Ah, January…

The sunny skies over Australia are… well, they’re covered in storm clouds as I write this, but for the most part the skies are enjoyable. The flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, and it is time for AFLW footy to take the spotlight.

After a season that saw Brisbane finally capture the elusive premiership, we start all over again, with the same thing that threatened, and destroyed the 2020 season threatening again two years later… only with weaker threats that are being taken just as seriously.

What a world we live in.

So, this’ll be a long one – our writers have been chomping at the bit to sink their teeth into some footy – so I’ll cut the yapping and get onto the game reviews. Enjoy – HB

 

RICHMOND (10. 1. 61) DEFEATED ST KILDA (3. 5. 23)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

Before I commence, just wanted add a couple of things pertaining to the coverage of AFLW this season.

No AFLW supplements in the Herald Sun in Melbourne this year. No magazine-style season previews available, either. Given the lack of overall coverage, having a hard copy detailing the players, off-season moves, and new players was extremely valuable in covering games last season. Real shame nothing like that was made available again this year. I donated ten bucks to wikipedia instead – thanks to all who contributed there.

Secondly, the official AFLW app is horrible. Still contains only the most basic of stats during a game and makes the men’s app look like an award winner, which is saying something. Anyway, strange way to start a review, I know, but in looking at the advances we have with the game, it is also important to note where things fall down. The work, or lack thereof, around these two aspects of the game are a sore point this season. Either invest in the game, take it seriously, or don’t. Don’t do things half-arsed.

On with the show.

Well, in a strange decision, the season-opener took place in Frankston, but in fairness, maybe the AFL knew what they were doing, as the threatening weather didn’t go past threatening and the ground looked in excellent nick. Oh, there were also over three thousand people to watch on as the Tigers were clearly the better team on the night.

Though the scores remained close for the first half, you got the feeling that the dam wall was going to break at some stage, with Richmond moving the footy well and having targets inside 50 willing to work into position and convert.

It could have been messy had a few more Tigers worked the rust off a little earlier, but the longer the game progressed, the more in control they looked.

St Kilda appeared rudderless. Much has been made of the absence of Georgia Patrikios, but I found the team looked stagnant when going forward, an over-reliance on Caitlin Greiser making them predictable and easy to defend against. The Richmond combination of Sarah D’Arcy and Harriet Cordner worked well in tandem to render her ineffective. The Saints really missed Kate Shierlaw as a target across half-forward to straighten them up and draw a bit of the defensive attention away from Greiser.

The Tigers were without their young star, Ellie McKenzie, but the Saints have been murdered by outs for Round One, with Nat Exon, Molly McDonald, and Mongrel favourite, Nicola Xenos also unavailable for this one.

But enough preamble – let’s jump into some important points.

 

CONTI V TLR

Important to note – this was not a tagging job by Tilly Lucas-Rodd. Just a head-to-head matchup in the middle against one of the best accumulators in the game.

It was a close tussle early on, but the work ethic and willingness to make second and third efforts elevated Conti to a clear win in the midfield by the end of the game. At half time, Conti had 13 touches to Lucas-Rodd’s 12, however, the support around the Tiger best and fairest was far superior, and it soon became apparent that TLR was fighting a losing battle.

I was kind of hoping that at some stage we could have seen TLR and Tayla Stahl go head-to-head in a couple of contests, like two heads of rival chapters of the Hell’s Satans biker clubs, but they didn’t cross paths – such a shame.

Conti dropped the hammer in the second half, racking up a further 16 touches as she worked to be part of several one-two possession chains and went from contest to contest. Though I am not overly sure her disposals hurt, the sheer volume of them, and her ability to draw heat when she was near the footy meant that if she was anywhere near the contest, it opened up avenues for teammates to run into space and receive.

Whilst I liked the game of Conti overall, Tessa Lavey was not far behind her, notching 19 touches and looking classy with the ball in hand.

Great to see Patrick Dangerfield going out on a limb with his tweeting “If the Tigers win games, Mon Conti MAY win the league B&F.”

Can’t wait for his next Captain Obvious moment.

 

FORWARD STRUCTURE

The Saints had Greiser.

The Tigers had Brennan, Wakefield and Bernardi. To paraphrase 1980s WWF manager, The Slickster… “three ladies will always beat one ladies.”

Yeah, Slick wasn’t no orator. It seems to be catching…

Bernardi, despite her butterfingers, managed to remain dangerous and finished with a couple of goals. She dropped four uncontested chest marks in this game and looked like she had been taking lessons from Gemma Houghton.

Brennan played an intelligent game. At one point she feigned to kick the ball off the deck while inside 50. Rhi Watt  – the closest Saint in the vicinity – threw herself at the feet of Brennan, who pulled the kick and drew the free-kick for having her legs taken, instead. It wasn’t mentioned on commentary, but it was quite a cluey move from Brennan.

And Wakefield… she just looks like a woman that knows what she’s doing out there. She positions herself well, has good hands, and can make something out of nothing. For all the press Brennan has received over the journey, Wakefield is every bit as good, and deserving of plaudits.

Finally, to get two snags out of Meagan Kelly, the Tigers would be rapt. I know we probably all heard the stories on commentary, but she looks like a player that gets to the right spots and can remain a threat around goals. Definitely one to watch.

 

ANYONE SPOT KATE MCCARTHY?

I might be a bit rusty with my AFLW recollections, but I seem to remember McCarthy being a bit more willing to win the footy than she was in this one.

At one point, she took a hard knock from a lovely Harriet Cordner bump, but it seemed for the most part, McCarthy was content to play the Mitch McGovern role and run to where the ball was not. I know she shares a footy club with Brad Hill – maybe he has been giving her lessons about how to win her own footy?

The Saints need someone with zip to break lines and get into the open, but McCarthy looked sluggish. She finished with three touches and was moved up forward late in the game to attempt to both give the Saints something and get her involved. Though more lively in the forward half, it was a very disappointing outing, first up.

 

TALL POPPY

Looking at the ruck contest before the game, I thought this was going to be a spot where the Saints established some dominance. Rhi Watt has been one of the better rucks in the game for a couple of years, and her understudy, Poppy Kelly saw an opportunity to move to Richmond and take on the number one ruck role.

This was a chance for Watt to demonstrate just why she was the number one ruck at St Kilda and Kelly was not.

But it did not work out that way. Kelly’s athleticism troubled Watt, with the pair evenly matched. Given I expected this to be a clear win to the Saints, Kelly’s efforts deserve to be mentioned, and you’d have to think that even a breakeven in the contest was a win for the Tiges.

 

TARNI WHITE GOES ALRIGHT

Of the St Kilda mids, I liked the game of White best. Her clean hands and ability to get her hands free to release the footy gave the Saints a reliable option. In isolation, she was the best player on the park in the second quarter.

In a midfield that has been so depleted this season, White will most likely become the standout player for the Saints and it will hold her in good stead for when the troops eventually return – even if that is 2023 for some – and give her a hand.

 

HOSKING… BOTH OF THEM

Pretty unfair to have twins on the same team… unless I see their numbers, I have no idea which is which, but this could really work in their favour. One of them gave away a soft/silly 50 metre penalty in the first quarter and cost her team a goal, but over the course of the game, she… or her sister… or both of them… did enough to far outweigh any negativity early on. Their desperation and willingness to throw themselves across the boot of their opponents added an edge to the Richmond team that the Saints just did not possess.

I believe it was Jess Hosking’s tackle at half-forward toward the end of the second quarter went on to set up a goal for Tayla Stahl, and both the twins continually exerted the kind of physical pressure that makes opponents think twice about taking them on.

 

OAK TREE IN THE ACORN

Emilia Yassir… Pascoe Vale represent!!!

