WELCOMING Queensland into the 2021 AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships, the country’s most northern competitor on the eastern seaboard took on the undefeated Vic Country at Port Melbourne on the weekend. Whilst Country came away with the big nine-goal win, we took a look at number of the performers who impressed on the day.
#1 Tahlia Meier (GWV Rebels)
A standout small forwards performance on a big stage, Meier’s sense in the forward line with her crumbing and kicking for goal got her three majors for the day, proving that she can be opportunistic, but also win her own ball around packs, following up with her high class speed and agility to get into a goal kicking position. Read the ball well as it came inside 50, able to hit the front and centre of packs often, but time the run so she could get the ball if it spilled over the back easily. Pushed up into the midfield in the later stages of the game where that same speed and agility was a real weapon in getting the ball moving forward.
#2 Aurora Smith (Murray Bushrangers)
Traditionally one that plays on the wing and waits patiently for the ball to come out to her, Smith showed that, if required, she may well have a future on the inside as well, with her willingness to put her head over the footy and not move even with incoming front on pressure, being a big part of Country’s ability to force turnovers as she hunted every loose ball that came outside the Country forward 50. She also found ways to impact around stoppages, timing her runs well to be a go to handball option, where she’d follow up with some really well placed and weighted kicks to get Country into space. Her ball use going inside 50 was pivotal at times, almost forcing her teammates to lead to the right spots with her kicks.
#7 Octavia Di Donato (Bendigo Pioneers)
Having already proved her versatility in the NAB League campaign and previous VIC Country outings, Di Donato once again showed she’s able to have a big impact regardless of where her magnet is. Starting the game in the midfield where she looked to position and move well, especially around stoppages, Di Donato was one that provided as an option almost every time, encouraging teammates to use her as a switch option or a shorter kick inboard. When she went for her stints up forward it did not seem to impact how far she got up the ground, still applying pressure and winning plenty of ball in the midfield, but also working hard when the ball moved forward to get to the front of contests and be a handball option. This hard work and positional nous resulted in two goals for the bottom-aged prospect.
#9 Paige Scott (GWV Rebels)
Coming in to the game as the leading goal kicker for Country, Scott found herself drawing a fair bit of attention from the Queensland defense, always having an opponent by her side regardless of where the ball was. This forced the bottom-ager to change up her style a little bit, as she looked to push up the ground more than usual and impact around the wings, presenting as a leading option when the ball was on the defensive 50 arc and creating contests to stop Queensland getting easy repeat entries. Still managed to impact inside 50 with two goals, one of which was a real show of power, as she equalised a two on one contest, holding her feet and out running two opponents, taking a bounce along the way, and kicking it straight through.
#14 Jaide Anthony (Dandenong Stingrays)
The Vic Country MVP, Anthony was one of the standout performers for the game with her defensive principles, especially positioning, playing a big part in the big margin, as she got front position in every contest to consistently intercept balls that were rushed forward, willing to push up the ground to win those intercepts high up on the wing and keep the pressure on the Queensland defense. Able to win one-on-ones consistently, even the marking contests, it became evident that Queensland eventually looked to avoid the side of the ground she was on when in transition, pushing Anthony deeper down back to make some goal stopping plays in the final quarter.
#15 Chloe Leonard (GWV Rebels)
Whilst not an overly flashy player, the reliability of Leonard as a running defender, with her attack on the footy and kicking, played a big part in how Country looked to move the ball out of the backline, with Leonard getting involved with her pressure work and positioning, to get the ball going for Country. Not just relying on her kicking for the game, Leonard had multiple occasions where she won a loose ball and assessed the options all around her, finding a handball laterally or backwards to a loose teammate who’d be able to run and kick the ball further than Leonard would have been able to herself.
#16 Keeley Skepper (Murray Bushrangers)
Skepper looked good throughout the contest when she was running into packs, winning the ball and then running free, with her speed being one of her bigger weapons of the game, she’d get enough separation on her opponent to win the ball relatively uncontested when it spilled out to her, and follow up with her long kicking forward. What impressed most was the penetration and speed of which she delivered most of her kicks, with one particular play in the third quarter seeing her get onto the end of some transitional work by Country, run it up the wing and deliver the perfect kick up forward to a leading target
#20 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)
Friend has been thrown about into almost every position this year across the NAB League and National Champs, but may have just put the debate of where she plays best to bed with a stellar performance as a defender. Her marking has always been a strength but looked flawless against Queensland, able to position herself well to take a couple of uncontested marks, but also holding onto some contested grabs well, despite being caught behind on occasion. Used the ball well when she got it, often looking to switch it from the backline, or look direct for a leading target when in the forward half. Looked to assist teammates to create an outnumber in contests, or come in as an easy release handball option.
