Well, we start the Round Five reviews with a review of a Round Four game, which isn’t exactly ideal, but it is probably better than pretending the game never happened…

 

ROUND FOUR CATCHUP

FREMANTLE (3. 7. 25) DEFEATED WESTERN BULLDOGS (2. 7. 19)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

Oh, you thought I forgot about this game? Like I’d just sweep I under the carpet because it kind of occurred between rounds? Think again – The Mongrel does the work – every game, every week.

It took a bit of magic from Ebony Antonio (again) and a goal against the wind and the momentum, but the Dockers outlasted the Dogs on a windy Tuesday evening in Melbourne to remain undefeated in the 2022 AFLW season and prove they can do it in any conditions.

A lot of credit must be given to the Bulldogs defence, who weathered a torrent of inside 50s in both the first and third quarters, giving up six behinds in those quarters. Ellie Brown and Izzy Grant combined to stifle Gemma Houghton, whilst Kirsty Lamb was able to bash and crash her way into the fray in the middle – something that would have repurcussions later in the game.

The Dockers were once again led brilliantly by Hayley Miller, who has risen to the challenge of captaining this team like she was born to do it, and some excellent defensive work from Sarah Verrier.

The stars of the show, however, were Antonio and newcomer, Amy Franklin.

Let’s jump into the talking points.

 

ANTONI-OH…OH….OH YES!

She is making a bit of a habit of this, isn’t she?

With three minutes to go, a kick forward from Airlie Runnalls (who was very influential in the last quarter) gave Antonio every opportunity to mark. Se dropped the chest mark, but followed up, keeping the footy in front of her, before beating Sarah Hartwig and slotting a running goal against the wind.

It’s the second huge running goal from a tough angle for the season for Antonio and she looks like a driven woman this year. Earlier in the game she was crucially important in several plays across half-back, aiding her team in stemming the flow of the Bulldogs as they kicked with the wind.

A few years back, I remember the talk was all about the power forwards of the competition – Sabrina Frederick and Tayla Harris were on everyone’s lips. Since then, Ebony Antonio has gone about not just thrusting her name into the conversation when it comes to the best impact forwards in the game – she has made herself the number one talking point.

It was a great goal from a great leader in a crucial period of the game.

And that’s what excellent players do, isn’t it? Stand up when they have to?

 

THE LESSON

However, as we celebrate the magnificence and the clutch kicking of Ebony Antonio, spare a thought for her opponent at that time, Sarah Hartwig.

I wrote a fair bit about Sarah last season as she struck me as a natural footballer with good instincts. She is hard at it and takes no backward steps, as evidenced by her massive, if unrewarded tackle on Mikayla Morrison to start the second quarter. But she won’t need you or me to tell her what went wrong in her battle with Antonio late in the game.

As the air fought for position to win the footy, Hartwig threw herself at the footy, desperately attempting to gather or knock the ball far enough away to buy time. In doing so, she went to ground.

Antonio kept her feet.

The rest is history.

Hartwig effectively took herself out of the contest, and whilst it is patently unfair to isolate that moment of a game that saw so many errors take place (particularly with short kicking inside defensive 50), the Bulldogs defender will be haunted by her decision to launch at the footy, leaving Antonio a clean run in to goal to slot the difficult shot.

If any good comes of that moment for Hartwig, it will be that Nathan Burke tells her that all players have a moment like that. Only those with personality disorders can shrug off a decision that leads to such a significant blow. Given her time over again, Hartwig will remain on her feet – the next time she is engaged in a contest the likes of this, she will refuse to go to ground. She will be better player for this mistake, but I am sure it does not make it hurt any less.

 

THE HITS

The result of the final clash between Kiara Bowers and Kirsty Lamb saw the Dogs midfielder struggling to leave the field after being dropped behind play. Of course, footage of the incident that saw Lamb go down, and a free-kick awarded to the Dogs at half-forward, as a result, was not available during the game (because they don’t put the effort in to have people on hand to do that type of stuff), but since then we have learnt that Bowers has been offered a two-match suspension for the hit.

That’s a pretty hefty punishment in a nine-game season.

Was it a block gone wrong? Or was it a snipe?

Well, the tribunal verdict is in, and without saying it was a snipe, they suspended Bowers for two weeks.

Both Bowers and Lamb play the game in a combative manner, but watching Bowers attack the body of Lamb, you could tell she was lining her up most of the game. Moments before Lamb was helped off the ground, she was taken down in a strong Bowers tackle that was deemed dangerous. I wrote a week or two ago that these tackles – as good as they are, and they are bloody good – would cost Bowers the 2022 Best and Fairest award.

Now, it will be something else that costs her that award.

Earlier in the game, Bowers was throwing her weight around as well, crashing into Lamb at a stoppage. It was as though Bowers was making their tussle in the middle personal. Maybe a little too personal.

Lamb was able to make something out of nothing at one stage, sharking a Bonnie Toogood tap-on to snap one of the Dogs’ two goals and it soon became apparent that Lamb’s influence could help tip the game in favour of the Dogs.

So, let’s assume Bowers gets the two weeks and cops it on the chin – was it worth it?

The Dockers are not struggling for talent and have ample midfield backup in Miller and O’Sullivan. If Bowers takes the two weeks off, was it worth removing Lamb from the game for five minutes in a tight contest? Part of me thinks it was.

Lamb was the driver behind the Dogs’ engine. She’d had eight clearances to that point of the game and was the tough presence in the clinches her team was reliant on. Without her, they were missing something. And Freo pounced.

Do you trade off two weeks on the sidelines for one win? If Freo go 2-0 in the next two weeks, I am guessing Bowers may have a wry smile. If they go 0-2, or even 1-1… perhaps not.

 

HEY BUUUUUUDDY

Two goals on debut is nice.

Two goals out of just three for the game for your team is better. Two goals out of five in total for both clubs… well, take a bow, Amy Franklin.

She was gifted the first goal of her career via a 50 metre penalty, but her second resulted from a strong contested grab. In a forward line that was well-held by the Dogs defence, just a few minutes off the chain was all it took for Franklin to give the Dockers what amounted to a match-winning lead.

And the fact she did it against the wind was like twisting the knife just a little.

 

POOR USE WITH THE WIND

I’ll give the Bulldogs defence all the credit in the world for their efforts to shut down Freo inside 50 with the wind, but the hack-and-hope approach from the Dockers sure made their job a little easier.

The set shots from 30-35 seem to trouble AFLW players greatly, with many falling just a bit short and being touched on the line – think about it; it happens continuously. What we saw in this one was both sides attempting to allow the wind to do the work for them, and instead of continuing to spot up the leading player 30 out, which would have made the distance a non-factor with wind assistance, we saw constant bombs, long and high, that were killed off or intercepted.

It was as though both teams threw a gameplan out the window and tried to kick 50m goals.

And it wasn’t the brightest.

 

OTHER BITS

Loved the game of Elle Bennetts for the Dogs. She attacked the contest with ferocity and gave the Dogs some real drive.

A bit of talk between Bonnie Toogood and Richelle Cranston may have saw the Dogs a goal closer, as they collided in a contest that would have given either an uncontested grab with a bit of chatter.

Terrific game in defence from Sarah Verrier in this one. In a sea of chaos, she was like an island of tranquility. Classy unit.

Really liking the work of Gabby O’Sullivan in the middle – her contested work is very good, but she does seem to be in a bit of a hurry, and that can lead to moments where she loses the footy or overruns it. Like my girlfriend said to me when I was 16… just slow down.

There has been a bit of talk around the lack of constructive criticism in AFLW this week, and I just want to touch on something. At one point in the first quarter, Jess Fitzgerald attempted a kick through the corridor and whoever was commentating announced it was a beautiful kick. It missed the target by a good five metres – that is not a bloody beautiful kick. No correction… no attempt to rectify the error – just roll on with the plaudits. When you do that, you’re not helping.

