Ahhhh, the Prelims. Always a wonderful watch, and always packed with drama and standout performances.

With four heavyweights ready to go at it, only two would move onto the GRand Final… and I am doing a terrible job of setting the scene. Let’s jump into the Mongrel Reviews from HB and The Doc

 

ADELAIDE 5. 3. (33) DEFEATED MELBOURNE 1. 9. (15)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

From the outset in this one, you could see the intent of the Crows. It was palpable – take the body of the Demon players at every opportunity.

The Adelaide Crows moved into another Grand Final with what can only be described as a physical assault on the Melbourne team who, it seemed, were just not up for the fight.

Adelaide looked built for inside combat, with strong-bodied midfielders searching for contact and using it to propel their team forward. They laid tackle after tackle and not just your wimpy “I’ll hold your jumper and hope to get a call” kind of tackle, either. I’m talking about the type of tackles that take an opponent to the ground and flat out refuse to allow them the opportunity to get their hands free.

The Crows had 24 more tackles in this contest, despite having 23 more disposals. I might sound like a broken record, here, but their attack on the contest and the way they simply refused to allow even the toughest Demons a clean possession set the tone for what was a dominant win.

The scoreboard may have said the Crows won by three goals, but it felt like five or six, with a late quarter flurry… if you’d call it that, from Melbourne, tripling their score.

Let’s jump into some highlights and shut me up.

 

MARINOFF THE CHARTS

The hits keep coming for ‘Noff, who had her own footy in this one, and was allowed to run around without so much as a hand on her at times.

Ebony Marinoff has a huge tank, and whilst so much attention goes on the running power of Anne Hatchard (and why wouldn’t it?) the intelligent positioning of Marinoff deserves just as much attention. She found the ball all over the park, drifting back into defence to help her back five, running through the guts, in the clearances and around half forward as well.

To top off her monstrous 35 touches, she also added 13 tackles in a performance that would make Kiara Bowers feel jealous. The commentators spoke about the way Rachelle Martin is forever around the contest – what about Marinoff? Does she ever bloody leave the contest?

If she wasn’t getting the footy, herself, she was tackling the opposition player that did, and as the Crows tightened the screws on the Dees, Marinoff was one of the players holding the Makita Drill.

To say it was the best I’ve seen her play would be redundant, simply because this game was the best she’s played at AFLW level, and heading into a clash with the combative Brisbane Lions, it already feels like the kind of game built for a combative kind of girl like Marinoff. I’m sure she’s looking forward to cracking in again.

 

PARTNER IN CRIME

It’s almost as though you can’t mention Marinoff without adding Anne Hatchard’s name as well. Aaaand there I go, just as I did in Noff’s section, I am talking about them together.

There is a method to my madness, and it revolves around the way Hatchard has continually developed her game. Yes, her fitness this and her fitness that… we’ve all heard it, but what I want to talk about is how her vision has improved, and how she no longer simply looks to belt the footy as far forward as she can all the time.

There was one little instance in the last quarter where, at the centre stoppage, Erin Phillips fed out a handball to Hatchard. In the past, she may have been tempted to throw the footy on her boot and gain distance. Hell, she may have been tempted to do it again here.

But she didn’t…

Instead, on the call from Marinoff, Hatchard made the heads-up play of dishing off one extra handball which bought her teammate clear space and resulted in a meaningful inside 50 disposal. It’s only a small thing, but how many premierships and great careers are built on all the little things adding up to something larger?

Anne Hatchard is like an Amazon – yes, she will wade through tackles and crash packs, but she has really started to demonstrate some finesse in her game as well. And that spells danger for the opposition.

 

THE BRICK WALL

At quarter time, I had Sarah Allan penciled in as the best player on the ground. It’s no wonder she’ll be named in the All-Australian team again this season – mark my words, if she isn’t, it is a joke.

