Tag: Britney gutknecht

2021 VFL Women’s Round 1 preview: Revamped state league returns after lost season

THE Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition returns this weekend, with a revamped structure seeing the season run concurrently with that of the AFL Women’s (AFLW). As somewhat of a reserves league to aligned sides in the top flight, the VFLW features 12 teams in 2021, including Port Melbourne after the Borough took on Richmond’s license. Round 1 sees fixtures spread evenly over Saturday and Sunday, starting at Arden Street as North Melbourne hosts Port Melbourne.

North Melbourne vs. Port Melbourne
Saturday February 27, 10:00am
Arden Street Oval

North Melbourne welcomes competition newcomer, Port Melbourne to the VFL Women’s on Saturday morning as the two sides open season 2021 at Arden Street Oval. While still a proud standalone club, the Borough has taken on Richmond’s VFLW license and will thus have access to Tigers players who miss out on AFLW selection. Likewise, North Melbourne’s top flight alignment will see some senior listed Kangaroos line up in the blue and white each week.

The likes of Richmond forward Christina Bernardi and Melissa Kuys will be among the experienced names set to lead the Borough’s efforts, while an all-Richmond half-back line of Hannah McLaren, Sarah Sansonetti, and Laura McClelland should prove difficult to budge. Murray Bushrangers graduate Sophie Locke is another exciting young talent in Port’s side, named in the back pocket.

New Roo Katelyn Cox is set for a reserves outing in North’s midfield, lining up next to Meagan Kiely and Bethany Lynch with Lexi Hamilton a handy ruck to be roving under. Nikki Wallace, another with AFLW experience lines up in defence and Brooke Brown gets a gig at the other end of the ground. Brown was taken by North Melbourne as a surprise father-daughter selection in 2020.

Expect North Melbourne’s hardness and pressure around the ball to be a real feature, as Port looks to bring an exciting transition style to the fore in what should be a competitive start to the 2021 season.

Geelong vs. Collingwood
Saturday February 27, 12:00pm
Deakin University, Geelong (Waurn Ponds)

AFLW-aligned sides Geelong and Collingwood go head-to-head at Deakin University in Waurn Ponds on Saturday afternoon, looking to start their campaigns on the right foot. Both sides boast a strong mix of youth and experience in their Round 1 lineups, with the Cats benefitting significantly from their alignment to the top flight when it comes to the young talent at their disposal. Collingwood, of course, remains the reigning premier after the 2020 season was scrapped.

Among the exciting brigade of up-and-comers, Olivia Barber has been named at full forward and will spearhead the attack alongside skipper, Michelle Fedele. Paige Sheppard is poised to make her return to football in the hoops, named among an exciting midfield with Cats AFLW youngsters Laura Gardiner, Darcy Moloney, and ruck Rene Caris having all gained experience at senior level.

Collingwood’s tall stocks should trouble the Cats, particularly up forward. Senior ruck Bella Smith takes up the full forward spot with Sarah King set to take the first bounce, while Imogen Barnett is another to watch in Collingwood’s front half. Smith’s former Norwood teammate Matilda Zander looms as an exciting addition from the SANFL, with the Magpies’ forward depth pushing Amelia Velardo to half-back.

The Magpies will look to adopt a similar gameplan to their AFLW side, looking to take the game on in transition with an exciting handball style while also taking hold of the game when required. Geelong will also play an attacking brand, with youthful exuberance and instinct also poised to come into the Cats’ thinking.

Carlton vs. Casey Demons
Saturday February 27, 2:00pm
Princes Park

Another all-aligned clash takes place at Princes Park as Carlton and Casey Demons lock horns, rounding out Saturday’s fixtures. The Blues have hit the reset button on their VFLW program and will look a very fresh side this year, adopting a strong youth focus to help feed their AFLW squad. Casey also has strong ties to its AFLW-aligned team in Melbourne, with a fit and strong Demons unit out to prove just how fruitful their preseason has been.

The Blues will be led from the back with skipper Ally Bild lining up next to vice-captain Jen Lew across half-back, while Carlton-listed speedster Charlotte Hammans completes the line. Coming down from Cairns, Jasmine Ware is another to watch in Carlton’s defence, while Akayla Peterson looms as a high-upside type at the other end. Carlton draftees Winnie Laing and Paige Trudgeon will also get some run into their legs in the front half.

Casey captain Samantha Johnson is her side’s major off-season coup and will anchor the midfield alongside first year Melbourne midfielder, Megan Fitzsimon. Both will benefit from the ruckwork of Maggie Caris, while an all-Melbourne half-back line of Mietta Kendall, Isabella Simmons, and Irishwoman Lauren Magee should prove exciting to watch. Brenna Tarrant also features at full back, with three senior games under her belt this year.

With new coach Peter Mercoulia also embedded in Melbourne’s coaching staff, Casey will look to play fast and put heavy scoreboard pressure on. Carlton is led by a new coach of its own in Luke O’Shannessy, who should be able to extract great things from the Blues’ young talent with his vast pathways experience.

Western Bulldogs vs. Hawthorn
Sunday February 28, 10:00am
Whitten Oval

The Western Bulldogs kick off their 2021 campaign at home as Hawthorn rolls into town on Sunday morning, looking to take a big scalp early. The Bulldogs have built one of the best young AFLW lists, with the vast array of talent spilling into its reserves side and making for an exciting squad on paper. The standalone Hawks are also strong on youth, but have attracted some big-name experience with Bec Goddard set to take the reins as head coach for the first time since 2018.

An embarrassment of riches sees the Bulldogs’ forwardline stacked with five AFLW-listed talents, including Isabella Grant, Gemma Lagioia, and the experienced Lauren Spark. Mary Sandral is the lone VFLW-listed player to start in attack, though the likes of Nicole McMahon (ruck), skipper Riley Christgoergl (half-back), and vice-captain Katelyn Betts (centre) will be consistent VFLW figures this year. Under McMahon, the likes of Isabelle Pritchard, Brooke Hards, and Britney Gutknecht should be served well in midfield.

Some well-renowned names in female footballing circles will provide invaluable experience to Hawthorn’s fledgling side, with stalwart Meg Hutchins poised to take on a number of roles aside from her forwardline listing, while Abbey Holmes is a tough body at the contest who will rotate forward through midfield. Skipper Jess Trend is another with AFLW experience who should impact greatly, while Northern Territory recruit Dominique Carbone has serious potential. She is set for her VFLW debut on the same weekend the Darwin Buffettes play finals back home.

The Hawks should prove a well structured side under Goddard and will be sure to crack in hard, though the abundance of promising young options for the Bulldogs will be incredibly tough to overcome. Should they not rely on too few, the Hawks will be ultra competitive in the face of the Dogs’ rawness and fierce style.

Essendon vs. Southern Saints
Sunday February 28, 10:30am
The Hangar

Essendon is set to unveil its shiny new facilities at The Hangar on Sunday morning, hosting the Southern Saints in what should be a competitive clash. Gunning for an AFLW license, the Bombers remain standalone but have built a strong list with more continuity than other sides heading into 2021. The Saints have their St Kilda alignment to lean on, but are looking strong in their own right after a solid preseason.

