Top Performers: 2021 NAB League Girls – Elimination Finals

THE 2021 NAB League Girls competition rolled on into finals action over the weekend, with three games played on Saturday and one on Sunday. 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 AFLW 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.

OAKLEIGH CHARGERS vs. CALDER CANNONS

By: Declan Reeve 

AFLW Academy:

#41 Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)

Unsurprisingly Prespakis lead all comers for disposals for the day. She often sharked first possession off the rucks’ hands and then followed up with her classic long kicks forward, or the drew in opponents to handball it off to a teammate she just relieved of pressure. The real highlight of her game was how well she competed on the inside against one of the strongest midfield groups in the competition, racking up a game high 12 tackles and showing she wasn’t letting the Chargers mids walk it out of stoppages easily. Spectators were fortunate enough to see her and fellow AFLW Academy star Charlie Rowbottom go head-to-head at times, with each of them getting a few bragging rights moments through the contest.

 #18 Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons)

Started the day as the deepest Calder forward, with the coaching staff looking to take advantage of the Chargers’ lack of height in defensive 50. She competed well when the ball entered attacking 50 and interestingly, despite being 190 cm, she looked at her best when the ball hit the ground as she followed up extremely well to get quick hands up to teammates. Unfortunately she dropped a few marks she would’ve usually held, perhaps due to the increased pace and pressure of finals. 

#8 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)

Finding herself split between the midfield and forwardline evenly across the contest, Rowbottom’s influence on the game, particularly through the midfield, can’t be overstated, with her burst of speed being difficult for Calder to deal with. She looked to move the ball by hand a lot as opposed to blindly kicking the ball which led to some nice passages of play for Oakleigh. However, you could say she was too team centric at times, looking to pass off inside 50 most of the time she got it which kept Oakleigh off the scoreboard more than they could’ve been. A real point of difference is her overhead marking which she got to display a couple of times, taking one particular pack mark that, despite getting tackled by Georgie Prespakis, resulted in a dangerous inside 50.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#3 Emelia Yassir (Calder Cannons)

Consistently found ways to show off her burst of speed and agility, weaving through packs and getting away well weighted kicks forward, or handballing to teammates under less pressure. The hard working midfielder provided plenty of spark around stoppages. She found her way around the ground as well, with a defensive focus to her game, getting down back to help out her team under siege, where she even managed an impressive intercept mark which led to a dangerous piece of transitional play that almost resulted in a goal.

#8 Zali Friswell (Calder Cannons)

Has possibly flown under the radar this season with Prespakis and Yassir arguably flashier, but Friswell’s contribution to the strong midfield trio has been monumental throughout 2021 and the game against Oakleigh was no different. She returned a rounded game where she did everything well; unselfish with her ball use, looking to find teammates in space to spread Oakleigh’s defence, and switching the ball across the forward 50 often to create a bit of chaos. Similar to other teammates, her hybrid style of play in the midfield made Calder dangerous, able to crack in and win the contested ball and clearances, but also just as capable at holding her space and receiving a handball out the back or when running past.

#4 Kasey Lennox (Calder Cannons)

Putting in arguably her best performance for the year, Lennox had a game to be proud of as a key defender. Usually playing on Oakleigh’s resting midfielders like Charlie Rowbottom or Amanda Ling, she adjusted to each opponent promptly and looked assured throughout the contest, not conceding a goal at any point. Taking the kick-ins for the day, she’d always run the ball out 15-20 meters and then kick a long bomb well out of the defensive 50 in an attempt to get Calder moving quickly in transition.

#15 Mali McLeod (Calder Cannons)

Getting her highest disposal count for the season in the contest, McLeod chose the right game to show her proficiency as a winger. Often the target of the kick-ins for Calder, or playing on the ‘dead wing’, McLeod was always an option, putting herself in the right spots all day to receive the ball on the outside and holding her space well. She also used the ball well by foot, looking to spot up targets in more central parts of the ground or inside 50.

#39 Abbey McDonald (Calder Cannons)

Playing in all thirds of the ground, McDonald showed that she’s got the scope to play anywhere going forward, and at a high level. She’s proven throughout the season that she understands how to play her role, and works well within the Calder structure to adjust what she does to suit her teammates. When she gets the ball, she just uses it so well, never asking too much of her teammates with well weighted kicks or handballs put just in front for them to run onto. As a 2004 birth, she’s one that looms as a major part, in any area of the ground, of the Cannons’ 2022 campaign.

