Well, that’s two weeks in the books of the 2021 AFLW season and things are starting to heat up.
The Blues fell to 0-2 after looking like a premiership fancy in the pre-season, and the entire top six remains undefeated as we head toward Round Three.
This round was in many ways a case of the haves and the have nots. Talent goes a long way in AFLW, and those teams sitting toward the top of the table have plenty of it. Those down the bottom, with the exception of the Blues, are really struggling in terms of top-tier personnel.
Let’s get stuck into the reviews. As always, the Mongrels dive deep.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 6. 6. (42) DEFEATED CARLTON 5. 6. (36)
REVIEWER – HB MEYERS
The high-pressure tempo of the Round One games were replicated to begin Round Two, with the Western Bulldogs using a last quarter surge to leapfrog the Blues and pinch a lead they would not relinquish.
As Carlton peppered the attacking 50 late in the game, the Dogs swung all their key players inside defensive fifty to repel. The Carlton wall across half-back saw multiple entries, but the dogged determination of the Western Bulldogs defenders, combined with some wayward shots at goal from the Blues saw the Doggies run out six-point winners.
Let’s see what we can pick out from this one.
ALL HART-WIG AND JESS FITZ-WELL
The number 11 pick in the 2020 Draft showed exactly why she was so highly rated in this one.
I know that there’ll be a few people who look at her numbers and wonder what the fuss is about, but Sarah Hartwig passes the eye test when playing footy. He was vital in the rebounding and intercepting structure of the Dogs, reading the play beautifully.
It was her hard run and long delivery into the teeth of the goal mouth that saw Ellie Blackburn afforded the opportunity to snag the goal that gave her team the lead in the last quarter.
There are some players who you see and really watch for the first time. They command your attention, look balanced, in control and just seem to have a natural ability to be in the right place at the right time. Sarah Hartwig is one of these players, and the Dogs will be absolutely stoked with her efforts in this one.
They’ve got a good one, here.
The number two overall pick, Jess Fitzgerald showed poise beyond her years in this game as well. Her goal in the second quarter, after starting the play at half-back, was one of the better snags of the season thus far (I know it’s early!).
You’re always taught as a junior to follow up your work, and Fitzgerald did just that, continuing to power down the field to eventually receive a handball back, leading to a goal. She is just 18 years old. Hartwig is 18 as well. The future looks bright at the Kennel.
An excellent effort from the diminutive midfielder, who has added goalkicking to her repertoire over the last couple of games.
Blackburn has four majors for the season and really refused to allow her Dogs to give up the ghost after going down by ten points at the last break. Her second efforts and relentless hunting of the footy were more than a match for the impressive Maddy Prespakis in the middle.
Blackburn is such a hard nut – never shirks an issue even when she knows what is coming the other way, and in this one, she ran her guts out to make contest after contest, culminating with her outworking all the other mids to get deep inside the Dogs’ attacking fifty, benefitting from a great tackle by Bonnie Toogood to slot the goal to give the Dog the lead.
She was also really prevalent early in the game, setting up a shot at goal from Huntington to end the quarter with a ripping tackle on the oblivious Vescio as she tried to exit defensive 50.
We’re looking at a potential career-best season for Blackburn, as her 21 disposals per game is the highest average of her career thus far – an early front-runner for the MVP award after this performance.
Let’s take a minute to recognise the manic desperation and selflessness of Kirsty Lamb in this one, who did not hesitate to put her body on the line if it meant she was able to split a contest.
With no regard for her own wellbeing, Lamb’s efforts to either win the footy, or, just as importantly, make sure her opponent did not win it were the catalyst for the Dogs to repel the Blues time and time again.
Eight fierce tackles for the evening made very sure that her opponents knew when she was around and I would have loved to see her finish with a goal to cap her night.
THE MOODY BLUES
It was like Justin Madden v Simon Madden all over again!
Well, I may be getting a little ahead of myself, but I loved seeing the two sisters match up in the ruck in this game.
Breann was a far more potent force than her twin sister, Celine in this one, but with the Dogs getting up, I am sure Celine will not be too upset with the result of their personal battle.
I don’t know whether to pin this one on Darcy Vescio or Daniel Harford, but after being involved in almost everything in the first quarter, Darcy was virtually invisible in the next three quarters.
I don’t have the quarter by quarter stats, but I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I reckon Vescio picked up one touch after quarter time. If I’m wrong, I apologise, but I won’t be wrong by much at all.
Vescio moved to the forward pocket, where she could not get into the action at all, in a move reminiscent of Chris Scott throwing Patrick Dangerfield into the forward pocket to start the second half of the 2020 AFL Grand Final. I wonder what his thought process was around this?
Do we offer him an ‘out’ and state that maybe Vescio doesn’t have the tank to work that far up th ground all game long? If so, that’s a knock on Vescio. Or do we put it down to Vescio being beaten once she was confined to the forward 50?
Either way, one of the more celebrated players in the game was a non-factor after quarter time and in a game where the final margin was just one goal, the skills of Vescio through the middle may have been the difference.
So, what do you do going forward if you’re Carlton? Leave her up forward and hope she kicks a bag at some point? Unlikely – after 14 goals in 2017, her highest season haul is five, in both 2018 and 2019.
Vescio can really rip a game apart, but without being given ample opportunity to do so, I feel that Carlton are wasting her.
For the record, there was no one player limiting Vescio’s influence up forward. On a quick rewatch, it appears as though the duties were divided up between Eleanor Brown, Naomi Ferres and Ash Guest, all of who worked really hard to nullify Vescio.
I know she cops a lot of shit, but Tayla Harris was big in this one. Inaccurate, but big. Whilst we will probably gravitate to her very costly miss with the Blues training by seven points with just a couple of minutes to go, many will forget how good she was to take that mark in the pack moments before.
Of course, if you can’t convert…
Inaccuracy when close to goal has been a bit of a Harris trademark in recent seasons – remember her miss from point blank a year or two ago? It was replicated tonight by an over-excited Kirsten McLeod.
Ellyse Gamble drew the short straw and had to play close to Harris, and the blonde Blue made her pay a couple of times with some physical pressure both when the footy was in the vicinity, and once just after she’d got rid of it. I reckon Gamble will be feeling a little sore tomorrow.