Took a heavy knock late in the game while running with the flight, and I hope she pulls up well. It was a solid debut despite a couple of errors throughout the course of the game. She did enough to open a few eyes. Her cross the body pass inside fifty to hit Katie Brennan in the third quarter was a blinder.

“What is a blinder?”

Go back and watch that kick, mate. THAT was a blinder!

Number five pick, Stella Reid was quiet, but did manage to snag herself a goal on debut. Almost gave me a Streetcar Named Desire moment in celebration.

 

RUNNING DOWNHILL

The quick, clean hands in the first minute of the last quarter, as the Tigers ran through the guts to set up a Courtney Wakefield shot at goal was close to the best pure-footy skills I have seen in the AFLW this season!

Just kidding… it was impressive, though. It was brilliant to see the team gel so well by hand through the middle and hit continuous targets as they surged forward – high level footy. That is something  teams have struggled with to date, so to see the Tigers do the work and manufacture a shot at goal from a series of quick, crisp handballs that moved the ball so well… it was really promising.

 

SAINTS IN TROUBLE?

Hmmmm, I don’t think either side is going anywhere fast this season, but when we look at it, the Saints had eight scoring shots and the Tigers had 11. It was just that the Tigers kicked so damn straight and St Kilda dropped three shots at goal right on the line, robbing themselves of an opportunity to narrow the gap.

I cannot see either team making finals, but the Tigers have a bit more to work with than St Kilda do at the moment.

 

LAST ONE

Richmond are a better team without Sabrina Frederick as part of this team – changes their entire forward structure and makes defenders work, rather than get a free pass to run off her. I’m very interested to see how she goes at Collingwood, but watching Richmond last season, there were times she was as much a liability inside 50 as she was a benefit.

If she goes well at Collingwood, more power to her, but with this Richmond setup, it seems like addition by subtraction.

 

 

NORTH MELBOURNE (4. 2. 26) DEFEATED GEELONG (2. 6. 18)

REVIEWER – JB EDDY

 

This time last year saw North open their 2021 account with a ten-goal thrashing of Geelong. While North entered the game without their Captain Emme Kearney, they were still heavy favourites, but the game threw up more than a few surprises, not the least of which were that Geelong could very well have pinched this one.

With the storms abating and Melbourne summer providing the perfect weather for football (for a few hours anyway), fans pulled up a patch of grass and settled in for the game.

 

NEW FACES

A few new faces for both teams lined up, with Amy Smith having the honour of being North Melbourne’s first Father-Daughter player. Tess Craven also debuted for the Kangaroos, and while she didn’t manage to trouble the stat trackers overly much, her post-match interview included several “credit to the girls” and “One week at a time” lines that suggest she’s spending lots of time watching game footage and hasn’t been fast-forwarding any parts at all.

Geelong welcomed several newcomers, with mixed results. Claudia Gunjaca seemed to be close to the pack frequently, but just a step too short to actually do much with the ball, managing only a single handball and a tackle for her day. As a key position player, she’ll be given time to adjust to the top-level, though and will be better for the hitout.

Contrasted to this is fellow debutant Georgie Prespakis. She’s listed as a left-footer, but I swear most of her kicks were on her right, and she was just as good with either hand also. It’s a delight to see any player able to use both sides of their body, and Prespakis did so to great effect, managing 20 touches (16 kicks) and six tackles. She looks to be the latest in the new generation of emerging AFLW talent that understand the midfield role literally inside and out. She is definitely worth keeping an eye on, and Geelong will be well served by her.

Irish import Rachel Kearns also looked very comfortable, showing plenty of aggression in both halves of the ground, and monstering her opponents at every opportunity. Once she adjusts a bit further to the game, she’ll be a dangerous presence in the Geelong forward line.

Returning to the squad for the first time since 2020 was a young Garry Hocking Nina Morrison. After coming back from two ACLs, you’d be forgiven for thinking she may play a fairly timid role, but she seemed to be absolutely all-in and as hungry for a touch as any on the ground. It looked like she ran out of gas a little in the second half, but she’s hardly alone there for round one.

 

COVID MANAGEMENT AS IMPORTANT AS INJURY LISTS

As mentioned, Emma Kearney was a withdrawal due to a positive case of COVID-19. With the possibility of more infections as restrictions are lifted, we could see many more players ruled out, some for significant amounts of time if they catch a bad case. Some people are recovering quickly, some are having shortness of breath lasting for weeks, so it’ll be interesting to see how the season unfolds.

North will hope Kearney can return quickly, as they definitely missed her leadership and attack on the ball, but it would not be surprising if they kept her out a bit longer rather than risk having much of the team affected.

 

EARLY GOING

I’m a huge fan of Darren Crocker. When people talk about servants to the club, he’s one of North’s longest, best-liked and most respected, but he was outplayed today.

Geelong came into the match with a reputation of being a low scoring side that dropped their heads once the game was away from them. Cats coach Daniel Lowther seems to have addressed the latter part of that critique, with his side showing up to play hard, contested footy.

Watching the match, Geelong seemed to play a strong flood-type defence, blocking up North’s forward 50 with 4-5 extra bodies, including a couple of goal-line players to kill the back-of-pack goals that get coaches swearing into their palm while the camera is on them. It made it harder for them to transition into offence, but it also gave North few opportunities for a clean shot at goal from a decent position.

This is where I think North would have benefitted from having Sophie Abbatangelo in the side. While she seems to be a little less enthusiastic running away from goal than she is towards it, she’s an extremely crafty forward, with the ability to turn half-chances into goals when she’s in form. It’ll be interesting to see if she comes into the squad for round two, to address North’s low scoring for this game.

With the Cat’s forward press and North’s forwards struggling to take a contested mark, Geelong showed that they could take North’s best punch early on. That confidence seemed to give the young squad belief, and they took it up to North for the entire match.

It almost looked like Geelong were rope-a-doping North, inviting them to take their best shot for the whole quarter, and asking if that was all they had when they only managed a single major through Jenna Bruton. She managed to make the most of some poor delivery as the ball bounced at her toes as she made her way into a marking zone, and she managed to suck in the defender by accepting the tackle without taking possession, drawing the free in the sort of forward craft that would have the forward-line coaches looking to replay it to their teams across the country.

Bruton converted cleanly to open North’s account, but Geelong were buoyed by the fact it was North’s sole major for the quarter, despite not having scored themselves.

 

GEELONG BUILD PRESSURE

Geelong wasted no time in getting their game going in the second quarter, quickly rebounding from North’s forward 50 into an open corridor as North were drawn towards the play. Phoebe McWilliams found herself in an open half of the ground with an absolute paddock to run into, but only managed a behind as she bombed from 60 out. It would have been an absolute screamer had it gone through, but it showed her teammates that they could break North’s defensive line with some smart play.

Bruton continued to look very sharp in the second quarter, busting packs to find an open teammate. She seemed to be taking on much of the in-and-under role that Kearny usually fulfills but didn’t quite have the confidence to break tackles and tear the game apart. It’s a shame, because she seems to have the talent to do just that, and while Garner, Kearny, Riddell and King are often mentioned when discussing North’s engine room, it’s Bruton that seems to be a key spark whenever North needs a lift.

Unfortunately, just as she seemed to be getting into the game, she was off with an ankle concern. She had a quick restrap, before coming back into the game, but her momentum seemed halted, and she lacked the ability to weave through traffic that she had early on.

Rachel Kearns was instrumental in Geelong’s second quarter surge, saving goals by shutting down any space North had in their forward 50, then sprinting into Geelong’s attacking zones to create a scoring opportunity. She was a bit unlucky to slip just as she was steadying to shoot at goal, but she proved to be a headache for North for much of the match.

