NAB League Girls preview: Round 2 – Huge clashes book-end Super Saturday

A HUGE Super Saturday takes place in the NAB League Girls competition this weekend with five games across three venues – two double-headers – including a couple of blockbusters book-ending the round and a clash between two winless sides. Tasmania Devils also make their debut in the league and host Oakleigh Chargers, whilst Western Jets could record back-to-back wins and keep in touch with the top couple of sides.

NORTHERN KNIGHTS v. GEELONG FALCONS
Saturday, March 7, 11:30am
RMIT University Bundoora

The opening game of the round pits the 2018 grand finalists against each other, with Northern Knights going one step further last year, whilst the Geelong Falcons fell in the semi-finals stage. In Round 1, the Knights held off a determined Calder Cannons outfit at this venue by a goal, whilst in the game immediate after, Geelong Falcons ran out 33-point victors over Gippsland Power. Both these teams have stars across the park and were forced to play very different gamestyles in Round 1. The Knights were impressive across the board in the way they were able to defend and then move the ball down the field to set up their forwards such as Alyssa Bannan (five goals). Led by co-captains Ellie McKenzie and Jess Fitzgerald in midfield, the Knights were able to use a nice blend of power and speed to get the ball inside 50, whilst the underrated Maeve Chaplin was tipped to have a big game by Fitzgerald in the Final Siren podcast this week. Competing against them in the midfield is an equally damaging midfield, with AFL Women’s National Academy members Laura Gardiner and Darcy Moloney making the matchups something to behold onball. Gardiner racked up 38 touches and had 14 tackles in Round 1 to be the Draft Central Player of the Week, whilst Moloney (28 disposals, six tackles) and Poppy Schaap (24 disposals, six tackles) also brought the heat. What was most impressive about the way the Falcons went about it was the fact they racked up a whopping 271 disposals, but also laid 94 tackles with their defensive pressure amongst the best in the league. They could have been more effective in front of goal, which is an area to build on, and something they cannot afford to suffer from in this clash against arguably the benchmark team this season. Expect this match to be another close one with both sides missing players from their encounters over the past couple of seasons, but the Knights deserve favouritism at home.

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS v. BENDIGO PIONEERS
Saturday, March 7, 12pm.
RAMS Arena

From two sides looking to extend their strong starts to the season, we head to Craigieburn where two teams go head-to-head in a bid to get off the mark in season 2020. Sandringham Dragons will be ruing missed opportunities against Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels where they arguably had plenty more chances to kick a big score, but were let down close to goal. Their defensive pressure was a highlight however and is something that will be a trademark of this game. Both sides are renowned tacklers, and whilst Sandringham can play a possession style of game as well, the Dragons are more than happy to get their hands dirty in pursuit of a win. The Pioneers are not a high possession style team but look to be efficient with ball-in-hand, running the ball down in transition and getting it inside 50 as effective as possible. An area the Pioneers can get on top in this clash is in the ruck, with the Dragons having just two hitouts last week against the number one ruck in the competition, Maggie Caris. They still won their fair share of clearances though, and led by Eliza McNamara (20 disposals, eight tackles and six inside 50s) and Winnie Laing (18 disposals, five tackles and five inside 50s), were able to pump the ball inside 50 enough to suggest that if they do that consistently enough and improve their finishing ability then the results will come. The Pioneers had co-captain Brooke Hards waste no time influencing the contest off the back of her middle-age best and fairest year, winning 18 disposals and laying seven tackles. With Elizabeth Snell out of the side, the Pioneers will look to other experience around the ground, with co-captain Annabel Strahan and Jemma Finning‘s work out of the back 50 as a way of getting control of the ball. The two centre-half backs in Sarah Hartwig and Tara Slender are some of the best in their age groups and the teams cannot afford to put it down their throat too often or the ball will come straight back out. Sandringham should be favourites in this game given the amount of chances they can generate, but the Dragons must be clean around goal.

TASMANIA DEVILS v. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Saturday, March 7, 12.30pm
North Hobart Oval