Anchoring Essendon’s side will be skipper Georgia Nanscawen, who is part of a terrific spine in the red and black. Cecilia McIntosh lines up down back, while Courtney Ugle provides some grunt, and Mia-Rae Clifford gets a fresh start up forward. Of the up-and-comers, Eloise Ashley-Cooper and Alana Barba have already performed well in the sash, with a host of young prospects set to filter through Essendon’s lineup as the season progresses.

Tara Bohanna (full back) and Deanna Jolliffe (rover) will lead the Saints out as co-captain Frankie Hocking has not been named. Georgia McLean is one to watch off half-back having crossed from Casey, while Poppy Kelly and Alice Burke are the only St Kilda AFLW players to feature in the lineup – both named on the interchange bench ahead of three emergencies from the senior squad.

The Saints have not put a ceiling on their potential and promise to open the game up with unpredictable ball movement. The Bombers’ continuity as a group and greater poise with such experience could well play a factor in this clash, with both sides backing their cohesion after so long away from competitive action.

Darebin vs. Williamstown
Sunday February 28, 11:30am
La Trobe University, Bundoora

Pioneer club, the Darebin Falcons take on Williamstown in Round 1’s closing fixture on Sunday, set to play out at La Trobe University in Bundoora. Both proud standalone clubs, these two sides will be made up purely of VFLW-listed talent early on before gaining access to NAB League and potentially even AFLW talent as those seasons are run and done. The two sides already faced off during preseason, with Williamstown winning by 11 points at the same venue.

Led by the returning Stephanie Simpson, Darebin has a bunch of leaders set to build the standards under coach Mitch Skelly. In defence, Gena Lawson-Tavan is one who promises to do exactly that as vice-captain, while fellow leaders Cherelle Byrne (centre) and Alyssa Mifsud (full forward) are other leaders littered up and down the spine. One Falcon to watch is Stephanie Elarmaly, a youngster who has come through Darebin’s youth system.

2019 premiership coach Penny Cula-Reid crossed from Collingwood after her flag triumph, and takes over an exciting standalone squad. Skipper Erin Meade has locked in a spot at half-back, with reigning best and fairest winner Megan Williamson set to resume her midfield duties. Asha Price and Eliza Straford should be good value up forward, while Scarlett Dunell, the sister of former Seagull Sam lines up in defence.

There is often a great unknown around the standalone sides, especially after so long away from competitive action, but the two sides will know each other well after their preseason meeting and will get a good assessment of their 2021 chances in this bout.

Image Credit: Kelly Defina/AFL Photos

NAB League Girls Round 1 preview: Undefeated 2020 sides to face off in huge round of action

AT least one of the three undefeated sides from the 2020 NAB League Girls season will extend their winning run to 18 months or more, when the competition returns this weekend. Starting tomorrow, the NAB League Girls will have six games across four different venues – including one double-header – in a new footballing landscape for 2021. For Dandenong Stingrays, they will have to tack on an extra week to their extended break that saw the 2020 season come to an unfulfilled end last year, after they were handed the bye. For the 12 other teams, it will be a chance to start the season off on the right note. For the likes of Northern Knights, Oakleigh Chargers and Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels, they look to continue what they started last year, having not lost since 2019, or in the Knights’ case, the 2018 grand final.

Eastern Ranges vs. Western Jets
Saturday, February 6 @ 12pm
Kilsyth Recreation Reserve

In what is officially the first NAB League Girls game in almost 12 months, Western Jets will cross the West Gate Bridge and head down to Kilsyth Recreation Reserve where the Eastern Ranges will be waiting for them. These teams last played way back in Round 4, 2019, when the Ranges easily accounted for the Jets by 43 points. A dominant second half where they booted 6.2 to 0.0 saw them run out 7.4 to 0.3 winners, with Olivia Meagher picking up 17 disposals, three tackles and three inside 50s.

Meagher has been named for the match tomorrow, with last year’s captain to play as a 19-year-old prospect in 2020. She is the only Ranges player from that match to remain on the list, whilst a trio of then 15-year-old talents in Caitlin Sargent, Trinity Skenderis and Jemima Woods – as well as now top-age and over-age talents respectively, Nikita Wright and Ciara Singleton – all remain on the Jets’ list having played in that match.

Looking at the teams, the match will be won and lost in the middle, with the Jets having some great height, whilst the Ranges have speed to burn. That is not to say the respective teams do not have the opposite as well, but they are damaging in their respective areas. For the home team, Jorja Livingstone was a player who really shone last year and is a clean ball user and able to work her way out of stoppages. She will team up with the likes of Meagher and Bridget Deed in the middle, roving Georgia Campbell‘s taps. Up forward, Matilda Hardy, Jade Hutchison and Isabella Khoury are ones to watch, whilst Saskia Nannes will be a potential big improver with more matches after having the season cut short last year.

For Western, their under-age group is brimming with talent, though now with extra experience, Sargent, Skenderis and Woods will be among those to watch. Montana Ham and Charlotte Baskaran present as two of the top 2022 prospects, with Ham’s versatility and size through the midfield hard to match, while Baskaran’s run and carry – as well as her elite use by foot – will provide a one-two punch that is always difficult to combat.

This is a game that could go right down to the wire, and difficult to predict with so many new players, but Eastern might have the upper hand at home.

Murray Bushrangers vs. Bendigo Pioneers
Saturday, February 6 @ 12.15pm
JC Lowe Oval, Yarrawonga

From the east to the far north, Murray Bushrangers will host Bendigo Pioneers in a terrific spectacle for the country regions at Yarrawonga. Both these teams have a talented tall in the AFL Women’s Academy which makes things exciting. These two teams have also not played since March 30, 2019 when the Pioneers – during their most successful season to-date – toppled the Bushrangers by 14 points in Wangaratta.

That day it was Annabel Strahan (now Bulldogs) who had 20 touches, seven tackles, five inside 50s and a goal) and Brooke Hards (17 disposals, three marks, 11 tackles, four inside 50s and three rebounds) who teamed up to cause havoc on the Bushrangers, while Millie Brown (now Geelong) racked up 27 disposals and six rebounds, and Abby Favell (22 disposals, five marks eight tackles, three inside 50s and two rebounds) were the best for the losing side.

A then 15-year-old Ally Morphett had 11 disposals, two marks, 14 hitouts and two inside 50s, with the now AFL Women’s Academy member looming as the key player for the Bushrangers. Bendigo’s Academy member Tara Slender also played in that match, picking up seven disposals and having six hitouts, though the pair are unlikely to spend too much time one-on-one considering Slender will roll through a key position role and Morphett will be one of the dominant rucks in the competition.

Looking at the overall squads, Murray’s defence is strong given the likes of Mindy Quade and Kristy Whitehead provided plenty of run down there – though could be utilised further up the ground this season. Lily Sharp has been touted as one to watch by the Bushrangers’ coaching staff following a big off-season, and Keeley Skepper remains one of Vic Country’s top talents for 2022. Kate Adams returning as co-captain and providing experience and strength in the midfield will also be important.

For the Pioneers, Slender could be the top Vic Country prospect this year and will always be difficult to beat in the air, with the Pioneers’ captain not having to shoulder the ruck load given Madeline Marks‘ efforts in 2020. She will have her hands full against Morphett but it could be a fascinating battle, while Jayda Richardson, and now top-age talents Elizabeth Snell and Jemma Finning provide much needed experience to a really young Pioneers outfit.

