The Doc knows what he likes and what he doesn’t when it comes to AFLW.
Here is hid Round Five instalment.
1. Oh Captain, My Captain!
My good friend and colleague at the A3 Footy Podcast Alex Catalano put it eloquently as we were watching the Derby on Thursday afternoon: ‘If Hayley Miller asked me to jump off a bridge I would, what a leader she is.’ If we were to start amounting rankings of best captains in the AFLW, I reckon she would be high amongst the top-running candidates. Without her influence in this one – particularly in the second half – the Fremantle would’ve lost their first AFLW derby and they would remain winless.
Miller won the Derby medal from Kiara Bowers, who had herself another lazy 18 tackles in this game, but it was Miller’s influence on both the run and spread and the work around the stoppages – eight clearances and 458 metres gained from her 26 disposals. There were two plays that stood out; one was a gut-busting run down the wing to retrieve the ball, fire a one-two handball and then hit up Aine Tighe for her second goal the other was a diving smother on Bella Lewis in the last term to stop her from getting the ball inside 50.
To say she was huge in this one, doesn’t begin to describe how influential she was in this game. But the right woman won the best on ground medal in the derby.
2. Great Scott
I’ve bemoaned Geelong’s lack of scoring so far this year and one of the stranger moves from Dan Lowther over the first month of play was the decision to play Shelley Scott as a defender. We’ve seen over the years just how good Scott can be at the other end when she was at Melbourne; she’s a former club best and fairest winner and has been quite consistent with her leading patterns to the ball and if she’s not kicking them, she’s setting up for her teammates.
Geelong have kicked just eight goals in their first month of AFLW and on Friday evening, they eclipsed their season total of putting 11 goals on St Kilda. The Saints were disgraceful, but on the flipside of things, the Cats looked more direct and more confident of running the ball through the corridor and that could be the turning point of this group for this season and beyond.
Scott up forward in this game was sensational, absolutely what I’ve been calling out for in this side; a presence forward of centre. Scott kicked three goals, one of which was a mark inside 50 that was converted, another a brilliant crumb off her own marking attempt. The move also made a few of her team mates walk a bit taller, Chloe Scheer had a great game and Jacqui Parry could’ve had one if she wasn’t so wasteful earlier in the game.
3. Jasmine Garner laying the challenge down
When the season abruptly ended in 2020, Jasmine Garner was asserting herself as one of the best in the competition. In fact, she was my number one player when I released my top 50 that year. Since then she’s been around the top ten mark, but this year she is planting her foot down and issuing the challenge to all the other top midfielders in the AFLW.
On Friday against the Bulldogs, she was the best player on the park and was so by a considerable margin: 26 disposals, seven marks, eight clearances, 537 metres gained, 11 inside 50s, five score involvements and six intercept possessions. There was at least three times I counted in this game where she opted to hang outside North’s forward 50 waiting to intercept the ball and sure enough the Dogs kicked it right down her throat and she made them pay for it dearly one way or another.
I thought that if she averages 20 and a goal or two per game, that’s all it takes for her and North to be a very good side, but she proved that se can find another couple of niches to her game that helps her stand out. Garner currently averages 24.2 disposals, 395 metres gained, 6.8 clearances, 4.2 marks, 4.2 intercept possessions and 3.6 score involvements per game so far in season seven.
4. Lauren Butler is All Australian calibre
Anyone that has slept on Lauren Butler as a player over the coming seasons need to wake up and start to take notice on what she’s capable of producing. So far, Collingwood have proven themselves to be one of the stingiest defences in the competition, conceding an average of just over 16 points per game, only Geelong have a better points against average. But it shouldn’t be so much of a secret.
Stacey Livingstone’s role as a key defender always gets wide praise for her intercepting, Sophie Casey is another who gets praise for her dour ability to shut down the smalls and Ruby Schleicher was the premier rebounder/interceptor before moving up towards the midfield this season. But that move has given more opportunity for Butler to establish herself as an A-grade defender and she excelled in the wet against Essendon; nine intercept possessions led all players in the category.