And that’ll do this one – a bonus review, if you will, as we trek through this sea of covid madness. Yep… it’s still going.

 

 

ROUND FIVE

GEELONG (4. 3. 27) DEFEATED WEST COAST 3. 6. 24)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

There were hearts in mouths, heads in hands, and hopes both realised and dashed as the frantic last two minutes unfolded in this game.

Despite looking like the more polished team, Geelong found themselves behind with 120 seconds remaining as Aimee Schmidt slotted a clutch goal to give the Eagles their first lead of the contest. From that point on, all plans went out the window, as the next centre bounce became crucial.

It was Rebecca Webster who performed the honours, breaking a Dana Hooker tackle way too easily in such a high-stakes moment, to send the Cats forward, where Darcy Moloney put the finishing touches on the wing, sharking an errant handball and slotting the easiest goal of the night for the win.

Plenty to talk about in this win – not all of it good. Let’s get down to business.

 

YOU HAVE TO STICK THAT TACKLE

I hate to pinpoint a moment, particularly in a game where there were dozens of skill errors and mistakes that were costly, but when you have a player with the experience of Dana Hooker missing a tackle at a centre clearance, which then allows the player to go long inside 50… that is about as unforgivable as it gets

With the first lead of the game, the Eagles should have been rabid at the footy and their opponents. They had been combative all game, and what they lacked in polish, they more than made up for in desperation.

And then that occurred. Rebecca Webster waded through her like she constituted shallow water, pumping the footy inside 50 and, as they say in the classics, the rest is history.

Had this been a rookie player, or a second-year player still finding her feet, I could understand the lapse, but Hooker is one of the leaders of this team and after being on the receiving end of multiple tackles, you’d think she would have been pretty eager to give one back.

Nope… Webster shrugged her like you would the neighbours’ annoying child on the way to check your letterbox, and the Cats surged back to the lead and onto the win.

That would have to sting Eagles fans and players. To be beaten by brilliance is one thing – to be beaten by not doing the fundamentals correctly… ouch.

 

BLONDE PONYTAIL MAFIA

They love this look at the Cattery. Blonde… check. Ponytail… check. Geelong jumper… you damn bet.

Amy McDonald is the leader of the BPM, and she was on-song again in this one with a monster 12 clearances to lead all players. She was well supported by Rebecca Webster, who won some really tough footy down the stretch.

But the Blonde Ponytail Mafia is not just for on-ballers, with Annabel Johnson looking good in defence, and flying the flag for the BPM, and the pair of Jordan Ivey and Phoebe McWilliams patrolling he forward 50 to represent down that end. Georgie Prespakis hasn’t quite got it right. Nor has Kate Darby or Olivia Fuller, but give them time. Until then, they are like associates of the BPM.

And Gabbi Featherstone… well, she has a bit of work to do.

 

SOMETHING TO WORK WITH

I want to give a quick shout out to Sarah Lakay.

The last time I covered an Eagles game, I was a little critical of her efforts around the footy, as she was a little clumsy and gave away free kicks but in this one she used her body really well in ruck contests and managed some nice hits to advantage. I liked her second efforts, as well.

The next step for her is to get those taps into the hands of her midfielders on the full. At the moment it seems as though she is relatively content dropping the ball at their feet, which then creates a contested footy situation. A clean hit right to the bread basket will make this Eagles team a little more difficult to hem in.

The Cats were able to do this at stoppages and around the ground in the first quarter. For the first ten or so minutes, just about every possession West Coast managed to gather was of the contested nature. The pressure came from everywhere, and the handballs or taps that missed the mark only increased the work of the next player in line. This, in turn, made it very difficult for runners like Hooker and Mikayla Bowen (three touches in the first half) to find space.

 

THE BATTLE IN THE GUTS

Despite losing the overall clearances 28-25, the Cats had a significant advantage at the centre bounces, winning this stat 7-2 on the night. Of course, that dominance had dire consequences late in the game, but you have to give credit to the Cats onballers for their tough work in the middle. When you factor in that West Coast won the hit-out count 44-15, that Geelong were able to shark enough taps to not only be close to even overall, but clearly emerge as the victor in the middle, is commendable.

As mentioned above, a lot of that credit goes to Amy McDonald. 12 clearances out of 25 is just about ridiculous, but Prespakis was good early, as well, and you can see the acorn in the oak tree with her immediately.

Emma Swanson was excellent for the Eagles, but she needs help and if West Coast are looking to pick anyone up for the next season, a ball-winning mid should be high on their list of priorities to help her out.

 

RETURN TO THE MIDDLE

Great to see Nina Morrison back in the guts late in this game.

I liked that the Cats were nursing her back after her calf injury, but with the scores close, it was definitely go-time and Morrison had a big impact on the contest. Yes, we have talked about her hair before (only member of the 80s mullett mafia… but I reckon Meg McDonald could join her quite readily), but it was her attack on the ball and clean hands that stood out in this one.

I enjoyed her battle with Maddy Collier in this one – they were very well matched up for the first three quarters before Morrison was released into the guts.

 

THE FINISHER

Darcy Moloney played her best game of the season for the Cats and capped it off in style by ramming through the game-winner in the dying minutes of the contest. After Amy Schmidt slotted the goal to give the Eagles the lead, Moloney capitalised on the long ball forward from Webster and pinched the footy as West Coast looked to clear.

Her clean hands in traffic and quick thinking turned what could have been a disaster for the Cats into something special, an in adding eight tackles to her disposal count, she did it both ways in this game. Nice game, kid.

 

 

BRISBANE (5. 5. 35) DEFEATED COLLINGWOOD (1. 5. 11)

REVIEWER – ALEX DOCHERTY

 

Collingwood, we have a problem.

For the second straight game, the Pies have only managed to score one goal in four quarters of footy and on that, their chances of premiership glory in season 2022 are fading fast.

Against Fremantle last Thursday night, the Pies were suffocated by the Dockers’ ability to press inside their forward half and not allowing Collingwood to play their short disposal game and forcing them to rush their kicks long down the line all game.

The blustery conditions at Maroochydore meant that this short kicking game style didn’t look like it was going to work and was thrown out the window and the game would be whittled down to whoever can utilise the wind to best advantage.

The team that took the honours on that, happened to be the reigning premiers, who have now won their third game in a row – three wins in 11 days as well, might I add – on the back of some brilliant chains of possession despite the howling winds and are looking back on pace with the competition’s benchmarks at 3 wins and 1 loss, four games into their campaign.

Against the Cats last week, some would consider the Lions were fortunate enough to get away with the four points and I think that’s warranted, considering that the Cats had the chances last week to pinch the victory in the dying stages.

But the Lions didn’t allow the Pies any such luxury this week, as they held the Pies goalless in the opening quarter when they went with the wind, before they blew the game open in the second term with a three-goal flurry and from there, were never seriously troubled.

 

THE EVER-RELIABLE EMILY BATES

There are a lot of good midfielders in the AFLW, but I don’t think there are many who are as consistently damaging as Emily Bates has been over the last six years.

Whilst she doesn’t record the Ash Riddell-like numbers this year – Riddell averages nearly 29 disposals, Bates averages 22 – nor have the tackle numbers in the manner that Kiara Bowers does, but she has a role as that primary midfielder to both win the ball directly from the contest, but to also push, spread and provide as an outlier to give to and to let her push the ball forward.

Would you pick Bates over Bowers or Riddell if we were to restart the competition? You most likely wouldn’t, but when you look at games like these where it is more chaos than organisation, Bates shrugs her shoulders like it’s a piece of pie and goes right to work.

One thing that many people are starting to take notice with Bates’ game this year is that she’s attacking the scoreboard more frequently. Hayley Miller does a great job at Fremantle and is probably the most improved midfielder in this regard, but Bates isn’t too far behind her at all.