Murray is excited about the depth of its squad in 2021, and while the Pioneers have some great young talents coming through, the extra experience for the Bushrangers – and what they started to show last year – should have them favourites at home in Yarrawonga.

Gippsland Power vs. Tasmania Devils
Saturday, February 6 @ 12.30pm
Highgate Recreation Reserve

In a battle between two teams that are building exciting programs, Gippsland Power “hosts” Tasmania Devils at Highgate Recreation Reserve. The furthest south east side travel up the highway to welcome the league’s newest team that only managed to taste one game in Victoria last year. The Devils had a rough introduction to the NAB League Girls competition – though the improvement from their brutal loss to Oakleigh Chargers to being competitive for the most part against Eastern Ranges has plenty of people buoyant about what they could produce in 2021.

These teams have never played before, and both have younger lists, sprinkled with some top-age and over-age experience. Key position players Camilla Taylor and Shanara Notman are the 20-year-old allowances in those sides, and have the size to cause a matchup dilemma for their respective opponents. Tasmania Devils have the sole AFL Women’s Academy member in this match, with the speedy Perri King looking to breakdown the Power’s zones and create some important run and carry for her side.

Aside from King, Amy Prokopiec remains a player to watch, having predominantly played as a last-line defender in previous seasons for the Devils, but became a reliable goalscoring threat in the TSL Women’s for Clarence. Other players who stood out 12 months ago include Jemma Blair, Aprille Crooks, Chelsea Thomas, Zoe Bourne and Meghan Gaffney. Having received an AFL Women’s Draft Combine invite without managing to get on the park in the NAB League Girls, Charlie Vandenberg will get a great opportunity in the ruck and rotating forward with Taylor against one of Vic Country’s top ruck prospects.

Grace Matser is going to be difficult to stop, with the ruck battle set to be a duel within the match not to be missed. As the only Power player above 180cm, she will look to control the airways. The Gippsland midfield has some nice depth to it, with Grace McRae returning to the fold after being unlucky to miss out on the draft in 2020, and will get a good chance to play consecutive games this season. Matilda Van Berkel is another one with experience and able to play a number of roles, while Holly Booth and Sunday Brisbane are among those tipped to cause problems for the opposition. One name to remember for next year is Lily-Rose Williamson who has come through the V/Line Cup program and been one ready to step up at the level.

This game is as 50/50 as they come, so as is often the case in 50/50 games, we will lean towards the “home” team in Gippsland Power, though Tasmania Devils will be keen to sniff out their first win in the competition.

Geelong Falcons vs. GWV Rebels
Sunday, February 7 @ 11am
Deakin University – Geelong

The final country game of the round occurs down in Geelong at Deakin University when the Falcons host the GWV Rebels. Much like the earlier two Saturday games, these two teams last played back in Round 4, 2019, when the Falcons – on their way to another finals series and coming off a premiership in 2018 – defeated the young Rebels by 36 points at City Oval in Ballarat. Luka Lesosky-Hay (31 disposals), Darcy Moloney (23) and Lucy McEvoy (22) all suffered leather poisoning and showed why they were capable of playing at the top level, whilst Nekaela Butler picked up 21 disposals and had six rebounds bravely defending for the home team.

There are a sprinkling of players from that day that remain on the lists in 2021, such as AFL Women’s Academy member Ella Friend, and Chloe Leonard and Crystal Summers (GWV Rebels), and Zoe Garth, Renee Tierney, Poppy Schapp and Elizabeth Dowling (Geelong). Those players will provide great experience for their respective sides in that clash, in what is sure to feature some of the best talent in the NAB League Girls competition.

The Falcons might not have an Academy member, but have plenty of developing young players, with Dowling a presence in the back half but can play anywhere, Annie Lee beside her in defence, Keeley Hardingham controlling the ruck, and Mia Van Dyke a bottom-age prospect who will be one to watch for next year able to roll through the midfield. Geelong has always been a team flushed with depth, and 2021 appears to be the same, with no shortage of talent across all three lines.

Alongside Friend – who will be that taller marking target at half-forward – Nyakoat Dojiok is the other AFL Women’s Academy member on the Rebels’ list. The running defender could start off half-back or roam along a wing depending on the team’s needs, able to add that mix of power and acceleration to breakaway from would-be tacklers. Leonard returns to the club as a new top-ager and one who will settle down the defence, while Stephanie Glover, Lilli Condon and Summers are some of the names to watch in the match.

Geelong have had such success over the past few years, it is hard to look past them at home. The Rebels will provide a great contest, but we will find out where both these teams are at following the Round 1 encounter.

Calder Cannons vs. Sandringham Dragons
Sunday, February 7 @ 11am
Highgate Recreation Reserve

In the first double-header of the year, a star-studded Calder Cannons outfit hosts an ever-growing talent base in the Sandringham Dragons. The last time these two met was in 2019 back in Round 3, as the Cannons went on to make the grand final that year. They only scored two behinds in the first half and trailed by five points at the main break, before booting the last four goals of the game to win 4.8 (32) to 1.3 (9) over the Dragons at Trevor Barker Oval.

Alice Burke (St Kilda) and Sarah Hartwig (Bulldogs) were among the top players for the Dragons, whilst it was Georgia Patrikios (St Kilda) and Krstel Petrevski (Melbourne) who shone from those who have been drafted. Best on ground that day was Georgie Prespakis who lit it up with 23 disposals, three marks, eight tackles, four inside 50s and two rebounds. The now-Cannons captain will look to have an equally big impact this year, while Emelia Yassir, Kasey Lennox, Alisa Magri, Zali Friswell and Neve Crowley are just a handful of the talented names who also played as 15/16-year-old talents on that day.

The Cannons have proven to have such great development over the past few years, and all the above names along with Mali McLeod, Peppa Poultney and Jessica Zakkour makes them a rock solid team across the board. Though their opponents are no slouches either. Back in the 2019 clash, now-captain Kiana Lynch, as well as the likes of Charli Murphy, Summer Trim, Emma Stuber, Isabella Stutt, Ebony Angelopoulos and Chloe Saultry all took to the field, so the Dragons have a core of players with plenty of experience under their belt.

Murphy will provide that marking target up forward, while Lynch will lead a host of bottom-agers with future potential. Bridie Hipwell and Sofia Hurley are just a couple of names who still have another year to go after this one, but are becoming key players in the Dragons outfit going forward. They made great strides last season and play what would be considered the benchmark team in the competition first-up here.

Calder Cannons deserve to be favourites for the overall title, so it is hard to tip against them in any game. The Dragons will be up and about and likely to be among the contenders this season too, so buckle up for an exciting contest.

Northern Knights vs. Oakleigh Chargers
Sunday, February 7 @ 12.45pm
Highgate Recreation Reserve

Wrapping up the weekend might just be the tightest of the lot, with both Northern Knights and Oakleigh Chargers going undefeated last year, and technically the Knights are still the reigning premiers from 2019. Both these sides had a host of players drafted in 2020, with the Knights having the first three Victorian players taken in the draft. These two sides played back in Round 2, 2019, when they played out a thrilling draw in what would be the only match where the Knights did not collect the full points that season.

Future AFL Women’s talents, Ellie McKenzie, Britney Gutknecht, Gabby Newton and Alyssa Bannan were the best for the Knights, while Mimi Hill, Joanna Lin, Alana Porter and Emily Harley all shone for the Chargers. Also playing that day was now AFL Women’s Academy member, Maykaylah Appleby who leads the Knights charge in 2021, with Teleah Smart, Mikayla Plunkett, Jessica Simpson and Tallia Pulcino among the current-listed Northern players running around that day.

