Round Five of the 2023 AFLW season is in the books and The Doc has all the bits and pieces you need to know. Here are his likes and dislikes from the weekend.
The captain’s knock
Halfway into the season, we’ve figured out who is the front-runner for the All-Australian captain, and it’s got to be Kate Hore.
At the midway point of their premiership defence, the Demons are flying with five wins from as many starts. On Thursday night, they disposed of Geelong relatively comfortably, and it feels like it’ll whittle down to Adelaide, Brisbane or North Melbourne regarding title challengers.
I don’t think there will be any challengers for her in terms of the best captain in the AFLW, some might put their hand up, but if Kate Hore continues to impact games in the manner that she has played consistently, then it becomes a matter of when not if she becomes the AA captain.
She kicked four goals on Thursday night but could’ve easily added more to the tally; she missed two and had another two goal assists. Her ability to cover ground and feature prominently in chains of possessions is a good reason why she’s so highly respected. She’s got an enormous work-rate, a great tank and a penchant for getting her mates involved.
Hore currently looms as the challenger to Jamie Stanton for the leading goalkicker medal. Her bag now sits her on 14 goals for the season, and the Dees face a stiff run home, with Adelaide next week in Casey, followed by West Coast away, North Melbourne, Fremantle and the Grand Final rematch in the season’s final round.
It’s a big test for the Dees and Hore in the second half of the season; we’ll revisit the All-Australian conversation as we go along, but as far as top captains go, she’s in front and front by a fair way.
No Turbo, no worries
This was as brave of a win as it gets for the Dockers. Easily their best win of the season to date. Kiara Bowers was a big out in this game, and they missed Ebony Antonio in this one as well, but the Dockers had several people who stood up around the contest when it mattered.
Hayley Miller (17 disposals, one goal and 305 metres gained) was immense throughout the game; the decision to move Ange Stannett on the ball for this game reaped the rewards as she led all Dockers on the ground for contested possessions with 12. Megan Kauffman was rock solid in her ability to move the ball forward, and Gabby O’Sullivan could’ve had a big day if she’d found her kicking boots.
Aine Tighe put in an excellent performance, kicked a remarkable goal early in the game and then went back as the spare when Richmond began to work their way back into the game, and Mim Strom is starting to piece together a fine season.
Makaela Tuhakaraina’s game… It’s hard to put it to writing because the stats hardly reflect her game, but she kicked two superb goals in this one, both of which required maturity and composure, and she sure as hell worked hard to get her touches and her defensive pressure gets slept on a fair bit.
They’re 3-2 at the moment, Fremantle and are starting to settle in with Lisa Webb’s first season at the helm. But next month, it’ll be incredibly hairy – North Melbourne next week, Geelong at Geelong the following week and then St Kilda and Melbourne (away). The Saints at home is a must-win, and I think the Cats can be gettable if they get their critical players firing.
The Blues are in the positive
It’s been hard to read the Blues and where they are this season. But at 3-2 at the midway point of the season, I think many people have stood up and noticed what they can do.
Mimi Hill’s goal early in the last term got them a bit of a gap, and despite Rebecca Privitelli’s four goals nearly getting them over the line, the Blues held firm. Carlton is an excellent pressure outfit, but the Swans brought the heat to them throughout the game. And the pleasing thing for Mathew Buck is that many of them stood up late in the game when it was still up for grabs.
Abbie McKay’s efforts in the ground ball continually go underappreciated, and it’s about time someone called it out. Her nine clearances and 15 contested possessions were a driving force for much of the game. Mimi Hill had a sizeable last quarter, and the two Keeleys were again in good touch.
I loved watching Breann Moody’s aerial presence in this game, too. I was sceptical about seeing Moody play more around the ground in favour of giving Jess Good more ruck time. Still, the reality is that Good is a very handy tap ruck in her own right, freeing Moody up a bit more to impact around the ground, and with five contested marks and six score involvements, she had an enormous say on this contest.
Kerryn Peterson’s inclusion in the past two weeks has also been massive for the Blues. It’s huge because it gives them a steady hand throughout the ground and a player who’s not afraid to put her hand up for any role. Her role on Chloe Molloy in this game was second to none, and it gives the Blues a real boost in the arm heading into the second half of the season.