Her composure under fire, ability to stick the tackle just right, and create distance between herself and her direct opponent when the ball comes tumbling into defensive fifty make her look as though she is doing these things easily. Believe me, this is not easy.

She had Brenna Tarrant for the majority of this game and completely shut her down. It wasn’t even close in terms of impact. Allan used her body, her judgment, her imagination… whoa ‘cause I…. sorry, got stuck in Pretenders loop there for a second.

There have been others that have got the attention as great defenders this season – the Crows will face one of them this coming weekend in the big one, Katie Lutkins, however whilst Ruby Schleicher was fantastic, and Stacey Livingstone had her share of big wins for the year, the form of Sarah Allan has been just as good, if not better than any of her peers, and the hammered that point home in this game in a big way.

 

DARTIN’ MARTIN

My favourite player to watch… I really wish the AFL app would display things like pressure acts in a game, because looking at it to get a gauge on how Rachelle Martin performed is like checking out the moon to see how sunny it’ll be tomorrow – it is bloody futile.

The AFLW app states that Martin had three tackles, but what it does not tell you is that this woman is a complete disruptor. You know when you were a kid and you got your school report back at the end of term and it would say something like “easily distracted” or “easily disrupted”? I’m sure you do remember that… I sure as hell do.

I reckon Martin’s report would have read “distracts or disrupts others”. Yes, mine read that as well a couple of times.

She is not content running around getting the footy. If Matty Clarke is saying that someone needs to get up in the grill of their opponents and create some havoc, there’d be a few who he’d eyeball. Eloise Jones, Ebony Marinoff and Hannah Button may all catch the eye of the coach as he delivers his message.

But he would not need to look at Martin to get his message across. She lives and breathes it.

The last three Adelaide games I have reviewed have featured Rachelle Martin heavily. She is a constant thorn in the side of every team she plays against, with a hunter’s mentality and a thirst for the contest. Three tackles? Forget that garbage… the impact she had on this game was immense and it was obvious that there was nobody on the Melbourne team that had any idea how to combat her.

Martin’s inside 50, follow up and tackle on Karen Paxman to win the holding the ball free kick should be played on loop at training this week – that is the standard for others to follow.

She will be chomping at the bit to get hold of a few Lions and drag them to ground in less than a week’s time. After all she has done this season, the best may be yet to come.

 

HANKS VERY MUCH

If there was one take away from this game for the Dees that bodes well for the future of their club, it would be the hard work and creativity of Tyla Hanks.

One of the few Demons to take contact, bounce off it and get clean possessions away, her creativity with the footy threatened to bring the Dees back into the contest at stages. Finishing with 20 disposals, her willingness to change direction and not be a slave to the implied pressure and throw the ball on her foot, was heartening to see. In an ocean of chaos, she was an island of composure.

It’s a pity that she didn’t have a couple more that could team with her and link up to use the footy a bit better.

That said, Kate Hore was good, Shelley Scott had some good moments and Casey Sheriff could hold her head high as well. They were all good, but none were great. Hanks was the closest, but compared to the beasts opposed to her, was still a little way off the pace they set.

 

THE COLLISION

It’s going to cost Chelsea Randall a Grand Final, which is a damn shame.

A first quarter clash of heads with Eli McNamara saw both players go to the bench and not return. In a collision that was indicative of the physical nature of the game, Randall took possession at half back and cannoned into McNamara, only to crack heads wither her, sending both players to the deck.

It was a sickening collision, and really, the only way there seems to be head contact in the game other than marking contests now, but after not returning to the game, Randall will sit out next week and watch her team chase a third flag.

What does it mean for the Crows, heading in against the Lions without their skipper? It means a heap, but they do have some leadership all over the ground. Allan Thompson in defence, Hatchard and Marinoff in the middle. Scheer up forward. Phillips… wherever she deems fit to play. Losing a player like Randall hurts, but if there is any team that can cover her loss, it is the Crows.

And they’ll have to.

