SANFL Women’s Round 9 preview: Fourth spot up for grabs

A WEEK ago it looked like the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s finals series might be decided a fortnight out from it occurring, but after a stunning effort from Sturt to draw with Norwood, fourth spot is very much up for grabs. The top three sides – North Adelaide, South Adelaide and West Adelaide are locked into finals, the latter for the first time in the club’s history. Fourth spot will be one of Norwood, Sturt or Glenelg, with the Redlegs needing to win just one of their two remaining games.

 

CENTRAL DISTRICT vs. SOUTH ADELAIDE
Saturday, July 25, 12.00pm
Thebarton Oval

Central District takes on South Adelaide in the opening game of the weekend and the first in a double-header at Thebarton Oval. The Bulldogs are mathematically in contention for fourth spot as they are two wins and percentage behind the fourth placed Redlegs. But unlike Glenelg who sit a spot above them on the same amount of wins, a couple of heavy losses prior to the break hurt the Bulldogs’ percentage and they would need to win by record margins in the final two rounds. Adding to the dilemma is the fact they play the top two teams, starting with reigning back-to-back premiers, South Adelaide.

The Panthers are primed to strike but look destined to occupy second spot on the ladder due to North Adelaide far superior percentage. Unable to catch them unless they have a massive final two weeks and North slip up at least once, then it is near-impossible that South takes the minor premiership. That will not both them though as they won the premiership the last couple of seasons without it. In this clash they have lost a number of crucial players to injury and work commitments with Sam Pratt (calf), Czenya Cavouras (eye) and Jess Kirk (toe) covering each third of the ground, with Kirk being the competition leading goalkicker this year. Lucy Northcott will also miss the match due to work, but Tahlia Meyer returns.

For the Bulldogs, they have made a couple of confirmed changes, with Nicola Biagi out but Chantel Reynolds among four players coming into the side. Last week the Bulldogs looked pretty good in defeat, matching it with West Adelaide in patches, but not quite having enough to do it for four quarters. Katelyn Rosenzweig is firing up and looking dangerous, while Demi Sonneman and Gemma Doughty make a formidable and reliable duo down back. Shelby Smith has been a four quarter performer all season, whilst the likes of Alicia Butler and Latiah Huynh provide the speed, and Sarah Allan the class around the ground.

South Adelaide have no shortage of big names in their side, and whilst the outs will hurt, the Panthers have so much depth across the board they will make do. Teah Charlton and Indy Tahau could be South Australia’s top two prospects this year in the AFL Women’s Draft, while Lisa Whiteley had a sensational game in defence last week. Along with Jaslynne Smith and Lauren Buchanan, the Panthers will find a way to cover the loss of Pratt. In midfield, Meyer will slot straight in for Cavouras, with Hannah Munyard, Nicole Campbell and Nikki Gore among the rotations through there. Kirk will be the biggest loss, but no doubt coach Rick Watts will find a way to get the job done.

South Adelaide will head in as strong favourites because the Panthers just find a way. Even with backs against the wall and down, they know how to win. Central will give them a fight, and with the outs the Panthers are a bit more vulnerable than usual, but they should still win in a close one.

 

NORTH ADELAIDE vs. STURT
Saturday, July 25, 1.40pm
Prospect Oval

All eyes will turn to Prospect Oval as Sturt faces an uphill battle in a must-win clash against the top of the table Roosters. For the Double Blues to play finals, they must win their final two games, and would no doubt be ruing the after-the-siren Redlegs goal last week as otherwise one win would have been enough in the remaining two rounds to at least match on points. The Double Blues’ task is made more difficult by the losses of Alysha Healy and Alex Ballard who miss the clash, with an extended bench added to Sturt’s side as the likes of Shae Daly and young talent Kiera Mueller coming in to add some strength to the defensive back six. North Adelaide have only lost ruck Bek Rasheed to general soreness as Hanni Howe comes in as a like-for-like replacement, and West Coast AFL Women’s defender Talia Radan also returns.

One area Sturt can try and take advantage of is in the ruck given the loss of Rasheed, with terrific middle-age AFL Women’s Draft talent Zoe Prowse among the most in-form players in the competition following back-to-back best-on performances for the Double Blues. The trouble will be trying to contain the Roosters midfield led by Adelaide best and fairest winner, Anne Hatchard, One has to expect someone will go to Hatchard to limit her influence, and it could well be Maya Rigter who went head-to-head with Ebony Marinoff a couple of weeks ago. Hatchard is more athletic though, and still strong which makes her a tough matchup for any opponent. Isobel Kuiper is one in that midfield group that might be given a chance, though it would be exciting to see her match up on fellow young talent, Hannah Ewings. The other third of the trio would be Georgia Bevan and Ash Woodland, with both midfields having a great mix of hardness and excitement.

Up either end, the biggest issue for Sturt by far is scoring. The Double Blues come up against a defence of Kristi Harvey and Amber Ward with Radan back in there too, stifling any high ball that comes their way. They might have to try and create a bit of a hazard ball going in there, with Nicole Baker looking good on debut last week, and young talents in Georgia Swan and Hannah Prenzler providing targets. Up the other end, there is no trouble scoring whatsoever as Kelly Barltrop is surrounded by the likes of Brianna Arthur, Kathryn Reynolds and Cristie Castle all of whom can hit the scoreboard multiple times in a game when required.

Sturt was good last week, certainly their best performance since the break. North Adelaide is a completely different machine though, and without Ballard and Healy, if the Roosters are firing on all cylinders then this spells danger for the Double Blues.