Wardlaw’s world again
Credit where it’s due to last year’s leading goal kicker; she has turned the form around in the past two weeks. I suppose it goes to Nick Dal Santo for putting her in the ruck to get her around the football a little more.
Against a Dogs team who have been hapless this season, she picked apart the likes of Katie Lynch and Issy Grant beautifully en route to a three-goal bag in what has been her best game as a Saint so far, although that’s a shallow bar.
There was a lot of good from the Saints elsewhere around the ground – Hannah Priest continues to thrive in the midfield (28 disposals, seven clearances and 407 metres gained). The likes of Georgia Patrikios and Jaimee Lambert were good again, but Wardlaw was the one they brought in to help kick a winning score most weeks.
She and Erin McKinnon are a unique pairing: McKinnon is the tap-ruck and very limited in how she operates around the ground. Whereas Wardlaw is the stop-gap second ruck, incredibly agile and has exquisite forward craft.
Wardlaw had 10 disposals, six of which were score involvements and six marks in a fantastic performance.
They’ve been under the pump for weeks, but the Eagles can finally salute with their first win of the season.
It wasn’t easy, and it’s yet to be seen how many more wins they can get to close out the year, but the Eagles outworked them on the outside and showed how much they wanted it more than their opposition.
The number of uncontested possessions they could amass should be pleasing for Eagles supporters – a +60 differential to the Power and +23 in marks were the catalysts to a big win at home.
Emma Swanson was sensational in her 50th game (23 disposals, four tackles and six marks). I loved the game of Aisling McCarthy (22 disposals, one goal and 416 metres gained), and Sasha Goranova was phenomenal in keeping Erin Phillips to just ten disposals.
But Michael Prior highlighted in his press conference the efforts of some of their defenders for their actions when the Power continually pressed in the last quarter. Charlie Thomas (24 disposals, five marks, 469 metres gained, 10 intercept possessions) played her best game to date, while Belinda Smith (21 disposals, six marks and 10 intercept possessions) was also huge in the clinches.
Lauren Wakfer is starting to show signs of what she is capable of as a footballer, taking a colossal mark late to help seal the game. I’ve criticised the decision to leave Sarah Lakay out of this team, and whilst that still boggles my mind, you can see why Prior has placed his faith in Wakfer to be the number one ruck – she’s a raw, Breann Moody-type player that is capable of playing many roles around the ground.
Pies answer the challenge
Where the Pies finish in the second half of 2023 remains to be seen, but they have a slim chance of being in the final eight again. But it’s not an easy run from here: Brisbane away is next week, and then in round eight, they play Geelong at Victoria Park.
But in the now, they eased a fair bit of pressure off Steve Symonds with a good win against an in-form Essendon side that was built on the back of stifling Essendon’s run – it felt like it was a vintage Symonds-style game because this was one they ground out real well.
Bri Davey and Brit Bonnici were kept to just 14 touches each but gathered plenty of contested ball and still managed to combine for 13 clearances for the game. At times, Sarah Rowe’s run and spread on the wing were clinical, and Aishling Sheridan was solid again in the contest.
The coaching decision to move Alana Porter from the defence to the forward line finally paid dividends in this game. She’s an interesting case because she’s not a big-noted possession-getter, but she has often been a solid contributor with her speed and defensive tenacity.
In terms of scoreboard impact, she hadn’t been much of a factor up to this point, but her two goals were worth their weight in gold. The first was a 100-metre dash and a great kick off the deck, and the second was an opportunistic grab from a contest and goal from close range.
There’s a lot of energiser bunny about how Porter attacks the ball and how she pressures the opposition. It’s been a bit of a rough transition, but for a week at least, it’s the start of the turning of the page in that move.
Among the hype of Jasmine Garner and what she has delivered this season, it’s easy to forget precisely what Ash Riddell brings to the table almost weekly. She’s no-frills, consistent and extremely important to getting the ball through the field and delivering it to the forwards.
She’s currently on pace to better her disposal average from season six, where she averaged a tick over 29 disposals per game.