For Geelong, Prespakis and McDonald played a very tight midfield game, amassing possessions while also locking down North’s mids with some very effective tackling. From previous seasons, McDonald has been a player that frustrated some fans (me among them). She’s exceptionally talented and collects the ball well, but her kicking action is a weird high-dropping style that causes easy turnovers. While I’m sure she’s worked on it in the off-season, she managed to avoid exposing any weakness in that area by playing like a ruck and handballing at every opportunity.

The pressure Geelong bought saw them keep North scoreless in the second quarter and were unlucky to not have a couple of goals themselves.

 

CATS STRIKE

Geelong increased the pressure, roving Emma King’s tap work better than North were able to do, and shutting down space around the ground. Kaitlyn Ashmore had been finding space regularly, but quickly ran into trouble when a ferocious tackle from Emma Kearns dislodged the ball, giving Geelong a free kick and a shot on goal, which was unfortunately not capitalised on by the Irishwoman.

Ashmore came off with an ankle concern to compound the pressure on North as Geelong locked the ball in their forward 50, bringing the ball back in for McWilliams to take a classic contested mark from Morrison’s kick and put through the first goal for the Cats in 2022, with every player joining in the celebrations.

The pressure increased again when Crockett-Grills roved the back of a pack to kick Geelong’s second and giving her team the lead for the first time in the match.

A boilover seemed on the cards, with Geelong absolutely brimming with enthusiasm and intent. It took a bit out of the team when Sheer was taken from the ground when she clashed heads with Gunjaca while attempting to tackle the powerful Jess Duffin. Sheer had been one of the bulldozers that had effectively denied North any space to set up possession chains, so having her taken from the ground (even temporarily) was a blow to the side.

Kaitlyn Ashmore came back onto the ground and found herself in some space to take a forward 50 mark, setting up a kick to the top of the square. Geelong effectively moved Emma King underneath the drop of the ball, only for Annabel Johnson to inexplicably try to do a two-handed punch rather than collect the ball herself. She mistimed it and the ball went over her head into the waiting arms of Daisy Bateman, who collected and kicked from a metre out to give north a second goal just before three quarter time.

 

GEELONG WITH THE LEAD

The Cats still went into the final quarter with a handy two-point lead, and a bit of belief that would have had a few locals at Arden St concerned. Crocker settled his charges though, and the roogirls came out to play their natural game.

Rather than be sucked into the pack play, they kept their structure and began to chain together some possession plays that resulted in Garner finding Mia King in open space in North’s forward line. A quick 1-2 with Daisy Bateman allowed King to get the space she needed, closing to 15 metres and splitting the uprights to give North the lead.

Bruton, Riddell and Garner took their chances, with each setting up clever plays as North worked hard to stick to a structure and trust each other to earn their own ball without congesting the space around the contest.

The free-flowing style that North love paid off shortly afterwards, with Kaitlyn Ashmore finding space and getting on the end of a Riddell kick, wheeling around the mark, and kicking a six-pointer that had a few Geelong players dropping their heads.

Geelong kept pushing forward, but North had the game well in hand as they ground down the clock and denied the Cats any easy shots.

 

PLAYING WITH STYLE

I like it when players rock the long sleeves. It takes a certain type to pull it off, and the guernsey design plays a big part in this. Geelong’s indigenous guernsey looked fantastic, with the design reflecting both the indigenous design elements and the traditional club stip. North instead opted to go with plain white sleeves that made it look like the players were auditioning for a very low-budget power rangers pantomime. Somehow Kaitlyn Ashmore made it look classy as she blitzed her way along the wing, but surely North will opt for the traditional striped sleeve in the future‽

Maybe I’m just nit-picking, but the white sleeves just looked off to me.

 

THE DIFFERENCE MAKERS

Amy McDonald was the key player in this matchup. While I did mention earlier that she was pretty handball happy, her 20 touches came along with a game-high 14 tackles (the next-highest being Webster with 9). Having Prespakis beside her to be the playmaker will allow McDonald to concentrate on earning the hard ball, which could work out to be a brilliant pairing.

For North, different players stepped up at different times. Bruton, Riddell, Garner and Ashmore all had dominant periods, but none of them seemed to be able to break into the game consistently. It’s a credit to the squad that they can work off each other when a few of them have quiet periods, but North will want to see more four-quarter impact from each player if they want to play finals this year.

 

UP NEXT

Geelong will host the Western Bulldogs at Kardinia Park. The Bulldogs will be smarting from their defeat at the hands of a very dangerous looking Demons side, and while Geelong will enter the match with plenty of hard-earned belief, I think they’re not quite where they need to be just yet, and the Bulldogs will open their 2022 account. Not without a scare or two though.

North will have the hardest task in football, taking on Adelaide at Norwood Oval. Adelaide had a point to prove this week, putting the reigning premiers to the sword to avenge their Grand Final loss, but will probably still feel unfulfilled until they hoist the cup themselves. While injuries did play a part, the five-goal victory will have North more than a little concerned here, and that hesitation could be exactly what allows Adelaide to come away with the four points.

 

 

 

MELBOURNE (6. 10. 46) DEFEATED WESTERN BULLDOGS (3. 4. 22)

REVIEWER – ALEX DOCHERTY

 

The original AFLW rivalry, I love it in a round one fixture, but I won’t spare my time waffling on about why it deserves to kick off the year.

What I will waffle on is this game, footy’s back and what a way to kick off another year of season reviews with a rivalry that has been around in the AFL Women’s space since the days of the exhibition games, and in this instalment, we were delivered another enthralling chapter on Saturday evening, it’s a rivalry that continues to find reasons of

It had Melbourne starting strong against the breeze and in turn, the Dogs displaying a defensive mindset that was completely putrid, a heartbreaking moment for both AFLW fans and Bulldogs fans alike, but this was met after half time with a spirited effort from the Dogs, showing that they can match a good side.

However, it was all for naught, as Melbourne made sure it flexed its muscle when they had their chances in the second half backed up the pre-season hype from many of the pundits.

The Dogs have made Whitten Oval a very hard place to play over the past 12 months, but the Dees had a plan against the wind, which was expertly executed and was a major reason why the Hampson-Hardeman trophy is back in the red and the blue camp and why the Dees banked their first four premiership points of the season, which should set them up sweetly for the road ahead.

But as for the Bulldogs, it was mentioned pre-game that the Dogs had eight players unavailable for the contest due to injury or falling victim (I use the term loosely) to the AFL’s health and safety protocols and there were a couple of others battling small niggles already in the season. The depth is already being stretched and it may be stretched even further as the season progresses, which is not what Dogs fans want to hear.

 

HERE WE GO AGAIN

The Dogs’ injury list segues well into arguably one of the biggest talking points to come out of the game and it is the suspected Anterior Cruciate Ligament to Izzy Huntington, sustained in the second quarter as she landed from a marking contest.

Around 90 percent of the time, footy is a great sport to watch, a tremendous thing to analyse and an interesting game to follow, but it’s the other 10 percent that makes it incredibly fickle and frustrating and makes you want to throw your pen and notepad towards your television.

Izzy Huntington has not had a great run of injury throughout her career and this spate of lower leg injuries date back to her draft year and to see her go down again is disheartening. The look on her face was all you needed to know and from that moment all the way up until half time, the mood around the ground, was remarkably flat.

Two ACL injuries and a broken leg in the early doors of your career is incredibly dangerous, especially in the long term, it hurts even more when you finally begin to piece together good years and Huntington has had two seasons in which she was a Rising Star, an All-Australian, a club best and fairest winner and a club leading goal-kicker.

What makes this injury even worse is that not even a minute earlier, she had just laid a bone-crunching tackle on Karen Paxman, which resulted in a shot on goal that ultimately resulted in the Bulldogs’ first goal of the match.