 

QUICK BITS

Adelaide really didn’t have any passengers in this one. That may sound like I am stating the obvious, but at times in AFLW games, there are players who simply look out of place and cannot get a read on the play. They’re bodies on the park, and little else.

Not this team.

Their lowest disposal winner was Eloise Jones. The first time I watched her play, I wondered whether she’d walked into the wrong ground. She was terrible, but the more I watched her, the more I have come to understand her – she is mercurial, and does not need to have 20 touches to hurt you. Her goal in the last quarter to finish the Dees off was what I noted as “Classic EJ” as she found a way to do the impossible after making the possible seem rather difficult at points.

I’ve said it before; there is a touch of Stevie J about her… and he didn’t mind a Grand Final performance, did he?

Loved Chloe Scheer’s body work again. So many do not understand how to use their body in contests or at ground level – Scheer is like a university lecturer in comparison. Great positioning, good use of the hips and leans into her opponents at just the right time to create space.

Solid game from Kate Hore under duress. Kicked the only goal for the Dees, and with Shelley Scott, looked like the only forwards that could produce anything. Would have liked to see Hore apply a bit more defensive pressure inside 50, but the ball was in and out of there so quickly, it made it hard. Still, zero tackles… can’t have that in a Prelim.

Karen Paxman? 25 touches but so many of them rushed and ineffective. Bought distance and little else.

 

And that might do me – looking forward to a belter next week, with the Crows and Lions the kind of match-up that is mouth-watering. Does Cathy Svarc go to Erin Phillips again? I hope so – and may the best woman win.

 

BRISBANE 7. 3. (45) DEFEATED COLLINGWOOD 6. 5. (41)

REVIEWER – ALEX DOCHERTY

 

It’s one of the most hotly-anticipated sequels in recent memory. For this set of eyes, not since Rock vs Austin at Wrestlemania 17 has there been a second installment that has been as exciting and promised plenty.

Of course, these are two completely different things. One is an actual sport and the other is ‘sports entertainment’, but I hope you get the premise of what I’m trying to say here. Brisbane and Collingwood played a blinder of a contest about a month ago at the Whitten Oval which saw the Lions hang on in a game of attrition.

That was a game just for premiership points, the stakes in this contest are far greater – with a spot in the 2021 up for grabs, albeit it comes with a trip to the cauldron that is the Adelaide Oval, following the Crows’ job on Melbourne earlier in the day.

What we got was one of the games of the year – feels like it’s been a bit of a throwaway line considering some of the contests we’ve been treated to this year, but this was a game that ebbed, flowed, had lots of physical moments but also had times where the game was pinging from end to end and scores were coming thick and fast.

But in the end, it would be Brisbane that would punch their ticket in for their third Grand Final in five seasons with a four-point win over Collingwood, setting up a second Grand Final showdown with the Crows – the first one dates all the way back to the inaugural season – maybe that’s the Rock/Austin II showdown? I’m just praying neither one side batters the other with steel chairs and aligns themselves with AFL House.

But enough obscure WWE references here, it’s time to break down what happened in an all-time classic.

 

DAVEY V SVARC II

So from reviewing the last time these two sides met (One of a couple reasons why I put my hand up for this game), there were two direct match-ups that stood out that helped get the Lions over the line last time and they were back again at the Gabba for all to see this time.

The first and most obvious one came from the centre bounce. Cathy Svarc’s been in red hot form as a tagger this year – so hot that she’s in my All-Australian team and as such, kept Davey to just the 14 touches which is a season-low for the Collingwood co-captain.

Davey put in a much better performance in this one, racking up the 23 touches, but it didn’t go without Svarc making sure that she earned plenty of those, because she was right behind her, particularly during the stoppages around the ground.

One of the things that I think distinguishes this performance from the last time is Davey’s awareness – she knows that Svarc will be around, so she needed to be on her toes and in large, she was – quick hands in the contest and a boot to ball just to gain meterage. Some of the times it worked a treat for the Pies, but other times the kicks were rushed and caused a turnover, which is the next best win for taggers.