#29 Amanda Ling (Oakleigh Chargers)

Ling had a performance to remember. Whilst not winning as much of the ball as she usually does, the moments she had with and around it were extremely influential. What was perhaps most impressive was her lateral movement, even under pressure, able to maintain top speed even when evading opponents. It wasn’t uncommon to see her run straight towards opponents and then take a side step, with the opponent unable to do anything about it. She used the ball well to follow up on those side steps too, hitting a few kicks to the top of the goalsquare to give her teammates the best opportunity to score.

#10 Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers)

Playing forward for what felt like the entire game, Reid didn’t let that hurt her disposal numbers. Pushing up the ground to act as a high-half forward link up player, she was involved in everything in the front half of the ground; taking marks, winning loose balls and setting up teammates. She was also one of two multiple goalkickers, with the opportunity to get two or three more on the board as well, but she chose to move the ball on to better positioned teammates showing a sense for teamwork – a common theme amongst the Oakleigh squad that played a big part in the win.

#31 Sarah Morley (Oakleigh Chargers)

Putting in her best shift for the year, Morley was one of the benefactors from the team focus that the Oakleigh squad played with, getting involved in some chain bits of play that led to either her getting on the scoreboard or her team getting a scoring opportunity. Morley threw herself at everything, not letting the Cannons defenders have anything easy, while also taking a couple of nice marks that led to her setting up teammates for shots on goal. 

#14 Eliza James (Oakleigh Chargers)

Perhaps most impactful in the final quarter where she got an extended run through the midfield, James’ burst of speed, agility and toughness at the footy were real sparks to keep Oakleigh going forward consistently through the middle of the ground. She did well to win first possession off of the ruck taps and then quickly handball off to teammates under less pressure. If she got it in space herself, she measured her kicks well, looking to get them more central. 

#37 Charlotte Van der Vlies (Oakleigh Chargers)

Playing in her usual wing role, Van der Vlies was able to impact contests on her side of the ground well, generally winning the contest by getting the ball herself, or putting in a bump/shepherd that allowed a teammate to get it out and keep going forward. She proved a nuisance for the Cannons defence, often at the fall of the ball when they rushed a kick out of the Chargers’ forward 50, using the ball well by foot to get it central or back inside 50.

#23 Caitlin Matthews (Oakleigh Chargers)

Playing an underrated role in the defensive 50 for the Chargers, Matthews was impressive in her defensive craft; winning one-on-ones with a spoil, or drifting across and impacting contests to get the ball loose and then follow up at ground level. From there, she picked it up cleanly off the ground and then got distance behind her kicks outside of defensive 50. She was also confident to push off her opponent and just sit behind contests to quickly pick up spilled balls.

OTHERS:

For the victors, the influence of defender Erin Woodford can’t be overstated, winning multiple two-on-ones in the final quarter to stop Calder scoring, and doing well to nullify Gillard throughout the contest. Lily Hart was again a big part of the midfield for the Chargers, as Mia Clift and Charlotte Taylor were impressive as rebounding defensive options. For the Cannons, Trilby Sheppard did well in defensive 50, whilst Reese Sutton was also lively through the game, having some good moments in the forward half.

EASTERN RANGES vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS

By: Declan Reeve

TOP PERFORMERS:

#9 Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)

Put in a solid performance in what will be her last NAB League appearance. Chaplin’s strength on the inside and around stoppages is one of her standout traits, being able to win contested possession without much issue even with opposition hanging off her. This goes hand in hand with her composure and smooth moving through traffic to make her a really damaging ball winner, where she’ll win it, get free and kick well forward. When playing a role in the defensive 50, she has natural defensive nous, with just little things like standing goal side of her opponent or having an arm across them giving her the advantage when the ball comes in.

#36 Ava Jordan (Northern Knights)

It has become glaringly evident that Jordan is a seriously good ball winner through the midfield, and she’s only going to get better. Despite being shorter than most, she’s got such a hunger to win the footy that leads to her being involved in everything. She manages to get the ball in contested situations and work her way out to give it off to a teammate under less pressure. What’s most impressive is her tendency to move the ball on by hand, it’s not uncommon for the highest ball winners in NAB League to look to bomb long, so that composure and maturity at such a young age is an extremely good trait. 

#23 Lulu Beatty (Northern Knights)

Had a difficult job through the game with the ball constantly around the Northern defensive 50, but Beatty held up under the pressure to be arguably the best defender on ground. She positioned well in contests to be at an advantage almost every time, giving her the best opportunity to use the ball well going forward and start a dangerous counter attack. Pushed up the ground as well to help lock the ball inside the Northern forward 50, setting up just outside to create a contest with Eastern players waiting for a rebound. 