Over the past four years, Bates has had a goals per game average between zero and 0.1 goals per game. Currently, in four games, she is averaging 0.8 – three goals in four games, that includes her snap goal in the third quarter in this game – her spacing when the ball is in dispute and when she receives the footy and the cool finish exemplifies just how far she has come in her individual game.

Of course, there are other elements to her game, 13 of her 22 disposals were contested, so she was doing it on the inside a fair bit, and recorded three clearances for her trouble, but it was her urgency to push the ball forward at every opportunity that made her stand out in this one.

 

THE BUDDING BODEY

Last year, I have made mention on several occasions about the work of Greta Bodey and how dangerous she presents as a forward option.

In terms of getting score on the board, Brisbane isn’t the best side in the competition in this aspect – still currently behind Adelaide, Fremantle, North Melbourne and Melbourne inside that top six, and even Richmond is averaging more points currently – but there are a lot of players inside that Brisbane forward 50 that just make the Lions so exciting to watch.

We saw that a lot of the individual brilliance from players like Zimmie Farquharson and Dakota Davidson were on display, Jesse Wardlaw is presenting herself to the mids more consistently and Courtney Hodder was always looking to make something from situations where ordinary players would’ve been better off causing the stoppage and reset.

But Bodey did a lot, perhaps second only to Bates if we were to do the votes. In recent weeks, it feels like she’s got the job of playing as that high half-forward who helps with that midfield-forward cohesion that is so critical in women’s footy and there was a lot of Bodey trying to take the game upon herself and try and split open a Collingwood defence, who have held up very well at times this season.

When the Lions don’t have the footy, Bodey is one of the first ones – particularly in the forward half of the ground – who get up to the face of the defenders and either force them into an error, or make sure they don’t get an easy possession and her speed enables her to be that pest inside the forward 50 – she laid seven tackles against Collingwood and averages 4.5 for the year.

All up, 15 disposals, four marks and – by her own admission – a very cheeky goal in the last quarter is a very good return from Greta Bodey, who is putting together some very good form as the Lions approach the half-way mark of the season.

 

MAKING MOVES

So look, the elephant in the room at Collingwood is there forward line structure – how do you fix it? Because 2.6 in your last two games is bad reading, no matter which way you’re looking at it.

There were two noticeable changes after halftime that Steve Symonds made. If you ask me, I liked it, because it shows that something wasn’t working in the opening half, and he’s at least making the effort to try and make some in-roads. These changes were seeing Chloe Molloy move higher up the ground and swapping Stacey Livingstone from key defender to key forward.

I liked what Chyloe Kurdas had to say regarding Molloy during the broadcast about playing her further afield to get some touch on the ball – some insight at Fox Footy, who would’ve thought, right? – I’ve always loved Molloy as a forward and still do, but if the midfield is struggling to get it moving up that end consistently, then you’re absolutely wasting her talent there.

Molloy was matched up on Bree Koenen to start the game and Koenen had her measure in both encounters last year and up to half-time was on track to do it again as Molloy struggled to make any significant impact.

Livingstone has been having a hard time in the defensive half in past weeks, it looks as if teams were working to isolate her one-out with the opposition key forward and there were plenty of times where Dakota Davidson outworked her and made her a bit nervous.

But as a key forward, she showed that she can be a bit more physical, which is great, because it can really help force the opposition into turnover, which she did when she put Phoebe Monahan on her rear-end – that was brilliant – and in turn, allowed Eloise Chaston to kick Collingwood’s only goal for the match.

Is it going to solve their issues forward of centre?  Not on your life, Sabrina Frederick is still proving to be a liability after the initial aerial contest, Sophie Alexander was largely unsighted in the opening half and a lot of the players felt inclined to have a ping from 40-50 metres out in an extreme gale.

 

THE BUTLER AND THE SLYSH

Couldn’t help but to put both Ruby Schleicher and Lauren Butler in this part of the review together, I thought the pair of them worked magnificently in this one – probably the two best Pies on the ground – I’d have Lambert a close third.

If you’ve been keeping tabs with my rolling All Australian team on the A3 Footy Podcast, Schleicher had been in the team from the start, but is one of a few players in the 21 that is barely keeping her place in the side. Not because that she’s playing badly, but there’s a combination of – the club has been struggling and that other defenders around her are starting to shine brighter – like Butler.

However, full credit to Schleicher, because she did a lot right to make sure the Brisbane Lions didn’t blow this game out by an even bigger margin. Yes, there were some silly mistakes here and there, like the free-kick to Zimmie in the goal-square in the second term and there were a couple of kicks that went directly back to the opposition.

However, she’s got the positioning and the smarts to be one of the best intercept defenders of the game. The stats won’t show the whole picture, but she is currently seventh in the competition for intercept possessions per game, and averages 4.4 rebound 50s per game – first in the competition in total.

She did a lot of intercepting again in this one, but also provided a lot of drive and tried to do everything in her power to repel the ball out of the defensive 50 for the Pies. Butler too, who was sort of mixing in between spending time on the Brisbane key forwards and playing off them when the Pies had the ball.

Schleicher had 17 disposals, five tackles and three marks for the game, whilst Butler finished with 14 disposals, five tackles and two marks.

 

SHUTTING OUT BONNICI

The start to Cathy Svarc’s 2022 has been interesting to try and piece together – with the Lions sitting out for a round due to the health and safety protocols, it looked apparent when they played Carlton that she was one of a few that got struck down, because there was no run with role specified.

If you’ve played the game, run with roles are without question, one of the hardest jobs in football. I have tried at this role during my under-19s days, and I ended up looking like a fool because of it. The 2021 model of Cathy Svarc had the fitness base to match the best midfielders around the contest, something I never really had.

But not only that, but she also backs herself in to win the football when it was her time to go. There was this discussion Alex Miller and I had on the podcast about taggers about a year ago, and both of us agreed that you need to be able to win your fair share of ball, as well as outwork your assigned target in the middle – Svarc does this in spades.

It’s taken a few weeks, but we’re finally seeing the 2021 Cathy Svarc returning to the fore, because I thought she was brilliant once again. It wasn’t noticeable in the opening half because it looked like Bates was next to her in the centre bounces and across general play, but it became more obvious as the game progressed that around stoppages was where Svarc was matched up alongside Bonnici.

Bonnici’s abilities as the midfielder to run, spread and provide as the link when the Pies have the game on their terms is well documented. But Svarc around the stoppages put a stop to that through her tackling and the overall pressure of the Lions certainly added more pressure on that as well. The Lions won the tackle count by 14, despite winning the contested possession count and the disposals count overall.

Bonnici finished with 16 disposals in this game, considering that she averages well over 20 disposals on any given week, this was a performance that was well down by those standards. As for Svarc, she finished with 12 tackles and 12 disposals in a game that I’ll say is a return to form, which might spell troubling news ahead for the star midfielders of the comp.

 

OTHER BITS

Is Jaimee Lambert in trouble for that hit that left Shannon Campbell concussed? I wouldn’t be shocked if there was a reprimand given how cautious the AFL is about concussions. But having said that, Lambert had eyes for the ball, got to the ball as her shoulder/elbow made contact with the head – common sense would indicate that it’s an accident and nothing more.

Whilst on the dangerous things, what kind of decision was that to pay against Livingstone on Belle Dawes? Looked dangerous? Yes, but Livingstone tried to soften the impact. Chief Mongrel wasn’t happy about it on the chat either – Dawes was laughing it off to take the kick!

I’m enjoying what Nat Grider is putting together in the half-back line once again, recording another very strong shift with her rebounding work and her harassing around the contest – finished with 14 disposals and four tackles.

Orla O’Dwyer and Steph Chiocci on a wing together? I’d love to see more of that – not necessarily head-to-head at stoppages, because both were positioning themselves behind the contest so they can run past for the hands. O’Dwyer had the 13 disposals and six tackles, Chiocci with 11 and 5 herself. J

aimee Lambert’s numbers? 19 disposals, four clearances, three tackles and two marks – tried to do a lot of grunt work in the middle, but ultimately outmatched by the Lions’ midfielders. She’s missing the presence of Davey a lot in the guts.