She also popped up for her first career goal in the AFLW and was dangerously lurking around for another towards the end of the game. So far in season seven, she’s averaging career highs in disposals, marks, intercept possessions and tackles and at 21 years of age, it’s scary to imagine that she will be even better when she reaches her peak years.
5. A fantastic response from Hawthorn
It’s been a week that a lot of football fans would rather not think of fondly, which is weird considering that Grand Final week in the men’s competition is perhaps one of the best times of the year for anyone who’s madly passionate about the game of Aussie Rules Football. But the story from Russell Jackson during the week about the shocking racism allegations surrounding Hawthorn has rocked everyone in football.
You don’t need to hear from me about the whole situation, but for the Hawthorn women, there would’ve been a few keen observers to see how they respond to not just those allegations, but their on-field results from the opening month. Losses by 30, 35 and 53 in their past three games have given plenty of concern for Bec Goddard and the troops, and it was looking ominous when they coughed up a four-goal lead during the opening term of their game against fellow winless expansion team Sydney on Friday.
This was a cracking game of football and it had so much you could want in a football game. It had lots of push and shove, a Bec Goddard quarter time spray, plenty of bodies thrown in harm’s way and a star emerging from the Hawthorn camp in Tahlia Fellows. Fellows won the VFLW’s rising star award playing for the Casey Demons earlier in the year, but rose to the occasion and showed she is a capable player in the big time by kicking three of the Hawks’ five goals in this one.
Also if Jasmine Fleming can’t get a Rising Star nomination on the pack of 16 disposals, 10 tackles and four clearances this week, then this whole nomination system is a rort. Her and Izzy Grant at the Bulldogs should be the nominees this week and I won’t hear any different.
6. The upset of the year
Brisbane have steamrolled everyone in their path in the opening month of football, but I had a feeling that Richmond were able to give it a real crack at it. It’s without question Richmond’s best win since joining the competition in 2020 and it’s staggering to think that in just four seasons, they’ve turned themselves around from being a non-competitive expansion side, to a side that it is firmly in the mix for finals.
Without Katie Brennan and without Sarah Hosking, who shut out Maddy Prespakis last week, Richmond were soundly beat in the clearances (-11) and the tackles count (-31) but won out in the contested ball by four and being able to absorb the pressure that the Lions bring was just incredible to watch.
There will be a lot of heroes in the yellow and black coming out of this game; Gabby Seymour should be chief among them. Her smother on Dakota Davidson was a game saver, Libby Graham’s defensive contests in the last five minutes should also get some wide applause. Eilish Sheerin once again proving her stance as recruit of the year (12 intercepts and 15 contested possessions), Courtney Wakefield’s hands and composure in front of goal enormous in a low-scoring game and Maddie Shevlin recording 24 disposals and 628 metres gained was easily the best game I’ve seen from her.
7. Isabel Dawes
I don’t often like to write stuff about the losing teams in this part, but I couldn’t go without acknowledging the game of Isabel Dawes in this one. We talk about the great body of work Emily Bates and Ally Anderson do in the midfield of the Brisbane Lions, but rarely do we talk about what Dawes brings to the table. Height-wise, there’s not much, but she brings so much to the table. She runs, she tackles and she dips in for the contested ball as hard as anyone else does.
On Saturday in an upset loss to Richmond, I thought in the last quarter when the Lions made one last desperate push to get the lead back, Dawes was the catalyst to the charge. She was the equal-leader along with Sheerin and Emily Bates for contested possessions with 15, but also had seven clearances, seven tackles, five score involvements, six intercept possessions and 350 metres gained from her 24 disposals.
She’s enjoying a career-best season so far, averaging personal best numbers in clearances, tackles and contested ball. We talk about Bates, Anderson and even Cathy Svarc to a large degree, but it’s time we started talking more about Dawes.
8. Jac Dupuy
A bit left-field this one, but Jac Dupuy is putting out solid numbers in her second season in the AFLW. She was signed on by the Suns at the start of the year after being in the QAFLW team of the year and after a inaugural season where she’s been a bit hit and miss, she’s finding a great role up forward and playing second ruck to Lauren Bella.