#28 Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers)
Arguably her best performance in the Country guernsey, Slender got involved early with her hunt for the footy in the front half impressive, jumping on any opponent with the ball in her area, even winning a free early for holding the ball, and following up with a well placed kick inside 50. That ball use and pressure work, especially second and third efforts, continued to be a highlight for the game, looking a consistent threat in the forward half, and whilst she didn’t get on the scoreboard she was able to set up a couple with that previously mentioned ball use at a high level even under pressure. It was also good to see that she was taking some contested grabs in the forward half.
#2 Abby Hewett (Wilston Grange)
A hard at it and uncompromising midfielder, Hewett’s relentless attack and hunt of the ball, and ball carrier, caused some turnovers that had the potential to be really damaging had it not been for the work of the Country defense. Whilst not a massive clearance winner herself, she negates her opponents impact by getting the front position, allowing her to pounce on any opponent that may win the ball. She also displayed some good bursts of speed, running down a couple of opponents in open play, and occasionally backing that speed to go on runs herself.
#3 Mikayla Pauga (Bond University)
Playing as a more defensive midfielder for majority of the contest, Pauga was another Queensland midfielder that made getting clean possession out of stoppages difficult for Country, able to read where the play was most likely to go and position herself to be in the way of the opponents running to get there. She did take the opportunity to win the ball herself though, often being the midfielder to collect it when Country won the hitout.
#4 Charlotte Mullins (Aspley)
The bottom-ager was a standout performer in the forward half for Queensland, despite not getting on the scoreboard it was often due to her hard work that Queensland looked like scoring multiple times against the grain of play. She pushed up the ground with confidence, impacting with her tackling to win free kicks on the half back line, then use the ball well to hit leading targets coming at her, or put it to the advantage of teammates when they were outnumbered. She also led well and hard herself, taking a few good marks without breaking stride.
#6 Bella Smith (Maroochydore)
Appeared to be one of the smarter users of the footy through the game, with her willingness to move the ball by hand and look for wider options opening the game up for Queensland really well, especially in the first half. When not using it by hand, Smith was proactive in looking to get the ball moving with switch kicks, putting the ball in front of teammates to run onto if they weren’t in an optimal position for the kick. She also held her own in contested situations really well, keeping her feet even in an outnumbered situation to keep battling for the ball and making it difficult for country to move out.
#7 Teagan Levi (Bond University)
Giving Gold Coast fans something to smile about after a tough AFLW season, Levi was convincingly one of the top few most impressive girls on ground, and showed she is close to a complete package in terms of a draft prospect. Lining up in the midfield all game, Levi was a presence around stoppages with her speed, agility and ability to find the ball all combining to see her win plenty of it, where she’d follow up with her pinpoint handballs or penetrative kicks forward to find options up to 50 meters away. She got to the right spots around the ground, able to be at multiple contests in a row to win the ball and hand it off to a teammate. A real showcase of her speed came in the third quarter, where she ran from centre wing to the defensive 50 arc to tackle Country’s Paige Scott for a holding the ball free kick.
#10 Alana Gee (Mackay Saints)
One of the cleaner players on field, the bottom-ager Gee showed qualities awfully similar to her last names sake, Carlton’s Georgia Gee, with exceptional ball use, movement through traffic, speed and game sense all strengths she showed consistently throughout the contest. It was also impressive to see Gee’s workrate around the ground, whilst not one to go in and get the footy, she’d still push down to the backline to be a switch option down deep, or a back handball release option, then use her kicking and speed to get the ball out, often switching it to the other side of the ground. She showed that speed off a few times, with a piece of play in the early stages of the game seeing her taking on an opponent, taking two bounces and kicking inside 50. One of the rarer traits in football and one Gee possess, she looked comfortable kicking with either foot through the game, reliably getting the ball where it needed to be.
#15 Maggie Harmer (Maroochydore)
The Lions Academy member worked into the game as it went on, winning most of her disposals in the second half. Despite what might be considered a slower start, she still provided plenty of security in the defensive 50, laying a couple of goal stopping tackles to keep the contest tight early on. The second half saw her become more prolific with winning the ball, taking some intercept marks higher up the ground and using the footy well to give Queensland dangerous inside 50 entries. When she won the ball down deep she still used it well, often looking to switch it across the ground to utilise the space.
#24 Lucia Liessi (Aspley)
Whilst not being a flashy player, Liessi was a valuable member of the Queensland defense, with her importance growing each quarter, being one of the few that did not tire or get worried with the pressure. Her workrate and tackling pressure was immense, forcing sprayed shots and turnovers from the Country forwards with her ability to close down space and carrel them into tight spots.