#14 Alyssia Pisano (Eastern Ranges)

Continued her goalkicking ways from the home-and-away season, booting three on the way to a brilliant victory. Two of her goals came at vital moments; when the game was still there to be won by Northern, it was Pisano that would step up and put the nail in the coffin after having missed a few easier shots earlier on. It wasn’t just the goals that impressed and impacted from Pisano, she was able to push up the ground and win possession as far as the defensive 50 mark, following up with her trademark penetrating left-foot kick, usually a good 35-40 meters down the line. Her work through traffic was also eye-catching, able to side step her way around opponents to get separation.

#44 Georgia Campbell (Eastern Ranges)

The super athletic ruck had a day out for Eastern, playing a big part in their ability to get first hands on the ball and clear it forward to keep pressure on the Northern defence. She has developed and improved her ruck craft throughout the season. Having the athletic advantage more often than not, she’s worked on her tap work to be one of the premiere rucks in the league in that regard, putting it right in front of her teammates every time.

#9 Mia Busch (Eastern Ranges)

Has improved game on game, and it has led to her being one of the standout defenders in the competition, with her ability to run both ways and offer plenty in both offensive and defensive play making her a consistent part of the Ranges’ transitional passages. Her ball use around the ground is exceptional, composing herself before getting the ball to a teammate, usually further up the ground. She was involved in one particular bit of play, where she won a one-on-two at the top of the defensive 50, swept up the loose ball and delivered long to a teammate, who then kicked it onto Alyssia Pisano for her third goal of the day. 

#18 Bridget Deed (Eastern Ranges)

The major ball winner for the contest, Deed was constantly involved in play around the ground. However, what was most noticeable was her work rate to get down and assist in the backline, with her positioning in particular being the key reason to her good performance, even getting herself some quick uncontested intercept marks during the latter stages in the game. She was strong on the inside as a ball winner that fed out to other midfielders or kicked long forward into dangerous spots.

#5 Jorja Livingstone (Eastern Ranges)

Playing arguably her best game of the season in her standard wing role, it was Livingstone’s endurance running and ability to work both ways that stood out and put her name in contention for best on ground. She held her space really well throughout the game, being a much needed outlet for the Ranges as seemingly everyone else on the ground wanted to get into the contested scraps.

OTHERS:

Keeley Sherar, Ruby O’Dwyer and Isabelle Khoury were all big parts in the Ranges’ win, bringing spark around the midfield. El Chaston was a dangerous forward target, setting up a few of the goals, whilst Grace Walsh was consistent down back. For the Knights, Phoebe Nelson, Riley Wilcox and Teleah Smart all had good moments in the midfield and around the ground, all bringing positive run to Northern’s side.

GEELONG FALCONS vs. DANDENONG STINGRAYS

By: Declan Reeve

TOP PERFORMERS:

#4 Poppy Schaap (Geelong Falcons)

Since returning from the Under 19 Championships matches, Schaap has played extended stints forward to great success, again getting on the scoreboard against Dandenong, but playing a much more team orientated game, looking to pass off essentially every time she got the ball rather than take the shot herself. She found a good balance between pushing up the ground acting as an extra midfielder, and staying down forward as a crumber which played a big part in the Falcons’ dominance, with her natural ball winning and quick hands in-close opening the game up often and leading to scoring shots for Geelong.

#11 Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)

A game to put on the resume, Craven showed that she has the ability to impact the scoreboard heavily when allowed a little more freedom to move forward. Her first of the day came just 30 seconds into the match from about 40 meters out, after getting the clearance, handing it off and getting it back straight away. Her ball use was at its usual high standard, being one of the few to look to use the width of the ground rather than always moving straight forward, finding unopposed teammates that allowed them to get a clearer path forward. She looked to be a handy outlet option for her teammates as well, getting into the short inside 45 spots and often being used, then hitting teammates up to keep the chain going.

#9 Ash Van Loon (Geelong Falcons)

Played as the most permanent part of Geelong’s midfield for the game, with her positioning around the ground, especially stoppages, being the highlight for her. She’d manage to win the first possession off the rucks’ hands and then flick it off by hand to a teammate that was already close to top speed, giving the Falcons quick ball movement entering the forward half of the ground. Used it well by foot as well to hit some good targets, even when under pressure.

#15 Gabbi Featherston (Geelong Falcons)

Featherston benefitted from the quick ball movement coming forward at times, making her a dangerous figure. As a player that possesses great speed and athleticism in general, she was able to react quickly and leap to try and take the ball high or quickly turn and run onto a ball over the top, beating her opponent in the foot race. She used the ball well, hitting targets in better spots than her if she wasn’t in a good position to go for goal, but also comfortable to back herself in and take some shots herself. Acted as the relieving ruck for the game as well, with the previously mentioned athleticism coming out.