So now the Dogs are going to prepare themselves to go the year without their best forward, but with challenges, comes opportunity. It gives an opportunity to Bonnie Toogood to be the number one key forward, and it was an opportunity that I thought she did very well in taking after halftime, providing long, hard and strong leads and displaying strong marking hands.

It also gives more of an opportunity to a player like Nell Morris-Dalton, who had a game that she would rather forget – if she didn’t fumble the ball, her direct opponent worked around her way too easily, but it’s something for her to take going forward, everyone will have a bad night.

 

HOW THE WEST WAS WON IN THE FIRST QUARTER

Many comments were made following about the Richmond v St Kilda game on Friday night about how the standard in skills has taken another rise in comparison to last season. There certainly seems to be some substance in it if you watched how Melbourne were using the ball, especially in the first quarter.

Kicking against the infamous Whitten Oval breeze, the Dees relied on precision passing through the middle. It was a little bit of possession footy and a little bit of taking the game on that helped create their first three goals.

It was that, combined with lazy defensive pressure and breakdown of structure from the Bulldogs that allowed Melbourne to push through and capitilise against the wind. The most pleasing thing about this is that no one player really stood out in this time frame, it felt more of a collective team effort.

In that first quarter, the Dees went at 74 percent disposal efficiency to the Bulldogs’ 46 percent and they recorded 27 more uncontested possessions and 18 more marks than that of the Dogs too. The thing that will sting the Dogs though is that they recorded one less tackle in that opening quarter. They went +12 in the following three quarters.

I will highlight the efforts of Libby Birch here as she was exceptional in that first term, cutting off a lot of forward entries from the Dogs and practically engineered most of their forward thrusts in the opening term. After that however the Dogs’ forwards did exceptionally well to close off the space that was allowed in the first quarter and forced her to throw it on the boot, which in turn allowed the Dogs multiple forward 50 entries.

 

ZANK YOU VERY MUCH

Does she have your attention now?

Fellow AFLW premiership contenders should be marking plans on how to combat Eden Zanker, lest they want to see a Jasmine Garner reincarnate running amok both in the midfield and in the competition.

Particularly when the Dogs had the game on their terms in the third quarter, the Dees were looking for someone to help steer the ship and help keep them at bay and Zanker was the player that stood up in the second half with her sheer strength and athleticism.

Whilst Daisy Pearce let her down with the shot on goal, it was Zanker’s ability to win the ball from a contest on the wing and the fact that she was able to run away from Gemma Lagioia, who is a much lighter player than Zanker before she hit the kick inside 50 to the advantage of her team mate that was most remarkable.

Last year we saw Tyla Hanks rise up and establish herself as a gun midfielder of the competition, but it looks like we’re ready to see the next young star of Melbourne take the leap into elite status. Whilst Hanks is a great in-and-under midfielder and what she did in this one is something not to ignore (17 disposals at 88 percent and 10 tackles), what Zanker did and offers to this Melbourne side is so much more.

She has an established craft for contested ball as evidenced with 17 of her 20 disposals coming direct from contested spaces. However, it’s her athleticism and the all-around skill set that helps provide the run and spread for her teammates, more importantly, it’s her height that helps her stand out, which means that she can push forward and pop up for a goal like she did in the opening term.

It was slated in the pre-season that she’ll play predominantly more midfield in 2022, and when you take it into account that Karen Paxman was oddly quiet in this one, you couldn’t ask for a better start to 2022 if you’re Eden Zanker.

 

BENNETTS IN THE MIDDLE

When Elle Bennetts was brought over from GWS, she had played a lot of time on the outside, she was in the All-Australian squad of 40 in 2020 and last year was more stationed on the wing to a pretty good effect.

However, in her first game in Bulldogs’ colours, she was playing more inside the centre square. I don’t mind that it was different looking Bulldogs midfield, Kirsty Lamb was playing under injury duress and was more forward of the ball, which meant players were required to step up and help Ellie Blackburn and it was largely Bennetts and Jess Fitzgerald that were seeing more minutes in the middle in this contest.

After a slow start to the game, Blackburn eventually went on to be the Bulldogs’ best player in this one. It has become customary for the Bulldogs’ captain to leave it all out on the field and in this one, it was no exception, 21 disposals, one goal and seven tackle is indicative of the blue-collared effort Bulldog supporters are used to seeing.

But it was the game of Bennetts that I was left quite impressed with by the end of the evening. There’s some things you pick up throughout the game about certain players that leave you thinking about where the hell it came from.

Bennetts’ work-rate, sure hands in close and ability to link up with her teammates has never been in question, but her toughness around the contest and take the hits as an inside midfielder that was what impressed me very much. When the Dogs were surging in the third term, she was player the Dogs went through in the middle that helped make a lot of their scoring opportunities happen.

Her tackle on Melbourne debutant Eliza West in the middle of Whitten Oval in the third quarter that helped set up Blackburn’s goal is something that I hope Nathan Burke shows the playing group in their review on Monday, because that’s the blueprint of how the Dogs want to play footy.

Harass, tackle, turnover and waste no time with the ball. More often than not, that’s going to end up in, at least, a scoring opportunity.

 

HARRIS V BROWN

No Katie Lynch and no Ellyse Gamble has forced some of the other Bulldogs to play a little bit taller and one player that exemplifies this was Eleanor Brown, who had the daunting task of trying to quell Tayla Harris in her first game in Melbourne colours.

And given that there’s been heavy criticism about how she has played in the past 12 months, would you want to go against her? Harris has a few centimetres on her to start with and experience-wise is a few years ahead of Brown.

To be truthful, Tayla doesn’t need to be the focal point in this forward line, because Melbourne have got a plethora of scoring options to go to. Kate Hore was the most dangerous Demon in the forward line in this one and if she wasn’t up the ground getting the ball inside 50, Hore’s crumbing at ground level is exactly what Harris was brought to Melbourne for.

She started well with a couple of strong contested grabs in the first term, before Brown settled and took a contested grab herself herself before quarter time.

From then on in, it became a bit of a struggle for her to get involved in the game, it’s not entirely her fault, because there were periods of the game where the ball was hemmed into the Bulldogs’ forward half, but where players like Hore, Shelley Scott and Daisy Pearce were a little more proactive, Harris looked a little more stagnant after the initial aerial contest.

She’ll be pleased to get her first goal off her back and whilst it was a much-needed goal for the Demons, it was also a bit opportunistic as Brown overran the footy, but sometimes in football it’s all you need to be let back in and make a stamp on the game and that’s exactly what’s happened with Harris.

 

OTHER BITS

Issy Grant was another player that was thrust into a role across the defensive half and I thought looked very solid down back, coming through with a few good plays off half back and some impressive defensive spoils in the process.

Despite being caught in the Elle Bennetts tackle, Eliza West didn’t look too out of place in this side on debut, brings a lot of mongrel, intensity towards the contest and quick hands in tight, looking like a good find early

I was impressed with the aerial work of Issy Pritchard in this, took two strong grabs and spilled a couple of extras as well, but I liked her effort and intensity both in the air and at ground level, she’s a player that could improve as the season progresses.

Lauren Pearce looked comfortable playing across the defensive half when she wasn’t playing in the ruck. She had 14 disposals, eight of them being intercepts, but also had 11 hitouts and four clearances, her ruck partner Maggie Caris looked alright in her contests as well in the ruck.

The kicking from Lizzy Georgostathis in the third quarter was amongst some of the best kicking I’ve seen from her so far in her short career. Looked out bodied by bigger Melbourne bodies, but it didn’t stop her from busting her backside off, finished with 14 disposals and five tackles.

Birch finished with the 18 disposals in the defensive 50 and probably the best defender of the night, but I also rated the work of Sarah Lampard in this one, particularly when the Dees were caught under pressure from the Dogs, Lampard’s smarts were a big reason why the Dogs were kept to just three goals.