Against Port Adelaide, she kicked 2.2 from 12 disposals, nine hitouts, three clearances, three tackles and five score involvements in this game. Behind Tara Bohanna, Charlie Rowbottom and Ali Drennan, Dupuy was the most influential Sun out on the ground in their win over the Power.
But it’s not just about this game, so far in season seven, she is averaging career-highs this year in contested ball (8.8 from 4.3 in season six), intercept possessions (3.5 from 1.8), contested marks (1.8 from 0.3), hitouts (10 from 7.2) and tackles (2.8 from 1.9).
She is finding steady confidence in her attack on the ball, both aerially and at ground level and on the scoreboard she’s finding form too, this performance making it three weeks in succession that she has found the goals.
9. The Crows are back
Any doubts about the Adelaide Crows and where they stand with the rest of the competition have been put to bed after an emphatic display that saw them record the biggest win in AFLW history. The Giants face some soul-searching this week after a second disheartening loss, following their defeat by the Eagles at home last week.
But regardless of what team turned up, this Crows team was going to win and win big. Anne Hatchard (17 contested possessions) and Ebony Marinoff (21 contested possessions) destroyed the Giants on the back of centre clearance work, combining for six centre clearances to the Giants’ three. Overall, the Crows dominated the clearances +14 and the contested possession by 46.
Ashleigh Woodland kicked three goals from five kicks, but the debut of Jess Waterhouse is a story that will leave Crows fans optimistic about what’s to come; from the state league, Waterhouse had one goal and two goal assists from nine disposals, a great start to an AFLW career. However, McKenzie Dowrick is another great story from the Crows. Formerly at Brisbane and West Coast, Dowrick was a replacement player in season six for the Crows, but was drafted back in June and repaid the faith with four goals in a big win to cement herself in this side as the partner-in-crime key forward to Woodland.
1. The Saints are now in strife
To sum up the Saints’ effort against Geelong in one play: Hannah Priest has gathered the ball inside her defensive 50. There’s a bit of congestion, she stops, props, and waits for a clearing path out, there were at least four teammates around the vicinity of the ball and not one of them bothered to put the block on for her so she could find more time. The result was Shelley Scott smothering a kick and it led to a score seconds afterwards.
The Saints were 2-0 on the back of some good football against the expansion sides, but have now just realised where they stand among the rest of the pack. No one expected them to beat Melbourne but outscored them after quarter time. Last week against the Suns was disappointing, but this was an even worse performance.
Against the three-headed beast that Geelong possesses around the congestion, the Saints were walloped -16 in contested ball, but were handed down a lesson on how to run and spread; -72 in uncontested ball and -35 in marks. There were players unwilling to locate their direct opponent and players that are failing to play to the team ethos. It doesn’t get easier for them either: Collingwood next week, followed by games against Carlton and the Western Bulldogs.
2. Silly little things from the Bulldogs
There was a lot to take out of the Western Bulldogs’ loss to North Melbourne. There were a few big patches throughout the game that outlined just how slick and how good the Dogs can be when they get the game on their terms. However, there were some other things that outline that they are not yet ready to be a genuine finals threat.
The Dogs will most likely play finals this season but will not get further than the second week at best. Because they are just not match-hardened against better sides and the performance against North Melbourne showed it. Some poor decisions, sloppy tackling and ill-discipline halted any momentum in the fourth quarter. Geelong next week in Ballarat is huge in the context of the seasons for both the Cats, who currently sit at 3-2 and the Dogs now at 4-1 after this weekend.
Eleanor Brown’s decision to leave Tahlia Randall deep in attacking 50 to impact a contest on the paint backfired horribly as North ended up winning the ball from that contest and getting it to her for a goal. She could’ve had a picnic before slotting it, such time and space was allowed. A free kick overturned by Kirsty Lamb for putting Emma Kearney on her backside was a very silly thing to do from one of the elder heads of the club.