#44 Charlotte Simpson (Geelong Falcons)

The 2022 Geelong and St Kilda father-daughter prospect is the embodiment of an inside bull, utilising her strength and relentless hunt on the footy to win the contested ball and get it going forward by foot. She also looked good with her marking, providing contests with her bodywork really solid in those marking jostles, nudging players off balance to get the advantage as the ball flew in. 

#31 Jemma Radford (Dandenong Stingrays)

Fresh off her VFLW debut with the Southern Saints, Radford returned to Dandenong looking more confident and happy to take the game on. As she has so often done this year, Radford was thrown about into all areas of the ground as Dandenong tried to plug the holes as they popped up. Looked good with her positioning all day, making herself a genuine option wherever she was, then using the ball well when she got it – proving well balanced between kicking and handballing. Looked most impressive in defence where she made plenty of contests to stop certain Geelong goals, and rebounded well. Radford also got herself on the scoreboard for her hard work. 

#17 Zoe Hill (Dandenong Stingrays)

Looked the most aerially dangerous in Dandenong’s defence and moved the ball out of defensive 50 with speed, looking to take the game on with her run-and-carry at times, then delivering a long kick forward into space for the forwards to run onto. Hill was defensively sound throughout, making opposition forwards work hard with their leading and work at ground level to win the ball.

#44 Jaide Anthony (Dandenong Stingrays)

Looked solid as a rock for Dandenong in defence, being one of the few defenders that were happy to push up out of the defensive 50 and impact further up the ground, which led to her taking some impressive runs on the wing and delivering inside 50 with her well weighted kicks, even getting herself on the scoreboard as a reward for effort. She used the ball well coming out of defence too, looking to spot up targets rather than bomb down the line, in an attempt to stop Geelong’s constant stream of inside 50s.

OTHERS:

Zoe Garth and Ingrid Houtsma were also good for Geelong Falcons, with Garth getting a goal playing predominantly as a high half-forward and Houtsma playing the wing role well before going off in the fourth quarter, after a rough tackle. Annie Lee looked assured in defence when it came down, often pushing out to impact play on the wing. For Dandenong, bottom-agers Felicity Crank and Olivia Robinson looked solid and worked hard all day, playing a variety of roles but still popping up everywhere. Ashleigh Richards also had some good moments playing mostly forward. 2023-draft eligible tall Bianca Lyne was the standout in the ruck all day, leading the game for hitouts and regularly jumping higher than her opponents.

TASMANIA DEVILS vs. GWV REBELS

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#11 Perri King (Tasmania Devils)

Had another strong performance throughout the four quarters by winning her fair share of the ball in-close and extracting it out of the stoppage to try and get it forward. Once again it was her tackling pressure that really shone in the match, and whilst she might have rushed some of her earlier kicks, she put in a good kick to Amy Prokopiec in the second term, and worked hard moments later to slide in and mark the ball 35 metres out straight in front. Whilst the set shot fell short, she continued to push hard throughout the game and had one of the last inside 50s of the game.

#20 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)

Rotating between forward and the wing – and even dropping back into defence to provide an aerial presence at centre half-back, Friend was one of the more prominent players in the game. A couple of times both she and Paige Scott led to the same spot which saw the ball knocked to ground, but Friend was incredibly lively up the ground, setting up Scott and her teammates inside 50 with scoring chances thanks to her booming left boot. Continually looking to thump it deep, Friend kept winning the ball through the midfield.

#30 Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)

Providing good run out of defence and positioning herself well in the back 50 to gobble up any high balls, Dojiok was a difficult player to stop in transition. Her bombing down the field was hit and miss in terms of accuracy, but her ability to just get in the right spots to intercept and then drive it forward as she has all season was uncanny. She ran all game long and became a real problem for the opposition forwards who had to try and stop her in the air to try and contain her, which they focused on doing later in the game.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#1 Brooke Barwick (Tasmania Devils)

The pocket rocket 15-year-old looked experienced beyond her years, having some eye-catching plays throughout the match. In particular, during a couple of back-to-back plays in the third term where she won the ball on the wing and drove it forward on multiple occasions. For a smaller player she has a fierce attack on the contest and is not afraid to get stuck in, making for plenty of upside in her game.