Harris walks a fine line between what is legal and what could be construed dirty. I have to admit… I kind of like it. She is like a throwback key forward that made defenders pay if they opted to drop into the hole. There should be more of it. And there should probably be a little more kicking practice, as well. Great form… great extension… but missing from 25 out with the game close – that is borderline unforgivable.
These teams played a very similar strategy in this one, with forward pressure and walls built across the half-forward line key to their offensive set-ups.
Early, it was the Dogs who completely locked the Blues into their defensive fifty, but late in the game those tables were turned, with Carlton refusing to allow the Dogs safe passage out of defence.
One thing I did notice is that we had players on both sides cheating a little, sneaking out past the wall, Jon Snow style, on the off chance the ball would get through. What their teams really needed was a contest between half-forward and wing to create a stoppage. From there, you can launch an attack as players move up the field.
I don’t know whether it was fatigue, or just players trying to get a cheap one, but on several occasions, we had attacking players running forward of contests between half-back and wing that their team simply could not win. Sometimes a win can come by breaking even – I reckon both sides need to do a little bit of work on that.
Kirsten McLeod was labelled by one of our writers as the ultimate tease early in the game, after missing from point-blank range. I reckon she stopped the teasing pretty soon after that, providing a fantastic, elusive forward option for the Dogs. She is quick, has great hands and adds a heap to this side.
Grace Egan is a slow starter. She hardly got near it last week and coudn’t get near it again this week until after quarter time. Maybe a run-with role to get her into the action may be the ticket. I’m sure if Daniel Harford had his time over again, perhaps he would consider a bit of a negating role on Ellie Blackburn as the way to get her into the contest.
Katie Lynch was huge down the stretch. Under pressure in the Dogs’ defence, her commitment to keep her eyes on the footy and make sure she either took a mark or impacted the contest were exactly what the Dogs needed.
Georgia Gee showed a bit in this one. Her one-handed pick up without breaking stride and subsequent kick inside 50 were a prime example of what she can do late in games. She is still running at the same pace she was early in the night whilst others are gasping for breath.
It’ll take some stopping to prevent Maddy Prespakis from featuring heavily in the MVP voting again. She continually leads her direct opponent to the footy and was not far off finding it at crucial periods in the last quarter, even with copious amounts of attention on her.
Geez, the Blues are missing Lucy McEvoy. She was one who would have provided a cooler head in the chaos that was the last quarter. She is a little more poised than others, with a great set of hands. Could have really made a difference. Hopefully, she is back next week.
Great win by the Dogs. Gutsy and showed a heap of heart to come from behind. They should feel pretty damn proud.
As for the Blues, it’s a long way back from 0-2, but they’re far from dead yet.
COLLINGWOOD 6. 9. (45) DEFEATED GEELONG 2. 4. (16)
REVIEWER – ALEX DOCHERTY
I was looking forward to writing about the initial contest between the Pies and the Gold Coast Suns, but because Covid is happening around the nation still, that means the fixture had to be altered around, meaning it was the Cats paying a visit to Victoria Park.
These two sides have only met once and that was Geelong’s first game in the AFLW. They won that evening, but since then, their development has basically been stagnant. In comparison, the Pies have improved upon leaps and bounds since round one, 2019 and this game is a testament to that.
The Cats had a point to prove after last week’s humiliating defeat at the hands of North Melbourne and started out of the blocks the better of the two sides. But the more the game progressed, the more the game went according to script and it was the Pies that emerged out the better of the two sides.
It was a 29-point win, but it can easily argued that it could’ve been an eight or nine goal win to the Pies. After weathering the early onslaught by the Cats, it was the Pies that did all the work around the ground and in the contest but were let down by their accuracy. Better to get those ones down and out of the way early.
Will probably get the three votes come the best and fairest night. She was bloody huge in the contested ball for the most part of four quarters.
She was probably one player that stood up in moments when Collingwood were tested in the opening quarter, but like many of her team mates, were let down with efficiency by foot early on. This was due to Geelong’s pressure, especially forward of centre, they were quite a pain in the neck.
But as the game progressed, Geelong’s intensity dipped and as a result, the Pies were able to work their way on top. Davey was a big part of that with her 25 disposals. I’d wager that almost 70… 75 percent of them were contested possessions, give or take obviously thanks for not bringing that stat up AFLW website. She also provided a big goal in the last quarter to ensure that the Cats got nowhere near the result.
Oh and that amazing selling of the candy to Sophie van de Heuval was just… I can’t describe it, it’s just beautiful.
GEELONG’S MIDFIELD ISSUES
They’re 0-2 and yes, they’ve come up against quality opposition, but the Cats will struggle to win games right now with the midfield set up they are running with at the moment.
Liv Purcell is a wonderful player, but even Geelong doesn’t have the technology to clone five or six of her. It’d be nice, because she’s exciting to watch when she’s really going, but the reality is, she was the only real star power the Cats have on-ball on Saturday. As mentioned above, Davey was the stand-out, but they also had Brit Bonnici rack up a lot of the ball on the back of strong gut-running and elite spread and Jaimee Lambert, whilst only having the 15 touches, was still quite damaging when called upon.
They really miss Nina Morrison in that team, another really strong contested ball winner who can also prove to be very clinical by foot or by hand – she really added another dimension to this midfield team last year. Darcy Moloney was their first-round pick last year, but the lack of midfield depth this season means she’s been fed to the wolves a fair bit so far in only two games.
Amy McDonald and Julia Crockett-Grills are solid players and they were very good on Saturday, but they are not going to be players that are going to drag the Cats over the line the way Purcell has done over the past two seasons.
IT’S SCHLEICHER AGAIN
Having witnessed the season-opener live last week – great fun was had by me sitting in the nosebleeds – one of the things I took from that game was the noticeably improved game of Ruby Schleicher. She was great on the intercept and spoiling as the third woman up in a lot of contests in that game, she was enormous in that game.
Well this game showed another side of Schleicher and that was her ability to run and rebound out of defensive 50 that was the standout in this one. She had 16 disposals, 13 of those being kicks. Just so many times she was able to be let off the leash and her run set up several of Collingwood’s scoring opportunities, whilst it didn’t amount to the full potential on the scoreboard, that’s very important for the going forward.
And for those of you keeping tabs with my rolling All-Australian this week, none of you will be shocked that she will maintain her spot this week. Second player locked in behind Ellie Blackburn, because I love my club’s captain too much right now.
