THE 2021 NAB League Girls competition treated us to a week-long stretch of fixtures which included Round 5’s action, as well as a host of make-up games from Round 2. Our weekly (self explanatory) Top Performers series delves into some of the best individual feats across each weekend of action. This week produced plenty of highlights as players continue to impress in the elite talent pathway. Starting with AFL Academy-listed prospects, we take a look at the top performers out of an exciting set of fixtures.
Each game’s top performers are the opinion of the individual writer.
CALDER CANNONS vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS
By: Declan Reeve
AFLW ACADEMY MEMBERS:
#11 Maykaylah Appleby (Northern Knights)
Starting on the wing and then moving to half back, Appleby took the most of her chances with the ball and showcased her trademark run and carry. She stood up as an aerial threat as well, especially around the backline, which made it difficult for Calder to get quality entries inside 50 later in the piece.
#41 Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)
Proved she can continue to put out really high quality performances even when being tagged, still being a dangerous stoppage player throughout the night. Her composure with ball in hand really did look a class above, especially in the early stages of the game, where she just took that extra half second to fully balance herself before a kick or see a teammate a little further out to handball to. Her confidence in taking opponents on was again a highlight, stepping around oncoming tacklers with ease and then delivering well to a teammate.
#18 Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons)
After missing the game against the Pioneers she was thrown straight back into the Number 1 Ruck duties, looking comfortable throughout and leading the hitouts for the night. It’s a cliche in footy but having a ruck height player that plays as another midfielder is a luxury for any team, and Gillard is the perfect example of that, with cleanliness below her knees and good agility, her follow up work from her taps is elite. Her read of the play makes her a really good loose player down the line, who can then utilise her kick to set up teammates going forward.
#3 Emelia Yassir (Calder Cannons)
Her work rate was a real highlight throughout the game, would regularly be seen involved in the backline and then get the ball near the forward line a minute or so later. Particularly impressed with her marking overhead around the ground as well, even under immediate pressure, she would just back herself to hold it even against a spoiler. Had her regular zip about the ground.
#8 Zali Friswell (Calder Cannons)
A workhorse throughout the day, she is another one that positioned herself well behind the ball and took some good grabs that turned into quick and damaging transition plays. Showed off her speed when chasing players and looking to win the ball, where her skills with it were more often than not very good. She even got herself an impressive run from the defensive 50 mark to the other end of the centre square, taking three bounces along the way.
#15 Mali McLeod (Calder Cannons)
Just understands how to play the wing role really well, did not make a poorly timed run all day, or allow herself to ever be too far from the play, she presented well as a switch option and swept up a lot of spilt balls, then utilising her accurate kick to get the Cannons going forward.
#7 Teleah Smart (Northern Knights)
Took no time to get back into it after missing the game against Gippsland, once again showcasing her speed and agility around the midfield by weaving out of stoppages with ball in hand to deliver it to a teammate up the field. Weights her kicks well for teammates to just run onto and take it in the hands easily.
#36 Ava Jordan (Northern Knights)
It really is admirable that a player of her size gets in and under as much as she does, to the effect she does, and then backs her speed against opponents two years her senior. Her game sense and skills are top notch as well, getting involved in a lot of transitional play from the backline to get Northern moving quickly.
#33 Megan Barnes (Northern Knights)
Moved from her regular defensive post into the midfield and stepped up into the new role. She was particularly impressive on the inside of contests, winning plenty of contested ball and moving it out to the other Northern rovers, or pouncing onto an opponent that won it when they did.
#29 Tallia Pulcino (Northern Knights)
Worked hard on the inside all day and presented as a consistent and reliable ball winner around stoppages and contested areas for Northern. Punished the cannons when she was left unattended around stoppages or managed to get herself free of an opponent, where her ball winning ability and quick hands gave Northern good opportunities.
Tannah Hurst and Tarrah Delgado were again really solid pillars for Northern in defence cutting off a lot of Cannon’s attacks by pushing off their opponents to help out other teammates or attack a ground ball. Phoebe Nelson was impressive on the wing throughout the game as well, showing some good bursts of speed. Calder had a lot of players contribute well throughout the game, with bottom-aged duo Abbey McDonald and Tahlia Read good in defence and midfield respectively. Alisa Magri’s game high three goals ultimately proved the difference on the night, proving to make the most of every opportunity she got.