With Jasmine Garner kept occupied by Haneen Zrieka for much of the game, Riddell stepped up to the plate as you’d expected. She cleaned up in the clearances with 12 for the game, doubling the second-best clearance winner on the ground, which was Jasmine Garner. Riddell also had 32 disposals, 16 of which were contested possessions and five tackles.
She currently sits just behind Garner as the competition leader for disposals, with this game taking her up to an average of 30 disposals per game. She also averages 6.2 clearances and 3.8 marks per game and averages career-highs in contested possessions and ground ball gets.
She’s an accumulator, and I think people tend to scoff a fair bit when players get a lot of the ball but don’t see them averaging high numbers in stuff like score involvements or intercept possessions.
It is quick to forget what she adds to this North Melbourne side, but it’s games like these where it’s a hard slog where you can genuinely appreciate what Riddell can do.
I know it’s only from just one game, but we’ve seen the potential of Belle Dawes come to light in their win against Hawthorn in Frankston.
Much has been made about Dawes at the start of the year; her steady rise as an in-and-under and electric approach to the football over the past few years, combined with the departure of Emily Bates over the off-season, had many believe that she was ready for a breakout year.
The stats will back it up; she’s well up there for the league’s most-improved player. More minutes in the midfield have resulted in career-best numbers across the board.
Against Hawthorn in Frankston: 20 disposals, 14 contested, 347 metres gained, five clearances, 11 tackles and 10 score involvements for 2.2 in a powerful display.
Her averages for the season read: 18 disposals, 7.3 tackles, 4.3 clearances, 12 contested possessions and 19 pressure acts.
There were plenty of other standouts for the Lions in this game, but for all the pre-season hype we’ve heard and read from those in the AFLW, we’re starting to see a new star emerge out of this Lions lineup, and it’s keeping the Lions in with a significant chance of being the premiers.
We may have found the two Grand Finalists
Is it a like? Maybe Melbourne and Adelaide fans like it, but for the football purists, we want to see something close together between more than four teams and less of a gulf between the competition’s best and the rest.
But let’s write this with an Adelaide hat on for the sake of the column. The Crows continue to impress and remain with Melbourne, the only side unbeaten at the top of the AFLW ladder after a firm performance against a significantly improved Gold Coast side.
It was a very disciplined and professional performance. Ebony Marinoff had her influence limited by the young gun Lucy Single, but plenty of others stepped up around her. Caitlin Gould was on fire early, Anne Hatchard was in delicate touch once again, Eloise Jones backed up a four-goal performance last week with another good game, and Madi Newman was fantastic on the wing.
It sets up a dynamite performance next week against Melbourne, the benchmark side of this year.
In a sense, it feels like the Crows have been a bit overlooked by some outside of South Australia, but the questions asked about them in the pre-season have been emphatically quashed.
They have found the firepower up forward; the midfield unit has got the depth to cover one another, and the defence, minus two integral pieces in Sarah Allan and Najwa Allen, is still getting it done – 25.2 points against per game at the halfway mark of the season, second in the competition.
What’s up Georgie?
For the third time in four weeks, Georgie Prespakis faced a hard tag and struggled to impact a contest. It happens to many midfielders, but we all know she’s a top player and will work through it; this concerns Geelong’s fortunes.
She had a blistering opening term against Sydney in round two before Scott Gowans put Tanya Kennedy onto her and had minimal impact on the game. Last week against Port Adelaide, she was minded by Maria Moloney for a lot of the game, and whilst she had 21 touches, she didn’t have the same damaging impact we saw in round one.
After a strong opening start in Geelong’s loss to Melbourne, to which she got seven disposals, she had Shelley Heath sent to her after quarter time, and Prespakis finished the night with just 18 disposals, 255 metres gained and five clearances.
Nina Morrison is in the form of her career, and Amy McDonald is proving to be uber-reliable in the contest, and maybe that is another variable that explains why her form is down. But what is clear is that she’s struggling against defensive attention.
Prespakis is a star talent, and I’m confident she’ll get back to where she deserves to be in due course, but I’m not sure her teammates have paid attention to it yet. They’ve lost two games to teams that will be at the pointy end when it’s all said and done. Are they too easy to rattle the Cats?
