Tag: aasta o’connor

AFL Women’s Saturday wrap: Roos book finals spot with clutch win over Dockers

NORTH Melbourne has produced a clutch performance to come from behind and defeat Fremantle at Arden Street and secure a 2021 AFL Women’s finals spot. The Roos trailed by five points at the final break, but kicked the only goal of the last quarter to grind out a win, 4.6 (30) to 4.5 (29) over the finals-bound Dockers. The win meant North Melbourne held off seventh placed Carlton to secure the post-season series wrap, and confirm the finalists for this year.

Back at their spiritual home, North Melbourne took just 57 seconds to kick the first goal of the game off the boot of Sophie Abbatangelo and race off to a six-point lead. Despite the early goal, it was a tight armwrestle for the first term, with just an Emma O’Driscoll behind added to the scoreboard, and the final 15 minutes seeing neither team add to their total. North Melbourne led by five points at the first break, and much like the first term, were out to a flyer in the second. This time it took less than 90 seconds to convert their second goal, this time through Daria Bannister off a perfectly timed crumb, and the lead was out to two straight kicks. In eerily similar circumstances, the Dockers again hit back with a score at the three-minute mark, but this time it was through the big sticks off Gemma Houghton running into goal.

Beth Lynch missed a chance 90 seconds later to respond, and it was Gabby O’Sullivan who capitalised via a free kick for push in the back midway through the term to cut the half-time deficit to just one point. It was neck-and-neck at the main break as neither side could really break away. The key for the Dockers was not allowing North Melbourne another early goal in the third term, and trying to grab the momentum themselves. But alas for the visitors, Jasmine Garner was the first one to create a major, in the first four minutes, and the gap widened to eight as the Roos were edging closer to a finals berth.

Fremantle refused to give in though, and created their own chances in the third quarter with Kiara Bowers being her usual self after being allowed to play in the crucial contest, kicking a goal midway through the quarter. That major cut the deficit to just two points, and when Kara Antonio goaled in the dying minutes of the quarter, Fremantle was out to a five-point lead. The Dockers held that advantage heading into three quarter time, and the onus was on the home side to return fire if the Roos wanted to play finals in 2021.

A Roxy Roux behind in the opening minute was a chance gone begging after a massive contested mark for the Dockers as they came out firing, and the lead was a team-high six points. Three consecutive behinds over the next eight minutes had plenty of nervous moments for the home fans, as North Melbourne slowly clawed its way back into the contest. Daisy Bateman became the hero with a goal in the tenth minute of the term, with her major putting her side three points up after being knocked over going for the mark. It would not be completely done and dusted just yet, as Fremantle would throw everything at the Roos in the last eight minutes to try and win the game. Ironically it would be Bateman again up the opposite end who would again play the role of hero, almost handing the ball across the line in the dying moments, waiting to be tackled for pressure, and it was enough to secure the one-point win.

Ash Riddell was unbelievable in the win, racking up 33 disposals, three tackles and seven inside 50s to lead all-comers, while Garner (24 disposals, six marks, three tackles, three inside 50s, two rebound 50s and a goal) and Emma Kearney (24 disposals, two tackles and six inside 50s) were also prolific. Bateman’s clutch efforts late were important in getting her side over the line, while Bannister (11 disposals, two marks, two tackles and a goal) and Emma King (eight disposals, three marks, two tackles and 23 hitouts) were also among the best on the day.

For the Dockers, Bowers was relentless throughout, picking up 19 disposals, two marks, two inside 50s, five rebound 50s and laying seven tackles. Stephanie Cain (14 disposals, six marks, three tackles, four inside 50s and three rebound 50s) and Tiah Haynes (14 disposals, three marks and four tackles) were also impressive, while the experience of O’Sullivan (nine disposals, four marks and a goal) and Kara Antonio (nine disposals, two marks, four tackles and a goal) was vital.

North Melbourne’s win means the Roos will finish sixth, but their opponent is yet to be determined. Collingwood plays Adelaide today, and if the Pies get up, the Roos will remain in Melbourne to face the Demons, whilst if Adelaide get up, the margin will depend on whether or not they head to South Australia, Queensland, or remain in Victoria to face the Magpies in the first week of finals. For the Dockers, they are in a similar boat, with fifth place secured, and as of now will head to South Australia if the Crows lose to the Magpies, but could face the Demons in Melbourne if Adelaide wins against Collingwood.

NORTH MELBOURNE 1.0 | 2.2 | 3.3 | 4.6 (30)
FREMANTLE 0.1 | 2.1 | 4.2 | 4.5 (29)

GOALS:

North Melbourne: S. Abbatangelo, D. Bannister, J. Garner, D. Bateman.
Fremantle: G. O’Sullivan, G. Houghton, K. Bowers, K. Antonio.

DC BEST:

North Melbourne: A. Riddell, J. Garner, E. Kearney, D. Bateman, E. King
Fremantle: K. Bowers, S. Cain, T. Haynes, G. O’Sullivan, E. Antonio

 

Picture credit: Robert Cianflone / AFL Photos

 

Image credit: Getty Images

DEMONS CLINCH HOME FINAL FROM LIONS’ CLUTCHES

IT was a two-point ball-game that decided the AFL Women’s top five on Saturday afternoon, as Melbourne pipped Brisbane Lions at the post in a huge battle for a home final next week. Whilst the Lions commanded possession and retained control for much of the middle two thirds, the final quarter was all Demons as the red and blue ran home in front of a home crowd, 6.2 (38) to 6.0 (36).

The win was soured by an early injury though, as Dees superstar Daisy Pearce went down with what appeared to be a knee injury within the opening minutes, which saw the side sent into a flurry rotating the roles to suit the loss. Eden Zanker was pushed up through the midfield and had an immediate impact, piling on 12 touches in the first quarter alone as the Lions stayed in touch by a lone goal to be a minor down at the first break. But the second was where the game broke open, with both sides finding the scoreboard with ease and a tantalising contest became apparent. Dakota Davidson was the first to put a goal on the board in the second term before a huge running goal from Courtney Hodder proved the Lions would not back down on the Dees home turf. The Demons bit back with two of their own as Karen Paxman and Shelley Scott pounced on the ground ball, while a second within the term to Davidson proved the two sides had a game on their hands. A goal to Taylor Smith right on the halftime siren saw the Lions head into the second half with a marginal 11-point lead, with players across the field playing their roles and doing it well to create a phenomenal matchup.

The second half began with another tight quarter, as the two sides remained accurate in front of the big sticks with limited opportunity credit to tight defence. Veteran Lauren Arnell got in on the action and piled on another major to extend the lead, before a third Scott goal showed the Dees would not relent, especially with finals on the line. The match really came to blows in the final term though as the red and blue overcame the 11-point margin and turned it into a two-point win, with two straight goals to young guns Alyssa Bannan and Tyla Hanks, popping up at the right time to force the Lions onto the back foot as the physical matchup went to the dying moments, with Greta Bodey afforded a shot on goal after the siren but falling agonisingly short.

The tight matchup was set up by the likes of Zanker and Cathy Svarc, with the opposing duo both relentless in their own way – Zanker with her game-high 25 touches and Svarc with her whopping 21 tackles. Hodder (eight tackles, 10 touches, one goal), Sophie Conway (10 touches, seven tackles) and Ally Anderson (22 touches, six tackles) also provided plenty of hunt for the Lions, as Lily Mithen (23 touches, five marks), Paxman and Kate Hore (both 18 touches) and Lauren Pearce and Maddi Gay (both 17) were well and truly in the match. Hodder and Eliza McNamara were both lively for their respective sides as Scott’s three goals and Davidson’s two paved the way in the huge matchup.

Next week’s finals encounters will be decided by tomorrow’s Round 9 results, with both sides awaiting confirmation given their guaranteed finals entry, although the Dees will be waiting for news on Pearce’s injury.

MELBOURNE 1.1 3.1 4.1 6.2 (38)
BRISBANE 1.0 5.0 6.0 6.0 (36)

GOALS
Melbourne: S. Scott 3, K. Paxman, A. Bannan, T Hanks.
Brisbane: D. Davidson 2, J. Wardlaw, C. Hodder, T. Smith, L. Arnell.

BEST
Melbourne: E. Zanker, S. Scott, L. Mithen, K. Paxman, L. Pearce, K. Hore
Brisbane: C. Svarc, T. Hickie, A. Anderson, O. O’Dwyer, S. Conway, N. Grider

 

Image Credit: Matt Roberts/AFL Photos

GEELONG GETS UP IN BATTLES OF THE WINLESS

GEELONG claimed its first points of season 2021 at the final time of asking, holding off Gold Coast to win by 17 points at Metricon Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The result sees Gold Coast finish the season as wooden spooners, becoming just the second side in AFLW history to go winless through a full campaign. The Cats’ three-goal burst in the first quarter set up their salute, as they held strong thereafter to come away 6.5 (41) to 3.6 (24) victors.

The Cats had many reasons to celebrate on the day; with young ruck Rene Caris booting her first senior goal during the opening term, women’s footballing stalwart Aasta O’Connor sent off to retirement in style, and Rebecca Webster‘s goal on the final siren proving the cherry on top of a memorable day for travelling side. On the other hand, Gold Coast could not scrounge a saving grace in what was a season which earned them a series of unwanted records.

First year midfielder Laura Gardiner finished as the winners’ highest ball winner on 18 disposals, one ahead of Amy McDonald who was one of her side’s revelations during 2021. Veteran forward Richelle Cranston was the game’s sole multiple goalkicker with two, while Webster and Olivia Barber were others to prove impactful while hitting the scoreboard.

For Gold Coast, Alison Drennan capped off a terrific individual campaign to lead all comers with 23 touches, as the reliable Lauren Ahrens also fared well for the second year side. Kalinda Howarth tripled her season goal tally in one go with a couple of majors, arcing back to her roots having become an All Australian forward last year.

The 2021 season ends there for both clubs, with just one win between them and plenty to work on heading into the next campaign. With a bunch of exciting youth scattered across either squad, the green shoots have shown and should give these sets of fans plenty more to cheer about going forward.

GOLD COAST 0.1 | 1.3 | 3.3 | 3.6 (24) 
GEELONG 3.2 | 3.3 | 5.3 | 6.5 (41)

GOALS:

Gold Coast: K. Howarth 2, S. Virgo.
Geelong: R. Cranston 2, O. Barber, R. Caris, P. McWilliams, R. Webster.

DC BEST:

Gold Coast: A. Drennan, K. Howarth, L. Ahrens, M. Levi
Geelong: A. McDonald, L. Gardiner, R. Cranston, R. Webster

Hungry Dogs win the battle against fiery Cats

THE Western Bulldogs executed their first back-to-back win since 2019 in their AFL Women’s Round 3 encounter against Geelong, winning by 18 points in a tough slog until the bitter end. Whilst the Dogs put the first major on the board during the first, it took the side until the final quarter to really pile on the offensive pressure, eventually running out deserving 3.6 (24) to 1.3 (9) victors. 

The only Victorian-based match with a crowd for Round 3 was always set to be an interesting one, with two sides really looking to prove themselves and make the most of onlookers at the venue. The Cats had plenty of support behind them at home at Kardinia Park, but it was the likes of Ellie Blackburn and opening goal kicker Izzy Huntington who seemed to be the backbone of the Dogs side, especially early on as the former led all comers with both possessions and vision to set up a vital scoring opportunity.

Forced to taking a defensive approach during the first half, the Cats laboured away with Olivia Purcell working hard on and off the ball, aided by Amy McDonald who did not shy away from the contest, utilising her speed and evasiveness to collect a couple of excellent run-down tackles. Phoebe McWilliams also saw plenty of action, booting the Cats’ lone goal in the third quarter credit to an excellent forward press from the Geelong squad, battering the 50 and relentless on their pursuit. Bulldogs’ Ashleigh Guest was never far away from the contest, dealt a blow to the ribs from Steph Williams during the second before coming off in the last quarter with a nasty looking head knock, while all bar three players across both teams picked up at least one tackle, showcasing just how much physicality was felt across the ground.

The final quarter fate was sealed by a huge goal from Bulldogs young gun Jess Fitzgerald, with the former Northern Knights talent taking the footy for a run through the centre of the field, eventually finding the 50-metre line and booting a long goal for what is sure to be a goal of the year contender, extending the lead to the eventual 15-point winning margin. While the hardened Cats – led off the half-back by the combination of Amy McDonald, Aasta O’Connor and Meg McDonald – well and truly showed up in the third, getting within one point of the Dogs as the three quarter time siren sounded, it was not enough to reign supreme as the travellers proved no longer weary, piling on 2.3 in the final quarter to run away with the victory.