DANDENONG STINGRAYS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
By: Michael Alvaro
AFLW ACADEMY MEMBERS:
#8 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)
The Oakleigh skipper returned what was ultimately a game-winning performance; proving ominous on-ball in what was a highly contested scrap, before rotating forward and booting a pair of crucial goals. She was involved in plenty during the opening stages and bullied her opponents through midfield, showcasing great strength to stand up in and burst away from tackles throughout. Rowbottom’s contested marking was another key feature, with two taken deep inside 50 from teammates’ set shots and resulting in goals. She also helped herself for a couple of big clunks around the ground and was essentially impactful wherever she went.
#10 Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers)
Reid led all comers once again and was simply everywhere at times, credit to her footy smarts and work rate. Starting on the wing, she would often trust her midfielders to win the centre clearances and took up attacking positions as the ball flowed forward. Reid also worked the other way to win plenty more possessions, especially when Oakleigh was struggling to clear out of defence. It meant some of her kicks were rushed, but Reid always gains good meterage. She was also tried at the centre bounces and impacted much of the play. Wherever the ball went, Reid was waiting.
#6 Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays)
In what was very nearly a game-winning performance, Clarke booted three of Dandenong’s four goals. They came in a flurry too, with her first a monster bomb from range off the outside of the boot during the second quarter. Having started in midfield, she was stationed deep forward in term three and added two more goals to put Dandy ahead, with no defender able to combat her pace and smarts. Her anticipation and quick bursts of brilliance were a joy to watch, but only just fell short of delivering Dandenong a win.
#17 Zoe Hill (Dandenong Stingrays)
Hill is one of the better readers of the game as far as NAB League defenders go, and she showed exactly that in another terrific outing. Her intercept marking was on point whenever Dandenong seemed to be bombarded with forward 50 entries, allowing for opportunities to break the other way. She was found out a touch when attempting to move the ball on quickly and was caught in possession as the pressure gauge rose, but ultimately proved an important dual-repellant in defence and easily one of her side’s best players.
#4 Alexandra McCulloch (Oakleigh Chargers)
Perhaps one who has flown under the radar a touch among Oakleigh’s star-studded squad, McCulloch’s consistency and reliability in defence is becoming hard to ignore. A nice size and with good athleticism, she is aggressive in her ability to intercept mark and pressed up well to cut off Dandenong’s forward forays. McCulloch proved she can position well, mark, and then rebound while also pitching in with goal-saving tackles and solid work at the fall of the ball.
#10 Abbey Jordan (Dandenong Stingrays)
The Dandenong co-captain brought a much-needed hard edge to the game, transforming as she crossed the white line and giving it her all for the Stingrays. She has shown promising improvements in key target areas this season, moving into the midfield to win more contested ball and also snapping up a nice overhead mark early on. She was moved to half-back at times and pushed the ball forward well from there, but her physicality at the contest was arguably the most pleasing side to her game – including a little scrap after being dumped hard in a fourth term tackle. Her intensity matched the high stakes of the match.
#9 Brooke Vickers (Oakleigh Chargers)
Stationed in her usual half-back slot, Vickers was one of the more important figures in Oakleigh’s system. She took up attacking positions as the Chargers defenders pressed hard up to halfway, allowing her to use her class on the ball to enter attacking areas once possession changed hands. Her ability to sweep up and rebound is excellent, with one-percenters like tackling pressure and smothers also coming to the fore in this outing.
#44 Jaide Anthony (Dandenong Stingrays)
Anthony was an important part of Dandenong’s surge during the second and third terms, rotating through midfield and defence to good effect. She popped up for a couple of nice intercepts when stationed as a spare behind the ball, but was also busy around the stoppages when given that opportunity. She gets a big tick for taking charge when it mattered, among others.
Dandenong co-captain Ashleigh Richards was productive in midfield and up forward, gifted a goal in the final term which put her side ahead. Felicity Crank was another strong contributor for the Stingrays, while Mackenzie Eardley showed her versatility to swing forward after starting in defence. The likes of Taylah Morton and Jorja Jackson were lively inside 50 for Oakleigh, with Amanda Ling and Eliza James hard at it through midfield and Ameile Smith an important ruck-forward figure.
BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. TASMANIA DEVILS
By: Peter Williams
AFLW ACADEMY MEMBERS:
#28 Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers)
Just slotted into a variety of roles and managed to have an influence in each third of the ground. On a number of occassions she took a couple of strong marks overhead, then displayed her athleticism with a clever sidestep in the third term and nice kick forward. She played as deep as full-forward, and dropped back into defence to intercept at times such was her range across the field. Unfortunately she missed the second game in four days, but certainly had an influence in the loss for the Pioneers.