Appleby is the one to watch this season, but the Knights have brought back a host of top-age players such as Plunkett, Pulcino, Maeve Chaplin, Trinity Mills and Gulia Ceravolo, so have plenty of experience to guide the next crop of Knights talents. Some names to watch this year aside from the above group with a point to prove are the likes of defender Tarrah Delgado and ruck Georgia Kitchell who showed some promising signs in the short 2020 season.

The Chargers had the likes of Taylah Morton, Kalarni Kearns, Charlie Rowbottom, Eliza James and Emma Chamberlain running around in the draw with the Knights, and have been growing some phenomenal depth of late. Rowbottom is the AFL Women’s Academy talent and if she crosses paths with Appleby, it will provide plenty of highlights. Add in the likes of top-ager Amanda Ling, middle-ager Stella Reid, and bottom-ager Rianna Thiele, and the Chargers have built an exciting list.

Another 50/50 split game that could go either way. It is hard to look past the Knights’ success rate, but what the Chargers were starting to do last year, the depth is among the best going around so Oakleigh could become the first team to knock off Northern in almost three years.

2021 AFL Women’s: Round 2 preview – Pioneer Blues and Bulldogs open Pride Round

PRIDE is the theme of Round 2 in the 2021 AFL Women’s season, as the competition holds its inaugural Pride Round. The Western Bulldogs and Carlton, who have previously hosted annual Pride matches, will open the weekend’s action on Friday night as the remaining fixtures fall into place after multiple shake-ups. Remarkably, all seven games are set to go ahead in the rejigged round, with results as important as ever among the continual pandemic-produced unpredictability.

Note: All start times are local

Western Bulldogs vs. Carlton
Friday February 5, 7:45pm
Whitten Oval

Western Bulldogs and Carlton kick off Pride Round at Whitten Oval on Friday night, marking a historic and important event on the AFL Women’s calendar. Both sides remain searching for their first wins in 2021 after opening round losses, with a dreaded 0-2 start awaiting the team which goes down once again.

Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke has enacted four changes to the side which lost to St Kilda, with young pups Gemma Lagioia and Britney Gutknecht among the casualties. Carlton has been forced into just one change, as key defender Mua Laloifi misses through the updated concussion protocols and is replaced by Jess Edwards at half-back.

Laloifi’s absence may open the door for the Dogs to excel in attack, leaving Charlotte Wilson to shoulder a heap of intercept work against a forwardline spearheaded by Izzy Huntington. But the ball will have to get there first, with Carlton’s hardened midfield out to prove a point having been definitively blitzed by Collingwood in the second term last time out.

Tip: The Bulldogs are slowly finding their feet, but the Blues should come out firing after a shock loss. Wet weather will play a factor in the margin, Blues by 11.

Collingwood vs. Geelong
Saturday February 6, 3:10pm
Victoria Park

A fixture shuffle has seen Collingwood and Geelong land each other in Round 2, with football returning to the Magpies’ spiritual home of Victoria Park on Saturday afternoon. The Cats are coming off a 62-point drubbing at the hands of North Melbourne, while Collingwood opened the season with an impressive upset victory over traditional rival, Carlton, making for very contrasting formlines.

The Magpies’ midfield was excellent last time out and a new-look forwardline featuring Chloe Molloy and Bri Davey looks poised for more success in 2021. One of the Cats’ best lines is its defence though, with skipper Meghan McDonald supported well by the likes of Maddy McMahon, Amy McDonald, and Millie Brown.

Collingwood will be without recruit Aliesha Newman after she was handed a one-week ban for her sling tackle on Carlton’s Laloifi, but the Pies’ confidence should be sky high nonetheless. On the other hand, Geelong will have to quickly pick up the pieces to recover here, especially after an impotent display forward of centre in Round 1.

Tip: Collingwood looks set to be one of the big risers in 2021 and while Geelong has potential, its young side will likely work in peaks and troughs. Another trough here for the Cats, Pies by 23.

Melbourne vs. Richmond
Saturday February 6, 5:10pm
Casey Fields

Riding the wave of a Round 1 win, Melbourne hosts Richmond at Casey Fields on Saturday night looking to go two from two. Both sides took on Queensland teams last week but came out with contrasting results; as the Dees clicked into gear after quarter time to trump Gold Coast, while Richmond could only hang with Brisbane for a half before giving way in a five-goal loss.

The Lions may have uncovered a continued area of weakness for Richmond after tagging Monique Conti out of the first half, with Melbourne’s engine room typically an area of depth and prosperity. The Dees should again thrive in the midfield battle, though look for the likely tussle between first year jets Ellie McKenzie and Eliza McNamara to provide great entertainment on the outer.

Melbourne could quickly stake its claim for another finals berth should it string together some early wins, but the Tigers have shown signs of improvement and will hardly go down easily. Still searching for their maiden AFLW win, the Tigers have plenty to play for and will hope to avoid being the league’s cellar dweller for a second year running.

Tip: Melbourne looks a side determined to keep touch with the true premiership contenders, but cannot be caught lacking against the hungry Tigers. Still, the red and blue side should be too good all around the ground, Dees by 27.

North Melbourne vs. St Kilda
Sunday February 7, 1:10pm
Arden Street Oval

North Melbourne will be out to build on its formidable early form, if possible, when St Kilda rolls into Arden Street Oval for their Sunday afternoon clash. The Roos set a high ceiling with their maiden 2021 performance, which yielded the greatest opening round percentage in AFL/AFLW history. St Kilda is also in winning form, though having shaken off the Western Bulldogs in Moorabbin.

It is no secret that North Melbourne bats a ridiculously deep midfield, boasting arguably the most damaging brigade of ball winners in the competition. St Kilda’s young pair of Georgia Patrikios and Tyanna Smith will do their best to match the forward run-and-carry of North’s prime movers, especially after such promising showings last week.

North Melbourne has plenty of avenues to goal, with rotating ruck Emma King back to her scoring ways after three goals last week, while the Saints also showed they will not be entirely dependant on spearhead Caitlin Greiser to kick a winning score. Matching the Roos’ firepower will be tough, but could be manageable depending on the conditions and North Melbourne’s mood.

Tip: St Kilda will likely provide a much greater test for North and should stick with them in patches, but do not quite have the stock to go with a switched-on blue and white outfit for four quarters, Roos by 21.

Brisbane vs. Gold Coast
Sunday February 7, 2:10pm
Hickey Park

The second-ever AFL Women’s Q-Clash is set to go down on Sunday afternoon, as the Lions and Suns meet at Hickey Park having initially been poised against Victorian opponents. The makeshift fixture should provide fireworks, with last year’s inaugural all-Queensland dig ending in an enthralling draw, meaning bragging rights are well and truly up for grabs here.

Brisbane will look to replicate last year’s early run of form with a second win on the trot, while Gold Coast is still out to open its account for the season after an opening round loss to Melbourne. Both sides boast some terrific young talent, with the Lions’ Isabel Dawes fresh off a best-afield performance, and Gold Coast’s Kalinda Howarth hungry to hit the scoreboard after a goalless outing last week.

