Just four teams remain in the hunt for the AFLW premiership and The Doc is an excited man in the race to the finish. Here are his likes and dislikes from week two of the AFLW Finals.
Richmond v North Melbourne
Garner the great
North Melbourne’s two vital midfield cogs were firing on all cylinders against the Tigers in this one. Ash Riddell was at her sublime best (30 disposals, eight score involvements, seven marks, seven clearances and 538 metres gained), but we must talk about Jasmine Garner, once again. Because once again, she stamped her claims to be hailed as the best player this season.
All week long, the talk was on the rematch between her and Meg Macdonald and us pundits in the media weren’t disappointed when they went head to head once again from the first bounce. Only on this occasion, the result was entirely different. There was the big variable that saw Macdonald play with a bung knee and by half time, Garner took umbrage with that and asserted herself as the best player on the park by half time.
Garner’s work around the contest has been well documented as second to none, but the best thing about her game is her ability to impact forward of the ball when called upon. By quarter time, she had nine disposals and four clearances and by half time, she added two goals to her name and North found themselves five goals ahead and firmly in control of the game. She would finish with 22 disposals, eight tackles, seven score involvements, seven clearances and a huge date with Liv Purcell and the Melbourne midfield machine next week.
King of Kings
Whilst I’m on the midfielders, Mia King does not get enough acknowledgement and respect inside the North Melbourne on-ball brigade. But I’ve been on the Mia King bandwagon from the start. She’s a gutsy on-baller and proved her worth to the cause when she weathered several hits and tackles from both Hosking twins and finished up as one of North’s top contested possession winners.
Between the combination of her, Jenna Bruton and Garner, the trio combined for 40 contested possessions – 14 more contested possessions than the trio of Mon Conti, Ellie McKenzie and Sarah Hosking. North have got a great midfield dynamic; Riddell’s the runner of the team, Garner is the forward half, big-bodied midfielder that great sides possess, meanwhile both Bruton and King are the ball-winners who often win it direct from contest and move it to the outside runners.
King had nine of her 17 disposals as contested, but also registered, seven tackles, six score involvements and six inside 50s in this game. A special mention to Bruton also, who had 14 contested possessions – second to Garner – but also eight tackles, six intercept possessions and five score involvements.
I’ll admit, there were games earlier in the year where I questioned where Sophie Abbatangelo lies within this North Melbourne side. More so in their forward 50, where she’s been a predominant figure since North’s admission into the competition. Whilst it’s been a slow burn this season, missing the start of the season due to injury, she’s finding a rhythm in North’s forward line at the right time and looms as their barometer heading into the preliminary final.
She got the Roos up and about early with two of North’s three goals in the opening term. Whilst she was a little quieter as the game progressed, you can see that North’s forward line are a much more dangerous outfit when she gets going. After kicking just two goals in her first five games this season, she’s kicked 5.5 in her past month, including her performance in this one.
There’s a lot she’s doing right as a marking mid-sized forward. She picks the right time to present and has displayed very good body strength in the one-on-ones. She’s going to be a player to look out for next weekend at Ikon Park.
Straight sets for the Tigers
It’s a very disappointing finish for Richmond after being strong for so long, but the cards didn’t fall into their favour. Meg Macdonald battled for three quarters on one knee, Eilish Sheerin was nursing a thumb complaint and Monique Conti struggled a lot with a bandaged knee and the 21 disposals is a bit flattering considering the result was nearly beyond doubt by halftime.
The Tigers looked more like the walking wounded at times and North exposed them a lot with their outside run and carry and made them pay for it on the scoreboard. There are other factors to this defeat. A lot of their defenders went missing; Libby Graham was beat out by Tahlia Randall for a lot of the game, Bec Miller gave away some clumsy free kicks and the impact of Maddie Shevlin’s run and carry was sorely lacking.
But that defensive half will be boosted by the return of Harriet Cordner next season, which will free up Miller to be more of an offensive-minded player and those around the defensive half. Graham and Cordner will be a hard duo to beat in 2023.
Who will fill in the massive boots of Courtney Wakefield?
Firstly, a big congratulations to Courtney Wakefield on her brief career as an AFLW footballer. She was chaired off post-game with the immediate reaction being retirement. She’ll be one of these players that we’ll be asking the question of ‘what if we had AFLW 10 years earlier?’ We often ask this question about Erin Phillips, but Wakefield is in the same boat.
She’ll be firmly in the mix for All-Australian this season and after a disappointing game last week, she had a fair return, kicking a goal, but registering four contested marks and four score involvements to go along with it. We know Katie Brennan will be a key pillar in the forward half over the next few years while the premiership window is still open, but the question remains on who will be the second-up?
I like the ruck combo of Gabby Seymour and Poppy Kelly – Seymour is the player who offers versatility and Kelly is the player who offers a target to kick to deep inside 50, but I’m intrigued to know where Stella Reid fits in the grand scheme of things. Just four disposals from her in this game and no impact on the scoreboard. She’s got the height at 175cm, but maybe needs another year or two in the gym if that’s where Ryan Ferguson sees her in the next two to three years.