#11 Perri King (Tasmania Devils)
As a metres gained player, King certainly has an influence on the game regardless of how much she wins it. On the weekend she found plenty of it with 21 touches, but it was more her drive forward and putting pressure on the opposition defence that stood out. At times she was forced into rushing a kick or uncharacteristically dropping a mark from her reliably strong hands, but her second efforts and work rate would see her make up for it. When she did find space on the outside, she would hit up a teammate in space, and in the second term was able to snap around her body at speed to get the ball into the danger zone. Her footy smarts in tight also allowed her to quickly tap the ball out between opponents to a teammate on the outside.
#5 Elizabeth Snell (Bendigo Pioneers)
A clear standout for the Pioneers and put together a massive four-quarter effort. She kicked the opening goal of the game on the run late in the first term, and was a huge reason why the Pioneers skipped out to a quarter time lead. At times she still rushes her kicks, but her work inside and athleticism to break away from the contest is fantastic, and she just keeps cracking in, often winning free kicks for her efforts be it a run-down tackle or being caught high. Boasts really strong athletic and defensive traits, and capable of hitting the scoreboard.
#30 Octavia Di Donato (Bendigo Pioneers)
Showed her ability to play across all thirds of the ground like Slender, starting up forward and having an number of shots on goal. Her first chance was a nice kick but touched on the way to goal, before she launched just before the quarter time siren with the long-range attempt sailing through. Then she was thrown back into defence later on and had an influence, providing plenty of run out of the back 50 and winning plenty of the ball through midfield as well. She provided good defensive pressure and an interceptor at half-back as well.
#41 Tegan Williams (Bendigo Pioneers)
As a bottom-age player, Williams has a nice collection of traits that will hold her in good stead for her draft-eligible year next season. She is good in the air or at ground level, can use the ball well by hand or foot, and can read the ball in flight which is important. Standing in defence, Williams was thrown up forward, but can be used through the middle, and is composed under pressure to get her hands free from congestion. One player who is versatile and able to be deployed in multiple areas and someone to watch next year.
#9 Claire Ransom (Tasmania Devils)
In a game that at times was scrappy and hard-fought, Ransom just brings that touch of class and composure, and it stands out on the field. The bottom-ager is able to cleanly win the ball at ground level or via hands, and then dish it off quickly to the right option. Also possessing a damaging sidestep, Ransom is a lovely kick of the ball and knows how to weight her kicks which usually do a truckload of damage. Ransom is one of those players you notice when she has 10 touches, the fact she topped the match with 23 shows she has the ball-winning capacity, and her inside 50 entries and outside run is what makes her quite the developing prospect.
#7 Meghan Gaffney (Tasmania Devils)
The work rate of Gaffney must be off the charts as she just covers the ground so well, running hard on the outside to win the ball, take grass and put it forward. Even if she does not win it, she works over to support her teammates and offer a link in the chain going forward, and her first quarter in particular was an impressive one despite her team being down.
#15 Jemma Webster (Tasmania Devils)
Seemed like the best game of the NAB League Girls this season for Webster, who stepped up for a season-high 16 touches, but remained fierce with her tackling ability. Not afraid to lock the ball in and add that element of defensive pressure, Webster’s run on the outside, particularly from half-back, was able to drive the ball forward, as she pushed up to a wing and kept a high defensive line to put pressure on the Pioneers’ defence.
#3 Amy Bissett (Tasmania Devils)
A genuine natural footballer, Bissett has high-level footy smarts and just knows where the goals are. She booted 2.2 against the Pioneers, with a second term goal coming off the back of clean work at ground level and putting it through the mdidle. Her final quarter goal was just 29 seconds into the term, as she sidestepped an opponent and made it look easy, which started the ball rolling for the Devils to blow out the margin. Defensive pressure is the next step for Bissett, but her offensive work and creative thinking is very good.
Emma Gilligan was a reliable force out of defence for the Pioneers, while Scarlett Orritt, Lexie Moss, Lila Keck and Keely Fullerton showed the future of the team with some strong efforts in tight and on the outside, winning their fair share of the ball. For the Devils, Ella Maurer gets to ball-winning positions, while Madison Brazendale, Aprille Crooks and Maisie Edwards also had a number of highlights throughout the day.
GIPPSLAND POWER vs. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS
By: Peter Williams
AFLW ACADEMY MEMBERS:
#26 Grace McRae (Gippsland Power)
Just keeps cracking in and winning the hard ball, but her defensive work – 10 tackles – is the standout. She refuses to let the opposition get an easy loose ball, and puts her body on the line time and time again. Even found some space at half-back in this match to run the ball forward, and is able to pump it to space for her quicker teammates to run onto. Another four-quarter performance from the inside midfielder.