Well, she gave Tayla Harris a total bath last week in the season opener. This weekend was Stacey Livingstone taking the piss out of Geelong’s forwards, doing whatever she liked to Geelong’s tall forwards.
It’s been common knowledge from the very beginning that the Cats’ forward structure lacked key forwards. McWilliams was okay, she lead very well, but had to lead a lot further afield than where the Cats would rather haver her. Livingstone was working off of both first-gamer Liv Barber, who should be a good player in due time, and Maddy Boyd, who I don’t actually know if she is the person you want to build your forward line around.
Particularly during the second half where the ball almost struggled to get past the middle of Victoria Park, Livingstone was a key part of the Pies’ brilliant defensive structure, just repented everything that came her way in return for 13 disposals, with 10 of those being kicks.
She may have staked a claim for a spot in the rolling All-Australian this week.
So this is probably just as bad as Geelong’s midfield issue, because when the going gets tough, the veterans in this team need to get going. Unfortunately for Richelle Cranston, she was nowhere to be found on Saturday.
Two disposals, couldn’t get anywhere near it up forward. Couldn’t even lay a tackle as well, which tells you defensively that’s not good enough. It would’ve been nice to have seen Paul Hood play her further afield, give her a couple of shots in the centre bounces and around the stoppages. She’s been in the league from the very start and she has had a hand in good victories for both the Dees and the Cats in years gone by.
She can’t be playing hurt can she? Otherwise why would she be out there? Maybe it was a bad day, everyone has them – I had about 15 or 16 bad days per football season. depending on whether or not I was fit. Point is, she can do so much better than two possessions, and I’m sure she wasn’t on the ground for like 30 percent of game time, more towards 75-80 percent. Yes, you definitely want to do better than that.
WHAT ABOUT THE POSITIVES AT GEELONG?
There isn’t much to be optimistic about at Geelong right now, but there were some things which caught my eye for the better.
Steph Williams laid some nice tackles, including a good chase and run down tackle in the first quarter. She did look dangerous at stages during the game, but I really liked what she brought to the table in game one of her young career – plenty to build on.
Sophie Van De Heuval looks like she’s locked down a nice little role down the half back line; 11 disposals, all of those being kicks. She looked very willing to take the game on at every opportunity. Didn’t mind her tackling pressure either.
Rebecca Webster led all Cats for disposals with 18 disposals for the game, which was cool, she really knuckled down as the game went on, it was quite an industrious performance all things considered.
Big shoutout to Joanna Lin who came in for her debut game as a last-minute replacement for Jordyn Allen. Loved taking the game on everytime she got her hands on the footy and the Victoria Park faithful certainly loved it too.
Sophie Alexander’s second half demonstrated just how important she is to this side. Barely touched it in the first half, but presented very well in the air after half time to have a bigger influence on the contest.
Aasta O’Connor in the ruck was interesting to see against Sharni Norder (nee Layton). The hitouts were nearly even, with Norder just edging out in the count, but I think O’Connor certainly worked her around the ground a bit more.
I also liked Danielle Higgins along the half forward line. Just tried to do everything she could to try and help the Cats on the scoreboard. Worked hard for 12 touches and also laid three tackles.
Didn’t mind Georgie Rankin’s game after half time either – just managed to work hard to get herself into the right spots and took the occasional intercept mark as well.
Chloe Molloy could’ve had herself a three-goal game easily if it weren’t for horrendous accuracy. Yes she kicked 1.0 from just the six touches, but she had a couple of opportunities that didn’t trouble the scorers.
And lastly, I think this rule where the players can encroach the ‘protected zone’ during a 50 metre penalty is absolute rubbish. It cost the Cats a goal late in the quarter and I think it was actually quite stiff considering that Mikala Cann sort of drew that extra penalty in as well.
MELBOURNE 7. 2. (44) DEFEATED RICHMOND 2. 4. (16)
REVIEWER – JB EDDY
This is a game that many had already pencilled in for Melbourne, and not many would be shocked about how it turned out. Richmond continue to search for that elusive first AFLW win with about as much success as I have at finding the milk in the fridge—it may well be right in front of my face, but there won’t be any joy without a lot of help.
And help was exactly what was needed here. Too much left to too few too often for the tigers, and even Melbourne had a few too many passengers early in the game, but their class and ability to spread was too much for the Tigers’ at this stage in their development.
WHERE IT WAS WON
Richmond definitely tested the Dees early, with a strong attack at the ball and a frantic desire to keep moving forward. Unfortunately, the Dees soon wised up and structured a zone that included putting a player a kick in front of the pack. Paxman filled this role fairly often, and was surgical in her ability to hit up an open teammate.
Richmond dealt with this by bombing it longer and higher, which just let more people get to the drop of the ball. Some of this can be attributed to the pressure put on the ball carrier, but bad disposal is still bad disposal.
THE BEAUTY OF SUBURBAN FOOTY
Look, the big stadiums are fantastic. The roar of 100,000 at the G, the sheer visual spectacular of Optus Stadium, the murmurs of confusion at the SCG when someone ask what that players name is, and the eye-twitching of Port supporters when tarpaulins are mentioned at Adelaide oval are all iconic factors of this great sport, but away from those hallowed grounds is where home-field advantage really lies.
As with just about all country grounds, the openness of the outer allows a breeze to swirl around the local buildings. Casey Fields served up a stiff breeze that Melbourne chose to kick with in the first quarter. While it was a bit gusty, there should have been a solid advantage. Unfortunately, Melbourne seemed to have trouble judging the ball in flight, often finding themselves underneath the ball, and the tigers were more than willing to put a body on. This may have been why five of the nine goals of the match were kicked against it
TOUGH EARLY GOING
Richmond started strong, receiving a free for a ruck infringement, followed by a quick inside 50 to Sabrina Frederick who had a nice contested mark about 30 out. A 50m penalty put her on the line and let her kick the first of the day.
And that little burst was their main highlight for the game.
As an old country footy player whose future chances were crippled by a career-ending lack of talent and athletic ability, I completely understand the old saying that everyone’s skill level falls when they’re dropped on their arse. Richmond seemed to take this to heart, with a highly physical style, and a gameplan that seemed to mirror the mens team’s “move it forward at all cost” approach. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite have the skillset needed to make it work, frequently providing their forwards with highly contested opportunities inside 50.