An underrated inside game from Maddi Gay, took a couple of strong grabs, one of which resulted in a goal, but was also hard around the contest and I’d wager most of her 15 disposals were contested, also finished with five tackles.

Brooke Lochland playing more across the half back line was interesting to watch, led all players for rebound 50s with seven for the game, but continued to look very nice with the ball in her hands – a critically underrated piece to the Bulldogs’ team.

Another Demon on debut that didn’t look too shabby was Megan Fitzsimon, looked quite polished at times and having been in the system for over a year now, looks very comfortable with Melbourne’s structures.

And one more player to list off, I thought the vision from Britney Gutknecht in this one was quite brilliant. She picked out Brooke Lochland inside 50 from the boundary in the second quarter and a couple of instances where she was able to display quick and sharp hands.

 

 

FREMANTLE (6. 7. 43) DEFEATED WEST COAST (2. 3. 15)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

28 points is a handy win, but if you think Freo cruised to this win, you’d be mistaken.

The Dockers dominated the last quarter, registering 16 inside fifties to zero for the Eagles, who battled hard all game, but were just lacking class and composure. I also believe that the multiple preseasons from the bulk of the Fremantle list paid huge dividends late in this game, as West Coast appeared to be running on empty.

Freo kept hammering away and the Eagles capitulated, aided by some incredibly poor kicking, which was likely due to the fatigue.

The game was hot early in the piece, with the Eagles surprising Freo with their ferocity in attacking the footy. They were able to turn the game into a bit of a slugfest for three quarters before Freo landed some big blows and took the win.

Let’s jump into the high and low points.

 

THE ANTONIO SHOW

Ebony Antonio has played some good footy in AFLW over the last few years – that is probably a huge understatement. As a mobile half-forward, she is a powerful unit and makes defences very nervous. Personally, if I were playing on her, I’d love to see her running up to the wing to get involved in the play. As dangerous as she is as a playmaker, she is a killer when she is inside fifty, as West Coast found out the hard way in this one.

Antonio finished with three goals in a best on ground performance, including one that will be right up there when goal of the year is decided. Backing herself, she too the game on, slotting a ridiculous banana from the wrong side of the ground on the run as the opening goal of the game.

She played the role of General in this game, dictating where she wanted her teammates to lead and doing her best to deliver the footy to them. Overall, an excellent leader’s game.

 

WARDING OFF HOUGHTON

Gemma Houghton is a match-winner, and as a current All-Australian forward, she has demonstrated just how she can impact a game.

I want to give a lot of credit to you a player who took on the responsibility of ensuring Houghton did not get her trademark out the back run going for the whole game. Amber Ward is just 20 years old, and was not at all intimidated by playing on Houghton.

Sticking with her celebrated opponent, but always covering that out the back option, Ward played an excellent game, with Houghton’s shots at goal coming from pieces of play Ward was not at fault – one being a lace out pass in the first quarter for a miss, and the next being a free kick for holding the ball against one of Ward’s teammates.

In their one-on-one clashes, Ward showed composure and worked the angles well. Not a lot will be made of Ward’s game, but I rate Houghton very highly, so when she is beaten, you have to give a lot of credit to the person doing the job, and in this case, Amber Ward deserves the plaudits.

 

PREDICTION

It was touch and go last season, but in 2022, a dangerous tackle will cost Kiara Bowers a chance at the MVP award.

I am a little bit hazy – I counted four tackles that were assessed to be “dangerous” in this game, but it may well have been five. Of them, I saw one that was judged correctly, inasmuch as there was actual danger in the way the tackle was executed. The others seemed to be the result of either umpires being instructed to pay them, or the umpires, themselves, wetting their pants about the rule and calling it whenever something was evenly remotely hard.

On the topic, I’ll say this. Good tackles cannot be dangerous. Dangerous tackles cannot be good. In this game, we saw several good tackles penalised unnecessarily, and that is not good for the game. I hope it does not cost one of the best players in the game a chance to be named its best.

 

SWANSON VERSUS MILLER

I admit it – I am a neanderthal. I love seeing football with a bit of feeling in the game, and there seemed to be plenty of feeling between Hayley Miller and Emma Swanson. So much so, that it boiled over after Swanson slotted a goal as she got forward and scored with Miller chasing her.

Miller, who has the sharpest eyebrow game in AFLW – prove me wrong, they’re spectacular – lunged desperately at Swanson as she slammed through the goal, with the West Coast captain letting her know all about it as Miller was on the deck.

I reckon Hayley may have milked the free kick, as if there was any type of prohibited contact in their little moment, it was minimal at best, but to see players caring not just about their own game, or that there was a goal, but about a little personal rivalry… it makes the game more interesting. I loved it.

 

YES, OFFICER… WHATEVER YOU SAY.

Look, odds are that at some point in my life I will be caught doing something dodgy. I know I do dodgy things, so rather than arrogantly thinking I will get away with them forever, when the police come knocking at my door and arrest me, I really hope one of them is NOT Ann McMahon.

She was a bit of a demon in this one, relishing the physical nature of the contest, and her seven tackles speak of someone who has had to sit out the last couple of years recovering from a non-footy injury, and was desperate to lay the hurt on someone. Throw her in with the other tackling machines – Bowers and Miller – and you have a Fremantle side that can really lock a team up when the heat is on.

McMahon’s story is a great one, but it was her play that impressed me most, adding another hard edge to the Dockers. You cannot teach that type of approach – some players just attack the footy and the contest harder than others. McMahon is one of those players.

I’ll go peacefully if she was the arresting officer… but I am not admitting to anything, damn it.

 

CAMERON’S PACE?

So, I am going to call BS on this one.

Imahra Cameron possesses excellent skills with the footy, but when the commentators were calling for her to be isolated at the 50 metre line to beat her opponent back to goal with her pace, I started wondering what the hell they were talking about. Had they said she could use her skill and agility to manufacture a scoring opportunity if her opponent made an error, I would have been right onboard with it. But her pace?

She was just beaten in consecutive races for the ball out the back inside 50 before they said this, with Emma O’Driscoll already demonstrating she could use her pace to beat Cameron to the footy. One of them said it, and the other agreed. Bloody lemmings…

 

OH, OH… GABBY O

It was a slimmer version of Gabby O’Sullivan that started in the middle of the ground in this one, moving away from the half-forward role she played last season, and she was impressive in staying mainly defensive side of centre bounce contests to cover what was a surprisingly even midfield battle early on.

Gabby O provided great run, hardness at the contest, and notched four clearances before running forward in the last quarter to bang through a long goal, sending her teammates into raptures, and her calf muscles into spasms as they protested the extra work she was putting in.

I was a Gabby O fan last season – and the season before, actually – so to see her make the jump into the midfield role is exciting. I hope this becomes a regular gig for her, with Freo always able to send her forward when they need a little scoreboard impact, as well.

 

WINNERS FOR WEST COAST?

If we’re looking for winners, we have to discount the last quarter. There was not much winning in any way, shape, or form going on at that point.

Swanson I touched on, and I gave a wrap to Ward as well, but Mikayla Bowen had a good first half before falling off a cliff, and Belinda Smith did some solid work as well. I didn’t mind what I saw from Charlotte Thomas in her first outing, either – a good investment with the number three pick.

On the flip side, Dana Hooker looked like the action was a little too hot for her liking, and she could not find enough of the footy on the outside. Isabella Lewis had a quieter one, as well. They had 17 touches between them. The way Freo negated them might give teams a bit of a blueprint as to how best to keep them out of the play.

 

HOW MUCH PRAISE DOES BOWERS DESERVE?

A heap of it. How much do you have to give?