A tackle-happy Bulldogs trio of Blackburn, Kirsty Lamb and Gabby Newton landed a combined 26 tackles, and factoring in Blackburn’s 25 touches and Lamb’s 20, the Bulldogs realistically could not be stopped in or around the footy. For the Cats, their third quarter was highly successful not just because of their excellent pressure forcing the Bulldogs back, but also their ability to maintain possession of the footy under pressure. But it was a lack of access to viable ball inside 50, that was the real kicker, with the side only managing the one mark inside 50 compared to Footscray’s nine, with the sides measuring up virtually the same across all other major statistics. As for players, Amy McDonald (20 disposals, nine tackles, six marks) and Purcell (19 and five) were the go-to girls, while Bulldogs father-daughter selection Isabella Grant finally made her way out onto the park, putting the icing on the cake in her dad Chris‘ old number on debut.

GEELONG CATS | 0.0 | 0.1 | 1.2 | 1.3 (9)
WESTERN BULLDOGS | 1.1 | 1.3 | 1.3 | 3.6 (24)

GOALS:

Geelong: P. McWilliams.
Western Bulldogs: 
I. Huntington, K. McLeod, J. Fitzgerald.

DC BEST:

Geelong: A. Mcdonald, O. Purcell, P. McWilliams, A. O’Connor, M. McDonald
Western Bulldogs: 
E. Blackburn, K. Lamb, I. Huntington, G. Newton, B. Lochland

Image Credit: AFL Photos

AFL Women’s Sunday wrap: Roos romp to record-breaking opening round victory

NORTH Melbourne sent an early statement to the rest of the competition on Sunday, romping to a mammoth 62-point win over Geelong at Kardinia Park. The Roos took little time to establish their dominance as tall forward Emma King booted three majors in the opening term, setting a strong platform for the 11.5 (71) to 1.3 (9) victory. The result made for North’s largest-ever winning margin, and sets a new record for the highest Round 1 percentage in AFL/AFLW history.

The hardened Kangaroos outfit proved too big and strong both around the ball and up forward for a youthful Geelong side, seeing them accelerate in each term and form a formidable lead. Having been held scoreless for the first three terms, the Cats got on the board early in the final quarter before veteran ruck Aasta O’Connor booted her side’s lone major of the game in the dying minutes.

Along with King, second year forward/midfielder Ellie Gavalas chimed in with three majors of her own, while league best and fairest chance Jasmine Garner snared two to go with 18 disposals. Isabella Eddey had a debut to remember as she also found the big sticks, manufactured by some fearsome work from Daria Bannister as the play unfolded. Emma Kearney (22 disposals), Ash Riddell (20), and Jenna Bruton (19) were typically productive around the ball and far too polished on the attack for Geelong’s lineup to maintain.

Superfluous to say, most of Geelong’s biggest contributors were stationed in defence, with youngster Amy McDonald starting her season on the right foot with an 18-disposal effort. The 23-year-old was a cool head in Geelong’s defensive crisis, but could only do so much on the counter as the ball consistently found its way back. Skipper Meghan McDonald had a tough job on her hands among the undersized and under-siege backline but fared well, while star midfielder Olivia Purcell picked up from where she left off with 17 touches and seven tackles.

The Cats face another tough ask in travelling to face Brisbane next Sunday afternoon, as North Melbourne returns to home base to take on fellow Round 1 winner, St Kilda earlier on the same day. While one side looks every bit the premiership contender, the other will be licking its wounds after a harsh opening to season 2021.

FINAL SCORE:

GEELONG 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 1.3 (9)
NORTH MELBOURNE 3.0 | 5.2 | 8.4 | 11.5 (71)

GOALS:

Geelong: A. O’Connor
North Melbourne: E. King 3, E. Gavalas 3, J. Garner 2, I. Eddey, S. Abbatangelo, K. Ashmore

DC BEST:

Geelong: A. McDonald, O. Purcell, M. McDonald
North Melbourne: E. King, J. Garner, E. Kearney, E. Gavalas, J. Bruton, A. Riddell

Image Credit: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images via AFL Photos

Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

ROARING SECOND HALF SEES LIONS TOPPLE THE TIGERS

Brisbane opened its account for season 2021 at the first time of asking, shaking off Richmond after half time to secure a 29-point win on the road. In the first ever AFL Women’s fixture held at Punt Road Oval, the Tigers’ homecoming was spoiled by Brisbane’s three-goal to nil second half which set up the 5.11 (41) to 1.6 (12) final scoreline.

As expected on the back of its concession-aided recruitment drive, Richmond made noticeable improvements after a winless maiden campaign and was only a goal adrift at the main break. It came after Brisbane utilised the scoring end well in the opening term, gaining good early momentum through its control of the engine room and typically sturdy defensive structure in the face of Richmond’s quick ball movement.

While it was hardly a case of the floodgates being forced open, Brisbane prettied up the scoreboard nicely with a closing effort beyond the years of its young squad, all while keeping the Tigers goalless after half time. Courtney Wakefield‘s second term major from the goalsquare proved her side’s lone goal for the game, as skipper Katie Brennan could only manage a hat-trick of behinds.

Gun Richmond midfielder Monique Conti was contained well by Cathy Svarc, who collected nine of her 10 touches in the opening half, while Gabrielle Seymour led the Tigers’ count with 16 disposals. Under-the-radar recruit Harriet Cordner was also terrific down back in the losing effort, while number one draft pick Ellie McKenzie showed promise on the outer in her AFLW debut.

For the Lions, 19-year-old Isabel Dawes looks a big improver having notched a career-high 21 disposals, leading all comers for the day. Nat Grider is another in that boat as she gathered 16 touches from defence, while Emily Bates and Sophie Conway were not far behind from midfield. Greta Bodey was the game’s only multiple goalkicker with two, as speedy debutant Courtney Hodder managed 1.2.

The Lions will be looking to form an early winning streak as they carry their momentum back home ahead of hosting Geelong at Hickey Park, while Richmond is set to take on Melbourne at Casey Fields in what looks like a tough assignment – if Round 1 results are anything to go by, at least.

FINAL SCORE:

RICHMOND 0.2 | 1.4 | 1.6 | 1.6 (12)
BRISBANE 2.3 | 2.4 | 4.8 | 5.11 (41)

GOALS:

Richmond: C. Wakefield
Brisbane: G. Bodey 2, C. Hodder, T. Hickie, D. Davidson

DC BEST:

Richmond: H. Cordner, G. Seymour, E. McKenzie
Brisbane: I. Dawes, N. Grider, E. Bates, S. Conway, C. Svarc

Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images via AFL Photos

DOCKERS DEMOLISH GIANTS IN SPARKLING SECOND HALF

Fremantle’s undefeated streak and dominant home record extended into 2021, as the Dockers accounted for a spirited GWS side by 30 points at Fremantle Oval on Sunday. It was a game of great emotion, most significantly for those in charcoal and orange as they commemorated inaugural Giant, Jacinda Barclay, who passed away in October last year.

The travelling team was largely competitive in the early stages, trailing by just five points at each of the first two breaks. But Fremantle’s smothering tackling pressure, dynamism and searing run forward of centre proved too much to handle after half time, with the 8.10 (58) to 4.4 (28) result coming thanks to the Dockers’ five-goal to three second half.

The forward wombo combo of tall Gemma Houghton and small Sabreena Duffy again worked wonders for Freo, with the pair both snaring three goals in scintillating displays. Houghton came to life after the main break to find all of her three goals as the game opened up, with her dual threat of pace and aerial presence a true handful. Duffy was also menacing inside 50, displaying her rare goal sense.

Ever-consistent midfielder Kiara Bowers will again be a key feature through midfield as she amassed a team-high 21 touches, partnered well by Jasmin Stewart on the inside while skipper Kara Antonio bossed the outer. Alyce Parker returned a stellar display for the Giants with 28 touches, a game-high tally matched by teammate Rebecca Beeson.

GWS is booked to face West Coast at Norwood Oval next having escaped Western Australia in time before the state’s proposed lockdown period, while Fremantle has fellow opening round victor, Adelaide next on the agenda at the same venue.

FINAL SCORE:

FREMANTLE 1.2 | 2.3 | 5.8 | 8.10 (58)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 0.3 | 1.4 | 2.4 | 4.4 (28)

GOALS:

Fremantle: G. Houghton 3, S. Duffy 3, K. Antonio, M. Hyde
GWS: A. Schmidt, R. Beeson, T. Davies, E. Bennetts

DC BEST:

Fremantle: G. Houghton, K. Bowers, S. Duffy, J. Stewart, K. Antonio
GWS: A. Parker, R. Beeson, E. Bennetts, A. Eva

2021 AFLW Preview: Geelong Cats

GEELONG comes into the 2021 off a disappointing campaign which yielded two wins, both of which came against expansion sides. Under coach Paul Hood, the Cats will be itching for a return to finals and have a wealth of young talent raring to make splash on the competition. While inaugural skipper Melissa Hickey has called time on her career, the Victorian side is in good stead to improve on last season’s effort.

2020 RECAP

The Cats finished fifth at 2-4 among the weaker Conference A, meaning they missed out on backing up a surprise finals appearance in their inaugural season by half a game. After going down in their first three outings, they got on the board in a high-scoring encounter with Richmond and backed it up with another win against Gold Coast. The sting of good form came to an abrupt halt at the hands of North Melbourne thought, seeing Geelong’s season ending on the sour note of a 44-point drubbing.

Green shoots appeared in the form of best and fairest winner Olivia Purcell, with the 20-year-old midfielder establishing herself as one of the premier ball winners in the competition. She was the only Cat named in the final All Australian team. Rebecca Webster was a big improver and 2021 skipper Meghan McDonald showed her class upon an early injury return, while Nina Morrison gave a glimpse into her talents before another heartbreaking ACL tear in the closing stages of the season.

NEW FACES

Geelong was again able to extract great value from the draft with a terrific haul headlined by outstanding local talent. Darcy Moloney was the Cats’ first choice at pick 10 and was followed by fellow Geelong Falcons product Laura Gardiner at number 20. Both showed terrific appetites for finding the ball as juniors and promise to add great balance to Geelong’s emerging midfield, while also taking a load off Purcell at the coalface.

Dynamic tall Olivia Barber was another high-value country selection, with the Murray Bushrangers graduate nothing short of a steal at pick 21. Able to rotate through the ruck from her usual key forward post, Barber is an athletic type who can not only take over in the air, but has clean hands and skills at ground level. Electric forward Stephanie Williams hails from the Northern Territory but was somewhat another local pick having attended Geelong College, while former Falcon Carly Remmos also joined through the draft, coming from an elite basketball background.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

While a second ACL tear sustained late in the 2020 season will again hamper her campaign, Nina Morrison remains the one to watch for Geelong. Fans were able to catch a good glimpse of her last year and she looms as a crucial midseason inclusion this time around. The Cats are taking somewhat of a cautious approach with their young star and have ruled out a Round 1 appearance despite her strong progress, so expect the 20-year-old to come in raring to go. Having mostly been employed on the outside, Morrison has the flexibility to remain there or provide some spark at the centre bounces, with plenty of stock in support to help make her return as smooth as possible.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

Youthful exuberance. The Cats have some of the best young talent going around and have only added to it at this year’s draft. The likes of Moloney and Gardiner should be knocking on the door early and will take a good amount of heat off Purcell through the middle, while Barber is another who can impact early and provide a focal point.

Millie Brown settled into the defence well in 2020 and Webster came on leaps and bounds, with the best yet to come from Morrison and the returning Denby Taylor. That’s not to mention Sophie Van De Heuval, who is primed to have a big impact in her third season. There’s young talent around the ground, all of which are game winners capable of taking Geelong all the way.

QUESTION MARK

With so much youth at their disposal and their inaugural captain now retired, are the Cats too inexperienced to make a real finals impact? Purcell is already arguably their best player at just 20-years-old, while much is also expected from the returning Morrison and Taylor. Improvement is another expectation, with hopes high on Van De Heuval and Rene Caris one who should be looking to soon take over the primary ruck post. Geelong has some established leaders in new skipper, McDonald, Aasta O’Connor, and Renee Garing, all of which will have plenty on their plate in aiding the on-field development of these young stars.

FINAL WORD

Many fans will be high on Geelong given just how well the Cats have drafted each year, with the pieces of the puzzle seeming to come together nicely heading into 2021. Their young guns have some good experience under their belt and while it may not quite be enough yet, expect the hoops to push for finals this season and better challenge some of the top sides.

Image Credit: Geelong Cats

2021 AFLW 10 under 10 to watch: #6 Rene Caris

IN a unique series for the lead-up to the 2021 AFL Women’s season, Draft Central will look at 10 players who have played under 10 games to watch this year. Whilst it would be easy to pick those who finished high in last year’s Rising Star, or top picks this year, we have opted to look at players who have been around at least two seasons but have only managed to play nine games or less. We continue the countdown at number six with Geelong’s Rene Caris.