3. Time to start moving away from the small suburban grounds.
Fox Footy was telling you there was a lockout every two minutes in the second term of the Bulldogs and North game at Punt Road and the game between Hawthorn and Sydney at the same venue was announced a lockout as well during the game. It makes you wonder, when is it time to start looking at hosting games elsewhere?
You hear the phrase ‘build it and they will come’ at least once a week when it comes to the AFLW and we’re at least at that point now where the league should consider giving these grounds the flick. On a weekend where Marvel Stadium will be scarcely used, why isn’t the league looking at hosting a few double-headers over the course of the weekend? Take advantage of the Friday public holiday and get as many football fans in as you can.
A capacity of 2500 is a ludicrously small amount for even an AFLW game and I can imagine that there will be other grounds that will be packed to the rafters. The AIA centre around the corner looked nearly packed to the rafters as well for the Collingwood/Essendon game. We’ll know soon enough what Nicole Livingstone and the AFL higher-ups think about hosting games at Marvel a little more often next season.
4. Oh Dakota
Let it be known that I am a big Dakota Davidson fan. She’s energetic, she’s strong, and has proven over the past couple of seasons that she’s willing to put in the work. It wasn’t one of her best games, she had eight disposals and four marks (one contested), but when we look back on this game, we’ll look back on the ill-fated decision to play on after marking from the goal square.
I praised Gabby Seymour for her smother earlier, because the game awareness she has is incredible, but on the same token, this is one of my pet hates as a forward. Whether you mark it or you get a free kick deep in the forward 50, you MUST go back and kick a set shot, snap around the body, I don’t care what type of kick you do – go back and kick it. It was an unbelievable thing considering that there were about four or five Richmond players around Davidson when she took the mark on top of the goal square.
After five games, she’s failed to register a goal this season; just five behinds in her five games. Just a year ago, Davidson registered 16.5 in a premiership winning team and the forwards around her are all firing. Maybe they’re getting around Jesse Wardlaw more this season, because she’s topping Brisbane’s goalkicking at the moment with nine goals without blemish, but the decision to play speaks to me as someone who is low on confidence and form.
5. It’s just getting worse for the Blues
No Darcy Vescio and no Phoebe McWilliams are going to give the Blues a ton of headaches forward of the ball, but it’s going to be more of a headache than normal for the Blues, who would’ve been striving for a berth in the finals this season.
Instead the Blues are 12th and only have one win to their name from five starts. Nobody expected them to beat Melbourne, but were good in patches, but the glaring outliers is that Melbourne were +33 in inside 50 entries and +58 in uncontested ball. Melbourne ran harder and were stronger the longer the game went on.
The forward 50 had Imogen Milford, who in 88 percent of game time, had no disposals and one tackle and Jess Good who took two marks and had four disposals in 66 percent of game time as the two targets in the forward line. Gab Pound played a lot of minutes in the forward line and signed Christina Bernardi as an injury replacement and had a crack, but no scoreboard impact.
It’s tough enough as it is for the Blues, but their run home sees them play GWS away, St Kilda away, Richmond at home, Gold Coast away and the Bulldogs at home and they could seriously be 0-5 from all of that.
6. Quiet Spud
Kate Surman’s first five weeks in Port Adelaide colours have seen a return of just 1.1 – in her last season at the Gold Coast she kicked 4.6 but looked quite dangerous around the goals. At Port, I’m not seeing much of that here.
She had nine disposals, four tackles and one score involvement in this game and in terms of forward potency, I just haven’t felt the same from her since coming across from the Gold Coast. There weren’t many winners across the board at Port Adelaide in this game, it was just Indy Tahau (nine intercepts) and Alex Ballard (11 intercepts) absorbing a lot of the Suns’ offensive brunt.
Erin Phillips was a non-influence this week, as was Justine Mules, but the most disappointing one has been Surman, who has often been the spark that has ignited the Suns’ fight in recent years and so far, despite averaging solid numbers in disposals and inside 50s, it just isn’t doing a hell of a lot to get the Power up and about this year.