Davey was at her most prominent when the ball was live and had been pinging around the ground – it’s pretty hard for taggers to really make their presence felt without a stoppage and the more the game went without a stoppage, the more likely it was that Davey was loosely checked and that happened a fair bit, particularly during the second half of the contest.

Svarc had the 11 disposals and the eight tackles, so it’s not like she worked her absolute backside either. Also worth noting that a few of the Pies players put a bit of physicality onto her just to let her know it won’t be as easy a task this time around. Great battle this was.

 

KOENEN V MOLLOY II

This was the other key match-up to watch out for, because last time it was Bree Koenen that had the job on Chloe Molloy and rendered her ineffective.

Unlike the rematch highlighted above, this one had the same result, as Chloe Molloy was hardly sighted in this contest only registering the five disposals and no score. It’s common knowledge that if Molloy is firing, the Pies are a much better outfit, but as the old saying goes: why fix something that isn’t broke?

Koenen’s an unsung hero in this Brisbane side and has been for a while. Whether it’s a lockdown job that she gets assigned to do by Craig Starcevich, or be that player that works tirelessly to rebound, tackle and do everything that she can do to not let an opposition score through. Shannon Campbell is another one that is unheralded and did well for 90 percent of the contest looking after Sophie Alexander.

To add insult to Molloy’s pain is that Koenen racked up 10 disposals herself, whilst Molloy failed to lay a single tackle in this contest. I’m a big Molloy fan as much as the next person, but I hope she has this performance locked away in her mind for 2022, because it was a very poor finish to what was overall a very good individual season – it felt like she didn’t give any resistance whatsoever.

 

DAKOTA

I’m trying so hard to think of a Stereophonics reference – how mid-2000s of me right? – and honestly, the only thing that comes to mind is the end of the song where lead vocalist Kelly Jones repeats the words: “So take a look at me now.”

I think it’s relevant when it comes to Dakota Davidson. Since her debut last year, since being picked up late in the 2019 AFLW Draft, she’s come so far in such a short period of time. An All-Australian spot beckons for her (unless you count my All-Australian team, in which case it’s the only team that matters) because she was just simply superb in this contest.

It started with her goal-assist to Jess Wuetschner in the opening term when Collingwood started the game on their terms – the clean pick up at ground level and the quick hands to her teammate got the Lions on the board and then soon joined the party with three goals of her own – two of which came in the second term, one on the back of strong marking hands and the other on the back of good pressure by her teammates – credit Wuetschner and Lauren Arnell for that one.

But her third goal was arguably the most important. She found space inside 50 and credit to Tahlia Hickie, who worked hard to get the footy and pump inside 50 to start with, but Davidson had to put it away to put some breathing space between the two sides -and she delivered.

In truth, she’s delivered all year, but that was her best performance of the season and it came at a good time.

 

BRAZILL EVERYWHERE

It was noted that Ash Brazill was lining up in the forward line to start the contest, which was a little odd, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

It looked like it was an attempt to really make the Lions’ defence a bit more accountable. Kate Lutkins is at her best when she’s peeling off and being the intercept defender and they’ve also got Shannon Campbell and the emerging Indy Tahau.

I thought Brazill’s start to the game was really strong, She was running onto loose balls, was presenting herself well towards the ball – did all the things a good key forward should do in modern footy – only she kicked 0.2 in the first quarter. Even if she hits one of them, how much does that change the dynamic of this contest?

She was then swung back after quarter time and played her role as the intercept marking tall very well – especially with Stacey Livingstone down on influence. Just as a side note Davidson as well Taylor Smith did extremely well to exert physicality and bring the ball to ground anytime it went her way.

