AFTER nine rounds of home-and-away tussles, the 2021 NAB League Girls season rolls on into its first week of finals. The eight qualifying teams hail from two seperate pools, with four from the Metro regions and four from the Country selection, including Tasmania.
Oakleigh Chargers, who finished first in their pool and top overall, will take on fourth-ranked Metro side Calder, while the Northern Knights’ premiership defence goes on the line against Eastern Ranges. Both games will be played in a Saturday double-header at Warrawee Park, Oakleigh.
On the Country side of things, top-ranked Tasmania faces the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels in a standalone Sunday fixture on the Apple Isle. The Devils’ and Rebels will go in already knowing their next opponent, as Dandenong and Geelong lock horns on Saturday afternoon for what looms as the game of the weekend.
We preview all four games with a look at form and the key matchups.
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS (1st, 7-1) vs. CALDER CANNONS (4th, 5-3)
Saturday May 1, 10:00am
Warrawee Park, Oakleigh
Two of the competition’s premier teams tussle when Oakleigh Chargers and Calder Cannons open this year’s finals series on Saturday morning. While Oakleigh’s top-end talent has seen it charge to frontrunner status, Calder had long been poised as a finals fancy coming into the season. The two sides’ Round 3 meeting saw Oakleigh prove its credentials with a 16-point win on the road, via a three-goal to nil fourth quarter. This time around, the Chargers are on their home deck and come in having dismantled Gippsland by 100 points post-break. Calder’s run in is less ideal having lost to Geelong last week, making for two wins in its last four games. Oakleigh also lost to Geelong in Round 8, but won in every other outing this season.
Where it’s won:
Calder boasts enormous strength down the spine; with Kasey Lennox down back, Tahlia Gillard rotating forward from the ruck, Neve Crowley able to swing up either end, and Georgie Prespakis leading a balanced midfield trio which includes Emelia Yassir and Zali Friswell. There is an enormous amount of experience and class within that group alone, with all six part of the Cannons’ 2019 grand final side.
Oakleigh also has a strong engine room, but the dynamism of their squad as a whole could prove key here. Charlie Rowbottom can kick goals when resting forward, Brooke Vickers is a terrific generator of momentum from half-back or the wing, and Stella Reid is a consistent ball winner who can play on each line. The flexibility of those key players, along with a raft of up-and-comers makes the Chargers an ominous force moving forward. Speaking of, keep an eye out for Jasmine Fleming and Ameille Smith. Fleming made a stunning debut last week, while Smith returned from injury with aplomb in the same game.
Marquee matchup: Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers) vs. Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)
It is only fitting to pit these two up against each other, having recently waxed to good effect in Vic Metro’s midfield. Both captains of their respective sides, expect to hear their names in close proximity for a long time yet as they loom as the top two picks in the Victorian draft pool. They may well feature in close proximity to each other on the field too, despite Rowbottom being named at full forward for Oakleigh. She is known to rotate deep and hit the scoreboard, but will likely be key to setting an early tone for her side against a well-balanced Calder midfield. Prespakis is the centrepiece there, with unmatched ball winning ability and two-way relevance. In their Round 3 duel, Rowbottom finished with 18 disposals, 11 tackles and five inside 50s, while Prespakis had 20 touches, 18 tackles, and four inside 50s. Let’s see who takes centre stage this time out.
EASTERN RANGES (2nd, 6-2) vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS (3rd, 5-3)
Saturday May 1, 12:00pm
Warrawee Park, Oakleigh
The Eastern Ranges will be out for redemption when they lock horns with Northern Knights on Saturday afternoon, with the Metro rivalry producing a couple of thrilling contests in the last three seasons. Northern remains the reigning premier and will look to continue its defence here, having ranked third in the Metro pool with a 5-3 record. Eastern bested them in that aspect to finish second at 6-2, but one of those losses crucially came at the hands of their weekend opponents. back in Round 6, the Knights came from nowhere to snatch an eight point victory over Eastern, aided by a four-goal final term. The result should be fresh in the memory of both sides, who come into this clash on the back of solid Round 9 victories.
Where it’s won:
The midfield. If their Round 6 meeting is anything to go by, this game rests on which side can wrestle momentum in the engine room. Eastern beat Northern in that department for three quarters of their earlier clash this year, but came unstuck as Northern moved Tarrah Delgado on the ball and got on top at the death. The Knights did not have Maeve Chaplin to rely on in that match, so she is a key inclusion to lead the line alongside Teleah Smart and Ava Jordan, who had 24 disposals and two goals in Round 6.
The Ranges have a good bunch of ball winners who have been ultra consistent this season, with Bridget Deed and Keeley Sherar among the key movers who can benefit from Georgia Campbell‘s ruckwork. All three were impactful last time out against the Knights, with Campbell combining with Jess Grace to win 35 hitouts, while Deed and Sherar finished atop their side’s disposal chart.
Experience may also play a factor, with Grace among a handful of Ranges to have gained VFLW experience with Hawthorn this year. Of course, Northern will claim their own ascendancy in that regard with the same number of players from their 2019 premiership team set to line up once again on Saturday.