Not good enough Tigers
They’re currently 3-2 and will be in the eight at the end of the round, but you can’t help but feel a bit wanting with Richmond. I understand they’re missing critical soldiers in this team, but as we get further into the season, we’ll see some better sides have their depth tested.
Monique Conti (30 disposals, nine tackles and nine clearances) was again outstanding throughout the game. Kate Dempsey (25 disposals, 401 metres gained) again staked a claim to be an All-Australian winger in this competition. Grace Egan (22 disposals) was sloppy at times but still really cracked in, and Eilish Sheerin tried to make things work on the defensive end.
Not many else lifted with them. I like Emelia Yassir’s game, but she can go missing in patches. Greiser started to come to life in the second half but had a few moments she’d have liked back in the third term. Katie Brennan was hardly seen for most of the afternoon, been well kept by Laura Pugh and Libby Graham was comprehensively beaten by Aine Tighe.
Courtney Jones was disappointing; she kicked 1.2 from three touches, but her two behinds were ordinary. One was a snap around the body, which hit the inside of her boot and didn’t get much distance on the kick, and another was a shot in the last term from about 20 metres out, not much angle, which could’ve had them less than a goal down with plenty of time to spare.
They were caught playing catch up from halftime, and perhaps lucky, because Freo’s shoddy accuracy in the second term (they kicked 1.5 to 1.1) kept the door ajar for the Tigers to that point, and they nearly got them in the end.
What’s the next step for Sydney?
They would’ve lost very few admirers in this game, Sydney. But I’m sure they wouldn’t be looking for pats on the back at this stage of the season. Anyone who’s anyone can see that they’re a vastly improved side and are just looking for wins, and this was one that they let slip in this game.
The Swans implied a possession retention style of gameplay, which at times looked good – they were composed with the footy moving it out of defence. But they struggled to sustain that style throughout the game.
There’s plenty to like – Morphett, Laura Gardiner, Ella Heads in defence was a rock, Privitelli kicked a career-best four goals. I liked Tanya Kennedy through the midfield as a gung-ho, wrecking-ball type. Alana Woodward kept Darcy Vescio to four touches, and Lisa Steane looked clean through the wing.
Montana Ham only played 53 per cent of game time in this only had the six touches; while understanding she’s playing through a foot injury, she’s a player that changes Sydney’s fortunes when fully fit.
Chloe Molloy only having the 10 touches was a concern. She threatened at times, but really, she had zero impact on this contest. Her teammates must learn how to help her shake the tag because she can be prone to being shut out of games.
Do they persist with Bella Smith up forward? After featuring prominently in the defensive half last season, they’ve opted to play her as a key forward the past few weeks, and she has been suitable for a goal a game. The targeting of key position players might be on Scott Gowans’s wish list for 2024.
The Dogs are still winless
It nearly bears repeating, but the Dogs had patches of brilliance in this game but again fell away in the second half, the Saints condemning the Bulldogs to hell on Friday night.
How can they have gone five steps backwards in such a short time? How can they have had a considerable number of injuries in the pre-season?
Nathan Burke oversees this, and if his time isn’t up yet, it will be soon. The Dogs looked toothless, attempting to move the ball forward in the second half, and the defence is almost a carbon copy of watching the male counterparts at times. Too often did players find themselves through the gaps and were delivered the ball to them with such ease.
Who has genuinely improved in this team from last year? Aurora Smith (18 disposals and nine intercept possessions) has been in magnificent touch since recovering from that knee injury. Gab Newton has looked better since moving into defence; you can argue Issy Pritchard has gone another level to her game this year.
Ellie Blackburn has continued attempting to put the side on her back, but too many carry baggage to make it challenging. Six players had five touches or less in this game, and once again, it’s come to too much being left to too few.
Among those who have stagnated this season, I’d have the likes of Jess Fitzgerald, Issy Grant, Katie Lynch, Liz Georgostathis, Sarah Hartwig and Kirsten McLeod all in that pile, and all of them still have scope for improvement.
The recruits have been uninspiring. Dom Carruthers is a battler but not someone who will command a game. After kicking two last week, Bri McFarlane only had three disposals and no impact, and Maggie Gorham has been hit-and-miss this year.