Once again, she dominated the tackling stats, with 14 for the game to go with her six clearances and 24 touches. Her second and third efforts in and around the contest are without peer in the game, and though some may yield some more impressive offensive results, her two-way game should see her right in contention for the MVP award later this year.

Of course, we have to revisit the whole dangerous tackle business if we want to start talking about that.

On the tackling note, during the past week, I asked the question in a column whether Tony Liberatore was the greatest tackler the game has ever seen? In 1994, he averaged 22.3% of Footscray’s total tackles. In this game, Bowers had 17.72% of the tackles laid by the Dockers. She is not that far away….

 

LAST BIT

Loved the courage of Airlie Runnalls, going back with the flight and copping the hit. Wonderful courage shown in her first game. Taken at pick 44, you’d reckon she just earned her second game with that one act.

The commentators were desperate for Makaela Tuhakaraina to do something, weren’t they? Give her a bit of time and she’ll find her place in the team. Also, her name sounds like a forbidden, yet quite popular dance.

 

All in all, a solid, if unspectacular win by Freo. Much is expected of them this season after falling apart late in 2021. For the Eagles, the desire is there, and they are nowhere near as bad as they were at points last year, but they desperately require some polish to top that hard work off. And they need more from both veterans, like Evie Gooch, who butchered the footy terribly in the second half, and Dana Hooker, who couldn’t get near it.

 

 

ADELAIDE (6. 3. 39) DEFEATED BRISBANE (1. 3. 9)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

This was the game I was looking forward to most this weekend. I usually give the writers the pick of the bunch for AFLW, but I scribbled my name next to this one pretty quickly, and for good reason.

The Grand Final rematch started with plenty of fie at the opening contests, with all players switched on, but within minutes, the tone of the game changed when the Best On Ground from the 2021 Grand Final went down with what looked like a serious knee injury. This left the Lions short-handed in defence, particularly when you understand the importance of Lutkins not just in terms of what she does, but in terms of what she permits her teammates to do. She is a wall back there, and a constant threat on the rebound.

Things were compounded later when Dakota Davidson had a massive unco moment, rolling her ankle as she attempted to get back away from the mark after taking her second “get out of jail” grab of the game. For those new to our musings here, the “Get Out Of Jail” or “GooJ” is the mark taken by a player to relieve the pressure in defence. It is a very important aspect of every team to have someone that can do that. Suddenly, Brisbane were without their bookends, and with them went their chances.

The Crows smelled blood, and despite only three goals of their own to three quarter time, they became the first team in the short history of the league to hold the Lions goalless for three quarters. It was a brutal display from the Crows, who looked determined to make amends for the Grand Final loss.

Importantly, Adelaide were able to get the job done without Erin Phillips or Chelsea Randall being dominant.

No, it was a new group of stars that stood out in this game, so let’s explore.

 

THE CLASS

There is a lot to be said for these two players, that in a game where five players had 20+ disposals, the first two I thought of when considering who to write about had 16 and 13 touches.

They were Eloise Jones and Stevie Lee Thompson, respectively.

In AFLW contests, all disposals are not created equally. Some are just kicks. Some are just handballs. And then you have the disposals from skilled artists who put together something special as though each possession is the stroke of a brush.

And what a picture these two painted in this game.

Jones was deployed mainly on the wing, but worked back into defence. Her creativity with the ball in hand, and ability to not only do the flashy, exciting stuff, but also the one-percenters made her game a clear standout.

Smothering tackling, bumping.… EJ was all over it in this game as she compiled six marks and three tackles to add to her 16 touches. Her ability to choose the right option and then hit the target made the Crows a threat every time she touched the footy, and with what appears to be an increased role, we could see her make the step up into the elite players in the league this season.

Speaking of elite and making things happen – how good was SLT with the footy in this one?

Thompson owned half back, and when she was permitted to get out into space, you could almost hear the forwards giggle in anticipation. She is another who makes her disposals count, and when she was able to run off half-back and link up through the centre, her foot skills carved the Lions up. Had the Crows been playing against a less desperate defence, SLT may have been even more instrumental, with the Lions holding on for dear life as Thompson spotted targets in attack.

If teams needed reminding about how good the Crows are, they need only to watch a recording of this game. These two with time and space spell trouble for any team that dares allow them room to move, and with less reliance on Erin Phillips and Chelsea Randall to fly the flag, Adelaide now look like a well-balanced team.

 

THE POCKET ROCKET

“That was great” – Mrs Mongrel after looking up to see Rachelle Martin caught in a tackle in the middle, fight through it, hit the deck and bounce back up to get a handball away. It was the only comment Mrs Mongrel made about the game. High praise, indeed.

Whilst that action was great, and the fierce nature of Rachelle Martin is something I was quite enamoured with in 2021 – it looks to have gone up a notch in 2022. Inserted into the midfield, she was constantly on the move, harrassing, twisting, turning, and generally making a nuisance of herself. With Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff already two of the better contested players in the game, Martin’s involvement in the middle takes the Adelaide midfield’s combative nature to another level.

I don’t think she will ever compile the footy like those mentioned previously, but her touches are important, and her pressure invaluable. She finished with 14 disposals, three tackles, and snuck forward for a goal in this one.

I would pay to watch Rachelle Martin play footy.

 

THE EFFICIENT ONE

Five kicks… four goals.

Yeah, I know… we are all very disappointed with that fifth kick from Ash Woodland – she should hang her head in shame. Next week, she has to kick five goals from four kicks to make up for it. Quite the challenge!

Woodland emerged in 2021, kicking nine goals for the season. After one round in 2022, she is almost halfway to that total. Normally a good second offensive option behind Erin Phillips, Woodland played closer to goal in this one. With Phillips drawing plenty of attention, Woodland was permitted space to work, and when genuine opportunities presented, she definitely made the most of them.

 

A NICE DEBUT

Kind of plucking this one out, here, but a quick shout out to Jasmine Simmons, making her debut. She was really solid through the first half, and often found herself matched up against one of Brisbane’s better players for the game, Jade Ellenger.

Simmons was quite diligent at stoppages, and collected nine first-half touches before fading from the game in the second half, but looking at the way she moved and made position, the Crows may have found another one, here. Bloody basketball background, too.

 

DEFENSIVE PILLARS

Two string efforts in defence in this game – one from each team.

Nat Grider was a tower of strength for the Lions in the first half, as she sat across half-back and made life tough for the advancing Crows. When you watch Brisbane play, you will hear the commentators laud the efforts of their defence often – much of that has to do with the hard run and excellent defensive positioning of Grider.

At the other end, Chelsea Biddell was hard to beat. All game she provided tough contested work, and ran in a straight line at the ball when it hit the deck. Stats do not tell her story at all in this game. Her work was as much bodying out opponents as it was winning the footy.

 

COMING OF AGE

This was as good as I have seen Orla O’Dwyer look for the Lions.

Her run and carry all game provided her team with ample opportunity inside fifty, and on some occasions, O’Dwyer was able to provide repeat entries with her hard work and second efforts.

She looks to be the type of player that will run all day, and the more confidence she gets, the more of this type of game we could see from her.

 

OTHER BITS

Some positive moments from Teah Charlton in this one as she continues to develop. Good hands in a couple of contests allowed for the release of her teammates into space.

I liked what I saw from Phoebe Monahan playing on Danielle Ponter. I understand that Ponter is a finesse player, but sometimes we need a bit of steak with the sizzle. Monahan, on the other hand, is quite the opposite.

Some really hard run from Justine Mules in this one. Her ability to cover the ground to make a contest continues to impress. She is still a little eager to sink the boot into it when she gets it, but she is getting it more and looking more dangerous with it.

Horrid start to the game for Tayla Smith, with Caitlin Gould running off her to mark in the gaol square early on. After a couple of dropped marks, Smith settled into the game nicely, and started having an impact of her own.

