OAKLEIGH Chargers took out the 2021 NAB League premiership on Sunday, defeating the Geelong Falcons by 37 points at Avalon Airport Oval. A bunch of stars rose to the occasion in the season’s final game, making for a deep list of top performers from either side. Starting with AFLW Academy-listed prospects, we take a look at those top performers, which are the opinion of the individual author.
NAB League Girls Grand Final
Oakleigh Chargers 11.5 (71) def. Geelong Falcons 5.4 (34)
#8 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)
Freed up to play forward over the last month, Rowbottom returned another powerhouse performance with her strength both in the air and at ground level on full show. The imposing Oakleigh skipper was near-impossible to beat in one-on-one situations, rising to take solid overhead marks and bullocking her way out of would-be tackles to create space where there usually wouldn’t be any. Her intent and physicality were evident from the start and while she was caught holding the ball on a couple of occasions, Rowbottom was key in setting the tone. One of the highlights of her day in that sense was a contested mark in term two, where she leapt into the flight of a high ball with Renee Tierney coming the other way.
#7 Charlotte Taylor
Part of Oakleigh’s sturdy defence, which often flies under the radar, Taylor set her side on the right foot from the get-go. She was a reliable rebounder by foot, able to gain meterage with her run before delivering long kicks down the line. Her work at the contest to force turnovers on a high line was excellent as was her tackling intent throughout the day. Taylor also rotated onto Geelong’s most dangerous forwards at different stages of the game, highlighting her versatility and importance to the Chargers’ defensive set-up.
#10 Stella Reid
Another who has found a home up forward, Reid provided just the spark Oakleigh needed to break away and form an early lead. She was a reliable target up forward and with her combination of smarts and competitiveness, proved very difficult to beat when the ball came her way. Her two first quarter goals were crafty, latching onto the ball close to goal and finishing in quick time with aplomb to create genuine scoreboard pressure. She very nearly had a third in the same term, but hit the post, before posting that next major in term three with a snap. Her bag of three capped a run of six-consecutive games with at least one goal in style.
#14 Eliza James
Although she did not finish with the numbers of others, James was an important part of Oakleigh’s forwardline once more. She’s a powerful type who competes well aerially but also has natural ball winning nous given her time as a midfielder, making her a tough match-up. She proved as much with consistently strong presentation on the lead from half-forward, and some handy passages on the way back towards goal, which helped the Chargers link inside attacking 50. James later got a run in the midfield, having completed her initial job well.
#29 Amanda Ling
The best player afield on the day, those honours were rich reward for Ling’s remarkably consistent season among a team which boasts many stars. Her own star-factor came to the fore on Sunday, with lightning-quick and clean hands on the inside allowing Oakleigh smooth passage out of the centre. She was constantly able to release runners into space with great vision and execution, proving one of the more shrewd decision makers afield. Her zip away from congestion was also evident, as Ling burst away on numerous occasions before sending her side into attack by foot. Usually prominent on the inside, she was able to show nice outside qualities on the day, but was still the primary tone-setter from where it mattered most.
#33 Jasmine Fleming
A handy late-season addition, Fleming has not only freed up others to rotate into attack, but she has also proven an extremely damaging starting midfielder in her own right. The bottom-ager was arguably on par with Ling during the first half in terms of best afield honours, combining beautifully with her fellow midfielder to burst away from congestion and send Oakleigh forward in quick time. Her turn of speed was a real factor in opening the game up, generating valuable forward momentum and putting Geelong’s defence under immediate pressure. She capped off her day with a well-hit set shot goal in the final quarter, and truly is a classy prospect to watch for next year’s draft.
There were plenty of strong contributors for Oakleigh, who benefitted from another brilliant team spread. From the back, Alexandra McCulloch proved resolute as ever in combination with Taylor, while the wing pairing of Brooke Vickers and Charlotte Van Der Vlies got busy. Sarah Morley again got among the goals with an opportunistic haul of three, as Taylah Morton worked hard in the front half to snare one and Kalarni Kearns was combative in the ruck.
#4 Poppy Schaap
One of the Falcons’ most hard-working players, Schaap was very nearly the fire starter for Geelong in term one. She started brightly with a well finished snap to ensure Geelong could reply to Oakleigh’s scoreboard pressure, and looked dangerous inside 50 with her combination of tackling pressure and smarts on the ball. She would go on to work up the ground and even spend some time back in midfield, transferring her pressure game against classy opposition. Schaap again got on the board with another sharp finish around the corner in the third quarter, but her feats weren’t quite enough to incite a Falcons comeback.
#11 Tess Craven
Arguably Geelong’s most valuable and consistent player throughout the finals series, Craven was again more than serviceable to her side in midfield. The tough ball winner cracked in and was able to rip some quick clearances away early, before going on to impress with her work on the spread. A player who seems to read the flow of play well, Craven timed her forward runs to provide an option as Geelong broke forward, working really hard in such instances after her initial efforts at the contest. Her intent was also evident through a strong tackling game, which proved important against quite stiff opposition in the engine room. She again won plenty of the ball and capped off a brilliant season with aplomb.
#15 Gabbi Featherston
The dynamic and athletic Falcon was tried in numerous roles, as she has been for most of the season, and finished as one of her side’s most consistent performers. Starting in her usual forward post, Featherston was a solid target for Geelong when they broke forward quickly, with her agility and poise allowing for eye-catching work at the drop of what was a very hot football. She made her usual move into the ruck and displayed a springy leap, cutting the size difference and competing valiantly at the coalface. She also attended centre bounces as a midfielder, showcasing her rare versatility. Overall, Featherston was one who looked to make things happen and her technique to spin out of trouble was great to watch throughout.
#26 Ingrid Houtsma
Geelong’s big inclusion for the day, Houtsma took up her spot on the wing and was a reliable contributor for her side. She was particularly prominent in the early stages, tackling well to win back possession and accumulating on the outer as she sought to send the Falcons forward. Houtsma was usually clean and quite apt in terms of her disposal, which helped in such a high-pressure kind of contest.
#37 Annie Lee
Easily among Geelong’s best players, Lee made the best of a tough role in defence and proved a real leader back there. Her ability to read the play and back herself in to intercept was important as Oakleigh looked to get well on top, while her tackling efforts matched the high-stakes intensity of the occasion. She took the kick-ins and was largely Geelong’s designated distributor for the day, though Oakleigh was eventually able to catch on to her repeat long kicks out to half-back. In terms of competitiveness and the ability to lift on the big stage, Lee did just that and would have really pleased her coaches in that sense. Reliable.
Chasing her second NAB League premiership, Renee Tierney came into the game late for Geelong, while Charlotte Simpson was lively early with her effort at the contest and tackling pressure. Liz Dowling was down on her usual numbers in defence, but also showed good intent back there, as Zoe Garth popped up in patches further afield.