc was simply irresistible in this game. Whether she was expertly zipping around packs, roving forward 50 crumbs or laying some bone crunching tackles, Svarc made this game her own and was clearly the best player on the ground when the final siren sounded. Not only did she win her own footy, but she shut down one of the Giants best players in Alyce Parker. Brisbane will be hoping that that she can continue this form as they build towards a big finals push.

ALLY ANDERSON

Another solid performance for Anderson as she builds back into her 2019 form. Let herself down with some poor finishing in front of goal, but her clean skills through the middle of the ground stood out clearly against the Giants midfield.

THE WARDLAW

I’m still trying to think of a good nickname for Wardlaw. As I’ve stated in many of my reviews, I am sucker for key forwards and Wardlaw has quickly rocketed into contention as one of my absolute favourites. Another couple quality goals for Wardlaw in this game, and probably should’ve had a couple more, to go along with some strong marking and good forward craft.

 

THE WRAP

The Lions comprehensively dominated this game. They out-ran, out-possessed, and out-tackled the Giants. I’ve mentioned a few of their stars for the day, but they also had a bevy of teammates acting as their supporting cast. Sophie Conway, Orla O’Dwyer, Lily Postlethwaite and Kate Lutkins all played their part in setting up the Lions win.

I haven’t mentioned a single GWS player so far, and I’m not about too. They have some serious work to do, if they’re going to push towards playing finals this season. This loss has hurt them in more ways than one, wit them now sitting 4th and outside finals contention, by percentage. They are going to need to rally fast.

Next weeks will see Brisbane play Fremantle in Perth, in what shapes as the game of the AFLW season. I am seriously looking forward to it. GWS heads to Wagga Wagga to play the Tigers in a must-win match to stay in the hunt for third spot. They would also be playing for a bit of pride to not be the Tigers first scalp.

 

And we’re now half way through the season. The Lions and Kangaroos now look great in Conference A, whilst the top three in Conference B will most likely be challenged by the Magpies over the coming weeks.

Next week, the marquee matchup will see the Dockers and Lions lock horns on Friday arvo. Whichever team wins that basically assures themselves a finals spot. Should be gooooood fun.