Marquee matchup: Bridget Deed (Eastern Ranges) vs. Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)
With the midfield battle so important to this result, what better place to look for the marquee matchup. Put forward here are two 167cm inside types who can win their own ball and set the tone for their side. Deed has averaged 19.4 disposals and 5.8 tackles across eight consistent games in 2021, while Chaplin has played seven times for averages of 17.1 and 4.9 in the same categories – though was twice rubbed out with injury in those outings. Both players are fresh off representing Vic Metro at the Under 19 National Championships and worked back into form nicely upon the NAB League’s return. Expect to see them in the thick of things at the coalface.
DANDENONG STINGRAYS (2nd, 5-3) vs. GEELONG FALCONS (3rd, 5-3)
Saturday May 1, 2:30pm
Shepley Oval, Dandenong
Potentially the game of the weekend sees Dandenong Stingrays shape up against Geelong Falcons at Shepley Oval, rounding out Saturday’s fixtures. Both sides finished their regular seasons with 5-3 records, but remain one of the rare pairs not to have crossed paths since 2019. The Stingrays made a hot start to their 2021 campaign with three-straight wins, but have since gone 2-3 in their last five outings. That third loss came last week to Northern, with the silver lining a competitive hitout on the eve of finals. Geelong looks to be in terrific shape having become the only team to beat Oakleigh in Round 8, before returning to knock off Calder last week. The Falcons have lost some winnable games too, but are always a massive threat at full strength. Whichever team survives is in with a great chance at taking out the ultimate glory, among a tough group of competitors.
Where it’s won:
Both sides are strong on each line, but boast particularly sturdy defences. Among Dandenong’s back six, it won’t be hard to miss (and mistake) key pillars Zoe Hill and Mackenzie Eardley, while Jaide Anthony makes a welcome return and Jemma Radford also comes back into the side having gained some VFLW experience. Those are just names among the starting group, with plenty more movers likely to rotate back and help blanket some lively Geelong forwards.
For the Falcons, the combination of Annie Lee and Elizabeth Dowling is a real star turn, with their mix of intercepting and rebounding proving a nice catalyst from the back. Again they are just a couple of outstanding figures in the wider structure having recently served Vic Country in a similar fashion. Whichever defence can resist the attack which comes their way for longer, while also providing the better spark in transition, will likely come away as the winner.
Marquee matchup: Emily Shepherd (Dandenong Stingrays) vs. Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)
Another pair of midfielders in the marquee matchup slot, these two have often proven the prime ball winners for either side. They are virtually identical in height and while Shepherd is a year younger, just as capable of starring at this level. Part of Dandenong’s leadership group, Shepherd has played five games in 2021 for averages of 17.8 disposals, 3.2 tackles, and 4.8 inside 50s. It is worth noting, she came off injured in Round 5 and was rotated heavily upon her Round 8 return. Last week, she notched 24 touches in a terrific outing.
Craven has two more games under her belt and is an ultra consistent figure; averaging 21.7 disposals, 3.0 tackles, and 3.3 inside 50s this season. Not only does she win the ball at the coalface, but also works around the ground to have an all-round impact. Shepherd, who seems to have so much time on the ball, can also rotate forward and tends to make things happen.
Tasmania Devils (1st, 6-2) vs. GWV Rebels (4th, 3-5)
Sunday May 2, 12:30pm
Windsor Park, Launceston
The Tasmania Devils will take part in their first-ever NAB League Girls final this weekend, taking on the GWV Rebels on Sunday afternoon. The Devils earned the right to host on the back of a remarkable campaign, showing marked improvement to register a 6-2 record and top the country pool. While GWV finished ninth overall, the Victorian side snuck into the postseason as the fourth-ranked country side. You won’t have to look too far back to see how these teams stack up against each other, as they played just last week. The Devils won that game by 23 points, meaning this clash looms as somewhat of a reverse fixture. Tasmania’s winning streak is also now at four games, while the Rebels will have some work to do to bring their three-game losing skid to an end.
Where it’s won:
This contest looms as an interesting one in terms of styles – it goes without saying that whichever side can play the game on their terms for longer will likely win, but it rings true here. The Devils have shown they are a potent unit, managing scores of over 35 points on six occasions this season. They move the ball well in transition and may look to dismantle the Rebels in that way again. GWV plays a slightly different style and was shown to kick-mark, or kick long more than Tasmania last week. The Devils used the ball far more by hand in that outing, so will have a good idea of what works and how they can break open the usually congested finals feeling. GWV also has some strong aerial players, which come into effect when the ball is kicked in long. At ground level, both sides are tough and are not afraid to get their hands dirty defensively.
Marquee matchup: Amy Prokopiec (Tasmania Devils) vs. Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)
On paper, this is one of the best pure matchups across the entire round of action. Named alongside each other on the team sheets, Prokopiec and Dojiok have already had a sighter against one-another. Tassie Devils forward, Prokopiec has been a reliable figure for her side, booting 10 goals in her seven games and being held goalless just once. She snared 2.2 last week and looked dangerous having been overlooked for Allies selection. Fresh off her carnival with Vic Country, exciting Rebels defender Dojiok had 18 disposals and five rebound 50s last week. A kick-first player who also marks well and gains serious meterage, it is little wonder why she was included in the AFLW Academy this year given her potential. She will again be a key player for GWV here, matched up against a player similar in size and in just the right position for both players to truly test themselves.