The experience is also there, headlined by Brisbane’s strong foundation crop – which may soon be bolstered by Jess Wuetschner – and opposed by Gold Coast’s new-look forwardline, which features vice-captain Sarah Perkins. Jamie Stanton and Alison Drennan will have plenty to do in midfield against the Lions’ strong ball winners, making for an intriguing clearance battle.

Tip: You can never count the fighting Suns out, especially with their youthful exuberance, but the Lions look a slight step ahead and should come away with bragging rights over their neighbours. Lions by 10.

GWS vs. Adelaide
Sunday February 7, 5:10pm
Blacktown International Sportspark

GWS is back home after a well-travelled preseason, set to host Adelaide at Blacktown International Sportspark on Sunday evening. Both teams were thrown into isolation after Round 1 and have undergone improvised solo training sessions for most of the week, which will inevitably show in how either side adjusts to the disruptions thrown their way.

Adelaide looks like quickly returning to its fearsome best in 2021, with the Crows’ many stars aligning to win big las week. Erin Phillips will hope to again take hold as she gets a clean run at it, while some added dynamism in the potential moving parts of Chelsea Randall, Ebony Marinoff, and Sarah Allan will give GWS plenty of headaches.

The Giants have showcased their fighting spirit and have the experience to give the Crows a good run here. An even five-goal loss to Fremantle in Round 1 was less than ideal on a pure results basis, but some strong contested work in the first half should put GWS in good stead to compete against top sides, like Adelaide, for periods of time.

Tip: Revenge will be in mind after GWS ended Adelaide’s finals hopes last year, and the visitors should have too much grunt going forward from midfield. Crows by 26.

Fremantle vs. West Coast
Sunday February 7, 4:15pm
Fremantle Oval

The Western Derby is on in Round 2 after last-minute confirmation of the bout came today, with Fremantle and West Coast set to lock horns in the weekend’s closing fixture. Akin to players in the Adelaide-GWS clash, both teams have been limited training-wise with just an hour of exercise permitted under Western Australia’s lockdown laws.

Freo looks every bit the powerhouse last year’s undefeated run suggested, maintaining their winning streak with a powerful Round 1 victory. West Coast looks an improved side despite falling well short of Adelaide in the end. While the Eagles managed 2.6 (18), the Dockers excelled with 8.10 (58) in their opening fixture.

That immense gap in scoring should again prove telling, with Fremantle’s dynamic and game-breaking forward movers in Gemma Houghton and Sabreena Duffy difficult to keep down, especially as Kara Antonio and Kiara Bowers move the ball forward with class from the outside and inside of midfield.

Tip: Fremantle has the early bragging rights in this rivalry and will likely continue to hold as much after Sunday’s clash. With too much going forward, Dockers by 40.

Image Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

AFL Women’s Young Gun Watch: Round 6

IN our sixth edition of the Young Gun Watch, we take a look at some of the top young performers across the AFL Women’s competition in Round 6 focusing on those players born in the 21st century (2000 or 2001). We analyse match-by-match just how they performed and what they did well.

Geelong vs. North Melbourne

North Melbourne ended up coasting to a comfortable victory over Geelong on Friday night to maintain top spot on the Conference A ladder. However, star Cat Nina Morrison’s devastating injury would be the main takeaway from the game as she unfortunately ruptured the ACL in her right knee for the second time in two seasons. As things went from bad to worse for Geelong fans, Olivia Purcell gave them something to smile about having collected 18 disposals and five tackles. Millie Brown (nine disposals) and Sophie Van De Heuvel (eight disposals) were also serviceable in what was a tough night for the Cats. Daisy Bateman again provided pressure up forward for the Kangaroos resulting in a goal for her five mark and five tackle effort. Making the most of a high-scoring team performance was Mia King, who managed her first career goal after gathering 12 disposals and an impressive seven tackles.

Brisbane vs. Collingwood

Collingwood collected a dominant road win against Brisbane, keeping them in the hunt for finals footy. Much like the rest of the team, Brisbane’s young talent couldn’t quite get into the game with their first draft pick in 2019, Lily Postlethwaite, collecting just the two disposals. Natalie Grider showed some positive signs out of defence, collecting 10 disposals and laying four tackles having to contend with the sharp and abundant inside 50 use from the Magpies. Full-forward Jesse Tawhaio-Wardlaw had seven disposals, three marks and six hit outs while Isabel Dawes managed five disposals in what was a quiet night for Brisbane’s forward stocks. Collingwood’s experience led the way as their young talent played roles in the win. Jordyn Allen had nine disposals and five marks while Lauren Butler also collected nine disposals off the half back-flank. Mikala Cann (five disposals, four tackles) and Alana Porter (five disposals) were also useful.

St Kilda vs Richmond

St Kilda boasted contributors across the board as they held Richmond goalless at Moorabbin on Saturday, a first in AFLW history. The Saints’ youth again impressed as their first draft pick, Georgia Patrikios, had 14 disposals and a couple of tackles out of the middle, unfortunately also just missing out on a goal. Dandenong product Molly McDonald showed large improvement with 12 disposals, six marks and three tackles, while Isabella Shannon was serviceable with four disposals and two tackles. Nicola Xenos again applied solid pressure in the centre with six tackles, as she enjoyed a well-rounded 11 disposal performance to go with a goal. The Tiger’s young talent endured a tough day with the rest of the team, with Kodi Jacques (seven tackles) and Sophie Molan (eight disposals) the stand-out players. With finals footy out of the question for Richmond, Nekaela Butler (five disposals, three tackles) and Ciara Fitzgerald (two disposals, two tackles) both debuted in the loss.

Melbourne vs. Carlton

Alice Springs brought the heat on Saturday in more ways than one, with the Blues enjoying a 16-point win over the Demons, propelling them to second on Conference B’s ladder. Sticking with mature-aged players, Melbourne again played just the two players born this century. Tyla Hanks has been the most impressive all season and started in the centre, collecting 11 disposals and laying six tackles. Hanks now averages five tackles per game on the season. Carlton’s youth again showed why they are arguably the best in the league, with Madison Prespakis leading the crop in a typical Prespakis performance of 23 disposals, four marks and a goal. Lucy McEvoy put up impressive numbers with 19 disposals, while last week’s Rising Star nominee, Charlotte Wilson, had 11 disposals and six marks out of defence. Murray product Grace Egan was also important, popping up with a goal to go with her 11 disposals and three tackles.

Western Bulldogs vs. Fremantle

Fremantle maintained its perfect record off the back of a dominant final quarter which saw them outscore the Bulldogs 25 to six at Whitten Oval on Sunday. The highest-scoring game in AFLW history was littered with admirable performances from youth on both sides as fans were treated to the future of the competition. The Bulldogs’ young talent improved greatly on last week’s performance with Gabby Newton (16 disposals, eight tackles) and Elisabeth Georgostathis (13 disposals, four tackles) leading the way. Gemma Lagiola (10 disposals) and Eleanor Brown (11 disposals, three tackles) were also important for the Bulldogs, as Hannah Munyard returned nine disposals, three tackles and a goal. Britney Gutknecht (seven disposals, four tackles) played her second game for the season, while fellow former Northern Knight Nell Morris-Dalton debuted with eight disposals and five tackles. Fremantle’s Mim Strom backed up last week’s effort with an even more dominant 25 hitouts, playing a lone hand in the ruck with Roxanne Roux out. Though it was not four goals, Sabreena Duffy managed to keep the Bulldogs defenders under pressure with five tackles, while Emma O’Driscoll managed seven disposals.