It needs to be said though that the Melbourne gameplan seemed a step ahead, countering the Richmond strategy by keeping to something of a zone defence, and playing a loose player a kick behind the ball. Karen Paxman filled this role beautifully around the ground, creating opportunities for the rest of Melbourne’s mids as they shifted into attack.
BRANCATISANO V PEARCE
One area that Richmond can claim a win is by using Maddy Brancatisano as a run-with tag on Daisy Pearce. Brancatisano was on Melbourne’s list in 2019, though didn’t get onto the field in her first season. I don’t know if Daisy was involved in the decision to keep her out of the match day squad, but Maddy seems to have taken it personally, judging by her effort today.
Pearce may very well have one of the best football brains going around at the minute, but could not shake the tag, pulling in only seven touches for the game, most of them under pressure. Pearce did manage five tackles, but most were because Brancatisano was able to get to the ball before her, rather than play a tackling tagger she was more of a blocking tagger who ran off Daisy. One of the few Richmond players who could say they did their job today.
I can imagine a few high profile players watching this matchup, both as a way to negate Pearce, as well as looking for ways to counter Brancatisano’s tag when it comes time to be on the receiving end. She will be worth watching this season to see who else she can smother, and may provide the Tigers faithful with a little salve to the season.
Katie Brennan is supposed to be the crown jewel of the Richmond team, but her game today left a lot to be desired. Initially I had her as one of Richmond’s top contributors, until I realised that the player I was watching was wearing a 7, not a 3, and I’d been crediting her with Sarah Hosking’s efforts. This is testament to the speed at which Hosking was able to move the ball, the ability for whoever was manning the camera to flick away to view random areas of sky, and potentially my mother being correct about going blind if I keep taking long showers.
Brennan didn’t seem to have a close tag when playing in the middle, and her efforts suggest she may still have some issues with her ankle that caused so much concern last year. It could possibly be she just lacks confidence in the ankle, but her ability to stop, turn or accelerate seemed fairly ordinary, especially compared to the aggressive style her teammates seemed intent on playing.
I hope we see her bounce back next week, because when she’s in full flight, she can be a joy to watch.
Melbourne supporters have a reputation as a refined lot, so they should be able to appreciate quality when they see it. This game showed exactly where that quality lies.
While Pearce went missing as mentioned earlier, Paxman, Mithen and Hanks stepped up beautifully to fill the opening. The three mids combined for nine clearances, and were well served by Lauren Pearce and Eden Zanker in the ruck.
Mithen and Paxman were the ones duelling it out for BOG honours in my book. Both were very effective in their roles, Mithen’s 20 disposals complemented by a game-high seven tackles, and Paxman’s 19 touches and a goal showing her impact.
Paxman is also sporting a mullet-and-tight-shorts combo that may have a certain blonde full forward franticly typing “How to sue for traydemark infridgement”, though she seems smart enough to stay well away from any ultratune adverts, so the Wiz won’t be losing too many jobs because of her.
Hanks had 19 touches and 4 clearances to round off the dominance of the Dee’s mids. If this midfield was a cheeseboard, she’d have been the sweet maggie beers quince paste to the boisterous d’affinois blue in Paxman, and the old reliable crumbly Mersey Valley cheddar of Mithen.
All three have done their chances of an All Australian berth no harm at all.
TIGERS NOT QUITE TAMED
While the Dees definitely had the measure of the Tigers, there were several players that offered some cause for optimism. Besides the aforementioned Brancatisano (if anyone knows a shorter nickname, please let me know. I’m typing her name so frequently that I think it’s added about a page to this review) Conti and Cordner also seemed determined to make life tough for their opponents.
Conti finished with a game-high 27 touches to go with four tackles and three clearances. A majority of her possessions though tended to be quick handballs, which explains her relatively low 139 metres gained, compared to the 333 of her direct opponent in Mithen, and less than the 146 of teammate Sabrina Frederick.
Sabrina Frederick also presented all day, with her size and ability to out-body her opponents a concern for Melbourne. The lack of supply limited her influence, and may have been the reason she was moved into the ruck later in the game. Unfortunately, that meant that they lost their key forward target. Gabrielle Seymour seemed to be doing well enough in the ruck on her own, so the move may have been out of desperation rather than tactical necessity, but I’m glad the old “throw a player in the middle to get them a touch” is getting some mileage in the AFLW too. All we need now is some front page Herald Sun stories about an outrageous Mad Monday celebration and we can proclaim the league has truly arrived.
Harriet Cordner is another former Demon who seemed to take being traded personally. Her attack at the ball was a delight to watch as she frequently ran straight at the ball so fearlessly that several Melbourne forwards seemed to hesitate when they were over the ball as she bore down on them like a seagull on a discarded packet of chicken thins.
As I’ve said before, I have a lot of love for players willing to crash and bash through to the ball, and Cordner’s desperation was inspiring to plenty of people at the game. Unfortunately, that seemed to exclude a lot of her fellow Richmond back line, who seemed willing to let her do the hard yards while they waited for a quick handball that they frequently fumbled.
BANNAN BREAKS OUT
Alyssa Bannan put a stake in the heart of optimistic Richmond supporters with a single minute of play. She kicked her first career goal for the Dees at the start of the second, and quickly backed it up with a great contested mark to put through another.
Her bodywork looked perfect, creating space for the ball to drop just when her opponent loses contact. She was the Dees first round pick last year, and after a bit of a shaky debut against Gold Coast, she seems to have the skillset and natural forward craft to develop into something special.
Richmond were outclassed here, but should not be ringing alarm bells. The league is getting stronger every season, and they have shown definite improvement over the side they had on the field last year.
Having said that, I can’t see them beating the top level teams this year. The Bulldogs, Pies and the winless Carlton will likely prove too much for them, and North and Freo will straight up mug them. They may need to wait until they can take on a team at a similar stage, such as Gold Coast or West Coast. St Kilda entered at the same time, but honestly look too good for them at the minute.
Footy is a fickle father though, and you never know your luck, especially if the fixture is constantly at rick of being altered due to COVID.
Melbourne won the game, as they should have, but didn’t quite manage to monster Richmond in the way they probably could. It may sound odd, but even with the percentage of 196, they may have left some meat on the bone here, and it may come back to haunt them when they’re fighting it out for a top 6 berth.
