Saulitis bags two last quarter goals to sink Dragons in thriller

BACK-to-back goals in the final term from AFL Women’s National Academy member, Renee Saulitis has helped Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels get over the line against an unlucky Sandringham Dragons outfit, 4.2 (26) to 2.9 (21). From the get-go the fierce tackling pressure of the Dragons was evident with all of their onballers and forwards applying crunching tackles and bumps. It was just cleanliness and finishing ability inside forward 50 that was ultimately the difference in the game, with both defences holding up well, but the Rebels making the most of their chances. For most of the match it looked like Sandringham’s dominance in its forward half would surely be enough, with the Dragons having 13 more inside 50s (37-24) and five more scoring shots (11-6) but no matter how much pressure was applied, the Rebels were there to mop it up. It was indeed a strange game, with many of Sandringham’s top players among the best on the ground, but it was such an even team performance from the home team that got them up by five points in the contest.

Throughout the match, Rebels’ ruck Maggie Caris was too tall for her opposing rucks, almost exclusively giving her midfielders first chance at the footy. Despite this, the Dragons mids were more prevalent, led by the likes of Alice Burke, Eliza McNamara and skipper, Winnie Laing. All three found plenty of the ball, and their defensive pressure set the tone for the rest of the team. The bad luck for the visitors started early when Tayla Jones did everything right to soccer a ball inside 50 and run onto it a couple of metres out from goal, only to rush the kick and put it into the post. The Dragons held the ball inside their forward half for the first six minutes as their defensive line held strongly in the middle of the ground. When the Rebels went in however, it looked clean and direct, but the Dragons still were able to mop it up. Led by Sarah Hartwig in the back 50, the Dragons repelled inside 50 time and time again, and Jones had another chance whilst being tackled but her snap went to the right. With just their second inside 50, the Rebels drove the dagger in with a well positioned mark from Lilli Condon who turned around and slotted the opener of the match 11 minutes in. The ball spent a lot of time in between the arcs as Hartwig and her opposite half-back, Nyakoat Dojiok kept mopping up and creating run to set the play up for their respective teams. Late in the term, the Dragons smothered a ball from a kick-in but the next handball missed the target and allowed the Rebels to get numbers back and head into quarter time with a three-point lead.

The Dragons finally got reward for effort in the second quarter, with Laing, McNamara and Hartwig all impressing, and it only took 90 seconds for Pia Staltari to slot her side’s first with a nice goal on the run and composure to-boot. In contrast to the Rebels success from limited entries in the first term, they were getting more inside 50s in the second, but Hartwig continually came across to spoil or intercept mark and get the ball moving down the ground. In one instance, the half-back won a one-on-two contest, kicked out of the back 50, then backed up to win the next touch once it came back to hit-up Burke on the wing. The play was breaking down for the Dragons at half-forward with the Rebels defence providing pressure and the Dragons not able to break through. Ironically, the hap-hazardous play helped Sandringham to its second goal, with McNamara marking, stepping around her opponent and just putting it inside 50 for Nayely Borg to swoop on, spin and kick it through the goals in the dying seconds to hand the Dragons a well deserved 11-point lead having held the Rebels’ scoreless in the term. The third quarter was much of the same, but with both defences holding up. Neither forward line could breakthrough for another score without a bit of luck, and running back towards goal, Hartwig copped a horrible bounce which went past her back into her opponent’s path for Tahlia Meier to boot the ball through and give GWV a sniff once again. It was the only score of the entire quarter despite the influence of McNamara and Laing who were picking up big numbers.

The final term belonged to Saulitis who when everyone around her was fumbling under pressure and missing achievable shots at goal, she was clean and accurate. Edging close to the five-minute mark of the final term, the talented utility scooped up the ball turned and snapped as she was being dragged down for it to dribble home off a bounce from 30m and put her team in front. Her teammates flocked to her, but it would not be the last time, as despite both side having chances – including one to Meier which went through but was touched by the pack in the goalsquare – it was not until Saulitis found space again inside 50 and marked with three and a half minutes left in the match. Her shot on a 45-degree angle was perfect and she handed her team what looked to be a game-winning seven-point lead. The last three minutes of the match were owned by Sandringham with the pressure gauge at full, but in a summary of the match, the Dragons could not kick one through the big sticks from two chances. Borg had an opportunity for her second off a contested mark but it drifted to the left, much like Chloe Saultry‘s chance in the last minute with a breeze impacting the kick at that end. By the time the Rebels had kicked out, it was five seconds on the clock and Chloe Summers – who had been another impressive Rebel on the day – marked and the siren sounded.

It was difficult to pick out best players, with Dojiok being a standout for her run and impact per possession, finishing with 11 disposals – 10 kicks – three marks and five tackles, while it was also hard to ignore Saulitis’ last quarter which won her side the game. Others who had moments for the winning side were Summers (13 disposals, four marks, six rebounds), Condon (13 disposals, two marks, six inside 50s and four rebounds) and Isabella Hill (19 disposals, five tackles and three rebounds). Caris was naturally dominant in the ruck with 24 hitouts to go with her eight disposals and three inside 50s, while for the Dragons, Hartwig was the clear best, thanks to 14 disposals, five marks two inside 50s and four rebounds. The midfield trio of McNamara (20 touches, three marks, four tackles and six inside 50s), Laing (19 touches, five tackles, five inside 50s and four rebounds) and Burke (15 disposals, two marks, four tackles and four rebounds) were all strong throughout, as both Eddey (15 disposals, three marks, three tackles and four inside 50s) and Staltari (15 disposals, two marks, two inside 50s, three rebounds and a goal) also showed class in the game.

GWV REBELS 1.1 | 1.1 | 2.1 | 4.2 (26)
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 0.4 | 2.6 | 2.6 | 2.9 (21)

GOALS:

GWV: R. Saulitis 2, T. Meier, L. Condon.
Sandringham: N. Borg, P. Staltari.

BEST:

GWV: N. Dojiok, R. Saulitis, L. Condon, C. Summers, I. Hill
Sandringham: S. Hartwig, A. Burke, E. McNamara, W. Laing, P. Staltari

DC Medal:

5 – Sarah Hartwig (SD)
4 – Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV)
3 – Alice Burke (SD)
2 – Eliza McNamara (SD)
1 – Renee Saulitis (GWV)

*The DC Medal is a new initiative Draft Central is running where we vote for five players we thought had the most influence on the match. In this match there were more than 10 possible players who could have squeezed in there, but the standouts were the half-backs and midfielders, while Saulitis’ match-winning efforts saw her make it into the votes.