Liked what I saw from Indy Tahau in patches. Got a little lost in traffic at times, but her athleticism will see her go a long way in AFLW. Still only 19.

Courtney Hodder had one of those games where she looked good when she got the footy, but just didn’t get it enough to make a difference. Coming in, I was thinking that it’d be interesting to see who had a bigger influence on the game – Hodder or Rachelle Martin.

Well, the answer was obvious, but it must be added that Martin was in the middle whilst Hodder was reliant on the mids to get her the footy.

A couple of really nice contested intercept marks from Montana McKinnon. Had only five touches but didn’t need to have many more.

Was Sarah Allen beaten at all in this game? Nup?

Didn’t think so.

 

And that may just do me. Fantastic win for the Crows to kickstart their year, and a horror beginning for the Lions, who will be awaiting scan results on Lutkins on Monday. Fingers crossed.

 

 

COLLINGWOOD (6. 8. 44) DEFEATED CARLTON (3. 7. 25)

REVIEWER – ALEX DOCHERTY

 

Just before we crack into the review of this game, I just want to say what a horrible weekend of knee injuries we’ve had and if you’re like me, I don’t blame you if you’re heading into your working week a little disheartened about footy.

First was Izzy Huntington going down on Saturday night, this was then followed by Kate Lutkins’ injury in the early goings of Brisbane’s loss to Adelaide in the early Sunday game, and now the injury to Bri Davey.

That’s three players who you can argue are top 10 talents of the game that will now most likely miss the whole year, pending the official decision from the medical officials and of course, I wish them nothing but the best in their recoveries – I can’t speak for the other Mongrels, but I can only assume they’d wish the same thing too.

No one loss is bigger than another, but the Davey injury stings so much more when you consider that the game was basically sewn up, with the Pies up by 20 points with just over four minutes to go – that’s four goals in as many minutes the Blues needed to pinch it.

But, as they’ve said time and time again, that’s football, for as great as the highs are, the lows are pretty shit. As far as the game itself went, it was everything you’ve come to expect in a Carlton-Collingwood rivalry; it was tough, hard-at-it football.

The Blues will be a very good side this year, they showed plenty of positive signs early, showing plenty early with their pressure, but the Pies proved that they will be even better this year. As the game wore on, they showed that they can really absorb the pressure and then repel it by hurting the opposition by foot.

 

THAT DAMN COLLINGWOOD MIDFIELD

With Collingwood’s style and how the midfield love to run and spread when they win the footy from the middle well and truly documented from last season, it was interesting to see how the Blues would combat trying to stop the midfield trio of Davey, Jaimee Lambert and Brittany Bonnici.

The midfield of the Blues is quite solid too – Maddy Prespakis, Grace Egan, Abbie McKay, Lucy McEvoy are just a few players that can run through there and on their day, Carlton’s engine room is as good as anyone else’s.

It was interesting to point out that before she went off with either a rib injury or a back injury on the back of a very hard collision, Grace Egan looked to have had the job on Bri Davey around the stoppages and for the most part, she quelled her influence around them,

Davey got on the end of a few possessions on the back of general play, but when she gets firing in the contest, the Pies are a very irrepressible side.

I thought in the absence of Davey’s midfield impact, Jaimee Lambert stood up in this one. Particularly in the second half when the Blues began mounting a challenge, Lambert was the one who stood up and told the girls to jump on her back, because her strength and ability to win the football out of the source was on full display, recording 22 disposals, seven clearances, five marks and five tackles in this one.

She’s been a more than capable midfielder for quite some time now, but with Davey now out for the foreseeable future, she’s going to have to make a mark on being the number one midfielder at Collingwood this year if they’re to go all the way and it’s something that I can think she’s more than up for the task for – she’s certainly not going to die wondering, that’s for sure.

Just as well on Bonnici, she’s more of a pure runner than an inside midfielder, but I don’t expect her role to change too much, she was brilliant in tight, an elite defensive presence as well by laying brilliant tackles in contests and great on the spread when she needed to be again.

Even without Davey, this Collingwood midfield are going to cause problems.

 

GEE WHIZ

She played a big part in helping Carlton register their first goal on the board, but for most of the game, I was left convinced that Georgia Gee will be a serious player for the Blues in 2022.

For the record, I’ve been a big Georgia Gee fan for a while now, she’s always been renowned for her quickness and aerobic capacity and has always had that hunger for the contest, but it looks as if she’s found another level in terms of her football IQ and where to be as the crumbing small forward.

There have been murmurs that Gee should be played further afield as more of a midfielder, but I think this game should dispel that theory. As we know in the AFL Men’s competition, forward pressure is golden in the sense that the likelihood of getting a goal off forcing a defender to make a mistake is far greater than anything else, unless you’re an elite clearance side.

She was very unlucky to finish with the 0.2 as both of them were on target shots from crumbing at the foot of the pack – one of them hit the inside of the post and the other one was touched on the goal line, but I think that’s where we’ll see a lot of Gee this season and that’s where she should be in the long run.

I don’t mind a small stint through the middle to give the likes of Maddy Prespakis, Abbie McKay and Grace Egan a chop-out, but a woman as smart as her around the goals, you’d be stark-mad to have her play less than 70 percent in the forward half.

As for the kick that burned off Charlotte Jones in the third quarter and trickled through for a point, I wouldn’t worry too much about that one, put it down to a skill error, these happen to everyone and it pales in comparison to what a couple of her other team mates did.

 

THE COACH KILLING FIFTIES

It’s a good thing Daniel Harford has no hair on the top of his head, because the three careless 50 metre penalties that were given away were directly responsible for Collingwood goals, four in total. I’d still be a little concerned about Harf pulling out his facial hair.

To give away one goal late in a quarter is a cardinal sin in football, but to give two away within the final 90 seconds, both because of 50 metre penalties is just about the worst thing you could imagine in football that’s not an ACL injury.

Considering that it was one goal apiece up to this point, these were crucial moments in the game. I think the most insulting thing about this if I’m a Carlton supporter is that all three of those 50 metre penalties conceded in the second and third quarters came from both of their vice-captains, their senior heads, their leaders.

The first 50 was conceded when Darcy Vescio began moving laterally as Ruby Schleicher was going for goal, making them the first person in the AFLW to fall for the dubious ‘stand’ rule. Had to happen to someone eventually.

Elise O’Dea follows up with a very poor lapse of concentration when she failed to give the ball back to Alison Downie just on the stroke of halftime. It takes her from well outside 50 to about 15 metres out on a 45-degree angle.

O’Dea’s bad run continued in the third quarter when took a long time to give the ball back to Aishling Sheridan in the third term, costing them another goal, which was very costly considering the Blues had worked pretty hard to get a goal back in the opening minute of the third quarter through Charlotte Jones.

As that fifty was given, she went straight to the bench, whether it was due to self-discipline or through a good old fashioned coach dragging, it capped off what was a very dirty day in the office for O’Dea, and as for Vescio, they shouldn’t be let out of the woods easily either as Ruby Schleicher had a field day playing off them.

 

THE COLLINGWOOD WALL

They were one of the best defensive teams last season and there doesn’t look like there’ll be much that suggests they’ll be slowed down this year.

Ruby Schleicher was one of the competition’s most improved players last season and against Darcy Vescio in this one, she made last year’s leading goalkicker look like a spectator for most of the game.

The way Schleicher peels off her direct opponent to either intercept or be on the end of being a link-up player as they go on the counter-attack has been something to marvel over the past 12 months and another 15 disposal, eight mark performance a great effort.

But the thing about this Pies’ defensive unit is that it is not solely just a one-woman show. Stacey Livingstone’s positioning was very good, but I also thought that Jess Good on debut made sure Livingstone made a good account of herself (no pun intended).

