2021 VFLW Round 8 preview: Anzac Day rivals lock horns at The Hangar

ANZAC Day matches take centre stage, along with a Friday night blockbuster at Whitten Oval, in what is anticipated to be a fantastic round of Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s action for Round 8 of the competition.

WESTERN BULLDOGS vs. SOUTHERN SAINTS
Friday, April 23 @ 7:30pm
Whitten Oval

A mammoth win last Sunday afternoon against Darebin saw Western Bulldogs jump from eleventh to eighth on the VFL Women’s table, and draw to within four points of the top six. They will have plenty of percentage to catch up on after some disappointing losses, but the team that currently holds sixth spot is their opponents on Friday night, the Southern Saints. The Saints have a healthy percentage thanks to a similar belting of the Falcons back in Round 5, which had actually snapped a three-game losing streak. They did go down to the unbeaten Magpies last week, so will be seeking to bounce back against the Dogs in this clash. Tara Bohanna is a key player for the Saints, booting eight goals in seven games to be within reach of top spot on the table. Valerie Moreau and Gabbi De Angelis have both slotted four majors, to give the Saints a pretty potent forward line. Alice Burke ran rampant last week with 35 touches, whilst the dangerous Renee Saulitis is another small who can inject pace and class around goals. By comparison, Mary Sandral leads the Dogs’ goalkicking with the four majors, but was injured during the clash against the Falcons, On debut Western Jets’ Jemima Woods slotted three majors, though it is expected she will return for the NAB League Girls’ final clash. Danielle Marshall hit the scoreboard last week, while the return of Nell Morris-Dalton and Eleanor Brown to complement the side was important. Last time they were under lights the Dogs had a shocker against the Magpies, but expect them to be much better here against the Saints in what should be a thrilling contest.

PORT MELBOURNE vs. CASEY DEMONS
Saturday, April 24 @ 10:00am
ETU Stadium

The top of the table Port Melbourne host Casey Demons in an early Saturday morning clash. The Borough saw off their greatest challenge to-date last week, overcoming Carlton from several goals down to remain undefeated from seven matches. The Demons, led by Imogen Milford who slammed home six majors, were too strong for Hawthorn despite the Hawks’ best efforts at Box Hill. If the Demons can continue that form – with more AFL Women’s players available – expect them to really give the ladder leaders a run for their money. Only Port and Collingwood have scored more than the Demons this season, which makes them a potent attack led by Milford (12 goals), while Niamh McEvoy (five) and Brenna Tarrant (five from Round 1) all damaging. Eliza West is the in-form midfielder, having collected more touches than any other player this season at an average of 22.3 disposals, as well as 4.3 tackles. Being able to hit the scoreboard with four majors makes her a threat forward of centre, and the Borough will need to be aware of that, whether it is the likes of Philippa Peschke or Mel Kuys who might be opposed to her. Sophie Locke is second on the goalkicking charts but has been recovering from injury, whilst Emily Harley (five goals) and Cleo Saxon-Jones (four) have been hitting the scoreboard in less games, while Sabrina Frederick has scored two majors in each of her matches thus far. The Borough should be favourites at home, but the Demons have enough talent to bring in that could worry the ladder leaders.

DAREBIN vs. GEELONG
Saturday, April 24 @ 12:00pm
Bill Lawry Oval

Back-to-back home games for Darebin Falcons gives the standalone side a chance to jump off the bottom of the table with a win in this contest. The Falcons knocked off North Melbourne a fortnight ago, but felt the pinch of a Dogs side that recalled a number of AFL Women’s talents in Round 7. They have to find a way to knock off a red-hot Cats outfit that will have similar AFL Women’s numbers to the Dogs last week, with most of those players being able to hit the scoreboard. Geelong has only lost to the top two sides, and has won their past three matches to sit fourth overall, percentage behind Essendon. with Casey Demons not too far behind, the visitors cannot afford to take the Falcons lightly. Olivia Barber is a goal-scoring threat when in the side having kicked six goals in just two games, whilst regulars, Claudia Gunjaca (five), Stephanie Williams (five) and Georgia Clarke (four) can also do damage. Darcy Moloney, Laura Gardiner and Carly Remmos will be the future of the AFL Women’s side and are teaming up well through the VFLW midfield, while Tamara Smith leads all-comers with tackles, and Paige Sheppard is one of the most prominent ball-winners in the league. Nicole Callinan is the one to stop for the Falcons, averaging 23 disposals, six marks and 5.5 tackles working hard in the back 50 and pushing up the ground to try and drive her team forward. The Bulldogs premiership player has been a welcome addition to the side, with Sidney Cubasch returning last week and likely to assert herself in the ruck, Samara David impressed around the ground having also kicked the five goals this season, while Stephanie Simpson might not have hit the scoreboard last week against a strong Bulldogs defence, but slotted four the previous week. The Falcons will leapfrog Hawthorn – if the Hawks lose on Sunday – but it will be a very tough ask with Geelong in ripping form and expect the Cats to continue that form in Round 8.