NORWOOD vs. WEST ADELAIDE
Saturday, July 25, 2.00pm
Thebarton Oval

Given the timing of this week’s fixtures, West Adelaide might have added a few more to the fan base in this game hiding their yellow and black gear. So much rests on this game when it comes to finals after Norwood’s slip-up against Sturt last week when the Redlegs dominated play but could not seemingly find the big sticks until the last kick of the day gave them a couple of points to bank. The celebration post-goal showed everything, that they were a much better chance of making finals than if they had lost that. But they still need to win one of their last two games to qualify, and it is a tough draw. First up is West Adelaide, a side that is frankly in better form and should win here. If the Bloods do, then it opens the door for Glenelg who should take care of Woodville-West Torrens in the final game of the day. In a way, it creates intrigue in the final round of the season given the Redlegs and Bays face off in Round 10. In other words, a virtual elimination final before an elimination final.

A lot of the talk will be around Norwood and whether the Redlegs can secure a finals birth with a win, but one cannot forget there is still plenty on the line for West Adelaide. The Bloods sit in third, three points off South Adelaide and if the Bulldogs upset the Panthers this week, then it is game on for second spot. In exactly the same way it is for Norwood and Glenelg. If West Adelaide wins and South Adelaide lose, then the final round clash between the Bloods and Panthers will be for second spot on the table and a double chance. Moving to the teams, Tiarna Harfield comes into the side with the Adelaide Uni player a straight swap for the injured Abbie Ballard who will be a key loss for the Bloods. The Redlegs have kept the opposition guessing by adding an extended bench with only Georgia Avery out of the side.

No doubt the youth of both sides will be the feature here, with midfield battles between Matilda Zander and Zoe Venning, as well as AFL Women’s experienced Najwa Allen and Rachelle Martin. Without her partner-in-crime in Ballard, Martin will look more to Zoe Greer, as well as Stevie-Lee Thompson to play more minutes in there. Thompson has been getting more dangerous by the week for the Bloods, and she is a part of a dominant forward line in Chelsea Biddell and Rachel Killian who also have that AFL Women’s experience. Norwood will need to contain the forwards, with Bella Smith likely to have a key role at centre half-back. Up the other end, Mattea Breed could be a target for the Redlegs along with captain Alison Ferrall, while it still seems a surprise teams do not try and negate the influence of Madison Newman. Easily one of, if not the most damaging players by foot in the competition, Norwood can not allow her to just run off half-back with ease because she can slice up opposition zones.

West Adelaide is in better form and should win here, but this is match of the round for a reason, so expect there to be plenty of highlights as teams jostle for the finals spots.

 

GLENELG vs. WWT EAGLES
Saturday, July 25, 4.45pm
ACH Group Stadium

Could Glenelg sneak into a second straight finals series with a late run in the final few rounds? It is certainly possible and for it to be in their own hands, the Bays must put this match to bed without any hiccups. They hold the percentage advantage over Norwood, but only marginally. Four points behind, there is no opportunity for wriggle room. Glenelg must win both remaining games and the Redlegs must lose both. One round luckily is well within the Tigers’ capabilities given they face off with the Redlegs in the final round. By the stage the first ball is bounced at ACH Group Stadium, the players will be well aware of what is on the line. If West Adelaide won in the prior game, then finals are well and truly alive, but if Norwood got up, then the dream is over for 2020. For the Eagles, they can actually avoid the wooden spoon with a win, holding a better percentage than Central District, a second win could see them take seventh spot on the table.

In terms of changes, Glenelg have a fairly huge loss in the form of Marinoff who is out of the side and the Bays will need to get the job done without here. The Eagles have also lost Kate Poole who has been a solid player over the past, but welcome back Stephanie Walker who will provide some excitement coming in at half-forward. The Eagles have a number of questions including where they play contested marking utility, Kiana Lee. She looked good in defence, but given they still lost by 86 points, now is not the time to try and stem the flow. She is the most damaging forward in the team, so should line-up there and potentially surprise the opposition with a few goals. If the midfield can match it with the experience of the Bays, through the likes of Chloe Forby, Jovanka Zecevic and Natasha Holmes, then it will go a long way to getting the win. The Eagles have always struggled in the ruck, and Caitlin Gould had a field day last time out against this team, something the visitors will be well aware of and looking to contain.

Glenelg has the experience in Gould, Eloise Jones and Deni Varnhagen able to play in multiple positions across the ground. With no Marinoff, young talent Tessa Kohn should get into the midfield again where she is not afraid to win the contested ball. Madisyn Freeman, Sam Franson and Brooke Tonon do not might moving the ball, which they will need to do against an Eagles side that has some runners. Jamie Parish played an underrated game off half-back last week, and along with Tesharna Maher and Renee Forth, their half-back line can repel Tigers attacks if they back themselves. Charlotte Dolan has been shifted up to a wing which is a good move as another who takes the game on, while Zahn Anthony has played some impressive football of late. It will not be easy to win, but if the Eagles are to cause an upset, they need to be unpredictable, take chances and run the ball. The midfield cannot afford to be exposed and they have to limit the influence of Gould around the ground.

Glenelg just have too much top-end talent in this game even without Marinoff, but Eagles should make it closer than last time. The 86-point loss last week to North Adelaide was not as bad as the scoreboard might suggest, but they are still a fair way off the top sides. Not without a chance in this game the Eagles, but Glenelg have much more on the line and one cannot see them dropping this game, particularly if Norwood loses and opens the door for the Tigers.

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