The Cats’ ruck has played four games in two seasons, being a member of the foundation squad in 2019, having been picked up with selection 35 in the 2018 AFL Women’s National Draft. The 184cm tall – who has now been joined at the elite level by her sister Maggie – made her debut in Round 5 of the 2019 season and played one additional game in that year, before doubling her career games tally with another two games in 2020.

Playing alongside experienced ruck Aasta O’Connor – who oversaw Caris’ development through the AFL Women’s Academy – the former Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels’ talent is expected to make great strides in 2021 and spend more minutes through the ruck, and gradually transition into the role full-time over the coming seasons as the 33-year-old O’Connor rounds out a decorated career.

Whilst Caris is far from alone in terms of talent that has played under 10 games for the Cats, the ruck has an obvious opportunity and role that could be filled, learning from the best when it comes to youth development. O’Connor has overseen plenty of star youngsters coming through the pathway, and to get additional one-on-one coaching at the elite level will only make the 21-year-old all the more ready to have a long-term impact on the game.

Whilst Caris will turn 22 during the season – having been 19 when she was selected in 2018 – rucks always take longer to develop when taking on bigger bodies. As has been the case in her family with sister Maggie, Caris is equally talented at netball, but is firmly focused on the oblong ball game.

Despite only playing the two games last season, Caris averaged 11.5 hitouts to go with 2.5 rebounds and 5.0 disposals, showing an innate ability to run both ways and get back into defence to help out. Half of her disposals were rebounds, and with two-way running such an important trait for rucks, Caris has plenty of potential to go a long way. When she can begin hitting the scoreboard regularly playing a permanent role in the side, she will be a dual threat.

Picture credit: Geelong FC

Pritchard takes opportunity into footy

IT was not so much a choice one way or another, but passionate sportsperson Isabelle Pritchard said the decision to pick up a footy and take a chance in the sport was more about opportunity than anything else. Trying her hand at just about anything growing up, and predominantly a netballer, the now Western Jets star has made the most of that opportunity that presented itself a few years ago.

“I had a go at pretty much everything to be honest,” Pritchard said. “Netball was probably my main sport. “I didn’t start that until I was about eight so I was quite young, I played that majority of my childhood, but I had a go at everything else. “I played some basketball, played indoor soccer, I did quite a bit of swimming, etc. and water polo. “I played some cricket, really everything, but netball was like the main thing for me.”

“I think for me it was sort of just, it wasn’t so much a decision it was sort of just the opportunity presented itself in football and I took it, I wasn’t so much weighing up the options of the netball path or football path. It was here’s the path for football, I love football, let’s play football.”

Pritchard said she would consider going back to netball later in life as she loved the sport, but knows the growth in women’s football has been too big to ignore and something she really loved to be a part of.

“Coming from playing netball, it’s quite restricted in terms of where you can run,” Pritchard said. “I loved the freedom of footy being able to go wherever and you’re not controlled by lines on the court or anything like that. “I think I enjoy the physicality as well, being able to get in there, get under the pack and win the ball out for your team is something I really enjoy.”

Pritchard lists her strengths as her ability to win one-on-one contests, as well as the contested ball. The latter of which she only realised after a role switch at the Jets this year saw the traditional intercept marker move from half-back into the middle.

“I really enjoyed it (midfield move) because it gave me an opportunity to be a bit more proactive instead of reactive I suppose,” Pritchard said. “As a defender you’re sort of anticipating where the ball’s going to come in and try and stop them from getting a goal, whereas in the mid your role is to get it forward to try and get a goal.

“I think I really enjoyed that aspect of it, but at the same time I think even when I was playing I still had quite a defensive role, I tended to stay towards the back as that backstop position which I think was good because it gave me an opportunity to translate the things that I learnt in backline into the midfield.”

Rewinding back to the start of her footy journey just a few years ago, Pritchard first tasted football at school as part of a round robin tournament and it instigated a move to sign up for Spotswood, her local football club.

“I signed up just for a bit of fun and started playing and I really enjoyed the day (at school) so then I began playing at a local team starting up at Spotswood, so I began playing there with a few of my friends,” Pritchard said. “I just fell in love with it, kept playing and I was lucky enough to get into the Western Jets that first year and I’ve played there since then.”

Her rise through the pathway was quick but she adapted, though not without plenty of nerves along the way, becoming a regular standout in the Jets’ side.

 “It was scary especially because Western Jets were such a relatively new team,” Pritchard said. “I think the first year I did it was the first year that the Western Jets was actually a standalone Western Jets. “I think it was a bit encouraging because we were all finding out, learning to play, so that was good. “It was scary, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but just tried to hold my weight.”

Hold her weight she did, having grown up supporting the Western Bulldogs with her family, and her twin brother playing football “since he could basically walk”, the game was hardly foreign for her. As a red, white and blue supporter, it was somewhat fitting that running out for Vic Metro as a middle-ager last season, Pritchard was coached by Nathan Burke who would go on to earn the top job at the Western Bulldogs later that year.

“I was incredibly lucky to play as a bottom-ager in the Vic Metro against some of the most talented players in Australia. It was such a great learning opportunity I think as well being able to work, being coached by Nathan Burke was amazing.

“He and also in the under 16s getting coached by Mel Hickey. “It’s so much knowledge that I was able to soak up and learn from their experience, their wisdom and they’re all great coaches. “Also being surrounded by a lot of players who had played a bit longer than me, but also just getting their help on the field and trying to learn from their experiences. “It’s just good being able to learn from such experienced people in such an experienced environment.”

Not only has Pritchard featured through the Vic Metro program, but has been a member of the AFL Women’s National Academy for a couple of years, something that took a while to adjust to due to a foreign exchange clash.

“I went on exchange when I was 16 for three months to France. “I actually found out that I’d got into the Academy while I was away,” Pritchard said. “I was in France and it was just before the summer that I found out and then I missed the first camp because I was away, and then I went on the second one. “It was a bit scary because everyone knew each other already and then when I went away on the second camp, I was trying to meet everyone, I was trying to get involved, find my place.

“But it was really good, and Aasta (O’Connor, AFLW Academy coach) was such a great role model and such a good coach,” she said. “It was amazing to learn from her, and also just be around such amazing talented players and some of those players ended up being my best friends, so it was really great just to be able to go away and spend some time around so much knowledge and talent and be able to try and learn as much as I can from them as well.”

Over her journey, Pritchard has been particularly looking to improve her skills and her athleticism, with the off-season of late giving her an opportunity to fine tune her fitness and speed. Someone who has always been there for the defender/midfielder is her father who she admits has been her role model throughout her childhood.

“He played football growing up as well, so he’s very passionate about it but I love it because he’s not overbearing,” Pritchard said. “When I want help from him I can ask and he’ll give it to me, but he never forces his opinion on me which I really value and I think his opinion is the most important to me, and whenever I need help I go and ask him what he thinks and he always comes up with something wise, so he’s probably been my biggest inspiration, my biggest role model.

“My brother has played footy since he was a kid and I guess that’s what sparked my intrigue into the game,” she said. “He’s always been so hard-working and humble, not just at footy but at everything he does. “My whole life I’ve just been trying to be as good a person as he is.”

Now with the AFL Women’s Draft looming large tomorrow, Pritchard said the goal for her was to just keep on improving to be the best she could be. Whilst being drafted would be a “huge goal” and an “amazing opportunity”, Pritchard said she would not stop aiming to always improve on herself.

“I mean it’s kind of crazy to think about that four years ago when I started playing I didn’t think that I would be here nominating for the draft, hoping that I would get drafted,” Pritchard said. “But it’s really exciting because it’s a huge opportunity that’s presented itself and the idea of it’s really scary. “I didn’t even know women’s football existed five years ago so it’s crazy, it’s overwhelming, but it’s also incredibly exciting and I can’t wait for the future to see what happens. “Obviously even if I don’t get drafted, I’m just excited to keep playing and keep improving.”

2020 AFLW Preview: Round 6 – Dees and Blues face off in conference-defining clash

ROUND 6 of AFL Women’s 2020 begins the race to finals with only two rounds to follow and still plenty of changes that could take place on both conference ladders. A few key wins are up for grabs with Richmond still hoping for an inaugural win while North Melbourne and Fremantle will both want to keep top spot on their respective leaderboards. Meanwhile, Melbourne and Carlton will battle it out in what looks like the match of the round.

Geelong v. North Melbourne
Friday 13 March, 7:10pm
GMHBA Stadium

Taylah Melki

The Cats host North Melbourne under lights on Friday night. Geelong currently sit fourth on the ladder while the Kangaroos have first spot locked up. North are on a four game winning streak and will be hoping to extend their run of hot form against a trying Geelong side who have won their past two games.

Although Geelong do not have a host of big name recruits, it is their brigade of young guns that is the most damaging aspect of their side. In her first uninterrupted season, Nina Morrison has enjoyed her time out on the park with her natural ball winning ability, game sense and dynamism on full display. Fellow second year player Olivia Purcell will also be hoping to continue her dominant form in the hotly contested match while the bull-like Richelle Cranston has impressed so far this season with her dash across the ground. Renee Garing has been another consistent performer for the Cats while Aasta O’Connor will once again be hoping to show her aerial strength with her marking ability. A livewire up forward, Phoebe McWilliams will be another to keep an eye on given her ability to bob up and hit the scoreboard while Anna Teague will be hoping to add to their goalkicking tally.

North Melbourne have gone from strength to strength so far this season with Emma Kearney leading the way with her contested ball work. Kearney is in a league of her own, constantly working hard to win the footy at the coalface while also showcasing her impressive defensive efforts laying strong tackles. Jenna Bruton is another key contributor for the Roos with her brute force while the likes of Ash Riddell and Jasmine Garner have upped their intensity throughout the season to round out a formidable side. Garner not only increased her influence around the footy but her presence in front of goal too, making her a key component to the Roos’ forward line. Kaitlyn Ashmore is coming off a four goal haul, an effort she will be hoping to repeat this round while Sophie Abbatangelo is also handy in front of the big sticks. Ruck Emma King is also key to the North Melbourne outfit. If King can have a dominant impact out of the middle with her clever taps and ruckwork it will put her side in a good position. Although she is still a young developing player, Mia King is another one to watch out for given her ability to find the footy and most importantly use it effectively.

Tip: 

GEELONG

B: M.Brown 19 M.McMahon 24
HB: M.Keryk 45 M.McDonald 11 M.Hickey – C 18
C: N.Morrison 9 R.Webster 21 S.Van De Heuvel 27
HF: R.Garing 12 P.McWilliams 23 D.Higgins 2
F: R.Cranston 30 J.Ivey 5
Foll: A.O’Connor 14 J.Crockett-Grills 6 O.Purcell 16
I/C: K.Darby 8 G.Rankin 10 A.McDonald 3 A.Teague 40 C.Blakeway 4

Emerg: N.Garner 22 R.Goring 44

In: J.Ivey, C.Blakeway
Out: R.Goring (Omitted), G.Clarke (Omitted)

NORTH MELBOURNE

B: N.Bresnehan 12 T.Randall 16
HB: S.Wright 17 D.Hardiman 31 A.Gilroy 8
C: J.Grierson 19 E.Kearney – C 9 J.Bruton 35
HF: S.Abbatangelo 1 B.Gibson 18 D.Bateman 11
F: E.King 60 K.Ashmore 10
Foll: V.Saad 39 A.Riddell 7 J.Garner 25
I/C: K.Gillespie-Jones 5 J.Trend 21 E.Gavalas 22 M.King 23 T.Nestor 24

Emerg: D.Bannister 2 E.Humphries 6

In: None
Out: None

Brisbane v. Collingwood
Saturday, 14 March, 2.10pm 
Hickey Park

Sophie Taylor 

Brisbane lost top spot in Conference A last round so are sure to be back with a vengeance this week when they host Collingwood on Saturday afternoon. While Brisbane have shone for the most part this season, a few blips in the radar have left them wanting and this chance against the Magpies is one they will want to take with both hands. But while the Magpies have had a hard time on the injury front this season, a solid win last week will have left them confident and ready for a tough slog this week when they travel up the east coast.

Brisbane have a host of talent that they aren’t afraid to put out on the field, with forward Jesse Wardlaw up there in the goal count across the competition and a keen eye in front of goal, able to have an impact inside 50 with her clever movement and tenacity going for the ground ball. Wardlaw has booted at least one goal per game this season and was knocked off the goalkicking perch last round so will want to continue her consistency with another bag this week. Emily Bates and Alex Anderson continue to be real threats across the field, averaging 22.6 and 20.8 disposals respectively, and creating a formidable opposition. Meanwhile, the side will rely on the likes of Catherine Svarc and Sophie Conway to continue their tackling ways and maintain possession. Young gun Lily Postlethwaite has had a solid few weeks on the track so will want to replicate that form while Jess Wuetschner booted two goals last round to prove she’s back with a vengeance.