The next round will likely define the season in more ways than one, as it’ll let us know which teams are going to sit pretty at 3-0, as well as which teams will have to go into a hub should COVID continue to impact the major cities.
Both teams have cause for optimism though, as even if Melbourne goes into a lockdown, Dan Andrews knows which side his bread is buttered on, and will likely kick Djokovic and Tomic out of their hotels and onto Christmas Island so that the teams can hub there.
Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion he’s wanted to do that for a while, and is just looking for an excuse.
NORTH MELBOURNE 5. 6. (36) DEFEATED ST KILDA 1. 4. (10)
REVIEWER – HB MEYERS
North Melbourne are a very good team. Let’s get that out of the way. I watched them dismantle Geelong last weekend and here we are again with the Kangaroos recording a convincing, if not dominant performance.
The Saints hung with the Roos early and showed plenty of grit and determination, but with talent all over the field, North were just too strong over the long haul, using their defensive strengths to kickstart their midfield and propel them to a 26-point win.
Let’s take a look at some highlights.
Often overshadowed by the quality of those around her, Ellie Gavalas has started the 2021 season with a bang.
Below, I will describe a player from this game who moves through the midfield with such composure that she makes it easy, but in terms of Gavalas, this woman has this manic, frantic way of running – short little steps, and a herky-jerky kind of action that draws defenders from all angles.
And that is the desired outcome, I guess, because as those pistons begin to pump, Gavalas then takes the contact and dishes off a quick handball to a teammate to get the Roos off and running.
If you’re looking to see a player operating in a team-first mode, watch Gavalas in the second quarter of this game. She takes possession, draws the defence and releases her teammates, much to her physical detriment on several occasions.
People have been critical in some media about players not being willing to take the contact in order to release a teammate into space. They’re not talking about Gavalas. She had 17 touches and slotted a goal to get North off and running in the third quarter. How she got that goal, we’ll examine a little later, but the emergence of Gavalas as a genuine midfield weapon has made the monstrous North Melbourne midfield all the more potent in 2021.
WATT’S GOING ON?
Last week, Emma King tore the heart out of Geelong in the first quarter. Peta Searle and Rhi Watt were determined not to allow that to occur again this week.
Watt took her role in nullifying King very seriously, restricting her opponent to just three touches for the game, whilst picking up 16 of her own.
In terms of the ruck, I heard the commentary team mention that it was about even, but I would dispute that. King got on top of Watt late in the game, but I found her tap work to be far superior all through the game, with several of her taps going straight down the throat of Jas Garner to create clearances for North. Watt’s positioning around the ground exposed King’s lack of mobility and will be something that both Darren Crocker and opposition coaches will take notice of. Whether Emma gets a bit of a rocket for not working hard enough around the ground will be interesting, but you cannot fault Watt’s supreme effort in getting off King to give the Saints a win around the ground.
A BIT OF PENDLEBURY ABOUT HER
There will come a point when people get sick of the talk around Georgia Patrikios.
But it is not this day.
There is something about the way she goes about this game and I’ve given it away in the title, so I won’t yammer on about it. The way she gets the footy and seems to cruise along at three-quarter pace, eyes darting around for an option; it is the way Scott Pendlebury plays footy.
I know some people will stamp their feet and have a whine at that comparison, but what we have here is a 19 year-old demonstrating a wealth of understanding as to how this game is played. She is patient, extremely fit and has a beautiful pair of clean hands – she hardly ever double-grabs at the footy and unlike many in this league, her handballs to a teammate meant to open up play do exactly that! She doesn’t land the footy two metres in front of them or half a step behind them – she makes those around her better.
I’m not sure about you, but to be viewed as a player, at that tender age, who makes those around her better players… it’s about as high praise as you’re likely to get.
I have a feeling she will be front and centre in Doc’s Rolling AA team after this round, and it’ll take a bit to displace her as the season rolls on.
If you’re wondering why Tyanna Smith was pick six in the 2020 Draft, wonder no more.
She has demonstrated exactly why she was highly-rated by the Saints, with her continuous clean hands and a penchant for finding herself in the right spots at the right times.
So, if Patrikios has a bit of Pendles about her play, who does Smith remind you of? Patrikios is about being calm in a storm, riding the waves, bumps and rough seas and coming out the other side with the ball in-hand, ready to distribute to a teammate. Smith is more like the storm.
Her ability to weave through traffic and willingness to run hard to provide an option is more akin to an outside runner than her partner in crime. Whilst we’re not going to be able to pinpoint an AFL that Smith plays exactly like (maybe because she plays like Tyanna Smith and not like someone else), what I think we will see from her over the duration is a player that can get in and mix it up in the middle combined with one who is not at all daunted by the prospect of putting the footy under her arm, streaming inside 50 and having a ping at goal.
Remember a couple of years ago when people spoke about the next generation of girls coming into the league? Those people were talking about the kids who have been supported to play the game right through their childhood, and that’s what Smith looks like. She is a smooth mover and can do some damage with the footy. She is the future of the St Kilda footy club, and she is already here.
WHEN IS A GREAT TACKLE NOT A GREAT TACKLE?
The goal to Ellie Gavalas to open the scoring in the third quarter went by without much fanfare, but in reality, we should be looking at that piece of play and wondering how the hell that came about.
The free kick was paid to Gavalas dead in front, after a hard tackle from Tarni White was ruled to be dangerous? Or was it ruled to have lingered?
In either case, it was a knee-jerk reaction from an umpire that appeared to be a bit freaked out by a bloody good tackle from White. Gavalas ran right into the White tackle and ended up on her back as a result. I’m not sure a whistle was necessary here and I strongly believe it was awarded out of fear. Imagine NOT paying a free kick for a dangerous tackle and being hauled over the coals because of it? That’s what I think umpires are dealing with at the moment.
If anything, it was a throw. The vision is added for you below.
As a matter of fact, several times we saw good use of the body penalised as well. Viv Saad used her body to block the space of her opponent and win the ruck contest… you know, good ruck craft, but was penalised in a moment that must have been extremely frustrating for her.
Look, sometimes people will get caught in hard tackles. Just because it is a hard tackle does not mean the umpire is bound to blow the whistle and award a free kick. Let the girls play.