Amelia Velardo hasn’t been in the system for very long, but that was easily the best game I’ve seen from her. Played a lot as the spare behind the footy, she took some very strong marks in unfavourable conditions and had some chances forward of the ball too – 13 disposals and four marks.

Tahlia Hickie – or Taylor Hickie as Leigh Montagna liked to call her – continues to improve with every game she plays. Against Alison Downie, she beat her in the hitouts 18-15, and her follow-up work was supreme too – four tackles, nine disposals and four clearances.

Tarni Brown is putting together a solid few weeks for the Pies – trying to add some dash as a link-up midfielder, but defensively is getting it done as well – four tackles and four marks to go along with her 12 disposals.

In the absence of Lutkins so far and Campbell going down during the third term, Bree Koenen is really coming into her own as captain and perhaps sets the example of her teammates around her. A few times where she went off her direct opponent to impact a contest and it worked out in the Lions’ favour.

One more thing, before we close the book on this review, is that the next month for the Pies isn’t looking to great – The Eagles next week, you’d expect them to put that one in the book, but play North Melbourne, The Bulldogs and Adelaide following that and if their scoring output doesn’t improve by then, it’s going to look very hairy for the Pies at the business end.

The Lions are currently sitting fifth with a game in hand and are cruising along nicely, they’ve got the Saints next week, at either Sandringham or Frankston (sorry to disappoint you Greta), and games against Melbourne, West Coast and North as well in the coming month – as well as a catch-up game against the Bulldogs somewhere in there as well.

 

 

MELBOURNE (5. 8. 38) DEFEATED GOLD COAST (4. 2. 26)

REVIEWER – BRETT HODGSON

 

Melbourne continued their Casey Fields dominance, winning their 11th straight game at the ground and overcoming the undermanned Gold Coast Suns by 12 points in a bruising, pressure-filled encounter on Saturday afternoon.

The two teams set an AFLW record with 178 combined tackles, as both sides fought hard in the clinches for the full contest.

 

TAYLA HARRIS

With Jade Pregelj ruled out for the season with a torn ACL, the job of stopping the Melbourne forward fell to Suns gun interceptor Lauren Ahrens. Harris was dominant through the middle portion of the game, routinely charging out on the lead and flying high for the ball, as Ahrens struggled to adapt to playing closer to goal as a true full back. Unfortunately for the Suns, they not only lost the game but also in the dying minutes of the third quarter Ahrens got caught in a nasty-albeit completely fair tackle by Harris, and although Ahrens managed to avoid a bad knee injury, she appeared to have sustained a nasty hamstring injury that could sideline her for the foreseeable future. Harris had complete command of the forward line, but also completely nullified Ahrens offensive impact. In her best game for Melbourne, Harris tallied nine disposals, three contested marks, kicked 2.1 and won four free-kicks.

 

RUCK DUEL

In the first quarter, Melbourne held only a three-point lead over Gold Coast at the first change. Lauren Pearce had a bit of a rough start, often having to play football below her knees, and every time she had to bend over to grab the football, Gold Coast were there taking the body at every occasion. No less than six times, did Pearce hit the deck in the first quarter alone, but she kept on coming, and once she was able to get clean hands on the ball she was able to get the Melbourne midfield up and running. At the final whistle, Pearce has herself a 20-20 game with a game-high 20 disposals and 20 hitouts, helping Melbourne have a + 13 hitout advantage, as well as four extra clearances for her side. Her opponent, Lauren Bella battled a corked thigh later in the game and although found the going hard to contain Pearce at ground level, she applied very good pressure to the Melbourne midfield brigade at ground level and can hold her head high.

 

ZANKER VS ROWBOTTOM

In a battle that could be a preview of years to come, Eden Zanker and Charlie Rowbottom went head to head in an enticing matchup on the inside. Rowbottom put in the hard yards at the ball, yet Zanker took the points- as well as best on ground honours. The positioning of Zanker was telling, often just off the back of the pack as a release valve, as Gold Coast largely committed numbers on the defensive side of the clearances. Zanker helped herself to 18 disposal, however also managed to quell the influence of Rowbottom, keeping her to 10 disposals- with only three kicks.

With the Suns heavy reliance on Rowbottom being their best offensive clearance player, they sacrificed a tighter matchup on Zanker, and she capitalised on it.

 

JAMIE STANTON

In the Suns’ song there is a main line stating “we are the team that never say die”

In my opinion there is no player that embodies that creed more then Jamie Stanton.

In this contest she tagged influential midfielder Karen Paxman brilliantly, then in the last quarter she went forward and almost got the Suns within striking distance. Stanton kept Paxman to 13 disposals over three quarters- then sparked the Suns with an inspirational gut run to kick a counter-attack goal, and get another shot on goal a minute later that she unfortunately dragged wide from a tight angle. Going back to that goal, Stanton took off from centre half-back after a clearing kick to a back flank, outrunning another Demon in the open field to give the Suns a big spark. Paxman tallied an impressive 11 tackles but was often unable to find the space she craves on. If any midfielder out there wants to learn the craft of how to play defensively to perfection, I urge you to watch Stanton closely, she is one of the best in the business.

 

LIBBY BIRCH

Birch was absolutely outstanding in this contest at half-back. She commanded a Demons defence that kept Suns key forwards Bohanna and Perkins completely off the scoreboard. Routinely Birch intercepted forward forays, but also was clean and precise with her movements that set up rebounding opportunities, especially once Melbourne got their run going in the second and third quarters. Birch tallied 16 disposals and four intercept marks in a telling performance.

 

UMPIRING CONSISTENCY

Full disclosure: Yes I’m a Suns supporter, and while the umpires did not play a part in determining the winner in this contest, I found myself often just wishing for some consistency in this contest. First off, I believe the “Lasso Rule” needs some work, as Melbourne were gifted a free-kick as a player was able to take possession, yet just shepherded the ball out of bounds to get a resulting free-kick.  AFLW umpires also need to figure out how much physicality and contact is allowed, as Gold Coast conceded roughly four free-kicks from odd calls that would not have been called in the men’s game. I’m not going to get started on the “incorrect disposal debate” as that has also been covered, perhaps due to expected skill level there is more leniency allowed, meaning more skilled players get more leeway.

 

QUICK TAKES

Melbourne have something special in Eliza West, her forward pressure and toughness fits their mould perfectly. She will cause opposition fits for years to come.

I’m not sure if she was battling an injury or still building fitness, but I was surprised to see Jacqui Yorston missing in the Suns midfield rotation for long stretches, especially considering her prowess around the contested ball.

Lilly Mithen once again flew under the guard of the opposition radar, and was outstanding with a great mix of offensive and defensive contributions across a full four quarters, game-high 12 tackles and 15 possessions. She crunched Gold Coast star Kalinda Howarth late, and injured the enigmatic Gold Coast utility

With the likely loss of Ahrens adding to Pregelj, Gold Coast’s hopes rest on captain Hannah Dunn more than ever, as she will likely have to take over at centre half-back, with recruit Viv Saad manning the other key role. Dunn is a great team player, but seems a touch lost in defence at the moment, perhaps Gold Coast experiment with placing Perkins behind the ball for some aerial help, if late change Jacqui Dupoy is back next week.

Coming into the game I thought dropping Lucy Single was a bad move, as her pace and competitive nature seemed to be a non-negotiable in combating the Demons structured approach, yet Claudia Whitford provided some outstanding rebound from defence in particular. Speaking of competitive nature, despite a few costly disposal errors, it was great to see Britt Perry provide some great movement around a stagnating forward line.

Last but not least, outstanding battle with Shelley Heath and Kate Surman in a fascinating tussle. These two fought their own war for four quarters with some tough, hard pressure football.