For Collingwood, this is ultimately a make or break game. A win here would see them slot in nicely in the top four of Conference B and set up a good run home, but a loss could see the Magpies miss out on finals contention once more. Jaimee Lambert has continued her impeccable form in recent rounds, leading the way and proving a key cog in attack. Chloe Molloy has an ability to impact wherever she is on the field, creating an exciting contest with her intensity and clean hands. Meanwhile, Sharni Layton leads the hitout tally for the season so far and has had a breakout season in the ruck, with her strength, height and ability to get first to the footy making her a tough opponent to come across. Layton has been named across half back in the absence of Ash Brazill to injury, so will work with the likes of Stacey Livingstone to hold down the fort in defence. Britt Bonnici and Bri Davey have continued their consistent form, backing up Molloy and Lambert in their efforts.

Tip: Brisbane by 14 points.

BRISBANE

B: S.Webb 4 S.Campbell 20
HB: C.Svarc 25 K.Lutkins 13 E.Zielke – C 8
C: R.Lugg 11 A.Anderson 18 S.Conway 12
HF: L.Arnell 16 J.Wardlaw 30 J.Wuetschner 23
F: D.Davidson 14 I.Dawes 17
Foll: J.Keeffe 27 B.Koenen 3 E.Bates 1
I/C: N.Grider 10 O.O’Dwyer 9 L.Postlethwaite 6 M.Moloney 28 L.Bellinger 26

Emerg: J.Zanchetta 2 S.Priest 19

In: L.Bellinger
Out: G.Bodey (Injured)

COLLINGWOOD

B: A.Porter 9 S.Livingstone 12
HB: L.Butler 23 S.Casey 22 S.Layton 1
C: S.Rowe 7 M.Cann 25 S.Chiocci – C 17
HF: S.Alexander 24 S.D’Arcy 4 B.Davey 3
F: J.Lambert 13 C.Molloy 2
Foll: A.Sheridan 14 B.Bonnici 8 E.Fowler 15
I/C: E.Hynes 11 M.Shevlin 35 J.Allen 6 J.Membrey 21 E.O’Dea 50

Emerg: K.Stratton 41 S.Dargan 46

In: None
Out: None

St Kilda v. Richmond
Saturday, 14 March, 5.10pm AEDT
RSEA Park

Sophie Taylor

This match pits two lower ranked sides against each other, with both St Kilda and Richmond sitting at the bottom of their respective conferences. While St Kilda have at least gotten a win on the board, this match is a real opportunity for Richmond to get an inaugural victory before the season is up. Both teams omitted a plethora of names heading into this match, leaving both sides with fresh bodies out on the field in hope of getting a win on the board.

St Kilda are sure to put up a big fight against the ailing Tigers, with some solid form throughout the season despite not necessarily getting the wins. The side has continued to compete throughout the season, going close but no cigar with difficulty putting goals on the board a real issue. Caitlin Greiser will want to continue her solid form which sees her as the leading goalkicker for the Saints with seven majors for the season. Her ability to use her body to find the footy and follow up going for the ground ball is what makes her a real excitement machine for the side, and having booted two goals on three occasions this season, expect her to go one better this week. Georgia Patrikios and Olivia Vesely have been real ball magnets for the side throughout the season while Tilly Lucas-Rodd has been a machine off the half back with 36 intercept possessions and Nat Exon is averaging 6.2 tackles per game, applying solid pressure.

The Tigers will miss Katie Brennan again this week with the captain sidelined once more with concussion, making this a tough battle for Richmond as they continue to fight for their first win of the season. While the side has struggled to stop goals this season, they have also had a tough time putting goals on the board which is the real catch, unable to reduce the margin and ultimately putting in all the effort downfield but getting no return. Monique Conti has been a shining light throughout the season with the 20-year-old proving a constant threat while Sabrina Frederick has been left wanting forward, not having the desired impact but ultimately not getting the footy much inside 50. Kodi Jacques and Phoebe Monahan have continued to ply their trade and apply pressure while the loss of Lauren Tesoriero to precautionary coronavirus isolation is a frustrating blow to an already struggling side.

Tip: St Kilda by 29 points.

ST KILDA

B: T.Luke 22 C.Fitzpatrick 24
HB: H.Priest 14 A.Brown 2 T.Lucas-Rodd 18
C: N.Exon 15 R.Dillon 25 M.McDonald 1
HF: D.Guttridge 5 J.Sedunary 10 C.Greiser 17
F: K.Shierlaw 12 O.Vesely 23
Foll: R.Watt – C 7 N.Xenos 27 C.Phillips 35
I/C: C.Whitfort 4 P.Kelly 16 G.Patrikios 21 A.Drennan 8 I.Shannon 11

Emerg: E.Mackie 3 K.O’Neill 20

In: T.Luke, J.Sedunary, C.Whitfort
Out: K.O’Neill (Omitted), E.Mackie (Omitted), S.Johnson (Omitted)

RICHMOND

B: A.Makur Chuot 34 G.Seymour 28
HB: H.Whitford 20 I.Ross 21 P.Monahan 2
C: C.Bernardi – C 6 S.Molan 1 K.Dempsey 19
HF: M.Brancatisano 5 S.Frederick 14 R.Miller 15
F: C.Wakefield 8 T.Stahl 24
Foll: A.Edmonds 11 M.Conti 4 G.Campbell 43
I/C: C.Fitzgerald 26 K.Jacques 10 H.Burchell 9 N.Butler 22 A.Woodward 13

Emerg: L.Bailey 12 E.Wood 17

In: I.Ross, C.Wakefield, C.Fitzgerald, N.Butler, A.Woodward
Out: L.Bailey (Omitted), E.Wood (Omitted), L.McClelland (Suspension), L.Tesoriero (Illness), S.Sansonetti (Rested)

Melbourne v Carlton
Saturday, 14 March, 7.40pm AEST
TIO Traeger Park

Sophie Taylor

Melbourne and Carlton head into Round 6 unchanged from last round, with both sides having put impressive wins on the board last week and only separated by percentage heading into the run home. Likely to be the best match of the round, the battle between the Dees and Blues is set to be a close one with both sides boasting a number of key players across the field.

Karen Paxman has been a ball magnet for the Dees in 2020, making her mark with clean hands, good run and carry and an ability to hit targets with ease, while the defensive pressure of Libby Birch, Daisy Pearce and Harriet Cordner down back has been a real task to be reckoned with, with the work off the half back relieving plenty of pressure close to goal. But while the Dees have a smattering of key players in the mix, they had a rough start last week against West Coast and they just can’t afford that this week against the Blues. Eden Zanker has had a breakout season for the Demons in the ruck and heading forward, booting four goals and ultimately a solid threat wherever she is on the field with her aerial ability and clean hands – traits she shares with fellow joint-leading goalkicker Kate Hore.

An even spread of talent across Carlton’s lineup is what will ultimately worry the Demons this round, with consistency and an ability to score quickly both real threats to a Melbourne victory. Maddy Prespakis has thus far backed up a stellar first season of footy, averaging 22 touches per game this season and providing a key run down the field for the Blues. Off the half back, Kerryn Harrington and Vaomua Laloifi have applied some solid pressure with the duo working well to crowd the play and bring the footy to ground, enabling Prespakis and fellow young gun Grace Egan to clear the footy. Tayla Harris continues to be a big threat up forward, having booted at least one goal every match this season and a great target up forward.

Tip: Melbourne by five points.

MELBOURNE

B: H.Cordner 21 L.Birch 9
HB: S.Lampard 8 D.Pearce – C 6 S.Goldrick 23
C: C.Sherriff 18 T.Hanks 28 C.Emonson 11
HF: K.Hore 10 A.Newman 16 S.Scott 12
F: T.Cunningham 1 N.McEvoy 17
Foll: E.Zanker 29 K.Paxman 4 M.Gay 3
I/C: J.Parry 19 E.O’Dea 5 S.Perkins 33 B.Tarrant 20 L.Mithen 14

Emerg: K.Petrevski 31 G.Colvin 32

In: None
Out: None

CARLTON

B: G.Pound 6 C.Wilson 20
HB: K.Harrington 9 V.Laloifi 8 J.Edwards 25
C: L.Brazzale 12 C.Dalton 15 S.Hosking 10
HF: N.Stevens 21 T.Harris 7 D.Vescio 3
F: A.Downie 30 L.McEvoy 13
Foll: B.Moody 16 G.Egan 1 M.Prespakis 4
I/C: N.Plane 32 K.Loynes – C 2 B.Walker 14 G.Gee 19 J.Hosking 11

Emerg: B.Vernon 31 J.Doonan 26

In: None
Out: None

Western Bulldogs v. Fremantle
Sunday, 15 March, 1.10pm AEDT
VU Whitten Oval

Michael Alvaro

Fremantle’s undefeated record is once again on the line as it travels to Melbourne for a second time this season, taking on the battling Western Bulldogs at Whitten Oval. The Dockers stamped their authority as the league’s leading side with an impressive win over Brisbane last time out to take their record to 5-0, and will fancy their chances against a developing Dogs lineup. But in front of an adoring home crowd in Footscray, the young pups will be keen to arrest a four-game losing streak and showcase the promise their list reverberates on paper.

Another member of the class of 2019 is set to debut for the home side, with top 10 pick Nell Morris-Dalton beating out former Northern Knights teammate Britney Gutknecht for the final spot in the Dogs’ lineup to join her Under 18 skipper, Gabby Newton at the top level. Nicole Callinan was the other player in contention to replace the omitted Hannah Scott, but fell just short of returning for her first game since Round 2. Morris-Dalton should add some strength in the air for the Bulldogs inside forward 50, with fellow 2019 draftee Gemma Lagioia swapping defensive duties to lineup at her feet in the pocket. The midfield trio of Ellie Blackburn, Kirsty Lamb, and Aisling McCarthy will take their form into this clash, with their work set to be cut out for them against a strong Fremantle following set.

The Dockers are set to come in with just one change of their own, resting electric draftee Roxy Roux with Mia-Rae Clifford, Sarah Garstone, and Bianca Webb lined up to take the vacant spot. Fremantle will look to stretch the Bulldogs up forward, as is the case most weeks, with the match-up between Gemma Houghton and Isabel Huntington set to catch the eye. The Dockers’ dynamism with Sabreena Duffy – coming off four goals – and Ebony Antonio at ground level makes them hard to stop, and midfield service from Kiara Bowers and Kara Antonio constantly sets the tone for their success.

Expect the Dockers’ weapons from midfield to forward to be too much for the developing Bulldogs, but the travel factor may come into effect later on in the contest, with the Dogs a chance to snatch an unlikely win if they can stay in the contest for long enough.

Tip: Fremantle by 21

WESTERN BULLDOGS

B: A.Guest 19 L.Spark 11
HB: E.Brown 9 I.Huntington 4 N.Ferres 16
C: B.Hunt 21 K.Lamb 27 B.Lochland 1
HF: G.Newton 5 K.Rennie 24 K.McLeod 6
F: N.Morris-Dalton 25 G.Lagioia 12
Foll: C.Moody 13 E.Blackburn – C 2 A.McCarthy 15
I/C: K.Herron 31 D.Berry 7 E.Georgostathis 17 D.Marshall 26 H.Munyard 20 B.Gutknecht 18 N.Callinan 10

In: N.Morris-Dalton, B.Gutknecht, N.Callinan
Out: H.Scott (Omitted)

FREMANTLE

B: L.Mascall 14 J.Cuthbertson 29
HB: E.O’Driscoll 3 P.Seth 18 L.Pugh 32
C: K.Antonio – C 15 H.Miller 19 J.Stewart 7
HF: E.Antonio 12 A.Sharp 1 G.O’Sullivan 22
F: G.Houghton 27 S.Duffy 6
Foll: M.Strom 21 K.Bowers 2 K.Grieve 13
I/C: K.Flood 44 A.Stannett 24 E.Gooch 8 L.Rohde 11 S.Garstone 16 B.Webb 26 M.Clifford 4

In: B.Webb, S.Garstone, M.Clifford
Out: R.Roux (Rested)

Adelaide v. Greater Western Sydney
Sunday, 15 March, 3.10pm AEST
Hisense Stadium

Michael Alvaro

Adelaide will be out to make good on a two-game losing run when it hosts GWS at Hisense Stadium on Sunday. The reining premiers have endured an indifferent first half to their flag defence, holding a negative 2-3 record on the back of an injury-hit campaign to date and bearing the brunt of a tricky draw over the last fortnight. On the other hand, the 3-2 GIANTS have taken full advantage of the games they were expected to win – albeit with each one coming over three of the four 2020 expansion teams. The step-up in competition has proven difficult for the Sydneysiders, and Adelaide will provide as tough a test as any team despite its shortcomings this season.