Brazill had the 16 disposals and five marks, and featured in a few rebound 50s as well, because she had looked back to her All-Australian best. She also came up with a massive goal in the last 30 seconds, to make it really interesting. It was a good piece of play too, outmarking Courtney Hodder and then getting up and running to just inside 50 to launch one home.

Even though Collingwood didn’t get their desired result, I think internally, Collingwood would be very happy with how Brazill’s slotted right back into this team, and the added bonus is that she can play either end and make a real fist of it. Her importance in 2022 is far more greater than most realise.

 

BODEYROCK

Greta Bodey has been very quiet the past month and a bit in terms of hitting the scoreboard, but what a time to pop off for a big game.

Brisbane have had a mountain of players who’ve improved dramatically over the past 12 months: Davidson was mentioned above, Nat Grider, Isabel Dawes, Orla O’Dwyer are in the same category, but Bodey’s impact is perhaps second to Davidson in terms of most improved.

In the first month, she was well entrenched in the top five for goals kicked and that came off the back of elite positioning and reading of the play. Whether or not things haven’t fallen her way over the past month or opposition coaches have worked overtime in trying to curtail her influence on the game.

She has the smarts to know when to stay down, as her first goal showed when she stayed down when three players – two Pies and a Lion went up and the ball fortuitously fell to her feet and was composed enough to put it away for six points. Her second goal was on the back of pure gut running heading back towards goal.

She finished the game with 2.1 from eight touches, but the thing that will stand out on the stat sheet is her tackling pressure – along with Svarc, she led all Lions with eight tackles for the match. Pressure at the contest has been a staple in the Lions’ gameplan this year and the fact that they were +29 in tackles and +12 in tackles inside 50 against a top three team in the competition says all you need to know about Brisbane’s chances heading into the Grand Final.

 

OTHER BITS

I noticed that Ally Anderson had the match up on Jaimee Lambert all throughout the stoppages – it was another starring performance from Anderson who had the 23 touches to Lambert’s 13 – the Pie was on early with a great goal in the pocket, but faded terribly.

Alana Porter’s job on Courtney Hodder was outstanding considering how dangerous she has been over the past few weeks – Porter held her to just the one disposal and the four tackles, when she would be putting up tackle numbers higher than that.

They would love Emily Bates to have more than seven touches of the footy next week, especially with both Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff putting in starring performances on the weekend.

Another Ruby Schleicher game that typified how outstanding and how vastly-improved she has been with her footy – had the 17 disposals and four marks and kicked a ripping goal in the first term. Her tackling pressure is very underrated.

Nat Grider’s second half I thought was huge, won a handful of important one-on-ones in the defensive half and her pressure was on full display. She was in good form before she missed a game mid-season with injury – looks like she’s hit form at the right time.

How unlucky was that bounce that denied Sarah Rowe that goal? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and Jason Bennett made mention on the commentary that it could be the difference in the end. It shouldn’t be the difference, the game is played approximately an hour and a half long.

Brittany Bonnici is as Brittany Bonnici does – 18 disposals in another game that highlights her consistency towards the run and spread and her use of the ball – one of the Pies’ best in this one.

Loved Tarni Brown’s goal in the second term, she made a few good runs throughout the match – could be debated that she went a few steps too far in that particular play, but it was a pleasure to watch.

Speaking of run, I thought Orla O’Dwyer’s running game was simply brilliant – Sophie Conway was a little down on form, but her aggressive approach was brilliant and will benefit the team against the Crows – her goal which saw her run through the stoppage was just sensational footy.

Lastly, some recognition to everyone behind the scenes at Brisbane – from Breeanna Brock who is the CEO of the women’s team, to the recruiters, to the coaching staff. The club has been ravaged with expansion clubs pillaging a lot of players that featured in their 2017-18 Grand Final teams, but just went back to work with replacing them with players that will be prominent features not just next week but hopefully down the track.

This Lions team has been something special this year and I wish them the best of luck next week. Best of luck to Adelaide too, who have been in red-hot touch in the second half of the season.

 

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