THE BOTTOM SIX
Whilst there is plenty to love about this North team, perhaps the best aspect they have is that every single one of their players can do a job. There are none that are passengers or who look out of place.
Many teams in the league cannot state that at the moment.
From the top of their list, with stars like Kearney and Garner, you have such amazing back-up in Bruton, Riddell, King, Gavalas, Bateman, Ashmore, all the way down to the last player on the park. Their depth is impressive, and the collective efforts of the team make them very difficult to score against.
Down back, Aileen Gilroy, Talia Randall (who did a great job on Caitlin Greiser) and Jas Grierson work so cohesively together that is makes my workplace look like a laughing stock (my real workplace… no The Mongrel… you already know we’re a laughing stock. Because we’re funny, right?).
What this does is it makes North a very difficult team to exploit. How do you find a chink in this armour? How to you pierce the impenetrable?
We will see some of the better teams decipher ways to break down this team as the season rolls on, but as it stands, North have been ultra-impressive for the better part of 18 months and should be right in the mix when we actually o crown a champion for the 2021 season.
Molly McDonald still looks a game or so away. She was a little way removed from her debut season performances as she tried to find her feet in this one.
I reckon the Saints really missed Nicola Xenos in this one. With Kate McCarthy not doing much of anything, her presence around half forward would have really given St Kilda something at the fall of the ball.
As stated above, that team effect of North Melbourne can weather a storm. It’s not going to be often that you get both Jas Garner and Ash Riddell sitting on six touches apiece at half time, yet there are just so many that pick up the slack from Arden Street.
Lots of talk about the marking efforts of Kate Shierlaw in this one, and it is hard to dispute her aerial work, but the disposals following it left a bit to be desired. Just spit-balling, but I think she’d be a wonderful centre half back.
In closing, another nice win for the Kangaroos, who have to be thinking they’re a red-hot chance at the flag this year. Top to bottom, they’re a classy outfit and though the Saints will be good if they retain their young talent (Patrikios, Smith, Greiser) over the journey, they don’t have the mature midfield bodies to match it with North just yet.
BRISBANE 10. 5. (65) DEFEATED GOLD COAST 0. 2. (02)
REVIEWER – NICK SLUGGETT
Boy, did the heat get turned up on the Suns this week, and not just by mother nature. The Lions have started their season in fantastic fashion and have announced their candidacy as a finals contender.
As the commentators mentioned, you’d have forgiven Suns fans (and even their defenders) for thinking that Brisbane had a few extra players running around up the ground. The Suns were more than competitive in close and would start each contest with what seemed like even numbers, but as soon as the contest broke out, the Lions were seemingly everywhere.
The Lions operated with clinical efficiency at times and were very wasteful at others. Some goalkicking practice will be on the menu this week at training as the 29-0 scoreline flattered the Suns. Brisbane was nailing their leading forward inside 50, who were able to get space on their opponents seemingly at will. The Lions finished with 22 marks inside 50. Absolutely staggering. That is a sign of a team operating in unison. The forwards were blocking and working for each other. The midfielders were honouring leads and clearing space. Players were also recognising their kicking-distance limits and spotting up teammates in better positions, taking advantage of the lacklustre Suns being scorched in the heat.
To make things even worse for the Suns defenders, every time they got the ball they were getting hit, tackled, or pressured by Lions players. If they hesitated, fumbled or miss-stepped they were set upon immediately. If they hacked the ball out, all it did was get sent back with interest by the likes on Kate Lutkins, who was just doing as she pleased.
THE ENGINE ROOM
They don’t call it the engine room for nothing. I would love to have a look at the tracking data on the likes of Natalie Grider, Alexandra Anderson, Orla O’Dwyer, Emily Bates, Sophie Conway, and Catherine Svarc. They are serious running machines. In this game it was Grider and O’Dwyer who stood out most for me, but I get the feeling some of my mongrel writers are underestimating how fit these Lions players are.
THE ‘LAW WON ON A HARLEY
Is it too on-the-nose to reference a song by ‘The Clash’ in the Q-Clash, by shortening the name of Jesse Wardlaw to fit the lyrics and adding the motorbike brand featuring Dakota’s last name? I don’t care. In this writer’s opinion Jesse IS the law, and she won big today.
Despite some early inaccuracy from a couple of their teammates, goal kicking duo Jesse Wardlaw and Dakota Davidson put on an absolute clinic against the Suns. You absolutely could’ve raffled BOG honours between the two of them. Here’s hoping they continue combining to lead this strong Lions outfit.
It was heart breaking to see Annise Bradfield distraught on the side-line following a knee injury. You hate to see it and let’s hope its not a long-term injury.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Who knows what lies ahead with the current climate. I trust the fixture as much as I trust a shark in bloody water.
ADELAIDE 9. 8. (62) DEFEATED GWS 2. 3. (13)
REVIEWER – HB MEYERS
DOWN BACK WITH SLT? YEAH, YOU KNOW ME!
I want to start things with Stevie-Lee Thompson and Adelaide coach, Matthew Clarke.
I wrote in last week’s review how much Clarke must love coaching this Adelaide unit, due to the luxury he has in terms of versatility with his players. Chelsea Randall can go forward or back. Erin Phillips can play in the guts or go forward. Anne Hatchard can play midfield or pinch-hit in the ruck. And now, he has taken it upon himself to throw Stevie-Lee into defence again.
And wouldn’t you know it – she can play there as well.
In terms of impact in this game, I had SLT as the most potent force in the game. Yes, I know others had more of the footy and others again had goals beside their names, but the drive Thompson was able to generate for the Crows coming off half back was integral to their advantage. She is poised with the footy in hand, makes solid, team-first decisions, and is everything you’d want in a defender playing the rebounding role.
With the footy in hand, SLT is a great user and though I sometimes think coaches get a little ahead of themselves with these kind of experiments, it is apparent that SLT is the kind of player that can play anywhere on the park and be effective and has proven that. With some others more than capable of covering her absence up forward, her stint as a defender opens up a whole new world of attacking footy from half back for the Crows.
Three goals in the first half could have very easily been four for the game, had her running bounce in the third quarter not had a bit of the Gemma Houghtons about it.
Ponter is a natural footballer. You can see it in the way she moves, not only when in possession of the footy, but also the way she scouts around the packs and makes good position. Her goal in the third quarter, gathering cleanly then pushing off an opponent before slotting it from a tough angle, was one of the better scores of the season thus far.