Four inclusions are set to make the Crows side that bit more formidable this week, with dual AFL Women’s best and fairest Erin Phillips headlining the quartet of returnees. The Adelaide champ comes in alongside fellow midfielder Najwa Allen, while Deni Varnhagen and Eloise Jones also crack the extended squad. Coming the other way in terms of omissions will be Madison Newman and ruck Rhiannon Metcalfe, with 2019 draftee Montana McKinnon impressing in the tri-colours on debut last week and retaining her spot. The Crows’ midfield looks to be running smoothly with the combination of Ebony Marinoff and Anne Hatchard winning plenty of ball, so the additional target of Phillips will hopefully aid them in terms of fluency going forward.

A trio of inclusions will be vying for one spot in the GIANTS’ side as Nicola Barr finds herself hamstrung, with Taylah Davies, Georgia Garnett, and Emily Goodsir all up for selection in the 23-player squad. The GIANTS’ wealth of experience will definitely match that of the Crows, with stand-in skipper Jess Dal Pos heading a team which is capable of returning consistent performances. Alyce Parker and Rebecca Beeson make up a dynamic midfield duo in the continued absence of Alicia Eva, with Beeson also set to rotate forward alongside Haneen Zreika. It may be fitting that the injury blows finally benefit Adelaide, and the fortnight of key casualties for GWS will really test its depth, but that experience should see the GIANTS through to a competitive result.

Speaking of depth, Adelaide’s wealth of genuine options to run through the middle of the ground should prove to be a vital factor as it comes into the game as favourite on home turf, with Phillips adding that third prong despite likely playing predominantly forward. The hard-nosed nature of Hatchard and Marinoff should hold up very well against the more athletic pairing of Parker and Beeson, with McKinnon’s job in the ruck crucial against GWS’ Jessica Allan. Count the GIANTS out at your own peril, but the Crows’ hard edge and top-end talent should see them over the line in front of home fans, with a win able to draw the two sides level on points in Conference A.

Tip: Adelaide by 18

ADELAIDE

B: D.Cox 31 S.Allan 39
HB: A.Foley 3 M.Rajcic 32 S.Li 19
C: J.Mules 23 E.Marinoff 10 A.Considine 16
HF: E.Jones 2 E.Phillips – C 13 S.Thompson 14
F: D.Ponter 15 C.Gum 5
Foll: M.McKinnon 21 A.Hatchard 33 N.Gore 7
I/C: N.Campbell 20 N.Allen 8 R.Forth 27 J.Tabb 28 C.Biddell 12 D.Varnhagen 9 C.Gould 1

In: E.Jones, E.Phillips, N.Allen, D.Varnhagen
Out: M.Newman (Omitted), R.Metcalfe (Omitted)

GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY

B: P.Randall 21 T.Hetherington 9
HB: L.Steane 20 E.Bennetts 22 A.Lister 14
C: J.Dal Pos – C 7 B.Tully 36 A.Schmidt 11
HF: S.Halvorsen 30 R.Privitelli 19 J.Hicks 5
F: C.Staunton 13 J.Barclay 34
Foll: J.Allan 39 A.Parker 3 R.Beeson 6
I/C: H.Zreika 24 E.McKinnon 23 T.Mackrill 32 L.Stephenson 12 T.Davies 16 E.Goodsir 1 G.Garnett 17

In: E.Goodsir, T.Davies, G.Garnett
Out: N.Barr (Hamstring)

West Coast v. Gold Coast
Sunday, 15 March, 5.10pm AEST
Mineral Resources Park

Michael Alvaro

Two sides coming off losses meet to round out the weekend’s action, with West Coast set to host Gold Coast in a battle of 2020 expansion clubs. The Eagles were hauled back down to earth with a thud in Round 5 after picking up their maiden AFL Women’s win the week before, copping a 59-point thumping at the hands of Melbourne. Gold Coast, only half a game to the better of its weekend opponent, has suffered consecutive losses for the first time in its short history, but the SUNS’ competitive spirit should put them in good stead for an improved performance in this clash.

The visitors are set to welcome back Hannah Dunn after a week on the sidelines, slotting straight back into the SUNS’ midfield to boost their ball winning stocks. Debutant Sally Riley also comes into the lineup as the second confirmed inclusion, with Tori Groves-Little and Jasmyn Hewett the two unlucky omissions while Maddy Roberts and Taylor Smith find their way onto an extended bench. Gold Coast’s engine room has been a highlight in its inaugural campaign, with Dunn adding to the likes of Jacqui Yorston and the red-hot Jamie Stanton this week, while Leah Kaslar and Lauren Aherns heading up a promising back five which features three 2019 draftees.

West Coast’s changes are a touch more forced, with McKenzie Dowrick and Emily Bonser both ruled out through illness, with Melissa Caulfield attached to the managed tag this week. Chantella Perera, the player to be managed in Round 5, returns to her customary full back role in a boost for the Eagles, with Mhicca Carter the second inclusion for the hosts. On an extended bench, Tarnee Tester, Katherine Orme, and Danika Pisconeri are all chances to sneak their way into the side should any more disruptions arise. While the midfield pairing of Dana Hooker and Emma Swanson has worked admirably for the Eagles, they have struggled to find a consistent spread across the field in 2020. The competition’s least potent attack and second most leaky defence are titles which do not bode well against any side, especially given the SUNS’ strength and competitiveness in the back five.

While both teams can only boast one win in their maiden campaigns, the SUNS have arguably made the bigger inroads and have been able to keep each game competitive on the scoreboard. Their better spread of contributors across the field, and an especially stingy defence in this game should carry them to a second AFL Women’s victory. But on home turf, the Eagles will be sure to put up a better fight than the previous week, though the travel factor may be lessened given West Coast is coming off a game in Melbourne.

Tip: Gold Coast by 13

WEST COAST

B: S.McDonald 35 C.Perera 27
HB: C.Davidson 33 B.Smith 14 C.Guard 4
C: M.Bowen 1 N.Kelly 12 K.Gibson 2
HF: M.Collier 8 G.Kelly 15 I.Cameron 19
F: A.Atkins 9 M.Carter 21
Foll: P.Laurie 25 D.Hooker 17 E.Swanson – C 13
I/C: T.Tester 23 E.McGuire 31 H.Bullas 24 K.Orme 32 B.Devlyn 7 D.Pisconeri 11 T.Radan 26

In: C.Perera, M.Carter, T.Tester, K.Orme, D.Pisconeri
Out: M.Caulfield (Managed), M.Dowrick (Illness), E.Bonser (Illness)

GOLD COAST

B: J.Pregelj 42 S.Watson 14
HB: L.Kaslar – C 11 L.Ahrens 7 E.Hampson 21
C: T.Ernst 19 J.Stanton 17 P.Parker 1
HF: K.Surman 26 B.Perry 16 K.Howarth 23
F: T.Smith 13 S.Riley 8
Foll: L.Bella 2 H.Dunn 24 J.Yorston 5
I/C: C.Hammond 29 D.Heslop 25 J.Hickey 4 M.Ritson 12 M.Roberts 10 T.Thorn 15 S.Virgo 22

In: T.Smith, S.Riley, H.Dunn, M.Roberts
Out: T.Groves-Little (Omitted), J.Hewett (Omitted)

ROUND 6 TIPS: [Total tips in brackets]

Michael Alvaro [27]: North Melbourne, Brisbane, St Kilda, Melbourne, Fremantle, Adelaide, Gold Coast
Taylah Melki [27]: North Melbourne, Collingwood, St Kilda, Carlton, Fremantle, Adelaide, Gold Coast
Sophie Taylor [26]: North Melbourne, Brisbane, St Kilda, Melbourne, Fremantle, GIANTS, Gold Coast
Peter Williams [24]: North Melbourne, Collingwood, St Kilda, Carlton, Fremantle, GIANTS, West Coast

2020 AFL Women’s previews: Round 5 – Conference leaders go head to head

ROUND 4 of AFL Women’s 2020 is set to shake up the competition, with a top-of-the-tables clash to end the round coming in as the biggest match of the long weekend. Fremantle will look to go five from five, while Richmond are still aching to put a win on the board.

Friday, March 6

Gold Coast v. Geelong,
Great Barrier Reef Arena, 6.10pm AEST

Sophie Taylor

Opening Round 5 is an interesting match between two sides with only one win between them so far this season, with both sides’ victories coming against winless the Richmond; for the Suns in Round 2 and the Cats just last round. Both teams have the ability to score well and score quickly, but Geelong has a season under its belt already while their ability to improve on every week to put progressively better efforts on the board makes them a tough battle for the Suns this round. The Suns will need to draw on all the tenacity and pressure that kept them neck and neck with the Lions in Round 3 to put a win on the board against the Cats – something that is ultimately achievable, especially since it’s Geelong that is travelling up the coast for this one.

The likes of Jamie Stanton, Lauren Ahrens and Jade Pregelj will be key for Gold Coast this round, while the omission of Hannah Dunn (calf) will be a frustrating loss for the side which has really relied on Dunn’s tenacity and hunt for the ball, leading the side in both clearances and tackles. Ahrens’ ability to impact the play will be key with clean hands and vision to boot, collecting 27 intercept possessions for the season so far to go with Stanton’s 38 contested possessions, able to create something out of nothing. With the loss of Dunn a real blow, the side will need to tighten up across the field to deny Geelong easy entry inside 50 and rebound the ball.

For the Cats, this is a great opportunity to prove their growth since last season with a win on the road. Olivia Purcell has had a major impact this season as expected, averaging 20.5 touches per match so far, ultimately mostly unstoppable with an ability to not only find the footy but create opportunities for her teammates. Purcell is unafraid to enter the contest, averaging 12 contested possessions across the first four matches of the season while racking up 23 clearances, with her clean skills providing a huge bonus for the Cats. While Purcell leads many of the stats for the Cats, the likes of Rebecca Webster, Nina Morrison, Mel Hickey and Julia Crockett-Grills have been key throughout the season so far, finding plenty of ball and working well as a unit to create a formidable opposition, though the side will certainly suffer without their tackling machine in Jordan Ivey, out with suspension this week and leading the side’s tackle count with 22. Geelong ruck, Aasta O’Connor (57 hitouts) will have a tough time taking on Lauren Bella who sits third for hitouts with 78, though the Cats have the tenacity and hunt for the ball to impact off the tap regardless of who wins the ruck contest.

Tip: Geelong by 8 points.

GOLD COAST

B: J.Pregelj 42 J.Hickey 4
HB: S.Virgo – C 22 L.Ahrens 7 T.Groves-Little 3
C: T.Ernst 19 J.Stanton 17 P.Parker 1
HF: K.Surman 26 L.Kaslar 11 B.Perry 16
F: K.Howarth 23 J.Hewett 20
Foll: L.Bella 2 J.Yorston 5 D.Heslop 25
I/C: C.Hammond 29 E.Hampson 21 M.Ritson 12 T.Thorn 15 S.Watson 14

Emerg: S.Riley 8 A.Hamilton 30

In: T.Groves-Little
Out: H.Dunn (Calf)

GEELONG

B: M.Brown 19 M.McMahon 24
HB: M.Keryk 45 M.McDonald 11 M.Hickey – C 18
C: N.Morrison 9 R.Webster 21 S.Van De Heuvel 27
HF: R.Garing 12 P.McWilliams 23 D.Higgins 2
F: R.Cranston 30 K.Darby 8
Foll: A.O’Connor 14 J.Crockett-Grills 6 O.Purcell 16
I/C: R.Goring 44 G.Rankin 10 A.McDonald 3 A.Teague 40 G.Clarke 17

Emerg: N.Garner 22 C.Blakeway 4

In: G.Rankin
Out: J.Ivey (Suspension)

Saturday, March 7

North Melbourne v. Adelaide,
North Hobart Oval, 3.10pm

Troy Hanning

The Kangaroos and the Crows battle on Saturday for the second spot on the Conference A ladder. The Kangaroos, who currently second on the ladder, seek to prevent the Crows in third from snapping their four game win streak. The biggest question mark for Adelaide will be how they go into this match without Erin Phillips once more, having only one game under her belt in an understandably slow return last round and omitted with soreness coming into Round 5. Meanwhile, the Kangaroos will want to carry on from their impressive performance from last week, and lift their winning streak to five on the hop.

Being second and third on the ladder, the teams’ differences in efficiency and statistics are very minuscule, however one important distinction is that the Kangaroos average many more kicks per game. This could show that they are the more composed team, able to maintain possession by marking and not relying on their midfielders to get it back. However, that’s not much of a problem for the Crows when you have someone like Anne Hatchard in the side, who averaged 18.9 disposals last season and is still improving. Hatchard has been dangerous in the midfield all season, being strong on both the inside and the outside of packs, and this game will likely be no different. Defensively, Ebony Marinoff, who averaged 22.8 disposals and 8.3 tackles per game last season and who holds the record for both the most tackles (21) and the highest number of disposals (33), will not make it easy on the Kangaroos’ forward line.