There’s potential, as evidenced in the GWS game where she kicked two goals in a big win, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and this is the Tigers’ weak spot
Adelaide v Collingwood
Good as Gould
With Montana McKinnon a shock omission from the Adelaide team leading up to this game, a lot was going to ride on what Caitlin Gould could produce for the Crows from the ruck division. And against the trio of Imogen Barnett, Erica Fowler and Sabrina Frederick, she did plenty around the ground.
Last week Gould was able to find separation in ruck contests to kick two of Adelaide’s three goals in the opening term, but this week you’d think that this was a much more consistent and well-rounded game from the Crows’ ruck. She easily accounted in the hitouts; 28 hitouts to the 15 that the Collingwood trio recorded, but it was her second and third efforts in trying conditions that were the biggest thing I took from this game.
She was able to utilise her strength to outwork Barnett and was agile enough to get around the likes of Frederick and Fowler and extract right out of the stoppage; she led all players for clearances with eight, but also recorded six tackles and two contested marks with a wet football. She was a massive presence everywhere she was on Saturday.
The kid stands up
If you read my semi-final preview during the weekend, you probably would’ve noted Teah Charlton as a player of interest. If you haven’t, allow me to indulge us both with the following excerpt:
“This is a big week for Teah Charlton. Not that she’s been terrible – in fact, quite the opposite… these are the kind of games that make great players.”
With Ebony Marinoff held to 13 disposals by Aishling Sheridan, someone in the Crows camp needed to step up and will the team on alongside Anne Hatchard – who had a great bounce back game – and push the Crows into a preliminary final. In a game that suited the inside midfielders, Charlton was one of three Adelaide players to record double-figure contested possession numbers – the other two were Hatchard and Gould with 13 and 12 respectively.
Charlton had the 15 disposals – 10 contested – but also featured with nine tackles and four clearances in a performance where she thrived in the poor conditions. She’s formulating herself a career similar to Marinoff – contested footy first and outside craft second – she’s well on the way to being an absolute star footballer.
Speaking of kids…
Yeah, Zoe Prowse looks like she’s going to be alright too, hey? There is one positive that we can say about Adelaide’s season and it’s that Matthew Clarke is slowly building these kids up to be potential guns. Charlton was very good, Gould is on the cusp of being a top-line ruck. Also need to mention Maddi Newman’s game, I thought she was sublime in the trying conditions.
But game seven in her career is going to be a preliminary final against the white hot Brisbane Lions, and she’s heading into it with some good form. Drafted as a ruck last year, I’ve said of Prowse that she has that great of an ability to cover ground and her skills in the air and at ground level is so impressive that you could play her virtually as another midfielder or mould her to play a specific position.
She’s played the past few games in the defensive half and has done some very good things over the past month. In this game particularly, she showed a strong intercepting game, whilst Sarah Allan was busy occupying a dangerous Ash Brazill. Prowse was equal-first along with Chelsea Biddell for intercept possessions with six, but also recorded two contested marks and nine possessions. She’s fast establishing a spot in Adelaide’s defensive half – her ceiling is bloody extraordinary.
Take a seat emergency umpire
Just when you thought you’ve seen it all from the people in green, we saw something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in either form of football. From the third quarter. A free kick was initially paid to the Pies after a great tackle from Sarah Rowe on Kiera Mueller. Whilst that was going on, Abbi Moloney grabbed Anne Hatchard who was engaged with one of her Collingwood teammates in a niggle and Hatchard just dropped to the ground.
It was soft by Hatchard to stage the free kick and even more pathetic for the emergency umpire to come in and try to dictate the game. It hasn’t been a great season (again!) by the umpires, but it was great to see the umpire in control wave off the decision and give the ball back to Rowe to take her kick.
This was a crazy game of football that had a lot of things in it. Big lightning delays, spot fires, brilliance in the wet and umpire confusion, but that last bit has been a blight on women’s football for a while. Incorrect decisions and consistency will forever plague the game, but there just feels like it’s a bit more out of control with women’s football. That’s because most of those officiating are still finding their feet at the top level. Not a great advertisement for the women’s game, is it?
Where are the Pies at ahead of 2023?
We talk a lot about how much the Collingwood side suffers without the influence of both Bri Davey and Brittany Bonnici in the middle for the Pies and this was another instance of how these two leave a glaring hole inside Collingwood’s structure.
Jaimee Lambert was strong in the Collingwood engine room – 23 disposals, six clearances and was one of Collingwood’s best. Chloe Molloy spent a lot of time in the midfield for the Pies too and was strong in her link-up play (15 disposals, six marks, seven tackles and four clearances). Oddly enough, the Pies were +5 in the clearances and only -3 in contested ball.
But that tells me that with Davey and Bonnici fully fit next year, the Pies can cause a lot of problems. Davey’s league best and fairest winning season in 2021 saw her average 0.5 goals per game, which obviously means that she can spend some time rotating forward. In that same season, Molloy averaged a goal and a half per game, and whilst the conditions were poor, goals have been something the Pies have lacked badly at times this season.
For the Pies to be serious contenders, Molloy must be more of a permanent forward next season. For as good as she’s been in the midfield this season, there hasn’t been a consistent and threatening presence at the Pies like she was in season five. Collingwood must also look at ruck options. Alison Downie is finished as a player, and for as good as she was last week, Frederick is good as a ruck-forward, and is a key forward in Imogen Barnett the player you want at ruck to tap down to an elite midfield?