 

 

WESTERN BULLDOGS (4. 6. 30) DEFEATED RICHMOND (1. 7. 13)

REVIEWER – ALEX DOCHERTY

 

It wasn’t the cleanest win you’ll see from the Western Bulldogs, but they’re finally on the board for season 2022 with a big win at home over Richmond.

Round one feels like it was a while ago for the Tigers, and now at 1-4 following losses to the Gold Coast and the Bulldogs, hopes of a first-time appearance in the Finals is in serious doubt for Ryan Ferguson’s team.

I will say though that it is not entirely through the fault of the playing group. The Tigers have had injuries to key players over the past few weeks and they had another three players wrapped in ice before the game was even finished, with Hannah Burchell a suspected ACL, Laura McClelland hurting her ankle and Kate Dempsey a suspected achilles injury.

The Tigers have players dropping like flies with injury and with games to come against North Melbourne and Geelong in the coming weeks, they more heading into survival mode than anything else, just trying to get to games without any more casualties.

Meanwhile, the Dogs in their third game in nine days, have broken through for their first win of the season. Against both the Giants and the Dockers, they showed plenty of hunger and want around the contest, but the lack of skills and forward polish punished them dearly – the Dockers’ loss coming with a kick’s difference between the two sides.

But this felt a lot better all around, the Dogs showed that the skills and the dare are gradually getting up to speed to go along with their penchant for contested ball and their pressure work, and with a week’s rest, they’ll head into Adelaide next week with some confidence, but the Crows are in white-hot form at the moment.

 

THE ONE-TWO MIDFIELD PUNCH

Being first to the footy was something that the Dogs excelled in against the Tigers, being up by 18 at halftime and finishing the match +25 – but being able to use it to the advantage of your team or gaining meterage in scrappy affairs can set sides apart.

I’ve sung the praises enough about Kirsty Lamb so far this season, but every time I have, it feels like it’s been warranted, because she’s found herself another couple of levels as a midfielder, and she was again outstanding in this one.

In the contested spaces, Lamb used her very strong body to burst through would-be tacklers and at every opportunity, did a lot in general play to make the Dogs’ chain of possessions work more fluently. She recorded 27 disposals and nine marks but was down on her clearances in comparison to past weeks, just recording the two.

But I’d like to talk about her captain, because if anything, we saw a real return to form game from Ellie Blackburn in here. Her past couple of games were probably a bit down by her lofty standards but coming back from both Covid and the league’s health and safety protocols are enough to knock any player down a couple of pegs.

But the thing with Ellie, as it is with most of this team the past week and a bit, is that they’re just putting their head down and going to work and trying to do the things that had them finish last year with a positive win-loss record. Finals might be a bridge too far this year as the Dogs approach the halfway mark of their season, but they’re focusing on what they can control right now.

The attitude of working hard towards each contest starts with the leader, and Blackburn is the heart and soul. As the Huey Lewis song of the same title goes; she’s got it all – the work-rate, the burst out of stoppages, the defensive mindset, they want to try and take the game on and most importantly for a midfielder, she’s got the ability to score – 1.2 could’ve been more had it not been for some bad bounces, but she’s currently kicked 3.5 from four matches, so her hitting the scoreboard has been consistent to date.

I think we’re nearly ready to see the best of this Bulldog midfield brigade and the competition will be better off for it.

 

THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGY

Conversely, over at Richmond’s engine room, I look at Monique Conti and I can’t help but feel incredibly frustrated with the lack of midfield assistance that she gets. Once again, Conti was Richmond’s best player and was doing a lot of the grunt work, the second and third efforts and the drive to get the ball forward all by herself.

I look to players like Maddy Brancatisano and Sarah Hosking and I feel like they were never here nor there in this game – they weren’t the worst players on the ground, but if the Tigers are to make some in-roads with sides like the Bulldogs, Carlton and even GWS before they attempt to take on the better sides of the competition, they need players around Conti to step up around the source.

What I will say, in amongst the carnage on Richmond’s casualty list, the inclusion of Ellie McKenzie was a positive for the Tigers. Nine disposals won’t say a lot for her game but considering that she missed all four games up to this one with an ankle injury, getting through the game unscathed is a welcome return for the Tigers, everything else is just a bonus.

McKenzie was a revelation when she played last year but given the fact that she’s coming from a little way back, some leniency can be made for the lack of stats, because the Tigers were initially going to put her on limited minutes, but I think those injuries meant that she was probably going to play more minutes than initially scheduled.

There were glimpses of the brilliance we saw from McKenzie last season, her kick to Katie Brennan which set up their only goal for the match was just simply elite and allowed her to run into the space for the mark. Her taking the game on through the middle of Whitten Oval during the third term when the Tigers had their backs to the wall is something that will be encouraging the coaches.

I’m just worried that we will see her amp up the workload sooner than anticipated, given these injuries – last thing the Tigers need is their brightest up and coming star going through another injury setback.

 

BROWN V BRENNAN

I reviewed this game last year for The Mongrel, and one of the key matchups was Eleanor Brown and Katie Brennan going head-to-head in the Richmond forward line.

The last time these two met, the honours well and truly went in Brennan’s favour, even though the Tigers lost the match. I had a gut feeling that these two would go at it again, it was pleasing to see it happen again as the game was unfolding, intrigued to see how much Brown has learned from that encounter, nearly 12 months on.

Brown’s work as an undersized key defender this year has been well documented and has seen her take on some big jobs with aplomb, especially with the help of the team surrounding her, and I thought against the former Bulldogs’ captain, she took the honours well and truly this time around.

The goal that Brennan kicked can’t be faulted on Brown, the kick was to space for the Tigers’ forward to run into, not much any defender can do about that – I will have a go at the Dogs players who failed to block off the space that enabled Brennan to run around and snap that goal – the great sides apply that pressure and force the kicker to overthink the actions and in turn botch the kick.

Other than that, it’s hard to fault the efforts of Brown in the air and at ground level – Brennan did end up with 11 disposals herself, but a lot of them were up the ground, where she was unable to get herself into scoring positions. The disposal coming towards her did her no favours either, a few of them were a little over Brennan’s head and allowed Brown to swoop in and use the ball to start again on the rebound.

And whilst Brennan didn’t have the forward line players to help her out, Brown had great support from the likes of Izzy Grant, Naomi Ferres and the very underrated Katie Lynch, who is reading the ball in flight magnificently and marking the ball at an all-time high, it’s even more so when you taken into consideration that she had a compromised pre-season and didn’t play in round one either.

 

THE TOOGOOD THIRD QUARTER

Can I just start by calling out Abbey Holmes when she said that Bonnie Toogood was a dead-eye in front of goal?

This is by no means an attack as such on Toogood because I acknowledge her abilities to lead up the ground to help and then push back into the forward 50 to lead and present, but this is more so about her goal-kicking – 3.7 is not the time you’d like roll out a ‘dead-eye’ comment as she’s lining up.

Having said that, I thought that this was the best game Bonnie Toogood has played this year. Has the Huntington injury meant that she’s had to work a lot harder? Perhaps so, but I think that the pieces around her are slowly coming into place so that she doesn’t need to work as hard around the ground and allows her to play smarter.

I saw Jemima Woods on Tuesday night against the Dockers, and whilst she didn’t make a big impact in this game, her attack in the air last game is something I’ll take into a match most weeks as it enables the small forwards a real chance at getting the ball off the deck. Speaking of smalls, having Brooke Lochland playing more in the forward half is something that I liked, particularly earlier in the piece when she was looking like threatening to hit the scoreboard.

But this is about Toogood, the third quarter opened up for the Bulldogs in a way that I was hoping of since they came back from nearly three weeks on the sidelines and Toogood, after making the goal umpire work in the second quarter with a set shot on top of the goal square in the second term, she took two very good marks and set up the Dogs’ two goals of the term to really bridge the gap to Richmond.