The Kangaroos are going to rely on their superior tackling abilities this game, averaging 10 more tackles per round with 60 compared to the Crows’ 50. The Crows only had 39 while the Roos had 53 in round four, meaning they will need to really address this element of their game. Along with the Kangaroos averaging slightly more possessions, North Melbourne clearly are the much stronger forward line scoring seven goals to the Crows’ five a game. Mostly because of Emma King, the forward ruck threat standing at 187cm tall and who kicked eight goals last season. Nevertheless, all signs point towards the North Melbourne side just finding their groove, as they came off a very impressive performance last round. They smashed their handball average of 77, hitting 91, highlighting their development of moving through contests on the run. Similarly, they tallied 253 disposals while so far averaging 215. Led by stars like Jasmine Garner, North could have a real chance of spoiling the Crows’ party. 

Tip: Kangaroos by 12 points

NORTH MELBOURNE

B: N.Bresnehan 12 T.Randall 16
HB: B.Gibson 18 D.Hardiman 31 A.Gilroy 8
C: J.Grierson 19 E.Kearney – C 9 J.Bruton 35
HF: S.Abbatangelo 1 K.Gillespie-Jones 5 K.Ashmore 10
F: Em.King 60 D.Bateman 11
Foll: V.Saad 39 A.Riddell 7 J.Garner 25
I/C: S.Wright 17 J.Trend 21 E.Gavalas 22 M.King 23 T.Nestor 24

Emerg: E.Humphries 6 M.Seoighe 13
In: N.Bresnehan
Out: El.King (Knee)

ADELAIDE

B: D.Cox 31 S.Allan 39
HB: N.Allen 8 M.Rajcic 32 S.Li 19
C: A.Foley 3 E.Marinoff 10 J.Mules 23
HF: A.Considine 16 D.Ponter 15 R.Forth 27
F: J.Tabb 28 S.Thompson 14
Foll: R.Metcalfe 11 A.Hatchard 33 C.Gum 5
I/C: N.Campbell 20 C.Gould 1 M.McKinnon 21 N.Gore 7 M.Newman 17

Emerg: C.Biddell 12
In: C.Gould, M.McKinnon, M.Newman
Out: E.Jones (Shoulder), J.Foley (Foot), C.Biddell (Omitted)

GWS GIANTS v Richmond,
Robertson Oval, 5.10pm

Sophie Taylor

This clash between the GIANTS and Tigers is set to be a big one for both sides but ultimately the Tiges need a win on the board stat after a horror start to their inaugural season. The GIANTS on the other hand have had an up and down season, and while they’ve gotten two impressive wins on the board, have missed a bit of consistency. A loss last round puts them in a good position to bounce back, going off their form in earlier rounds, meaning the Tigers will have to watch out against a side that can well and truly put teams under the pump.

The GIANTS will be without the experienced Alicia Eva this week, out with a foot injury alongside Yvonne Bonner (ankle), though the impact the former has on the side is decidedly more, making it a real question mark for the side. Alyce Parker will need to step up once more, something that shouldn’t be hard for the talented 19-year-old, averaging 17.8 disposals and three tackles for the season so far. Parker is another who doesn’t shy away from the contest, getting down and dirty to ensure her side finds the footy while Jess Dal Pos and Elle Bennetts have proven handy down back aiding Parker to propel the footy forward. Jessica Allan has been a solid mainstay in the ruck, averaging 17.5 hitouts per match though has not had too much of an impact on the ground – though had her best performance for the season last round so will hope to replicate that effort. Haneen Zreika and Rebecca Privitelli will hope to flourish against the Tigers, with the classy players both able to impact both across the field and on the scoreboard.

The Tigers will hope to provide some shock value to the GIANTS this week and pull out a win, but will need to put in a shared effort with a few players putting on consistent performances but ultimately unable to have much of a team victory. The side will be without ball magnet Katie Brennan thanks to a third quarter concussion last round, making this a tough one for the side which has struggled to impact on field even with all their star players at their best, while the loss of Courtney Wakefield (also concussion) is just as impactful after a dominant three-goal performance last round put her side in real contention for an inaugural victory. Monique Conti impressed last week on the track with 28 touches so will want to put her best foot forward once more while the likes of Phoebe Monahan and Kodi Jacques have been fairly consistent, able to impact the contest and could be a real hard unit. Christina Bernardi will want to lift after a couple of rough weeks on the field, and while she booted a goal last round her four touches were just not enough.

Tip: GIANTS by 20 points

GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY

B: P.Randall 21 T.Hetherington 9
HB: J.Dal Pos – C 7 E.Bennetts 22 A.Lister 14
C: L.Steane 20 B.Tully 36 N.Barr 8
HF: H.Zreika 24 T.Mackrill 32 J.Hicks 5
F: C.Staunton 13 J.Barclay 34
Foll: J.Allan 39 A.Parker 3 R.Beeson 6
I/C: S.Halvorsen 30 E.McKinnon 23 R.Privitelli 19 L.Stephenson 12 A.Schmidt 11

Emerg: I.Nielsen 25 T.Davies 16

In: T.Mackrill, S.Halvorsen, E.McKinnon
Out: Y.Bonner (Ankle), A.Eva (Foot), I.Nielsen (Omitted)

RICHMOND

B: A.Makur Chuot 34 G.Seymour 28
HB: H.Whitford 20 P.Monahan 2 R.Miller 15
C: H.Burchell 9 S.Molan 1 K.Dempsey 19
HF: L.Bailey 12 S.Frederick 14 C.Bernardi – C 6
F: L.McClelland 16 T.Stahl 24
Foll: A.Edmonds 11 M.Conti 4 G.Campbell 43
I/C: S.Sansonetti 18 E.Wood 17 K.Jacques 10 L.Tesoriero 7 M.Brancatisano 5

Emerg: A.Woodward 13 N.Butler 22

In: K.Dempsey, T.Stahl, L.Tesoriero
Out: K.Brennan (Concussion), A.Woodward (Omitted), C.Wakefield (Concussion)

Carlton v. St Kilda
Ikon Park, 7.10pm

Sophie Taylor

The high flying Blues will want to prove their point in the competition this round when they take on St Kilda, a side with only one win under its belt but a great one at that. Carlton has had a stellar start to the season having recruited well at the end of last year, and are sure to put the Saints under the pump with their ability to apply pressure both on the footy and on the scoreboard. While the Saints have not necessarily had a bad start to the season, they are yet to really apply the scoreboard pressure that would ensure them wins, though a pressurised defensive unit against Melbourne got the job done in Round 3. The Saints also pushed Fremantle to the final seconds last round to prove they can apply phenomenal pressure when required, but will need to do a lot more up forward to give opposition sides little opportunity to come from behind and win.

For the Saints, it seems to be more of a consistency issue with the side floundering in the first few rounds before taking advantage of the likes of Caitlin Greiser, Tilly Lucas-Rodd and Darcy Guttridge who have all had some good games in the mix, while Rosie Dillon and Alison Drennan were key players in the almost-victory last week. However, the side was also shot with season-ending injuries last round forcing some changes, with Tarni White and Kate McCarthy forced to watch from the sidelines and seeing Kelly O’Neill, Samantha Johnson and Emma Mackie enter the fray. The Blues have had an impressive start to the season, and bar a loss to Collingwood in Round 2 have scarcely missed a beat in season 2020.

Darcy Vescio proved last round why she is such a key cog for Carlton and, while she missed more than she kicked (2.3), Tayla Harris had no issue finding the footy inside 50 against the reigning premiers last week in a real hark back to her 2018/19 season form. In her second season on the big stage, Maddy Prespakis is having a stellar start to 2020 with an innate ability to find the footy and the tenacity to get the job done in any scenario. Carlton have made no changes this round and ultimately they had no need to after a solid outing last week, with Kerryn Harrington and Lucy McEvoy also putting on impressive performances. While St Kilda has the defensive pressure to deny the Blues some easy goals, Carlton has a plethora of players who can have an impact forward making them hard to stop once they get going.

Tip: Carlton by 15 points.

CARLTON

B: G.Pound 6 C.Wilson 20
HB: K.Harrington 9 V.Laloifi 8 J.Edwards 25
C: K.Loynes – C 2 G.Gee 19 S.Hosking 10
HF: N.Stevens 21 T.Harris 7 D.Vescio 3
F: L.McEvoy 13 B.Moody 16
Foll: A.Downie 30 G.Egan 1 M.Prespakis 4
I/C: N.Plane 32 C.Dalton 15 B.Walker 14 L.Brazzale 12 J.Hosking 11

Emerg: B.Vernon 31 C.Jones 22
In: None
Out: None

ST KILDA

B: K.O’Neill 20 C.Fitzpatrick 24
HB: H.Priest 14 A.Brown 2 T.Lucas-Rodd 18
C: N.Exon 15 R.Dillon 25 M.McDonald 1
HF: D.Guttridge 5 S.Johnson 6 C.Greiser 17
F: K.Shierlaw 12 G.Patrikios 21
Foll: P.Kelly 16 N.Xenos 27 C.Phillips 35
I/C: E.Mackie 3 R.Watt – C 7 O.Vesely 23 A.Drennan 8 I.Shannon 11

Emerg: C.Whitfort 4 S.Karlson 26
In: K.O’Neill, S.Johnson, E.Mackie
Out: T.White (ACL), C.Munn (Omitted), K.McCarthy (Knee)

SUNDAY, MARCH 8

Collingwood v. Western Bulldogs,
Morwell Recreation Reserve, 1.10pm

Michael Alvaro

It is do-or-die for Collingwood as it takes on the Western Bulldogs in Morwell on Sunday, looking to remain in the finals hunt despite a spade of key injuries. In facing a fellow Conference B and inaugural AFLW side, the Magpies can get a true measure of their improvement this year against another developing list.

But the Pies will have to endure their finals tilt without star key defender Ash Brazill, who heartbreakingly went down last week with an ACL injury, while Ruby Schleicher has also been ruled out for the season with a wrist injury. Ringing in the changes, Collingwood have brought Ebony O’Dea and Maddie Shevlin back into the fold among the back five, while Sophie Alexander slots in up forward and Eliza Hynes has been named on an extended bench. The changes mean Sophie Livingstone will have to shoulder much of the defensive responsibility, with Bri Davey a chance to drift back to her customary defensive role.

Injuries have hit the Dogs too, with Bonnie Toogood’s knee complaint from last week ruling her out for this clash. But in a reprieve for the struggling Footscray unit comes in the form of vice-captain Brooke Lochland’s return, with ruck Celine Moody slotting straight back into the starting lineup and Deanna Berry featuring on an extended bench full of young talent. At 1-3 and equal-last in Conference B, Nathan Burke’s side will hope their current stock has enough in the tank to outgun the wounded Magpies.

The spines of both sides are a key feature, with some high-end movers making up the core of each developing squad. Ellie Blackburn has been ever-present at the heart of the Bulldogs’ side, while young guns Isabel Huntington and Gabby Newton are set to bookend the lineup, but are not locked down to just one role. On the other hand, Collingwood boasts the likes of Davey and Jaimee Lambert through midfield, while Chloe Molloy and Livingstone provide the height up either end, with the former four also all able to have their magnets shuffled.

The youth on show is also notable, with many young pups trusted with key roles. Round 4 Rising Star, Newton heads an impressive list of Under-20s including Elisabeth Georgostathis, Gemma Lagioia, Britney Gutknecht, Hannah Munyard, and Eleanor Brown, while Collingwood is set to line up with Alana Porter, Lauren Butler, Mikala Cann and Jordyn Allen among the starters. With plenty of future guns on show, this match-up should pique the interest of neutrals, especially if either side can get the free-flowing ball movement they are capable of, going. It seems more is on the line for Collingwood, but the Dogs will be in for the hunt and can never be counted out if it all clicks.

Tip: Collingwood by 10 points.