#7 Meghan Gaffney (Tasmania Devils)

Was particularly busy early, winning plenty of the ball. She provided hard running and fierce defensive pressure, taking a couple of good marks and spreading into space to move the ball in transition. She showed good strength at one stage to fend off an opponent and handball inside 50, as well as taking a good mark late in the game at the top of the forward 50. Had a fair impact on the contest as a whole.

#9 Claire Ransom (Tasmania Devils)

The classy midfielder used her clean hands through the middle and composure under pressure to be one of the best Tasmanians on the day once again. Her ability to have the footy smarts whilst being tackled on the ground in the goalsquare to firstly keep the ball in, and then give it off to the moving Prokopiec to kick a goal from point blank was terrific. Ransom herself kicked a clever early goal to get the Devils on the board, and then had a flying shot in the fourth term which just bounced into the post. As a whole her attacking plays were impactful from the get-go. She did get caught once holding the ball which is very rare, but otherwise had another impressive performance.

#16 Ella Maurer (Tasmania Devils)

Covered the ground really well, winning the ball in the midfield, attack and in defence. She showed off her deep long kick going inside 50, and then worked hard on the outside to receive the handball and keep running. In the fourth term, Maurer won a free kick at half-forward but her kick was smothered, though she kept pushing and finished the game with a well-balanced array of touches all over the field, as well as high-level defensive pressure.

#23 Charlotte Dennis (Tasmania Devils)

Played a rock solid role in defence, especially when the Rebels had the ascendancy, standing up under pressure and taking a number of strong marks, then moving the ball out of the danger zone in transition. Perhaps her best moment was a courageous grab with contact coming in the third term, backing herself to win the ball and save a potential goalscoring chance for the opposition.

#24 Amy Prokopiec (Tasmania Devils)

Was a really lively forward and could have had a huge day out, finishing with 2.3 for her troubles from eight touches. Forgetting the stats, her impact on the game was certainly high, working hard to lead to spots and then doubling back to try and worry the opposition on the last line. She kicked a goal from the square thanks to a handball from Ransom, then kicked a second with a set shot 30 metres out straight in front, a quarter later. Taking a couple of strong grabs in the second half, Prokopiec uncharacteristically missed a couple of chances, including one late in the contest, but could be proud with the work rate she produced.

#1 Lilli Condon (GWV Rebels)

Good players stand up when the game is on the line, and while Scott booted the four goals to put them in front, Condon’s last term – in particular the last 10 minutes – was absolutely outstanding. She had a flying shot on the goal herself which missed, but her ability to keep running hard throughout the entire match, including when many were tiring was unbelievable. She seemed to find space with ease and brought as much defensive pressure as she did offensive work. Showing clean hands on the inside, Condon had the ball on a string and was really influential throughout the match, but was particularly noticeable when every touch mattered late in the game.

#2 Tahlia Meier (GWV Rebels)

Stepped up with another strong performance after a good one in Round 9. The talented midfielder had a powerful kick early in the game from half-back to the wing and then pushed deeper back to smother a set shot on goal which forced a ball-in. Her intensity at the contest earned her a number of free kicks, and she teamed up well with Condon by extracting the ball from in-close to get it outside. A huge tackle on Ransom when very few can catch her was impressive, and she finished with a solid four-quarter effort with some nice plays in each term.

#5 Paige Scott (GWV Rebels)

The match-winner and like she did for Vic Country, showed just what she is capable of when on-song. Kicking the team’s four goals, Scott could have had an even bigger day out with three behinds as well. She played a lot deeper than she has in other outings, often utilised as the player to isolate one-on-one deep, and she took advantage of her strength and footy IQ to create separation from her opponent – be it one-on-one, on the lead, or getting to the right place for an uncontested grab. After three goals in the space of five minutes during the second term, she capped off her day with a fourth from 25 metres out in the third term, narrowly missing one after a tough mark shortly after.

#15 Chloe Leonard (GWV Rebels)

Consistent as they come, Leonard was again easily one of the Rebels’ best, laying some fierce tackles and just bullocking her way on the inside to win the ball and get it out to teammates. She provided good run when on the outside and covered the ground well by winning the ball in all thirds of the ground. She stood up in tackles and won free kicks for her attack on the contest, and just did what she had to do in crunch moments to be a leader amongst the group and really impact the contest.

OTHERS:

From Tasmania’s standpoint, Jemma Webster, Priscilla Odwogo, Aprille Crooks and Candice Belbin all had some impressive moments throughout the match, while Charlie Vandenberg worked well around the ground early. For the Rebels, Stella Bridgewater, Jorja Jones and Ally Trigg had some nice moments throughout the game, Kalani Scoullar took control at the ruck stoppages, and Molly Walton was reliable when needed in defence.

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