HAWTHORN vs. WILLIAMSTOWN
Sunday, April 25 @ 10:30am
Box Hill City Oval

Two of the bottom three clash in what could be one of the closest matches of the round. Hawthorn has been pretty impressive this season and arguably undeserving of eleventh on the ladder. They pushed the Demons last week and can leapfrog the Seagulls here with a win, having averaged more points than their opponents, but also having conceded a lot more as well. Each week Bec Goddard manages to bring in AFL Women’s talent, as Georgia Bevan, Kristy Stratton, Tamara Luke and Nadia von Bertouch have all swapped their colours to return to their roots of the brown and gold, or with the ties to Goddard. Whilst not having massive ball-winners, the Hawks have been able to develop some young talent through the list, such as renowned tackler Dominique Carbone, and a plethora of Eastern Ranges players such as Isabelle Khoury, Matilda Hardy and Eloise Chaston. Jesse Williams is the danger up forward, and with Stratton in for her second game in the brown and gold, expect her to be a second prong of attack up there. Williamstown on the other hand do not have a reliable source of goals, though Aimee Whelan and Gabrielle Biedenweg-Webster have each snagged three majors. A total of 14 players have hit the scoreboard in the 2021 season, including prominent ball-winners Ruby Tripodi and Megan Williamson, while Erin Meade continues to provide great run out of defence, and will hope the Seagulls can propel themselves to their third win. With the extra experience coming into the brown and gold though, the Hawks should get up at home.

ESSENDON vs. COLLINGWOOD
Sunday, April 25 @ 11:00am
The Hangar

The traditional Anzac Day rivals will clash at The Hangar before fans head south to the MCG for the AFL men’s edition, with the VFL Women’s clash to provide just as much intensity between the clubs. A potential finals preview looms with the second placed Pies still unbeaten from seven games, coming up against the third placed Bombers who are 5-2 from their season, and building some great form in the middle of the season. The Bombers have been without their spiritual leader for the last game and a half with Georgia Nanscawen on the sidelines. She averaged 23 disposals and 10.2 tackles in her six games, to be a barometer in the side. Alana Barba and Courtney Ugle have stepped up in her absence, while Federica Frew (eight goals) and Natalie MacDonald (five) have been important up forward with Mia-Rae Clifford (eight). With the NAB League Girls returning this week, expect the Bombers to be without a couple of key youngsters in Zali Friswell and Kasey Lennox, though Elizabeth Snell and soon-to-be Jemma Finning have just the one game remaining in Pioneers colours. The Magpies have been ticking along nicely and now will be able to heavily rotate their AFL Women’s talent if they choose to do so, with the likes of Bella Smith (eight goals in four games), Amelia Velardo in defence and Abbi Moloney (two in three) among those running around in the side. Imogen Barnett has been the standout VFLW-listed Pie with eight goals in six games, while Caitlin Bunker (16.3 disposals, 6.6 tackles) and Matilda Zander (14.3 disposals, 4.1 tackles) are others who have stood out.

NORTH MELBOURNE vs. CARLTON
Sunday, April 25 @ 12:00pm
Arden Street

The later Anzac Day clash is between another couple of AFLW-aligned clubs in North Melbourne and Carlton. The Roos have enjoyed playing a string of games at Arden Street this season, and whilst they have only won the two games from seven matches, have been steadfast in developing their VFLW-listed talents rather than pouring in AFLW-listed players just for the points. The Blues have been fairly similar, though they were able to bring in some players in recent weeks such as Maddy Guerin, who has been a cut above at the level, averaging 21.7 disposals, 3.3 marks and 7.0 tackles from her three games. Jennifer Lew has been an impressive VFLW-listed Blue with 18.5 disposals, 5.3 marks and 4.3 tackles, whilst Courtney Jones has slotted eight goals in five games, and Akayla Peterson has been utilised at both ends of the field for five goals in seven games. Throw in Serena Gibbs (three in four) who has been supporting Jorja Borg in the ruck, and the form of Winnie Laing this season, and the Blues have a solid team across the board. North Melbourne on the other hand, have had some really consistent ball-winners, but just not enough consistent games to put together wins. Brooke Brown has been sensational up forward with eight goals in four games, while ex-Sun Alexia Hamilton, and Tasmanian Sarah Skinner have both been enjoying outstanding seasons in the blue and white. Meagan Kiely and Molly Eastman both average 20.4 disposals and more than four tackles per game to share the load with Skinner, while Airlie Runnalls and Katelyn Cox are other consistent ball-winning talents. Carlton arguably have the upper hand after pushing Port Melbourne last week, though the development of the Roos will hold them in good stead for the future.

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