Maybe Abbey was on to something with her field kicking and got it all muddled up, that happens to the best of us. But the vision and the kick to set up Ellie Blackburn for her goal was A-grade. The kick to set up Celine Moody for the big pack mark moments later was well-weighted and it allowed her the run to the footy.

For a key forward, Toogood’s numbers will read 15 disposals and four marks for a return of 1.1 – very strong numbers from a key forward that works as hard as any in the competition, only a matter of time before she gets her just rewards.

 

WHO PLAYED THE BETTER RUCK GAME – MOODY OR SEYMOUR?

It’s a tough question to answer, because both players had their pros and cons in this game.

Up to this point in the season, Gabby Seymour has had a very good 2022, despite shouldering a massive workload as the sole ruck option. Poppy Kelly came back into the side this week has enabled her to play as the back-up whilst she positions herself as a spare behind the play, Kelly played more as the primary ruck and had 11 hitouts to go with that.

I thought Seymour’s game across the ground was fantastic – in the ruck, she only had four hitouts, from what I thought were limited opportunities, but her follow up work was always there, led all Tigers for tackles with seven for the match, but also had six marks and 10 disposals.

Moody, unlike her sister at Carlton, has never really been a high-possession ruck option. There have been games where she threatens to take that next step with her development, but I guess it depends on the match-up. But we’re seeing more now that the best rucks in the AFLW follow up their ruck hitouts or they position themselves smartly either behind the ball or playing as the resting key forward.

She did a little bit of both and as mentioned before, took a great grab and followed up with her first career goal, but it’s her ruck craft that looks like has gone another level – the Tigers were on top in the centre clearances in the opening half, but Moody’s getting the first use in the ruck contests more often now and providing a clear run of injury, there will be every chance that in a year or so’s time, she’ll be tapping them down to the advantage of her teammates.

So to answer the question, Moody kicked the goal and won the hitouts, and rucks who manage to kick goals on the board are worth their weight in gold, so I’m very tempted to give the chocolates to Moody, despite the five disposals around the ground, but Seymour can be one of a few players at Richmond that can hold her head up high.

 

OTHER BITS

I wanted to touch on Naomi Ferres’ game here, because her ability to mop the ball up at ground level and first give to her teammates was sensational. I’ve questioned her kicking at times throughout the season, but she was a lot better this week.

Thought the run and rebound from Maddie Shevlin was pretty good in this game, obviously the Tigers were under siege for a lot of the game, but Shevlin stood up very well under the pressure – 16 disposals, four tackles.

Not a high-possession game from Sarah Hartwig this week, but I’ve been impressed with her ability to push back in defence and kill off any possible chance that the Tigers had going with the wind. Her vision and want to break the game open is one of her best assets.

Another defender to highlight is Jess Hosking, who I thought was looking to try and move the ball through the middle of the ground at every opportunity she had. Her intercepting as well was very good – finished with 17 disposals, four marks and five tackles.

Really enjoyed Nell Morris-Dalton’s game this week. Presented well high up the ground and when the Dogs were looking like squandering another quarter with the wind, came up big time with her composure and slotted home a much-deserved goal.

Tessa Lavey only had the 10 disposals, but a couple of times on the wing she was let off the leash by the Dogs and was able to run and try to create something with the ball. Was in career-best form before being forced to sit out with Covid, she’s only just getting back to good form.

A small shoutout to Elizabeth Snell on the wing in this game, a couple of times she got caught holding the ball, but you can see her effort and intent to keep the ball moving at all costs was there, and I was quite pleased to see that – four marks for the game is equal-third for the club.

Mentioned Brennan having no assistance from the forwards in this one earlier; Tayla Stahl had four disposals, Emilia Yassir five, Kodi Jacques four and Sarah D’Arcy the six – it was a very tough day at the office to be a Richmond forward.

She hasn’t had much recognition, but Liz Georgostathis plays with a very hard edge to her inside game, almost as if she’s willing to put her body on the line for the football – I love it, but also her hands in tight are quite good and often break the game open – had 12 disposals and five tackles.

Bec Miller’s rushed behind in the third term was smart football – exactly what defenders should be doing in a situation like that, under pressure? Just see it over the line – great chase from Blackburn too to try and get there to force a fumble or a turnover

Some good defensive pressure from Bailey Hunt in this game and recording 17 disposals is a very sound return, but she’s still looking a bit jittery when she approaches the footy and that causes her to make rash decisions with the ball – maybe it’s just rust, but if she can clean that up, she’ll be looking like a very strong piece for the team going forward.

And on that note, that’s me done for this week – Also a Happy Birthday to Nathan Burke, can’t think of a better way to celebrate it than seeing your group of girls fight tooth and nail for your first win of the season.

 

ADELAIDE (7. 9. 51) DEFEATED CARLTON (1. 6. 12)

REVIEWER – JB EDDY

 

This match really was a tale of two seasons. An Adelaide side that has spent 2022 in a barely-contained rage and a singular focus on a flag, matched with a belligerent determination to steamroll every team in their path. I haven’t seen anyone take a lost granny so personally since my Nanna trusted the cookies she found in my black-sheep Uncle’s work bag, and my Mum found her staring at an ant hill in the middle of a roundabout three blocks away.

By contrast, the Blues have struggled to apply physical or scoreboard pressure in 2022, along with some inconsistent basic disposal skills. They look unlikely to match their five-win 2021 season, though as always there are green shoots that should keep Blues fans hanging on, much like they have for the last couple of decades with their Mens’ side anyway.

 

OPENING MOVES

It was exciting to see future Hall of Famer Erin Phillips line up on someone with just as much potential in Maddie Prespakis. That’s a big call, but I think it’s justified with her ability to read the play and make clever disposal decisions on either hand and either foot. Prespakis doesn’t have the raw grunt that Phillips does, but very few players in the AFLW can expect to compare favourably to Phillips.

Carlton also set up a wide structure, maintaining outside position rather than get pulled into the pack around the ball. It was a clever strategy, looking to shut down passing lanes when Adelaide’s power mids managed to get the ball on the inside, but unfortunately Phillips, Marinoff and Hatchard were frequently able to simply break open the pack or blast from right within it.

That isn’t to say that Carlton conceded the hard ball though, and they were very well served by the return of Mimi Hill, after almost a year out due to an ACL. Hill’s work at the coal face was excellent, and a major reason why Carlton were in the game for so long. It’s no coincidence that the Crows were able to put the game to bed while she was off getting her ankle restrapped.

The Crows controlled the pace of the opening term, pushing forward frequently and running to make options in ways that had Carlton scrambling to cover the leading lanes. Carlton’s structure did help stifle the free ball movement Adelaide prefers, but when the forced turnovers came, Carlton failed to capitalise.

A big example of that was the game of Courtney Jones. Though only five games into her career, she needs to make the most of the opportunities in front of goal to manifest her talent. She reads the ball well and has good game sense for the most part, but when Vescio spotted her moving goalward on the overlap, she just had to get a quick kick from 20 metres out to put Carlton on the board. Instead, she took an extra step and was run down by a voracious Sarah Allan with a perfect tackle that would certainly be highlighted on the game footage for the Crows, as well as the teams looking to take them on.

Defenders often fly under the radar, but running down a forward going into an open goal and causing it to shank off the boot is the equivalent of a forward dropping a torp from sixty. Well, mostly anyway. If Allan wasn’t in Jones’ ear letting her know that her chance had gone begging, well, she wouldn’t be a defender in the first place. Having a sharp tongue and calloused elbows is practically the job description.

While the Crows enjoyed the sort of rugby-style gang tackling, Carlton kept to their wide structure. Though the tackle count ended up fairly close for the match, it was the Crows ability to attack the defence and stick tackles in their forward 50 that hurt Carlton the most, resulting in repeat entries that should have made Carlton pay a much heavier price than they did early on.