Adelaide vs. GWS GIANTS

The GIANTS defeated the Crows for the first time in franchise history behind closed doors on Sunday, running out five-point victors. Adelaide continue to showcase their young talent as finals footy feels like a long way for them having suffered this loss, with Montana McKinnon again the most impressive. The six-foot ruck again provided the Crows midfielders with deluxe service with 17 hitouts. Danielle Ponter collected six disposals out of full-forward to go with her two tackles, while Jaimi Tabb managed just the five disposals. GWS again opted with just the one player born in this century and you cannot blame them. Star midfielder Alyce Parker enjoyed a best-on-ground performance with 30 disposals, seven marks and three tackles. She led all players in the disposal count as she now averages just over 20 disposals on the season. With just two more 21st century-born players on the list, you hardly expect the GIANTS to change the formula heading toward finals.

West Coast vs. Gold Coast SUNS

The SUNS enjoyed a 25-point win on Sunday against the Eagles after having kept West Coast without a goal for the first three quarters. The Eagles will be looking forward to next year’s draft to secure more young talent as McKenzie Dowrick and Sophie McDonald were both out this week, leaving winger Mikayla Bowen the sole 21st century-born representative. Bowen gathered nine disposals and three tackles in what was a tough day for the Eagles. Inversely, Gold Coast’s youth all enjoyed solid outings as they kept their season alive. Lauren Bella dominated the ruck on her way to 16 hit outs, sharing the load with debutant Taylor Smith who was useful with 10 disposals and four hit outs. Gold Coast’s pressure was pivotal throughout the game with Jacqui Yorston (12 disposals, four marks, nine tackles), Ellie Hampson (12 disposals, six tackles) and Dee Heslop (five disposals, 10 tackles) all driving factors in that aspect.

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

AFL Women’s Young Gun Watch: Round 4

ROUND 4 of the 2020 AFL Women’s saw a number of young guns shine, with top-end first year draftees continuing to come into their own among a raft of 2000 and 2001-born prospects at the top level. The 2019 number one and 13 picks each earned Rising Star nominations, showcasing the true depth of talent in the next generation of future stars.

Collingwood vs. Melbourne

The Dees got up impressively in this one on the back of superior experience and depth, but Collingwood’s developing list has shown some noted signs of improvement in 2020 coming off a wooden spoon season. Tyla Hanks has, for the most part, been Melbourne’s sole under-21 representative thus far, and continued her solid form in the forward rotation with 15 disposals and five tackles. The Magpies’ youngsters were a touch quieter, but Mikala Cann was the pick of the bunch with 12 disposals, two marks and four tackles, while Alana Porter (11 disposals), Jordyn Allen (nine disposals, two marks), and Lauren Butler (eight disposals, five tackles) were also serviceable. With key defender Ash Brazill going down with an ACL injury on the weekend, the strong list of developing Pies will need to stand up in the back-end of the season.

Richmond vs. Geelong

An extra year in the system is the key difference between much of Geelong and Richmond’s teenage crops, and 2018 draftee Olivia Purcell proved the prime example of that theory with her leading hand in the Cats’ high-scoring win over the Tigers in Bendigo. Purcell gathered a team-high 20 disposals and booted a goal, while fellow class of 2018 graduate Georgia Clarke was effective close to goal with two majors from eight disposals. The Cats’ first 2018 pick, Nina Morrison continues to play into form and collected 12 touches in more of a forward role, with Rebecca Webster (eight disposals, six tackles) a touch down on her own much-improved form but still influential. Sophie Molan led a handful of first-year Tigers with her 10-disposal effort, while Kodi Jacques and Laura McClelland also held their own with a goal each. Former Northern Knights pair Maddy Brancatisano and Sarah Sansonetti had five touches each, but struggled to have the impact required to get Richmond over the line.

North Melbourne vs. Gold Coast SUNS

A winning debut for Tasmanian draftee, Mia King headlined a solid game for a bunch of quality prospects as the Kangaroos trumped Gold Coast at Arden Street. King collected 11 disposals and two marks while laying three tackles in a steady display of her talent, while 2018 draftee Daisy Bateman notched her second two-goal tally for the season, booting majors at crucial times to keep the SUNS at bay. For Gold Coast, Jacqui Yorston was terrific with 15 disposals, five marks and six tackles, leading a talented handful of 2000/2001-born SUNS guns. Fellow former-Lion Lauren Bella continued her rise in the ruck with 10 touches and three marks, while academy products Ellie Hampson and Serene Watson each claimed eight touches in roles at opposite ends. The exuberant SUNS have been a surprise packet this season, with their hunger for the contest helping them hang with the best of sides, and that will put them in good stead going forward in accelerating their growth.

West Coast vs. Western Bulldogs

West Coast’s maiden AFL Women’s victory may have been the main takeaway from this fixture for neutrals, but those on the Dogs’ side will be thrilled by the game of 2019 number one draft pick, Gabby Newton. The Northern Knights graduate gathered 16 touches, five marks and laid 10 tackles – all season-high numbers – to earn a Rising Star nomination, while fellow class of 2019 alumni Gemma Lagioia (12 disposals, three marks) and Elisabeth Georgostathis shone at either end, and debutant Hannah Munyard found the ball eight times. Second year player Eleanor Brown also put up her clear-best numbers for the year with 12 disposals and five marks on the outside, with plenty to work on for the former top-10 pick. Mikayla Bowen was the standout Under-20 Eagle, notching 11 disposals and laying six tackles, with prized tall recruit McKenzie Dowrick returning a steady three touches while Sophie McDonald managed nine – a season-high for her.

Adelaide vs. Carlton

The other Rising Star nomination came out of a monumental Blues’ win, with physical 19-year-old midfielder Grace Egan being rewarded for a strong string of performances. The Murray Bushrangers and Richmond VFL product managed her second 18-disposal game for the season, adding six marks and four tackles to the effort. 2019 Rising Star Madison Prespakis went about her usual business with a team-high 20 disposals and one goal, while Round 1 nominee Lucy McEvoy had it 14 times to go with seven tackles, and Charlotte Wilson enjoyed a breakout game of 19 disposals and nine marks after missing last week. For the depleted Crows, Danielle Ponter failed to find the big sticks after a four-goal effort in Round 3, kept to a season-low of six disposals. Fellow forward Nikki Gore stayed true to her seasonal form with eight disposals and three tackles, but was also kept out of the scoreboard as Carlton’s defence stood firm.

St Kilda vs. Fremantle

A strange and undeniably tense contest between St Kilda and Fremantle saw pre-listed Dandenong Stingrays graduate Molly McDonald play a massive part in the outcome of the game, while a host of other first and second year players had promising cameos. St Kilda looked arguably the better side and like being the eventual winner when McDonald snapped through a wonderful goal in the last term, but a costly 50-metre penalty against the 2019 draftee cruelly gifted Fremantle a chance to stay in the game. Prized pick Georgia Patrikios (11 disposals, two marks) was down on her disposal output but still strong, while Nicola Xenos‘ pace and repeat efforts proved menacing, but the promising signs in a tight loss were somewhat soured by a serious knee injury to 19-year-old Tarni White, who immediately knew of the severity. Fremantle’s generational tall prospects were a touch quieter, with Mim Strom and Roxanne Roux having a combined 11 disposals, while Sabreena Duffy had seven touches and two behinds and Emma O’Driscoll (six disposals, two marks) enjoyed a steady first game for the season.