COLLINGWOOD

B: A.Porter 9 S.Livingstone 12
HB: L.Butler 23 E.O’Dea 50 M.Shevlin 35
C: S.Rowe 7 M.Cann 25 S.Chiocci – C 17
HF: S.Alexander 24 S.D’Arcy 4 B.Davey 3
F: J.Lambert 13 C.Molloy 2
Foll: S.Layton 1 B.Bonnici 8 J.Allen 6
I/C: A.Sheridan 14 E.Fowler 15 S.Casey 22 J.Membrey 21 S.Dargan 46 E.Hynes 11 K.Lynch 16

In: E.O’Dea, M.Shevlin, S.Alexander, E.Hynes
Out: A.Brazill (ACL), R.Schleicher (Wrist)

WESTERN BULLDOGS

B: E.Gamble 14 L.Spark 11
HB: K.Herron 31 I.Huntington 4 N.Ferres 16
C: B.Hunt 21 K.Lamb 27 B.Lochland 1
HF: G.Newton 5 K.Rennie 24 K.McLeod 6
F: D.Marshall 26 E.Georgostathis 17
Foll: C.Moody 13 E.Blackburn – C 2 A.McCarthy 15
I/C: E.Brown 9 D.Berry 7 G.Lagioia 12 H.Scott 22 H.Munyard 20 A.Guest 19 B.Gutknecht 18

In: B.Lochland, C.Moody, D.Berry
Out: B.Toogood (Knee)

Melbourne v. West Coast,
Casey Fields, 3.10pm

Michael Alvaro

Round 4 winners Melbourne and West Coast are primed to go head-to-head at Casey Fields, with the chance to notch consecutive victories up for grabs on Sunday afternoon. Home ground advantage should play into the Dees’ favour, unbeaten at their usually blustery fortress this season while the Eagles are yet to notch up an away win from two attempts.

Fresh off a defeating an injury-hit Collingwood side, the Demons will have to manage a string of their own forced omissions, with ruck Meg Downie ill and Lauren Pearce only lasting a week back in the side – out with knee soreness after playing predominantly forward in Round 4. But the Dees have managed to cover their losses in the tall department with youngster Eden Zanker taking up ruck duties, while Adelaide premiership forward Sarah Perkins may be in for an AFLW return having been named on an extended bench. She comes in as a supplementary player, with untried rookies Brenna Tarrant and Krstel Petrevski also again featuring as emergencies in the squad.

The Eagles will take a reasonably steady squad into this clash as they look to back up a memorable maiden AFLW win, with only one change confirmed as they too opt for an extended bench. Mature-age draftee Chantella Perera has been managed for the trip across the Nullarbor, with Melissa Caulfield set to take her spot in the starting side – not exactly as a like-for-like. The uncapped Mhicca Carter and social media coordinator Katherine Orme also slot in as inclusions as the Eagles look to maintain their winning formula on the road.

Engine room operator Karen Paxman, the only Demon to average over 20 disposals to date, will again look to outwork the opposition’s prime movers through midfield, with Dana Hooker and skipper Emma Swanson the Eagles’ key ball winners and in serious form. While Daisy Pearce has injected some drive and class to the competition’s stingiest backline, Melbourne have somewhat fallen short up the other end with a points total only good enough for ninth in the league. But given West Coast boast the lowest points total of any side, it is hard to see the Eagles boot a winning score on this long away trip – with their victorious effort of 30 last time out sticking out among a trio of totals in the teens, and no player kicking more than one goal across the board.

The Eagles will need to get creative forward of centre to break down the experienced and sturdy Dees, but the likes of Hooker, Swanson, Mikayla Bowen, and Imahra Cameron can all find the goals from further afield. In the face of those threats, the Demons will back themselves to outgun their opponent on each line and quell whatever the Eagles can produce in their own half, with a winning score of 46 last week boding well for their chances here against Conference B rivals.

Tip: Melbourne by 15

MELBOURNE

B: H.Cordner 21 L.Birch 9
HB: S.Lampard 8 D.Pearce – C 6 S.Goldrick 23
C: C.Sherriff 18 E.O’Dea 5 C.Emonson 11
HF: K.Hore 10 A.Newman 16 S.Scott 12
F: T.Cunningham 1 J.Parry 19
Foll: E.Zanker 29 K.Paxman 4 M.Gay 3
I/C: G.Colvin 32 N.McEvoy 17 L.Mithen 14 B.Tarrant 20 T.Hanks 28 K.Petrevski 31 S.Perkins 33

In: L.Mithen, B.Tarrant, K.Petrevski, S.Perkins
Out: M.Downie (Illness), L.Pearce (Knee soreness)

WEST COAST

B: C.Davidson 33 T.Radan 26
HB: S.McDonald 35 B.Smith 14 C.Guard 4
C: M.Bowen 1 I.Cameron 19 N.Kelly 12
HF: M.Collier 8 G.Kelly 15 M.Caulfield 10
F: K.Gibson 2 A.Atkins 9
Foll: P.Laurie 25 D.Hooker 17 E.Swanson – C 13
I/C: M.Dowrick 5 E.McGuire 31 H.Bullas 24 E.Bonser 6 B.Devlyn 7 K.Orme 32 M.Carter 21

In: M.Caulfield, K.Orme, M.Carter
Out: C.Perera (Managed)

Fremantle v. Brisbane,
Fremantle Oval, 5.10pm

Michael Alvaro

The two conference leaders, Fremantle and Brisbane are set to locks horns at Fremantle Oval on Sunday in a clash between the only remaining undefeated sides.

The hosts sit pretty atop Conference B with an unblemished 4-0 record, one game clear of their next best rivals and with a sizeable percentage of 167.7. Having only travelled once this season, it is fair to say the Dockers have revelled in front of adoring home fans in a successful campaign to date. But a real test on the road in Round 4 against expansion side, St Kilda got a little close for comfort, meaning the Dockers will need to lift this week to stay perfect in season 2020.

On the other hand, the Lions have been the surprise packet of the year, going from strength to strength since downing reigning premier, Adelaide in Round 1 to sit half a game clear atop Conference A. A draw against Gold Coast in the competition’s first-ever Q-Clash remains the only blemish on the Lions’ record thus far, with experienced heads and outstanding rookies helping the them to put a heavy list turnaround firmly in the past.

Both sides look set to come in unchanged, but have the potential to shuffle the magnets with two players each named on respective extended benches. The Dockers have selected Evangeline Gooch and Mia-Rae Clifford as their inclusions, with both looking to break back into a steady line-up after featuring earlier in the season. Similarly, the Lions have added Gabby Collingwood and Jordan Zanchetta to the squad, with the latter yet to get on the park this year.

Each engine room features hardened ball winners, with Fremantle standout Kiara Bowers leading her side for disposals, contested possessions, clearances, tackles, and metres gained to be one of the leading candidates for the league MVP at the mid-way point. She may well be the match-up for exciting Brisbane mature-age draftee Cathy Svarc, who is coming off a breakthrough 23-disposal and two-goal performance against GWS – all while maintaining a tag on GIANTS star, Alyce Parker. But the Lions’ options through midfield seems a touch deeper, with the pair of Emily Bates and Ally Anderson running riot of late to comfortably lead the club’s disposal count.

The area where Fremantle will look to stretch its opponent may be in the tall department, with first-year players Roxanne Roux and Mim Strom already impressing, while Gemma Houghton has been productive both in the air and at ground level – albeit sometimes lacking the finishing touch. Brisbane mainstay and defensive rock Katie Lutkins is sure to have her hands full with the trio should all three drift forward, but will be confident in her ability to intercept given she leads the league in marks, and is only second behind teammate, Svarc in intercept possessions.

The ground-level movers on either side should provide some highlights too, with Fremantle’s Sabreena Duffy and Ebony Antonio always dangerous, while Brisbane’s Lily Postlethwaite and Jess Wuetschner are as classy as any player on the ball under competition leading goalkicker, Jesse Wardlaw. With tantalising match-ups and match-winners across the ground for either side, this one looks poised to go down to the wire as one team’s 0 is set to go.

Tip: Fremantle by 6

FREMANTLE

B: E.O’Driscoll 3 J.Cuthbertson 29
HB: A.Stannett 24 P.Seth 18 L.Pugh 32
C: K.Antonio – C 15 H.Miller 19 E.Gooch 8
HF: E.Antonio 12 R.Roux 17 A.Sharp 1
F: G.Houghton 27 S.Duffy 6
Foll: M.Strom 21 K.Bowers 2 J.Stewart 7
I/C: K.Flood 44 K.Grieve 13 L.Mascall 14 L.Rohde 11 G.O’Sullivan 22 B.Webb 26 M.Clifford 4

In: E.Gooch, M.Clifford
Out: None

BRISBANE

B: N.Grider 10 S.Webb 4
HB: S.Campbell 20 K.Lutkins 13 C.Svarc 25
C: R.Lugg 11 A.Anderson 18 S.Conway 12
HF: L.Arnell 16 J.Wardlaw 30 G.Bodey 15
F: D.Davidson 14 E.Zielke – C 8
Foll: J.Keeffe 27 B.Koenen 3 E.Bates 1
I/C: I.Dawes 17 O.O’Dwyer 9 L.Postlethwaite 6 J.Wuetschner 23 M.Moloney 28 G.Collingwood 7 J.Zanchetta 2

In: G.Collingwood, J.Zanchetta
Out: None

ROUND 5 TIPS: [Total tips in brackets]

Michael Alvaro [21]: Gold Coast / North Melbourne / GWS / Carlton / Collingwood / Melbourne / Fremantle
Taylah Melki [20]: Geelong / North Melbourne / GWS / Carlton / Collingwood / Melbourne / Fremantle
Sophie Taylor [20]: Geelong / North Melbourne / GWS / Carlton / Western Bulldogs / Melbourne / Fremantle
Peter Williams [17]: Geelong / North Melbourne / GWS / Carlton / Collingwood / Melbourne / Fremantle

Jets focus on fast-tracking talent

WESTERN Jets now have a “template” that they can use for their NAB League Girls squads after their success at the AFL Women’s Draft last year. Jets Girls’ senior coach, Zachary Read said the club’s five who were drafted – three straight out of the Jets program and an additional two who were former Jets alumni’s – meant the current playing group have players to look up to who had been in their shoes over the past two years.

“The Jets program’s still kind of in its infancy compared to a number of NAB League programs that have been going for a number of years and we’ve never traditionally been results on-field based, it’s always been about the talent and working with the girls to fast-track them for senior local footy, VFLW and of course making it to the AFLW,” Read said. “We were lucky enough to have three girls drafted out of our program last year, but then you have the other two girls in Caitlin Greiser and Sharni Whiting who played a year at VFL level and then got drafted so, whilst not everyone can go straight into the AFLW, to be able to prepare them for the different levels of footy means the door’s still open.”

Along with Greiser and Whiting who played out seasons with Southern Saints and Williamstown respectively, the Jets saw Elisabeth Georgostathis and Isabella Grant (both Western Bulldogs), and Cleo Saxon-Jones (Richmond) all land on AFL Women’s lists. Read said the players had come back to their roots to speak to the girls at training.

“They’ve all come and visited, so Sharni, Cleo Saxon-Jones who’s at Richmond, and the two Doggies girls have all been back to say g’day to the girls at training,” Read said. “One, it energises the group to see their friends go onto bigger and better things, but it’s the first year that we’ve had a template now that we can say ‘these are the girls that you’ve got to try and emulate their training standards, the way they prepare, how they look after themselves because they’ve got to the area you want to get to’ so I think that has helped us drive our training standards on the field a lot more because now we’ve got that tangible person to reference when our girls are striving to improve.”

While there will be plenty of new faces on the field, there is a change off the field, with new Female Talent Coordinator Alex (Agrotis) taking over from inaugural coordinator, Claudia Davey. It might be a new change, but Read praised both Agrotis and boys’ Talent Coordinator, Luke Williams who had done an “awesome” job over the pre-season.

“Luke who oversees the whole Western Jets program, he’s been awesome supporting the girl’s program whilst also managing the boy’s 16s and boy’s 18s,” Read said. “He’s been really charitable with his time while we did find a coordinator in Alex. “She’s hit the ground running too. “She’s awesome, she just allows the coaches and players to be able to focus on training and improving and setting the standards on the track while she looks after everything in the background.”

Having decided the Jets’ squad early last week following a practice match against Dandenong Stingrays, Read said he was excited about the youth coming through.

“The growth in the western region is super exciting,” he said. “It’s a really large pool that we worked with pre-Christmas. “(We) narrowed it down after heading into the Christmas break and probably had another three or four weeks as a group and finalised it last week and had our team-building camp on the weekend.”

Like a number of clubs, the bottom-age talent coming through is among the first to have played football throughout all their junior years and travelled down a more traditional pathway to their predecessors of years gone by. Read agreed with the statement that there are quite a number of 16-year-olds who are forcing their way onto NAB League Girls lists.

“Yeah, and if you look across the league that seems to be the general feel is that we’ve got the 16s now who are probably the first group who have been able to play at every level which is indicative of the youth girls space,” Read said. “We’ve got a couple of 19-year-olds who haven’t played much footy who have been given the opportunity to come back and a couple coming back from injury, so they got some concessions. “Then we’ve got a good crop of 18 and 17-year-olds, and the top-age 16-year-olds. I think there’s a good balance of talent across all the age levels for sure.”

While the bottom-age talent is impressive, the Jets have also brought in a few 19-year-old talents to help strengthen the program.