#40 Grace Matser (Gippsland Power)
Just dominated through the ruck, towering over her respective opponents, and she showed confidence a few times to grab it out of the ruck and clear it herself once she realised there was no opponent going up with her. She provided an option across the ground and showed good running capacity, and won a number of free kicks for being held at times just because of her influence on the game. Really building some good form of late, and critically winning a fair chunk of the ball and being used by her teammates in transition which is often rare for rucks.
#25 Lily-Rose Williamson (Gippsland Power)
Rotating between the midfield and defence, Williamson has that blend of power and speed she uses to fend and shrug off tacklers, and is getting better at knowing her limitations in regards to when to stiff-arm the opposition. She was a standout early in the match for the Power, dropping back and mopping up forward forays from the opposition, and also laying great tackles in the back 50. Her highlight came in the final term when she ran out of defence, took several bounces, evaded a player and fended off another, running over 40m to kick inside 50.
#15 Sofia Hurley (Sandringham Dragons)
Earned our Draft Central Player of the Week for Round 5 and it is easy to see why, with a dominant performance that saw her collect eight more disposals than anyone else on the field. But unlike some players who stat-pad, you noticed every time Hurley collected the ball because it was often out of a stoppage, or running hard in space and driving the ball forward. It could be from a centre stoppage, inside 50 or from a defensive 50 ball-up, but regardless of where she was, she read the taps – often off Matser’s hands – and then accelerated away in style. She had a flying shot in the opening term but missed, though that was one of seldom blemishes in an outstanding game where she danced around opponents and kept being aggressive with her run and ball use.
#3 Charli Murphy (Sandringham Dragons)
A five goal haul is impressive in anyone’s books, and Murphy was just too strong one-on-one for her opponents inside 50. She kicked the opening goal of the game two minutes in from a snap at close range, then kicked her second through pure strength nine minutes later. She set up a scoring opportunity with a nice kick later in the term, but would kick her third midway through the second term with the outside of the boot. A fourth goal came in the opening two minutes of the final quarter 15m out with a set shot, then a strong mark thanks to good positioning five minutes into the final term netted Murphy her fifth goal courtesy of a 30m shot on a slight angle.
#37 Ebony Angelopoulos (Sandringham Dragons)
Played the role of small forward perfectly, kicking three goals and providing good defensive pressure close to goal. She was caught once trying to get away from an opponent, but other than that, hassled and harassed defenders with implied pressure. Angelopoulos slotted her first goal from a set shot 14 minutes into the first term following good protection of the ball drop, then snagged her second later in quarter two with a strong mark and another set shot. Her third game late in the third term with a crumbing goal at the top of the square to cap off a good day out.
Gippsland Power’s Yasmin Duursma had a strong game on the inside to lead all-comers for the Power in disposals, while Matilda Van Berkel was great in defence, and Courtney Fletcher and Sunday Brisbane tried hard throughout the match. For the Dragons, Keely Coyne, Kiana Lynch, Emma Stuber and Pia Staltari all had impressive moments, as did J’Noemi Anderson, and debutant Mia Zielinski who slotted two goals.
WESTERN JETS vs. TASMANIA DEVILS
By: Declan Reeve
AFLW ACADEMY MEMBERS:
#11 Perri King (Tasmania Devils): Spent more time forward than usual given the short turn around from the game against Bendigo Pioneers. Her overhead marking for a midfielder is a key asset to her game and makes her a danger around the ground, along with her ability to read the ball in the air and off rucks hands she gets in the right position consistently. A particular highlight that showcased this was the opening goal of the game, where she got the clearance from a forward 50 stoppage and snapped the goal quickly. Her kicking on the run is reliable and makes that Tasmania transitional play even more deadly.
#9 Claire Ransom (Tasmania Devils)
Moves really well with ball in hand and never appears rushed by pressure or even her team mates telling her to kick, it goes a long to making every disposal of hers damaging and a good fit for Tasmania’s fast transitional work, especially with her willingness to kick to inside 45 options coming out of defence and going into forward 50.
#8 Paige Ryan (Western Jets)
Stood up in Westerns defence throughout the day as a hard at it, no nonsense sort. Very aggressive in her pursuit of the ball and ball carrier which makes her difficult to beat one on one and even harder to get away from. Was tasked with taking kick-ins for majority of the game, where she’d often run in 10-15 meters and then kick the ball long out of 50.
# 38 Montana Ham (Western Jets)
The perfect example of how to play as a taller inside midfielder, Ham just doesn’t stop going for the ball or tackling opposition ball winners, but she’s always present and impacting the play. Her clearance work is excellent, with her being hard to tackle as well she’s a force in the midfield and often gets her clearance kicks close to the goal square, making it hard for opposition to get quick goals.