Brisbane vs. GWS GIANTS

Brisbane’s young guns enjoyed some success in front of goal in their big win over GWS, led by exciting key forward Jesse Wardlaw. The 185cm tall booted two goals from 10 disposals and five marks, showcasing her sticky hands, fluent set shot routine, and love for a celebration. Prized 2019 draftee Lily Postlethwaite (11 disposals, five marks) also snapped home her first ever AFLW goal to cap off another solid outing, with Natalie Grider (11 disposals, three tackles) also coming on well. On the other hand, GWS’ young talent is a touch more sparse, but the GIANTS have an out-and-out gun in Alyce Parker. The Lions knew that coming in too, and had mature-age draftee Catherine Svarc put a physical tag on the 19-year-old to quell her midfield output. Still, Parker managed to collect 11 disposals and lay three tackles, while also hitting up Yvonne Bonner late on to assist one of the GIANTS’ three goals.

Knights seek sustained success after bumper draft

AN undefeated premiership-winning NAB League Girls season, the number one AFL Women’s draft pick, and five players taken overall made for an amazingly successful year in 2019, but the future is still very bright at the Northern Knights according to incoming Female Talent Coordinator, Natalie Grindal.

There is not much more the Knights could have achieved last year in as dominant a season the competition has seen, all despite the list being touted by former Female Talent Coordinator Zoe Slatter for its upcoming youth in the pre-season. Along with the five Northern draftees, three more 2019 top-agers have gone on to train with Carlton at VFLW level, while five middle and bottom-age players are now part of the 2020 AFL Women’s Academy – highlighting the younger talent Slatter was high on.

Grindal acknowledged the success of last year and while she is tapering expectations given the turnover of talent, said she is excited by what the next group of talent can bring to the table, and impressed by the way they have stepped up over the pre-season.

“Obviously for us, a measure of our success is what players go on to do afterwards whether it’s AFLW or VFLW… to be honest it’s really overwhelming to know that you’ve played a part in their journey to help them get to an AFL level,” Grindal said “I was lucky enough last week to go watch Gabby Newton (and) Sarah Sansonetti debut, and Maddy Brancatisano from the year before, so it’s really exciting that those girls have gone through this pathway and onto AFLW. “We were lucky to have a really successful season last year. “Obviously the nature of the competition is each year is a new year with the turnover of teams and players, so it’s really exciting that we had a really good year but each year is a new year for us.”

“We had some really quality players, but also quality leaders leave our program last year so I guess for our girls the challenge has been to step up to that next level and really take on those leadership opportunities and drive the standards for the girls who are new to our club as well. “I guess that’s been the really pleasing aspect for us, that the girls who were in their middle-age year last year and were playing under players like Gabby Newton, Britney Gutknecht and Sarah Sansonetti, they’ve now lifted up to that standard and are now driving the standards for the club. “I think we’ll probably end up having probably 11 or 12 top-age girls… this top-age group were actually quite a strong bottom-age group in 2018, so it’s been really exciting to see their progression through their bottom-age, having their middle-age year last year and now into their top-age year so we’re really excited,” she said.

Coming through a “really good” pre-season unscathed and maintaining positive individual development are two points checked off the list for Grindal and her Knights thus far, with her transition into a the coordinator’s chair made easier through previous connections to the Preston-based program, and a new partnership with RMIT University.

“It’s been really exciting,” Grindal said. “Obviously I was really lucky being involved at the club (over) the last two years so I guess for me transition-wise, I knew a lot of the players, I knew most of the staff and also having existing relationships with Rhy (Gieschen, Talent Manager) and Alex (Davey, Football Administration Officer) in the office, it’s made my transition quite enjoyable, but also a bit easier knowing those people. “We’ve started the partnership with RMIT so have been using the ground out there which is in incredible condition. “That’s been really exciting and we’ll play our first four games there which is really good.”

Despite boasting a couple of early standouts in Ellie McKenzie – the sister of former North Melbourne rookie, Tom – and best afield in the 2019 NAB League Grand Final, Jess Fitzgerald, the Knights are set to maintain that well-renowned spine and a good spread of top-age contributors.

“I still think we’ve got quite a handful of top-age players who will be strong contributors to the team,” Grindal said. “Girls like Ellie McKenzie and Jess Fitzgerald are spoken about a lot and they are exceptional footballers, but we’ve got other girls as well – Maeve Chaplin, Alyssa Bannan, those girls are in the AFLW Academy and who are incredible footballers. “Players like Abigail Bennett and Ashleigh Snow are really strong contributors as well and we’re excited about seeing how they progress through their top-age year this year.

“The one thing we tell our girls and we expect of them is to be willing to try different positions in the field and see where their strengths lie. “I think for us we still have a spread across the field for our top-agers, but again they’ll be challenged to try different positions and take on different opportunities within the team,” she said.

While players will be tested in their final years of junior development, Grindal says there will be no “dramatic changes” to the line-up from week to week, with a Round 1 Grand Final rematch against Calder next on the agenda after two successful practice matches.

“(It’s) really exciting to have a grand final rematch at RMIT, we’re really excited to host that match and have Calder come down,” she said. “As I said before, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the season, we had a fantastic match with them in the Grand Final and we’re excited about playing them again.”

An announcement on the leadership group is also imminent, with a heap of talent again at the Knights’ disposal and a “strong culture” with clear standards ensuring Northern is set for another big year – in both team and individual aspects.

2019/20 AFLW off-season review: Western Bulldogs

AFTER claiming a maiden AFL Women’s premiership in 2018 and looking impressive from the get-go in 2019, the Western Bulldogs fell away in the second half of the 2019 season to finish wooden spooners in Conference A. There was far from any shame in that, because had they been in the other conference, chances are they would have played finals, but it is what it is and the Dogs missed out on finals in 2019.

The AFL Women’s most active team over the off-season – which is saying something considering there are four expansion sides – the Western Bulldogs had eight players walk out the door to other clubs, and made three further changes with Hayley Wildes the sole retiree. Of the 2019 departures, Katie Brennan and Monique Conti would sting the most, with both genuine top 10 players in the competition, but now will don the yellow and black in season 2020. It leaves the Western Bulldogs with one elite established talent in Ellie Blackburn, but unlike a lot of sides, the Dogs have plenty of next tier talent either ready to break into that elite group, or sub-elite group.

Given the departures over the off-season, the Bulldogs headed into the draft with eight selections having only brought in Melbourne’s Ashleigh Guest as part of a trade that saw reliable defender, Libby Birch off to the Demons. With four selections in the top 10, and a new coach in Nathan Burke at the helm, AFL Women’s Draft Day was always going to be an optimistic one. The recruiting team leaned on Vic Metro Under-18 coach Burke, with the seven selections taken on the day coming from his Metro squad. It not only meant the chemistry between coach and players would already be established, but the team cohesion would also be impressive.