Crossing the Bass Strait to the Apple Isle, Tasmania Devils enter the NAB League competition for the first time, taking on a red-hot Oakleigh Chargers. Whilst the Devils sat out Round 1 watching on, they would have been impressed by what they witnessed at Wangaratta when the Chargers ran wild in a 50-point win over Murray Bushrangers. The Chargers have no problem possessing the ball, and they had a massive 40 inside 50s, giving their forwards a multitude of chances inside 50. For Round 2 the Chargers have lost some of their Round 1 firepower, with Amelia James and Alice O’Loughlin both out of the side after combining for five goals between themselves. The captain Mimi Hill led from the front during the Chargers’ win, racking up 29 disposals and five inside 50s, while vice-captain Joanna Lin had 17 disposals and six inside 50s. Eliza James showed plenty of talent during the match with an impressive 18 disposals, four marks, five tackles and match-high seven inside 50s. For the Devils, it is hard to judge just where they sit in terms of the competition just yet, with plenty of developing youngsters coming through the ranks. Amy Prokopiec is the one to keep an eye out for with the middle-age defender already having experience in the NAB League Girls after playing in the Devils’ few games last season. Overager, Camilla Taylor provides height at 180cm and will look to dominate the ruck battle with her extra experience, whilst drifting forward to provide a target inside 50 for the Devils midfielders to aim at. Another overager sure to provide that added experience is Tahlia Bortignon with the 19-year-old named on a wing for this match. You would be a brave person to tip against Oakleigh given the Chargers’ Round 1 match, but this game will be more about seeing a host of new young stars living out their dreams of playing in an elite youth competition by the Devils making their debut in the competition.

WESTERN JETS v. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Saturday, March 7, 1.15pm
RMIT University Bundoora

Following on from the Knights-Falcons clash at Bundoora is the battle between Western Jets and Murray Bushrangers. In Round 1, the Jets triumphed for the first time in their history when they toppled Bendigo Pioneers at Queen Elizabeth Oval by 22 points. The next day, Murray succumbed to a rampaging Oakleigh side by 50 points. Though one positive that could come out of that game from a scoreboard perspective was the fact that after conceding seven consecutive goals, the home team booted the last three goals of the match to avoid it being a potentially worse scoreline. Heading into this match minus their top key forward in Olivia Barber (concussion), the Bushrangers will need to utilise their smalls to hit the scoreboard and cause havoc for a Western defence that is well drilled based on the first round. The Jets were able to balance their ball use from the back 50 to the attacking 50 with some nice running ability, and did well around the stoppages despite conceding height in the ruck and thus the hitouts. Both teams favour a kick-first gamestyle which means we could potentially witness plenty of end-to-end football in this game. Leading the way last week for the Jets were bottom-agers, Montana Ham (19 disposals, seven marks, five inside 50s and three rebounds) and Charlotte Baskaran (19 disposals, seven tackles, four inside 50s and five rebounds), while new top-ager Amelia Velardo looked impressive with her athletic ability on her way to 16 disposals and three inside 50s, as well as four hitouts going up against taller opponents. With Isabelle Pritchard playing across all thirds of the ground, she is the star prospect for the 2020 group at Western and will be hard to combat in the middle. The Bushrangers also have some AFL Women’s Academy members with top-ager Abby Favell working through the midfield and Ally Morphett switching between ruck and forward. Mindy Quade will play an important role down in defence, whilst Mikayla Jones and Zali Spencer were another couple of players who stood up in defeat last round. Western brings winning form into this match and would be a good chance to go 2-0, though the Bushrangers always find something special.

CALDER CANNONS v. DANDENONG STINGRAYS
Saturday, March 7, 1.45pm
RAMS Arena

The final game of the round is another huge clash between two sides with good form. Calder Cannons fell a goal short of victory against Northern in the first round of action, and return to their homeground, RAMS Arena to take on a Dandenong Stingrays side that was the surprise packet of Round 1. It was not necessarily the fact that the Stingrays won that was the surprise, but the fact that they did it so convincingly in the end – 50 points – against an Eastern Ranges side with plenty of talent. Stingrays coach, Dave Carden said post-game that it was important the club looked to improve from the Round 1 performance in terms of their stoppage position, but he was impressed with their clean hands and ball movement – something that will be crucial if they are to cause an upset against last year’s grand finalists. The Cannons midfield is well established, with middle-ager Georgie Prespakis and fellow 2003-born Emelia Yessir assisting captain, Laura Cocomello in the middle. Jessica Zakkour was the Cannons’ best last round with two goals from 18 touches and eight tackles, whilst the key defensive combination of Tamsin Crook and Kasey Lennox one of the best in the competition. It will also be important to combat the Stingrays’ talls with Georgia Grimmer out of this match, but Serene Vudiniabola (two goals in Round 1) able to crunch packs and bring the ball to ground for the likes of Ashleigh Richards (two goals) and Jaide Anthony (one). Tyanna Smith is the midfielder to watch on the Stingrays’ side, dominating last week and along with Abbey Jordan, provides some incredible running power out of that onball group. The Cannons have some targets inside 50 themselves with Charlotte Clayton (three goals) and Freda Puruntatameri (one) both looking dangerous last week. These teams are very evenly matched based on the first round statistics with no more than six differential between any of the major stats heading into the Round 2 clash. This is a buckle-up and get ready game because both these teams will take it right up to the other making it a real spectacle for the onlookers.

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