#1 Charlotte Baskaran (Western Jets)
Classy throughout the day, with her positioning around the ground at such a high level it is not hard to see why opponents pay so much attention to her. Her kicking penetration and placement is really impressive as well, with her ability to weight her kicks differently for different team mates a big asset
#6 Madison Brazendale (Tasmania Devils)
Impressed in the second half of the game in particular where her work in the midfield and around the ground was valuable going forward. Has a good level of composure with ball in hand that leads to her getting good quality disposal
# 7 Meghan Gaffney (Tasmania Devils)
Positioned on the wing for the day she had a really good showing, often being the best option for Tasmania moving out of the backline, where her speed was eye-catching and led to a lot of Tasmania inside 50’s.
Jemima Woods worked hard in the Jets forward line, and even pushed into the Ruck at times where she competed well. Laura Elliott also worked into the game for the Jets in the backline, becoming more of an obstacle in the second half. Amy Bissett and Jemma Webster were dangerous in the Tasmanian forward half, with Priscilla Odwogo and Aprille Crooks consistent pillars in their defence, working aggressively to shut down any Western attack
BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. GWV REBELS
By: Michael Alvaro
AFLW ACADEMY MEMBERS:
#20 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)
Tried in a few different roles, Friend’s key traits came to the fore everywhere she went. Arguably the best contested marker in the league, she clunked a series of impressive grabs at centre half-forward and around the ground to help set the Rebels on the right foot. She showed good work rate to help out in defence when stationed on a wing, proving there are many strings to her bow apart from the obvious forward craft.
#30 Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)
Another of the Rebels’ best performers on the day, Dojiok positioned masterfully across half-back to intercept time and time again. Her reading of the play and ball in flight proved outstanding, allowing for those important intercept possessions before inciting her patented burst on the rebound. As usual, Dojiok was able to gain good meterage with surges down the corridor, but is still improving her end product with more direct kicks to targets down the line.
#5 Paige Scott (GWV Rebels)
Scott was arguably best afield and was part of just about everything the Rebels forged forward of centre. She would have had a serious case of leather poisoning in the first half with the rate of possessions she gathered, working hard up the ground before also beating her opponent back to goal. Scott’s confidence was clearly at a high as she went about trying to kick goals in all sorts of ways, not afraid to take on opponents and back her own ability. Some of her ‘what-if’ moments were a little frustrating though, sometimes caught doing a little too much and burning teammates in promising positions. With even more development over another year of NAB League, Scott has the potential to become one of the competition’s most damaging forwards.
#30 Octavia Di Donato (Bendigo Pioneers)
Arguably the Pioneers’ best player on the day, Di Donato showed her class moving forward from midfield. Heralded as one of the best kicks in the Bendigo squad, she used the ball well on both sides when necessary and looked dangerous when afforded opportunities inside forward 50. She found the goals for Bendigo and could have added more to her scoring tally, if not for a poster on the run. Overall, her class stood out among a raw and inexperienced Pioneers outfit.
#1 Lilli Condon (GWV Rebels)
The diminutive midfielder went about her work in typical fashion, finding plenty of the ball and looking to drive the Rebels forward from the contest. She is always a good link in congestion and began to get busy on the outer as well, using her running ability to cover good ground and help GWV open the game up in transition.
#27 Jayda Richardson (Bendigo Pioneers)
One of the few experienced members of Bendigo’s lineup on Wednesday, it was no surprise to see Richardson moved to the most important positions on the ground. When GWV got an early surge on, she was stationed in defence to try and provide a cool head back there. She did well to help repel the Rebels’ attacks and use her marking ability to stop those drives in their tracks, but it was no easy task for the top-ager. A tick for her versatility after already contributing well up forward this year.
#15 Chloe Leonard (GWV Rebels)
Donning the long sleeves, Leonard worked to find the ball and got into some promising positions when in possession. The 19-year-old operated off half-back and into the midfield as play opened up, winning the ball with good authority and confidence before looking to move it forward with class.
#3 Eve Cail (Bendigo Pioneers)
It is rare to see a 14-year-old running out in an Under 19 competition, but the 2006-born Cail held her own in what was her fourth outing for the Pioneers. This was arguably her best performance to date, digging in hard to win her own ball and proving relatively unfazed by the intensity shown around each contest. One to watch for the future.
GWV had plenty of terrific contributors, with the likes of Tahlia Meier and Melina Ciavarella dangerous up forward, while Olivia Leonard also got busy. For the Pioneers, Charli Dorrity was busy out of defence, Keely Fullerton remained crucial in transition, and Tegan Williams played a bit of everywhere including the ruck.