Combining well with Phillips, Randall, Woodland and Jones, Ponter adds some sizzle to the steak of the Adelaide forward 50.
At just 20 years of age, Ponter could end up one of the best opportunistic forwards in the game by the end of 2021. She could be edging close to that level right about now.
THE TRIPLE THREAT ROLLS ON
Erin Phillips, Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff combined for 66 touches in this game as they controlled the footy through the middle and did what many simply cannot do at this level – stand in tackles and release to teammates.
Whilst Phillips continues to be an excellent tag=rget above her head, Hatchard is a relentless running machine who, even on a bad day, is bound to find a purple patch at some point simply due to the fact she works harder than almost every player opposite her.
Marinoff continues to find the footy, starting the game in blistering fashion, before settling into a balanced midfield rotation.
These three have a fantastic combination of work ethic and intelligence, which sees them able to team with each other and those around them to spread the midfield defence. If you tage one of them, what do you do with the other two?
The Crows seem to be giving more time in the middle to players like Eloise Jones and Justine Mules, and playing alongside these three, you’d expect to see them learn some pretty important tricks of the trade.
Whilst Phillips is 35, Hatchard and Marinoff are just 22 and 23 respectively. They will be huge over the long haul as Adelaide transitions from the Phillips era, but in Jones and Mules, they have a couple of very good understudies to share the load with going forward.
TOO MUCH LEFT TO TOO FEW
Without looking, who were the best performers for the Giants?
I can ask you that every single week and I reckon you’ll answer the same three names. And more often than not, you’ll be correct.
Alicia Eva, Rebecca Beeson and Alyce Parker are workhorses and they are right in every centre square stoppage up to their eyeballs, but the drop off from those three is dramatic, both in terms of production and in terms of capacity.
From the outside looking in, those three seem to put this team on their shoulders and carry them as far as they can before it gets too much. Here’s a stat that backs that up a little.
At half time of the game, 15 of the 22 lowest possession gatherers were Giants. The spread of talent for the Crows meant that they were able to bring others into the game. The Giants simply don’t have that luxury. It’s Eva, Beeson or Parker or it’s a toss up. Maybe Elle Bennetts bobs up and can win the footy. Maybe Haneen Zreika can run through and collect the footy, but if a couple of the three I mentioned have a tough day at the office, the Giants are up a particularly smelly creek without a paddle.
MISSING THE START OF THE GAME TO PROMOTE PRIDE ROUND
Yeah look…. I might cop a whack for this, and that’s okay – it is coming from a place of wanting to watch the game and concentrating on the actual football, so I’ll cop it.
Last week, I wrote an article about whether some of the stuff associated with AFLW would fly if it happened in the AFL. That was followed by a piece from Mongrel guest writer, Peter Holden, who questioned the level of depth the broadcasters provide in terms of coverage.
Both those articles rang true at the start of this one, although I understand it may be a little nit-picky.
The footy was bounced to start this one and, following on from a nice little piece on Rebecca Privitelli and Annalyse Lister and what Pride Round means to them, the commentators were still yapping on about how great Pride Round as the game commenced. No talk of match-ups, no insight into any position anomalies… just yapping away about how great things are.
But there was a game happening as they spoke, and it wasn’t just one of those lulls in the game like a throw-in or a stoppage, but the bloody centre bounce to start the whole thing off.
My question here is – would this fly in the AFL?
And the answer is no way in hell. There is no way the AFL would have allowed a video package to air thirty seconds before the bounce, or for the commentators to miss the call of the start of the game. Whilst I am sure this came from a great place and no one is questioning the intent, my guess is that people were tuning into the AFLW broadcast to, you know… watch footy. And if the footy comes second to something else on its own broadcast, then what the hell are we watching it for?
The piece was good and worth airing – of this there can be no doubt, but why not do that as the broadcast commences? The timing was poor and the producer making these calls should get a foot in the backside for their efforts. I understand how important this round is to the AFLW community, but you know what else is important? The actual game, and it should not be in second place.
Heard an interesting comment during the game that Cora Staunton plays too high up the field. Funny… I was thinking I would play her further up the field. GWS need a strong body off half-back and whilst Cora can be dangerous, I prefer her grabbing the footy and looking for options further afield than being the one getting into position to kick for goals.
Pretty nasty looking tackle from Tarni Evans on Ailish Considine – really rode her into the ground. It was another of those tackles where the player in possession looked as though she was trying to get her boot to the ball, or at least get in position to do just that. When that occurs, the player is completely off-balance and goes down incredibly easy. I’m not sure the tackle was anywhere near as malicious as it looked.
Tough day at the office for Pepa Randall, but she accounted herself quite well. She had Chelsea Randall for most of the afternoon and then switched over to Erin Phillips whenever she drifted forward.
Excellent outing for Justine Mules, maybe the best I’ve seen her. She usually does a heap of unrewarded running, but she got on the end of a few here and I was hoping she’d slot her first goal in AFLW.
I touched on stats above – here’s another. AT three-quarter time, the Crows had 12 of the top 17 disposal winners on the ground.
The Giants really need to work on their kick ins. Missed targets in defensive 50 were killing them. If you’re going to miss targets, at least miss them long – that way they don’t come back over your head toward goal. Not sure who their designated kick-in player was, but they need a Plan B in that regard, and they need to enact it quickly.
FREMANTLE 2. 11. (23) DEFEATED WEST COAST 2. 2. (14)
REVIEWER – BRETT HODGSON
Here we are to finish off Round Two in AFLW with a Western Derby. Despite a virus outbreak, bushfires and rain this game goes ahead (quick shout out to anybody affected by the fires, thoughts are with you)
We have one of the flag fancies in Fremantle vs the Eagles, who many tipped to struggle in 2021. A true David and Goliath battle. To make matters worse, West Coast has lost star midfielder Dana Hooker for not just this contest but the season due to a freak kitchen injury. Hooker is relied upon more then anybody in WA not named Mark McGowan so let’s see what happens in this contest
Will Fremantle show the fire-power befitting a contender?
Will somebody step up in the absence of Hooker?
Let’s find out…
In wet, slippery conditions it was Fremantle prevailing by nine points 2.11 (23) to 2.2 (14) but the reality is this game could have gone either way. The Dockers obviously were highly inaccurate and threatened to blow the game open, despite their lack of run and carry game.