Gabby Newton was picked out as the first selection in the draft and can play any role across the ground, but will likely start in the middle. She could be joined by Northern Knights teammate, Britney Gutknecht in there, while Western Jets’ Elisabeth Georgostathis has the versatility to play anywhere, particularly in that back half. Gemma Lagioia and South Adelaide’s Hannah Munyard – the latter of whom was taken post-draft after the Bulldogs passed and the Crows opted not to select her – running down the ground will be a sight to see for Dogs fans. The Bulldogs also addressed the fact they lost some talent inside 50, with father-daughter selection Isabella Grant and Nell Morris-Dalton providing an aerial presence, as well as ground support in the form of Amelia van Oosterwijck.

OFF-SEASON CHANGES:

IN: Ashleigh Guest (Melbourne), Katy Herron (rookie – Gaelic), Danielle Marshall (rookie – soccer), Gabby Newton, Nell Morris-Dalton, Britney Gutknecht (Northern Knights), Gemma Laioia, Amelia van Oosterwijck (Oakleigh Chargers), Elisabeth Georgostathis, Isabella Grant (Western Jets), Hannah Munyard (South Adelaide).
OUT: Katie Brennan, Monique Conti (Richmond), Selena Karlson, Emma Mackie (St Kilda), Tiarna Ernst (Gold Coast), Belinda Smith, Kate Bartlett (West Coast), Libby Birch (Melbourne), Tessa Boyd, Jesse Davies (delisted), Hayley Wildes (retired).

2020 TEAM LIST:

Deanna Berry
Ellie Blackburn
Eleanor Brown
Nicole Callinan
Naomi Ferres
Ellyse Gamble
Elisabeth Georgostathis
Angelica Gogos
Isabella Grant
Ashleigh Guest
Britney Gutknecht
Bailey Hunt
Isabel Huntington
Gemma Lagioia
Kirsty Lamb
Brooke Lochland
Aisling McCarthy
Kirsten McLeod
Celine Moody
Nell Morris-Dalton
Hannah Munyard
Gabby Newton
Kim Rennie
Hannah Scott
Lauren Spark
Bonnie Toogood
Aisling Utri
Amelia van Oosterwijck
Rookies: Katy Herron, Danielle Marshall

POTENTIAL SIDE:

B: Nicole Callinan – Hannah Scott – Ashleigh Guest
HB: Eleanor Brown – Lauren Spark – Elisabeth Georgostathis
C: Gabby Newton
HF: Bonnie Toogood – Isabel Huntington – Aisling Utri
F: Aisling McCarthy – Isabella Grant – Brooke Lochland
R: Kim Rennie – Ellie Blackburn – Kirsty Lamb
INT: Angelica Gogos – Nell Morris-Dalton – Gemma Lagioia – Naomi Ferres – Britney Gutknecht
EMG: Deanna Berry, Hannah Munyard, Celine Moody

DEPTH: Kirsten McLeod, Amelia van Oosterwijck, Bailey Hunt, Ellyse Gamble, Katy Herron*, Danielle Marshall*

Trying to work out a best 21 for the Western Bulldogs in season 2020 is near impossible, with so many fresh faces coming into the side. It will be a challenge for Burke to balance experience with youth, given that naturally the youth coming through are more developed than their predecessors and could have a greater impact sooner. But the balance is there to ensure that they are not complete pups, and that there are experienced heads guiding the team. Of the new recruits, Ashleigh Guest could fill a role in defence, with the Dogs’ back six going to be interesting outside of Hannah Scott, Lauren Spark and Nicole Callinan, with Burke possibly looking to adopt a running game, which means Eleanor Brown, Elisabeth Georgostathis and Gemma Lagioia could rotate through there, with all of them easily in that best 21. Gabby Newton should play from Round 1 with Knights’ teammate Britney Gutknecht also in the running, as could Isabella Grant and Nell Morris-Dalton, but the forward line structure will be one for the Bulldogs to try and work out given the depth of both talls and smalls up that end. Of the draftees to miss out at this stage, it was the later selections of Amelia Van Oosterwijck and Hannah Munyard, though all two could come in and play a role, with Munyard having tasted senior football, while van Oosterwjck is more of a long-term prospect, but a real goer inside 50. Of the five experienced Dogs we left out – Deanna Berry, Ellyse Gamble, Bailey Hunt, Celine Moody and Kirsten McLeod – Moody is one who could play depending if the Dogs opt for a second ruck with Kim Rennie, Berry is a player who could be in the starting line-up on talent, it is just finding that consistency, while McLeod played six games last season, but with the influx of talent coming in, will be competing for a pot. Hunt and Gamble were on the fringes last season but still managed the three games.

Wide-eyed Newton guns for draft

IT has been a mammoth year for Gabby Newton. Captain of the premiership winning Northern Knights team, a key player in Vic Metro’s undefeated national carnival run, and now a welcome addition to Carlton’s VFLW squad – all while juggling school commitments and national basketball representation.

Even still, the potential high draft selection remains humble about her prospects of getting to the next level.

“I’m going in eyes wide open, just hoping somebody will pick me up,” Newton said. Just anybody, please,” she added with a laugh.

The Northern star’s footballing journey started out in a familiar way to many, through Auskick. Growing up in a “big football family” helped.

“My older brother played and my dad was really into footy so I’d always watch them and think ‘I really want to play as well’,” Newton said. “I started playing Auskick and played footy with the boys and just really grew passionate about it from there.”

Female talent pathways weren’t as plentiful or fruitful back then as they are today, but that wasn’t going to stop Newton from getting stuck in. Moving into the team game at Yarrambat, Newton played in the boy’s sides until the age of 13 before taking a break and re-joining the game via school football.

“I started at Yarrambat and played until Under 13s with the boy’s team, then had a couple of years off and played in the school sport nationals,” she said. “Then I came back and played with the girls at (Montmorency).”

So great is Newton’s love for the game that it has grabbed her “100 per cent focus” despite promise on the basketball side, with the dual-sport athlete confident her skills translate across both codes.

“Definitely footy this year (has taken priority),” she said. “I love basketball, they both go hand in hand but footy’s definitely my passion and my focus at the moment. “At the moment I wouldn’t (play both basketball and football). I’m not sure, who knows. “Maybe if I do get drafted and after a couple of years I might consider it but as I said, footy is the focus.”

That kind of focus has seen the utility excel in her top-age year, averaging 19.3 disposals, 2.8 marks, 4.7 tackles and 2.1 inside 50s in her 10 NAB League games, while going on to average 15.7 disposals, 4.0 marks, 4.0 tackles, 3.0 clearances and almost a goal a game in a more forward-oriented role for Vic Metro at the Queensland championships.

A crowning moment in anyone’s junior career, Newton says the successful week in the Sunshine State was “so fun”.

“Obviously versing all the girls throughout the NAB League season you just think ‘it’s so annoying how (Georgia) Patrikios is so fast’, but then you get to play with them at Metro and it’s so good,” she said. “Going up to Queensland that was just such a fun week, the team bonded so well and playing against the best in Australia was just a blast and really good competition.

Having done it all among under-age competition, Newton has gone on to feature twice for Carlton’s VFLW side at the back end of the season alongside Knights teammate, Britney Gutknecht. With the AFLW the only step left to take, Newton is full of nerves despite her plaudits.

‘I’m really looking forward to the combine even though it’s pretty nerve-wracking, but it should be a good experience and then hopefully draft day won’t be too nerve-wracking – I think it’ll be a bit stressful but I’m really looking forward to it.”