“We’ve got Olivia Forsyth who missed all of last year with an ACL,” Read said. “So just little steps as we go. “Every training session we get through she gets better and we’re not rushing her to get best on ground Round 1. “We want her to get back into her footy, and she’s a really good character to have around the group which is why we wanted to give her another crack. “Then we have a couple of code-hoppers from basketball and soccer who have some characteristics that are definitely looking like being able to play at a high level, but again we’re not putting any expectations on them.”

Looking at the top-age group, the standout prospect is key defender, Isabelle Pritchard who has already represented Vic Metro as a bottom-ager at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships. Read said there was “something special” about the intercept marking machine, and spectators could see her develop further up the ground after ticking all the boxes at half-back.

“She’s going great guns,” he said. “She’s working really closely with Aasta (O’Connor) in the (AFL Women’s Academy) program. “She did it last year and was in as a bottom-age Metro last year and she’s got something special about her. “She competes, one-on-one, they know she can play really good footy at half-back, but we’ll be looking to give her opportunities as a taller, bigger-bodied midfielder going forward and test her in some other areas. “She’s a great kid, really studious. “It’s one thing we preach at the Jets is that AFLW is not a full-time career so we try and develop them in other areas as well whether it’s casual work, studies, whatever it is they might be doing outside of footy, and she’s one that’s really focused on having a good crack at Year 12 and her footy will flow on from that.”

Another couple of watch are those at bottom-age level with Montana Ham and Charlotte Baskaran already showing signs that they will be talents for years to come. Read said Ham had “shot up two feet” and had a competitiveness like few others, admitting she hated to lose at anything, whether it was a match of football or a game of tic-tac-toe. Baskaran is another who has impressed in the pre-season showing off her “elite skills and decision making”, with the bottom-age player already able to kick on both feet and make few mistakes with her ball use. While those two might be ones for the future, Read said there would be a less reliance on individuals and more on team performance, with speed a key characteristic of the Jets’ game.

“I think we’ll be quick,” he said. “I don’t think we’re overly tall, but if you look at the trend of the NAB League to this point, the ball spends a fair bit of time on the deck, so to have some clean, fleet-footed, almost a mosquito fleet running around, will play into our favour. “But we want to play a pretty tall spine to play around, and we’ve got the players to do that, but I think our asset with definitely be our speed.”

Following the hitout with Dandenong a couple of weeks back, the Jets will play their final practice match this Friday night against Calder Cannons at RAMS Arena. Read said the club had been lucky – “touch wood” – with few injuries over the pre-season, praising his staff for their work in keeping everyone fit and healthy. As for expectations heading into 2020, the Western Jets’ coach said there were none.

“We’re just looking to fast-track the girls for whatever footy lays ahead and I think the key focuses for us were improvement on our skills, just having those elite characteristics at training and on game day,” Read said. “They’ll be our two focuses for the year.”

AFL Women’s Top 15 improvers: Cats youth develop while Crows step up

THE AFL Women’s season is only two games in, but there have already been a number of impressive performers in season 2020. We take a look at the top 15 players who have improved their game from season 2019 to season 2020. While we understand that it is a matter of opinion, we have crunched the numbers to bring a factual approach, looking at those players who have bolstered their Draft Central (DC) Points the most in that time frame. DC Points are similar to the traditional fantasy points, with the exception of not including free kicks for or against, as to not penalise or reward players in that aspect of the game. It is a debate for another day, but overall this method is a good measure of improvement based on statistical areas.

What we have listed are the top 15 players in the AFL Women’s who have shot up the rankings in terms of their DC points, looking at their total points this year compared to last, providing an insight into those players who have really stepped it up this season.

eq #1 Rebecca Webster
Geelong
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 221st / 20
2020 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 7th / 72 (+52)

The clear standout for the Most Improved if there was such an award, with the former Murray Bushrangers skipper playing more midfield minutes in 2020 and benefiting massively. She has gone from a consistent role player in the defensive half of the ground, where she averaged 6.3 disposals, one mark, one tackle and one rebound per game from four games last season, into a ball winning juggernaut of 17 disposals, 6.5 marks three inside 50s and two rebounds per game, covering the ground more than before. It followed on from her strong VFL Women’s season where she spent a lot of time in the midfield, averaging 16.5 touches per game and showing the coaches that she was capable of taking the next step in her game.

eq #1 Phoebe Monahan
Richmond
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 221st / 20
2020 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 7th / 72 (+52)

Crossing from GWS GIANTS to the Tigers over the off-season, Monahan was not as highly recognised as teammate, Christina Bernardi, but she has really stepped it up in season 2020 to match it with Geelong young gun, Webster. Having played at the GIANTS for two seasons and averaging between seven to eight disposals per game, Monahan has shot up to 17.5 per match getting around the ground and primarily playing out of the back half. She has already recorded a massive 6.5 rebounds and three inside 50s to help the Tigers, and while they have lost both their clashes so far, the 26-year-old has provided some good experience in defence for the young Cubs.

#3 Anne Hatchard
Adelaide
2019 DC Rank + Ave: 14th / 73
2020 DC Rank + Ave: 1st / 121 (+48)

The only other player close to the top two in season 2020 is Anne Hatchard. Already a prominent ball winner with the Crows, the absence of Erin Phillips from that midfield group has forced Hatchard to shoulder more of the load with Ebony Marinoff and the other Crows midfielders. Having already averaged more than anyone else on this list last season with 73 DC points to accompany 18.9 disposals, she is far and away the top disposals winner in 2020, averaging 29.5 and holding the league record of 35 touches in a game, whilst averaging the six marks as well. While unlikely to maintain those kind of lofty averages throughout the season, her start has certainly been remarkable.

#4 Sharni Layton
Collingwood
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 207th / 22
2020 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 34th / 55 (+33)

There would be very few who would have expected the former Australian Diamonds netballer to be this high up on the list, if at all. Having played six games last season off no real football experience, Layton rarely got near it and was learning from a blank canvas. Fast forward 12 months, and the ruck looks like a natural at the game, averaging 18.5 hitouts and kicking her first AFL Women’s goal in Round 1. She has also more than doubled her disposals and is clunking her marks, laying more tackles and looking a dangerous prospect for any opposition player considering her frame. While it might look like she burst onto the scene this year, the foundations for this kind of form were built in the VFL Women’s last season, averaging 11 disposals, 15.6 hitouts, three tackles and two marks per game. Stunningly, Layton averages the same DC points as Ellie Blackburn and Jenna Bruton, showing the form she is in.

eq. #5 Danielle Ponter
Adelaide
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 127th / 33
2020 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 24th / 61 (+28)

With the high injury toll at the Crows, some of their next tier was bound to stand up, and Danielle Ponter has been one of those players. In 2019, Ponter played as a pure small forward in her debut season, playing eight games and snaring 13 goals in that time at an impressive 1.6 per game. While no doubt benefiting from the strength of the Crows line-up, she held her spot and then this season has moved further up the ground, averaging 12.5 disposals, 3.5 marks and 3.5 inside 50s per game. She is yet to hit the scoreboard, but is setting others up, using her class and poise to work her way through opposition defensive zones and she has a high upside for the future.

eq. #5 Breann Moody
Carlton
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 185th / 25
2020 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 44th / 53 (+28)

Much like Layton, Moody is a player you might not expect to be on this list as the ruck roles are often underrated at AFL Women’s level and the focus being on the midfielders or key forwards. Along with Layton, Moody has been sensational to start the season, averaging 16 hitouts and 10 disposals, after just the 6.4 and 4.4 respectively from eight games last year. While deployed as a forward who rotated through the ruck last year, she has taken the number one ruck role by the horns and is thriving in 2020.

#7 Jasmine Garner
North Melbourne
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 29th / 59
2020 DC Rank + Ave: 3rd / 86 (+27)

Already considered one of the league’s best players, and certainly most damaging, Garner has been played up both ends but seems most at home in the forward half. Last year she broke even with her 2018 season at the Pies, booting the same amount of goals, but without the heavily reliance on her performing, and finding a pure role in attack. At Collingwood she played at both ends, and while 2018 might be considered her best year, she is only track to easily eclipse that in 2020. Right now she is third overall for DC points, and is averaging a massive 19 disposals, four marks, five tackles and a goal a game from her two matches.

eq. #8 Olivia Purcell
Geelong
2019 DC Rank + Ave: 39th / 53
2020 DC Rank + Ave: 4th / 77 (+24)

The second of the Cats young brigade to get a mention in this list, Purcell has bolstered herself up to be a genuine Most Valuable Player (MVP) chance. Not only has she maintained her ball-winning abilities, but she showed she can hit the scoreboard, booting two goals in her Round 2 match against Brisbane. Only in her second season, Purcell is averaging six more disposals and four more marks, getting to the outside more often, and also dropping into defence to help out as a key cog in that midfield group. Another player who build form through the VFL Women’s program with a strong season.

eq. #8 Aasta O’Connor
Geelong
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 144th / 30
2020 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 39th / 54 (+24)

Having an early season purple patch, O’Connor is back in the form that made her a damaging ruck at the Western Bulldogs a couple of seasons ago. Her first season in the blue and white hoops was interrupted and less consistent, but her start in 2020 has been impressive, coaching the younger rucks such as Rene Caris to come through, and is the perfect centre square ruck in the Cats side with the likes of Purcell, Webster and Nina Morrison all running around – players who O’Connor has mentored and watched develop through her role in the AFL Women’s Academy.

#10 Julia Crockett-Grills
Geelong
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 132nd / 32
2020 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 34th / 55 (+23)

With four players in the top 10, it shows the Cats are doing something right even if it might not be shown on the scoreboard just yet. Crockett-Grills, like Purcell has developed into a fully fledged AFL Women’s midfielder, averaging 15.5 disposals, 3.0 marks and 3.5 tackles per game. She steadily built form in the Cats program last season, playing eight games in the AFLW since being drafted from the premiership-winning Hawks’ outfit. Her VFLW season was even better last year and she has continued that form in 2020 at the elite level.

#11 Stacey Livingstone
Collingwood
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq 110th / 36
2020 DC Rank + Ave: 27th / 58 (+22)

The reliable defender would be a lock for All-Australian if the team was decided right now, and it is little surprise to see her in this rich vein of form considering her VFLW season. She won the Lisa Hardeman Medal for best on ground in the VFLW Grand Final and has rolled that form into the 2020 AFLW season. Now into her fourth season, Livingston has really stepped up her offensive game to match that of her dire defensive work which saw her nullify many key forwards in the past. Now Livingston has become more of an offensive threat, which has shown in her improvements in disposal numbers (+4), rebounds (+2) and marks (+2).

eq. #12 Ash Riddell
North Melbourne
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 35th / 55
2020 DC Rank + Ave: 6th / 73 (+18)

While we have not included players who missed the season last year, Riddell did get on the park in a couple of games before going down in Round 2. Comparing her two games from last season to 2020, Riddell has been more potent on the attack, with six more disposals and three more inside 50s per game. She is still laying her 4.5 tackles per game and able to hit the scoreboard, but she is pushing up the ground and impacting the contest to a greater degree. After an elite VFLW campaign, Riddell is a good chance for All-Australian form if she can maintain her early season showings.

eq. #12 Christina Bernardi
Richmond
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 90th / 39
2020 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 28th / 57 (+18)

The Richmond forward came with plenty of hype in the off-season as one of the famed trio to land at the yellow and black along with Katie Brennan and Sabrina Frederick. Her season at the GIANTS was underwhelming, playing deeper that she did at Collingwood and not having the same impact. Now at Richmond, Bernardi is having a greater influence on the game up the field, averaging 13.5 disposals and 3.5 marks per game, back in the form she was in for the black and white in 2018.

eq. #12 Renee Forth
Adelaide
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 90th / 39
2020 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 28th / 57 (+18)

Of all the marquee players from the inaugural season, the 32-year-old Forth is often seen as flying under the radar. She crossed from the GIANTS to the Crows last season and played in a premiership off the back of an improved year without the injury concerns of 2018. In 2020, Forth has already lifted her numbers across the board, and is averaging double-figure disposals as well as a career-high 3.5 tackles and 3.0 inside 50s per game. Not a known huge ball winner like some of her teammates, she has stepped it up so far and is playing her role well.

#15 Gemma Houghton
Fremantle
2019 DC Rank + Ave: eq. 53rd / 46
2020 DC Rank + Ave: 22nd / 63 (+17)

The Fremantle tall forward is flying under the radar this season despite becoming a real target inside 50. With all the talk around the young crop coming through at the Dockers, Houghton is going about her business to average 13.0 disposals, 4.5 marks, 3.0 hitouts, 3.5 tackles, 3.0 inside 50s and a goal per game. She covers a lot of ground and is doing well in a number of areas and has already been one of the top key forwards this season.