They fell flat against a side they would’ve pencilled in as a winnable game at the start of the season – and in their first home game in over 12 months. This side needs an overhaul – you can see through the playing group that the hunger in many isn’t there.
That was rubbish, Port
The Eagles deserved this win because while they wanted it more, Port let themselves down. The Power had two extra inside 50 entries to the Eagles and had 13 scoring shots to West Coast’s nine. This was a bad loss.
They did shift some magnets around to try and battle the absences of Ash Saint and Indy Tahau. I loved Maddy Keryk’s game; she gave it a good crack in a position entirely foreign to her. The Gemma Houghton vs. Sophie McDonald match-up was quite entertaining at that – Houghton kicked 2.2, and we could be asking what if she had kicked straighter, but I thought she worked hard in this one.
Lauren Arnell mentioned in the post-game presser the lack of discipline they had– I can pinpoint twice that Matilda Scholz gave away needless free kicks and 50-metre penalties that, in the end, proved quite costly for the Power. I understand she’s still a kid, but she must have a more relaxed head in some situations to move forward.
But it’s not just that; the lack of players stood up around the contest when West Coast got stepping. Abbey Dowrick (22 disposals, nine tackles and nine clearances) had a tremendous game but was the only Port Adelaide player among the top 10 disposal-getters. The rest of them were Eagles.
Not for the first time, I’m looking towards some of the senior heads in this team. Erin Phillips got tagged out, Maria Moloney was hardly sighted, Angela Foley was invisible, Janelle Cuthbertson had just the seven touches, and Hannah Dunn, Jasmin Stewart and Justine Mules were hardly inspiring when they got their hands on the ball.
Too much to too few at Essendon
Last year, a lot of it was on the narrative of the Bombers leaving it too much to too few, and it’s in danger of creeping back in towards the second half of the season.
Bonnie Toogood is in career-best form but kicked all three of their goals on Saturday. But who else up forward is stepping up to the plate when she gets double-teamed and triple-teamed?
Jess Wuetschner had three disposals in 69 per cent of game time. Amber Clarke, the four disposals in 83 per cent of game time and Sophie Alexander had minimal impact inside 50 before going off with concussion. Paige Scott and Daria Bannister kicked 15 goals between each other last season; this season, they’ve only kicked one goal each.
In the midfield, it was Maddy Prespakis take on the Pies: 30 disposals, eight clearances, six marks, six tackles and 354 metres gained. They had seven clearances between Steph Cain, Georgia Nanscawen and Jacqui Vogt.
This week was an excellent opportunity to establish themselves as a top-eight side at 4-1. Instead, they have fallen back out of the eight in the logjam between fifth and 10th and with Geelong, Richmond, West Coast, and Carlton all to come in the next month, they need to win three of these four to lock in a spot in the eight.
Admirable effort… but not good enough
I was expecting a North Melbourne whitewash, but I’ll credit the Giants for making it as ugly and scrappy a game as possible. The weather helped them throughout this game; it was a windy and warm afternoon at Arden Street.
They’re a chance next week to get their first win of the season against West Coast in Blacktown.
But in this game, they were entirely and utterly smothered by a team about three tiers above them in class and quantity. They were smashed by 21 in the clearances and 28 in the contested possessions.
In terms of their movement through the forward half, they were utterly rubbish. The Giants only had 12 inside 50s for two behinds and only had five tackles inside 50. North Melbourne, in comparison, had 38 inside 50s and had 28 tackles inside 50. Perhaps the 30-point margin is flattering, considering how many inside 50s they generated and how many chances they had to score.
The Giants can’t afford to rely on the same players next week against the Eagles. Alyce Parker was a standout once again, Alicia Eva worked tirelessly, and Zarlie Goldsworthy received praise from Cam Bernasconi in the post-game presser.
“You forget she’s only 18 years old. She’s a fierce competitor; our last month has been tough, but she has a thirst to compete and get better… she’s getting better every single week.”
I know it’s rough, considering she’s only a handful of games back from a long layoff, but Izzy Huntington needs a big week next week. Still, Georgia Garnett and Jess Doyle’s impact has dropped significantly from last season. These are keys to unlock their first win.
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