For the Eagles the injury bug bit them once again as they lost Andrea Gilmore and Niamh Kelly to game-ending injuries in the third quarter, as well as an injury to Parris Laurie during the third. She returned but was severely hampered with what appeared to be a calf complaint. Ultimately in the pivotal third quarter the Dockers overwhelmed West Coast and were able to establish a lead they would not relinquish.
Early on it was West Coast that seemingly adapted better to the conditions, playing territory football looking to gain metres with their disposal and turn it to a contested game trying to limit the run and carry of the Dockers. After quarter time the Dockers started to tire out the Eagles defense and ultimately that led to the scoreboard ticking over and Fremantle doing enough to take the derby
Kiara Bowers was an absolute thorn in the Eagles side all day. The BOG had game-highs of 23 disposals (20 kicks) to go along with 14 tackles, seven clearances and a goal. Opposed to Aisling McCarthy early (who started well and kicked the opener for the Eagles) Bowers then tightened the screws after quarter time with her clearance work a major factor. Ultimately McCarthy tried hard all day but was unable to contain Bowers and the midfield battle swung the Dockers way and she was the catalyst to her side taking over. Her defensive efforts were outstanding- which ill mention shortly.
NO HOOKER – NO PROBLEM
Pretty much everybody wondered who would step up to counter the loss of Dana Hooker. Well Mikayla Bowen and Emma Swanson, take a bow. Despite not coming away with the four points the duo were absolutely outstanding in covering for the missing star. They combined for 34 disposals and arguably could have had more of an impact if not for being clamped by Bowers or the hard tackling Dockers. Bowen in particular led the way with 10 contested possessions in a performance that should make the AFLW stand up and take notice
Tactically, she played a solid game for the Eagles in the ruck. Despite losing the hitouts by one to Mim Strom she had a very simple game plan: “Take front spot at any cost” and that worked well as Strom was ineffective when she was able to lay first hands on the ball and Laurie was also able to negate the backups.
She became concerned with the opponents leaps at times and gave away a few blocking free kicks in really bad position. Her efforts at ground level were great though, despite being unable to gain more then a handful of possessions she threw her body around and made the Fremantle midfield have to go through her. She returned from what everybody first thought was a devastating knee injury to finish out the game albeit severely hampered
THE ANTONIO FACTOR
When the game was in the balance in the third quarter the Dockers leant on the experience of Kara and Ebony Antonio. Through most of the quarter Freo were absolutely peppering their forward line with inside 50 entries time and time again (35-16 for the game)
Their pinpoint disposal, calmness under pressure and, maybe the most important part was the marshalling of the Dockers defensive zone that the Eagles struggled to break. 18 combined touches, 5 marks and a goal between them, though their impact was more then raw numbers.
BRIGHT SPOTS WCE
Chantella Perera was outstanding in the Eagles backline, her positioning and decision making was a feature. Her experience was really telling in this one and she knew when she had to attack the ball and contest or retreat and defend.
Imahra Cameron kept presenting and trying to make something happen from limited opportunities. It looked like she thrived out in space and has a really high football IQ, also she wasn’t afraid to throw her body into the contest and apply defensive pressure. Watch out for her once she develops a bit more fitness, she will be special
BRIGHT SPOTS FREO
I loved the games of Hayley Miller and Stephanie Cain. They got under the radar a little but always appeared to be in the right place at the right time. You combined their tackling work ( six apiece) with 15 and 12 touches respectively at good efficiency in the wet they were unsung heroes of this game and kept the Eagles accountable, punishing them when they were not.
Let’s be honest, Gemma Houghton tried all day and kept on the move but it was always going to be a struggle. She moved well and presented hard but never had a lot of marking contests she would have liked. Perera and Bresland made sure she couldn’t get goal side of them and kept her out wide as much as they could. She snapped a great goal to get Fremantle’s first midway through the second quarter and finished with a game-high four marks yet were out wide in less dangerous spots.
After the massive game last week Duffy tried everything she could to emulate that, yet however it just was not her day. She looked like she was trying to get under the skin of her opponents though that appeared largely ineffective, the conditions probably played a part as she was afforded less space then she was used to.
A lot of people (including myself) were expecting her to dominate an under siege Eagles backline, well we were correct on the backline having a hard day. She would likely be kicking herself as she was largely a non-factor. Her opponent for much of the afternoon was, however, who I will get to
RUN AND CARRY
Belinda Smith was excellent for the Eagles with her run and carry from Half Back. She made the Dockers pay for a lack of awareness by taking the game on when clearing defensive 50 with bombs simply would not work. It seemed like everybody was looking around figuring out how she was able to run off yet nobody seemed to take responsibility for her. It’s those kinds of selfless things that can be the difference in the business end of the season.
DESPERATE TIMES – DESPERATE MEASURES
The Eagles defence halted the momentum of Fremantle with saving two goals on the line. First off a touched ball for a shot on goal then arguably the moment of the game where a lunging chase and a diving rushed behind by Tayla Bresnan stopped a full flight Houghton from collecting a loose ball mere meters out, to keep them within striking distance.
At times it appeared the Blue and Gold were simply showing more desire then their rivals. A piece of play late in the third quarter exemplified that. The Eagles cleared the ball from deep inside their defensive 50, the kick found Cameron in space who bombed to the forward flank, Kellie Gibson made up 30m of space to fight for the loose ball and bomb it further forward, a desperate smother from Bresland led to a free-kick and a pass inside 50 to the hard running Bowen for a shot on goal.
It did not lead to a goal unfortunately but that piece of play should be something that shows the fans of the Eagles and AFLW that their team may not struggle so much for long.
Swanson was very solid today, she led by example and while not maybe having as much an impact as she would have liked she played like a true leader.
I found the game of Bullas really good, hopefully she gets more minutes in the Eagles midfield, she is very handy in the coal face
Tiah Haynes looks a lot fitter then before and I believe she can be an integral albeit it under the radar part of a Dockers premiership tilt
And there we have it – Round Two in the books and the teams at the top of the ladder look as though they have left no doubt as to who are the haves in AFLW 2021 and who are the have nots.
As R3 looms, some teams could find themselves in an inescapable hole just three weeks into the season.
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