Jones once again let her chances go begging after dropping a sitter 35 metres out, only to win the free kick for in the back. She took her time with her shot and backed herself, only to fall short and register a rushed behind. Shortly before the end of the quarter she marked the ball 40 out and held up rather than move the ball quickly, resulting in a kick after the siren where she fell well short.

It’s encouraging that Jones had so many opportunities, but just that little lack of polish cost Carlton a chance at the game.

Adelaide weren’t much better early on though, with Phillips missing some very gettable shots at the start of both the first and second quarters. Her fourth shot was an over-the-head attempt that almost sailed through, but actually had her kicking 0.4 when all were gettable. She’ll likely get a pass on the inaccuracy though, considering the final margin, and her otherwise stellar contribution.

 

CARLTON ON THE BOARD

It took until just after halftime for Carlton to register their first (and only) goal of the game through a perfect forward 50 entry from Vescio to find Gee around the back of the pack, who strolled in for a goal. It was a link-up play that Carlton lacked for most of the day, and as a highlight it looked brilliant.

With the goal narrowing the margin to ten points, the Blues had a bit of belief and looked like they had a bit of a sniff. Unfortunately, the Crows took it personally, and kept a goal-line defender for much of the rest of the match to stop movement like this from working, matching it with some very unsociable tackling when Carlton did manage to get the ball forward.

They had their opportunities though, with Walker and Jones both spraying gettable shots on the run. Adelaide’s 1-on-1 defence style caused all sorts of problems for Carlton, and at times resembled a basketball defensive strategy that an old coach used to drill into me. That being “If your player is in the corner picking their nose, you should have a finger in the other nostril”.  The Crows were so tight with their opponents in their back half that I’m sure all the defenders could read the washing instructions on the Blues guernseys.

 

CLASS WINS OUT

Despite being one of the better players on the ground, Phillips had an off day by her lofty standards. Not a bad day, just less than her best. She did remind people that she’s the template for a modern AFLW footballer by instigating the Crow’s first goal of the quarter, with a deft tap to Hatchard who found Whitely 35 out. A quick kick to Ailish Considine closer to goal, and with her conversion, Adelaide seemed to lose any stress they had about dropping this one. Despite there being more than a quarter to go, and the Crows attack wasting opportunities, they were dominating the play and knew they could now revert to a more free-flowing style, start running off their player more and hurt the Blues on the turnover.

And they did.

 

BRINGING IT HOME

With some looser checking, Carlton took the opportunity to push forward with the freedom they’d been denied earlier in the game. It looked like there were more than a few players trying to secure a spot with a goal for themselves rather than stick to the zone structure though, as the defenced pushed very high into the forward half of the ground, allowing the Crows to hurt them on the overlap.

It culminated with some fantastic forward craft where Ponter ran into space inside 50 with only Whitely in front of her and attempted to do the old “Joe the goose” to draw the defender. It looked like she missed Charlotte Wilson, who was hiding behind the baby-blue-wearing boundary ump, in what I’d like to think is a classic example of a defender using every trick they can muster. Wilson managed to pressure Whitely into a fumble, but Ponter chased up her own handball to collect and convert.

And so the flood gates opened.

With the game now locked into a win for the Crows, they decided to make a bit of a statement. The inside brigade started running with the ball more often, daring the Blues to tackle them. Hanna Button had a fantastic bursting run out of the midfield, breaking a few hand tackles to find Whitely with a quick inside 50. As any forward will tell you, a quick entry that has the defender scrambling is easily in the top three things they want as a forward, with the other two being a ten goal wind that switches to each end they’re kicking to, and a midfield that will handball to them when they could have taken the shot themselves.

Carlton did everything they could to avoid getting caught on the overlap again, avoiding the corridor at all costs. The Crows countered by playing a defensive press that would channel the ball movement into a dead pocket, and blocking off the switch with a floating player around the middle of the ground. Carlton still tried it a few times, but the delay in getting into space stopped the quick switch that could have helped break through the lines.

Late-game goals to Eloise Jones and Considine put some icing on the cake. The Jones goal in particular was worth looking at as Phillips handballed to where she wanted Jones to be, aiming the ball in front of Jones and towards goal, drawing her into the open space away from her opponent. Jones took a step and kicked through a great goal, finishing perfectly.

I’m highlighting the Phillips handball because drawing a player to the ball was something Carlton struggled to do for much of the match. The play before that, Carlton pushed hard into the forward 50 saw Nicola Stevens take a good mark and attempt to handball to Natalie Plane as she ran by, but the handball was to where she was, not where she needed to be. A bobble and a fumble meant Plane had to do a u-turn to collect the ball, go to ground and turn the ball over.

That was the difference for much of the match, Adelaide doing the basics very, very well, adding flourishes and sticking to their belligerent style of football. Carlton showed a lot of potential, but it looked like they needed to just tighten up their disposal a bit more before they can be confident taking on the top contenders.

 

MID BATTLE

Ebony Marinoff, Anne Hatchard, Erin Phillips. It’s the AFLW version of Selwood, Dangerfield and Ablett. You put those three up against any AFLW midfield and you will not be worried about being outclassed.

They read the play well, bring other layers into the game, and get plenty of their own ball.

Marinoff in particular was on fire, with 31 disposals, eight marks and ten tackles. She dominated the midfield and shut down any Carlton attempt to control the tempo.

Hatchard was nearly as good, with 25 touches to go with seven marks and six tackles, while Phillips’ link up plays gave her 19 touches, but her game-leading five clearances were enormously impactful. Had she turned her 0.4 in front of the sticks into four goals, she’d have taken best on ground honours, but she was just that little bit off her best.

For Carlton, the return of Hill was everything they’d dared hope it could be. Prespakis is a star in the making, but struggled to find space. For her 23 touches, 16 of them were short handballs, and she only managed to gain 61 metres for the match. Hill’s 26 touches gained 349 metres, giving Carlton some hope in pushing forward. How these two work together will go a long way to determine how Carlton develop. If they can stay on the park and get familiar with each other, they’ll be very dangerous.

It looked like Caitlin Gould was tasked with making sure Prespakis was quiet for the day, with some hard hits that had Maddie sucking air on several occasions. She will have to learn to deal with the attention (or have a fellow mid willing to put some hard blocks on) to take the next step in her development.

 

RUCK BATTLE

Jess Good was dominant for the blues in the middle, getting to the taps frequently and controlling the direction of the ball. It’s just unfortunate for her that her teammates weren’t reading her taps as well as Hatchard and Marinoff were. At least a dozen times, the Adelaide mids would read the body language and push their opponents out of the drop zone to collect the ball and break away.

McKinnon and Gould combined for the Crows, and managed to have their own impact. Gould was unafraid to back herself too, taking the ball out of the ruck several times to get three clearances.

 

POOR FINISHING

1.6 to 7.9 isn’t a great return from either side. While 7.9 may not seem so bad, it could very easily have been a 14-15 goal game for Adelaide.

Carlton also ruined some straight-forward chances, though the high-pressure Adelaide defence definitely added to that.

 

TOUGH DEFENDERS

While many of the Blues players seemed a little uncomfortable with the Adelaide physicality, there were a couple who seemed to revel in it. I didn’t see Gabriella Pound take a short step for the whole game, ploughing into her opponents to try and break tackles and get a quick handball off with little fear of contact from multiple tacklers. It’s great to see, and I hope it inspires some of her teammates.

Trudgeon likewise worked very hard for Carlton in defence, bravely leaving her opponent frequently to affect the attempted mark by free players surging forward.

Adelaide’s defence was a little less patchy, with Allan and Biddell harassing opponents with their pace while Rajcic launched into anything coming her way in the air.

 

NEXT UP

With the border situation once again adding question marks to the fixture, Carlton’s scheduled match against Fremantle in WA is no certainty. If it does go ahead, Freo will still be without the dangerous Bowers due to suspension, but after their first loss of the season to North Melbourne this week, they’ll be out for blood, and likely bring too much physicality for the Blues. I just can’t see the Blues matching them, though I’d be very happy to be wrong about that, as it’d be great for the season to see a few more teams able to take it up to the top tier.