Lauren Butler had some very strong moments in terms of being able to intercept the ball across the defensive half, but also did a very strong lockdown job on Nicola Stevens, rendering her ineffective and keeping her to just five disposals and no score.

Lastly, I would like to touch on Jordyn Allen’s game, particularly in the early stages when Carlton had the game on their terms early, because it needs some serious applause.

She looks to have more freedom to run, create and spread off the half-back line and her goal from the pocket in the third quarter was just a thing of beauty – she’s always been a fine talent, and it’s great to see she’s got the license to go and make things happen – she finished with 15 disposals and five marks.

 

KEZ AND MOY

A very interesting match up at the other end of the ground, with the Carlton captain Kerryn Harrington matched up on the very dangerous Chloe Molloy.

On an afternoon where the veterans at Carlton were very disappointing, Harrington herself had a few moments all throughout the game where she would like a do-over, including a couple of moments where she held onto the ball for way too long and it resulted in her coughing the ball up and directly giving the Magpies a chance on goal

But in terms of competing in one-on-one situations I thought she competed well anytime the ball came down their direction. Harrington has been more of a peel-off the contest and sit behind the footy kind of player and often racks up the stats by trying to organise a foray forward, but it’s nice to see her been given the opportunity to play a pure defensive role.

Looking at the two compete one-on-one it looked pretty evident that Molloy’s speed early on was going to trouble Harrington a fair bit and there were some instances of it where Molloy was able to burst out on a lead and leave the Carlton captain eating dust.

She didn’t play in the practice game and you could tell, because her kicking for goal was incredibly rusty, posting a return of 0.3 and you could tell with her kicks that it was off radar, she was veering off to the side trying to find an extra couple of metres and really failing to connect.

It’s only round one, so let’s not go too harshly here it was an interesting match up to observe as the game went on, I think Harrington would be relieved her direct opponent didn’t kick a goal on her, but in terms of first-give, she needs to be a lot quicker on the trigger in making those decisions in future, because it won’t be long before she doesn’t get away with it.

 

OTHER BITS

A few of the debutants to highlight here, lets start with the Collingwood debutant in Eliza James. She looks like she’ll be a very bright spark for the Pies this year, she’s fleet of foot and looks very energetic around the ball – eight disposals and three tackles.

Carlton debutant Paige Trudgeon played the key defensive role on Sabrina Frederick in her first game as a new Pie and the Blue took the honours all the way, great competitor both in the air and at ground level, could be a future spot in the 21 for her.

And lastly, just a word on Charlotte Jones, because she was mentioned earlier, she was very important in their third term, a great option forward of centre and pretty good foot skills to boot.

A terrific game from Sarah Rowe on the wing in this one, she’s a player that enjoys running with the ball in her hands and she was able provide great link-up play for the Pies and provide presence forward of the ball – 21 disposals, four marks, three tackles and a goal.

Whilst largely the Carlton defence was disappointing, both Vaomua Laloifi and Daisy Walker were very strong early in terms of their intercepting and positioning behind the play, both of them tapered away late, but it was worth mentioning both of their first halves helped keep the Blues in striking distance.

A great game in the ruck from Breann Moody against her old running mate in Alison Downie, on top of her ruck craft, she also took a few strong grabs in the air – most of them playing behind the play.

A vintage performance from Collingwood co-captain Steph Chiocci in this one, playing on the opposing wing to Rowe, she does a tremendous job of holding her line on the outside and making sure she is in the right spots to link up on the run.

I forgot that Jess Dal Pos was playing before she was mentioned at half time – a first game at Carlton to forget, only finishing with three disposals. Another veteran Blue who had a stinker.

And one last thing to mention before I close up, Maddy Prespakis had the 16 disposals and did what she could, but looked to have been put under significant duress by many of the Collingwood players, whether it was through bone crunching tackles or bumps after she disposed of it. It was nearly a splitting image of watching the Pies combat her in the season opener last year, where is the protection from her team mates?

 

GWS (5. 6. 36) DEFEATED GOLD COAST (3. 3. 21)

REVIEWER – DANIEL JON KERSHAW (welcome back, big fella – HB)

 

The Suns and Giants met for a clash in MacKay, Queensland, a fact the commentary team liberally sprinkled during the broadcast as much as a vegan stating their food preference.

The Suns had a new look with seven debutants suiting up, hoping to inject some experience into the line-up as well as blooding number 1 draftee Charlie Rowbottom.

GWS added Gaelic football star, Brid Stack, who at the tender age of 35 must have felt youthful next to her teammate Staunton who clocked in at 40 (and who ended up being one of the best on ground). Jokes aside, it was great to see her on the field after sustaining a serious neck injury in last year’s season and coming close to being paralysed.

People often speak about games being the tale of two halves, but for the Suns, it is more accurate to describe it as the tale of a blistering first quarter followed by three other quarters.

 

KALINDA HOWARTH AND THAT FIRST QUARTER

I’ve previously waxed lyrical about Howarth, particular for her 2020 season, but many may have forgotten what an asset she can be after a forgettable 2021 campaign.

She tore this game apart early and it looked as though GWS were in for a tough day. It seemed as though every time the ball came in the Suns’ forward 50, Howarth was there, either finding room, using her body to create space, or applying immense pressure that led to turnovers and free kicks. She was involved in both of their first-quarter goals, feeding one of them to Bohanna and shrugging off a tackle to get it through the two big sticks. It was a hard day for her opponent, 11-time All-Ireland winner and seven-time All-Star, Brid Stack, who got a tough lesson on her Aussie Rules debut.

There has been talk of sending Howarth back as a half back and we saw her behind the ball in the second half. While there is no doubt she would be good in that position, you have to question why you’d want to send one of your best scorers down back when hitting the scoreboard is proving to be difficult.

Howarth’s strength and mid-size reminds me of a De Goey or Stringer, but hopefully without the personality attributes. Keep her forward where she can do damage, but if you need a little spark during a game, rotate to her in the middle, much like Collingwood and Essendon with their stars.

 

GIANTS KICKING WOES

Despite it being an arm wrestle in the second quarter, Giants dominated territory for large portions of this match and should have converted more on the scoreboard. Even with Dalton out with a shoulder injury, Gold Coast got beat up around the contest in the second half and had no answer for Parker who enjoyed 21 touches and more clearances than a tile warehouse.  The GWS leather poisoning spread faster than a case of Omicron with Eva (21) and Beeson (16) also having a day out at the expense of the Gold Coast engine room. But as much as they were dominant, their kicking let them down in.

Kicking it inside 50 varied from top-notch from the likes of Dalton and Parker (not a coincidence that they are their best players) to the kind of disappointment you get from ordering something on Wish.com. Staunton was able to turn some of the trash entries into treasure in the second half with her strength and agility, particularly when she was on the end of a play on handball. However, in saying how poor the GWS kicking was, you have to give credit to the Suns defence who held tough under a torrent of entries. I would have liked to see more from the skipper Dunn in her new position of centre half back, who, even though provided some strong tackles and was good in the contest, needed to show a big more leadership when Gold Coast were trying to exit the defensive 50.

 

IMPRESSIVE DAY FOR THE DEBUTANT

While it is usually easy to identify whether a debutant had a note worthy game, there were 11 on display. I thought after a quiet start, Charlie Rowbottom worked her way into the game very nicely and was about to start to influence the game. Excited to see her develop in the coming seasons. For mine though, the work of GWS ruck Morphett, both in the ruck and her work around the ground was great to see. Definitely a great pick up for the Giants.

 

Best on ground: Parker 

Runner up best on ground: Howarth

 

And that’s it for Round One of the 2022 AFLW season. Make sure you check back each week for more AFLW and AFL content as the season ramps up and we head into the men’s season, as well. How good is it to have footy back!!!

 

 

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