Adelaide heads back to Norwood Oval to take on the Western Bulldogs. The dogs have been affected by the fixture changes more than most, but have only a single win from their four starts this season. Combined with the make-up games they’ll need to play, I would not expect them to trouble the Crows too much.

 

 

NORTH MELBOURNE (3. 8. 26) DEFEATED FREMANTLE (2. 4. 16)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

This was going to go one of two ways after the Kangaroos squandered shot after shot through the first three quarters. Either North were going to break the drought, or the Dockers were going to come out and hit them hard in the last quarter and make them rue their inaccuracy.

Fremantle cracked in and for the first five or six minutes threatened to steal the game. North looked flat-footed, playing like a side attempting to save a game, as opposed to winning it.

It took yet another monster effort from the most important player on the ground, Emma King, to steady the ship for the Roos. Not only did she take the big “get out of jail” mark on the wing, she drew the 50 metre penalty, which lead to the clunking grab from Tahlia Randall fifteen metres out. Her goal gave North the breathing space they needed as they ran out ten-point winners.

 

STILL ON THE THRONE

No, that is not a joke about someone who spends too long in the toilet – we’re talking about King – the ruler of the AFL rucks and perhaps the best mark in the game. Her influence on this contest was irrefutable.

Matched up on Mim Strohm – herself, no slouch when it comes to the AFLW ruck stocks, King was a beast, taking strong grabs as either a target across half forward, or repelling the defensive exits of the Dockers. Having Kim Rennie to share the load with her in the middle gave North a 31-22 hit out advantage.

King has seen the crown slip a little in recent seasons, last making the AA team in 2019, however, hr form in this one was a throwback to the days when the North Melbourne offence ran through her, and if you’re looking for a reason to get on North as they push into flag favouritism, having King in this sort of form should be enough to convince you.

 

MILLER TIME

Much was made of the stat-less beginning of Ebony Antonio in this game. She collected her first touch just before halftime (that didn’t stop the yahoo boundary rider claiming she had a goose egg) and struggled to get into the contest. But no one was mentioning the quiet start of Hayley Miller.

The Freo leader managed just two touches in the first quarter, and one of them came in the form of the first clearance. She more than made up for it in the second, as the captain lifted, and some of those around her had no choice but to follow. Throwing herself into the contest, Miller had ten touches in the second to help Freo stay in touch. If we were weighing up what kept Fremantle in striking distance, the inaccuracy of North would be ranked first, but the hard-at-it play of Miller would run a close second.

I think I have written about Miller in every Freo game I’ve covered this season, and for good reason. Yes, she is the reigning eyebrow-game champion of the league, but she is also one of the best players in the game, particularly when it comes to winning the footy in the clinches. I have developed a new level of respect for her in 2022, and though her road-weary team fell over in this one, it’s difficult not to see where she can lead this side.

 

CAPTAIN’S GAME

I have been accused of being a little critical of Emma Kearney at times, but I loved her game in this one. Her run off half-back, her composure, her hard work, and her bloody footy-shaped brain (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) were brilliant for North in the back half.

There were no running goals after sneaking forward in this one, but her command of the situation across defensive 50 was masterful in this game, and it is painfully apparent that Darren Crocker has pulled the right string to get her to accept this role.

Kearney’s drive from defence set up many North scoring opportunities in possibly the best advertisement for another AA selection. Yes, she missed a game earlier in the season, but she is more than making up for it now.

 

MY LEFT FOOT

That is a bad title. Know why?

Because Daniel Day Lewis’ left foot is a damn sight more potent than that of Gemma Houghton.

Twice in this game, the key forward tried to checkside kick her way out of trouble or into a score and twice it came undone.

After starting in the guts – in what was a bold move from Trent Cooper – Houghton drifted forward and looked dangerous. However, her penchant for using only her right foot put her on the wrong side twice. Once, she just hacked it kind of across goal when a left foot kick, even a sloppy one, could have brought Freo 25 metres closer to goal and given her teammates a chance.

The second one… well, that had the potential to change the trajectory of the game.

With Freo pressing with repeat inside 50 entries, Houghton received in the pocket, only 15-20 metres out. A snap on the left foot beckoned, but so shot is her confidence in doing tat, she attempted a banana kick from that spot and it fell short. Badly short.

Look, I love what Houghton does bring to the table, but this is a huge flaw in her game and needs to be addressed. If that happened in the Grand Final because the work hadn’t been done to at least have her attempt a left foot snap, would more be made of it? I reckon it might be – best work on it now and avoid the scrutiny later. Get her at training, force her to run on her left over and over, and teach her to kick with her left foot. It will make her a better player.

 

GARNER

I reckon that it’s fair to say that this was the best game from Jas Garner we’ve seen all season. The only thing missing was converting opportunities, but there were periods of the game where she appeared to be everywhere.

It wasn’t the big marks or the powerful runs – it was the little things from Garner that made a big difference in this. The second efforts, the little tap-ons and bodywork that worked to the advantage of a teammate – this is the version of Garner that has made her one of the more recognisable players in the game.

She finished this one with 29 touches, but her value in this game cannot be assessed by numbers. She was everywhere at important times of the game, and her confidence seems to be building again. That spells trouble.

 

THE IN-EFFECT OF THE EFFECTIVE TAG

Yes, I know ín-effect’ is not a word. Spellcheck told me so. I am going with it, anyway.

Jess Low was deployed to run with Ash Riddell in this game and if you’re the type who sits there and paws over stats as your guide, you may look at Riddell’s 24 touches and think that tag failed. Maybe you’re right, too – Riddell did have eight first quarter touches, but from where I sat Ash had to earn every one of those touches, often resulting in rushed kicks forward.

It seemed as though the tag was released after half-time and that resulted in Riddell being permitted more freedom, as evidenced by her wonderful handball to Jas Garner inside 50 (great vision) that resulted in a shot at goal, but when the tag was on, it was effective, and I don’t care what the commentators tell you.

And when you look at Low’s game and see nine tackles to her name, you know that she was doing the work. Only Gabby O’Sullivan had more, with 11.

 

 THE BROWS V THE LASHES

I covered Hayley Miller , but this game was of significance to a few of our readers who take note of the more subtle aspects of the game, most notably, the best eyebrows and the best eyelashes.

This was a clash of the facial hair titans, as Miller, and her perfectly-crafted brows, finally met Sophie Abbatangelo – she of the eyelashes to dream of.

Given North’s win, and Abba’s early goal to kickstart the Roos, it would be easy to award the crown to her, but Miller really fought back with some prominent eyebrow power as she powered through the middle.

The decider for me was the brilliant tackle from Abbatangelo, nailing Ebony Antonio with a wonderful tackle early in the third quarter. So, there you go – in this battle of the flutterers and the furrowers, the eyelashes emerged victorious. Miller, and her refined arches will be looking to even the score in around five or so weeks. Eyelashes v Eyebrows II – Electric Boogaloo.

 

OTHER BITS

How good was the Ebony Antonio goal in the last quarter? The gather, the fend on Jess Duffin, and the snap around the body… man, she looked like a monster in pulling that off.

Another nice little game compiled by Arlie Runnalls. Not dominant, but in the absence of Bowers, she got some midfield minutes, and a couple of little gives were very nice. Her handball was the one to set up the Antonio goal. We see you, Airlie.

I like what Aileen Gilroy brings to North, but for crying out loud, someone tell her to stop attempting to bring the ball back through the middle when she is on the boundary. Like Houghton, she refuses to kick on her left and is happier doing a U-turn into the middle if it means kicking on her right. For all the hard run, those types of acts can bring a team undone. She needs to be careful of that.

Mia King is starting to compile a handy little season – just one game under ten disposals sees her sitting right at 16.2 touches per game and flying under the radar.

 

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