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Top Performers: 2021 NAB League Girls – Round 3

A NEW NAB League Girls season means even more fresh coverage of the elite pathways, with the weekly (self explanatory) Top Performers series delving into some of the best individual feats across each weekend of action. Round 3 produced plenty of highlights as players returned to competitive action after an unexpected week’s break. Starting with AFL Academy-listed prospects, we take a look at the top performers out of an exciting opening set of fixtures.

Calder Cannons vs. Oakleigh Chargers

By: Michael Alvaro

AFLW ACADEMY:

#8 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)

The Oakleigh midfield bull may not have been as outwardly productive on the stat sheet as her Round 1 performance, but contributed a mountain of work against stiff opposition. Matched up against Georgie Prespakis at the opening bounce, Rowbottom warmed to the contest and provided her patented physicality as the stakes heightened. Her lift in intensity during the second half gave Oakleigh a real boost at the coalface, with the midfielder’s grunt work to break away from each contest a damaging feature throughout. Armed with good game sense, she looked to take ground quickly and pump the Chargers inside 50 with decent depth. 18 disposals, five inside 50s and 11 tackles show a strong two-way performance.

#41 Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)

Prespakis has set the bar so high, it is difficult for her to outdo herself each week. That was hardly the case on Saturday as the Calder standout lifted when her side needed her, against very strong opposition. Her clean hands and ability to stand up in tackles were key features early on, when the pressure was at its peak among a raft of rolling scrums. Prespakis had a couple of uncharacteristic lapses in that facet as the game wore on, but again, has set the bar very high. Her work to impact going forward was noticeable in this outing, especially with more time resting inside 50. On a couple of occasions, she danced away from congestion and bombed long into the forward arc, with one kick rolling over the back and into the goal post. Her inside/outside balance was also on show; able to dig in for a round-high 18 tackles and flick out releasing handballs on the inside, while using her penetrating peg once on the outer to snatch vital meterage. Another top performance.

#18 Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons)

Having shown promising glimpses throughout her time at Calder, Gillard is beginning to put the pieces together with greater frequency. Rotating deep forward from the ruck, she used her height advantage to dominate the hitouts while also providing a marking threat in the front half. Gillard stationed nicely ahead of the ball when taking up the centre half forward role and looked even more ominous when occupying space closer to goal. A big clunk in the fourth term was one of her highlights for the day, but she could not quite bend the ball around to convert the resultant shot. She has all the tools to excel, with a sound aerial game and promising athleticism.

STANDOUTS:

#3 Emelia Yassir (Calder Cannons)

Once again a staple of Calder’s midfield, Yassir worked beautifully in tandem with Prespakis to drive the Cannons forward. Her ground level game is what stands out most, with the ability to cleanly extract and put on a five-step burst to escape the clutches of would-be tacklers. Busy would be a fitting way to describe Yassir’s game on Saturday, as she constantly looked to put Calder on the front foot and link through the middle with handball chains. She managed five inside 50s among her 20 disposals, a good return from the diminutive midfielder.

#4 Kasey Lennox (Calder Cannons)

The talented tall defender faced some tough work as Oakleigh turned up the heat after half time, but stood tall under pressure. Trusted with the kick-in duties, all nine of Lennox’s disposals came via foot and many of them were long kicks from deep in defence. At times, it made for repetitive work and the ball did come back quickly when a mark was not found, but the 17-year-old is typically assured on the ball and can gain decent ground. One facet which was outstanding throughout the game was Lennox’s defensive work, showing great closing speed and athleticism to spoil at the ideal time when others would just about concede the mark. She is hardly beaten one-on-one and only really lost out on one key occasion, but was otherwise reliable as ever.

#8 Zali Friswell (Calder Cannons)

Another key cog in the Calder engine room, Friswell provides a touch of class in everything she does. One particular moment of brilliance was her set shot conversion in the second term, which showcased enormous skill to utilise the wind and help the ball home from deep on the boundary line. Friswell often proved difficult to catch with her bursts of speed and agility, and was even credited by her opponents for just that post-match. 15 disposals, seven tackles and a goal makes for good reading – she may be one to watch as the season unfolds.

#9 Brooke Vickers (Oakleigh Chargers)

Vickers is another player with great class on the ball and her 14 disposals from half-back proved exactly that on Saturday. She was constantly positioned in just the right place to intercept and then incite her typical rebound, even moving up the ground aggressively to be that quarterback-style kicker on the attack. It meant that whether she was taking the kick-ins or booting long forward 50, Vickers was able to impact via foot. Her running goal from range in the third term was an outstanding bit of play, and one which went close to being Draft Central’s memorable moment of the match.

#10 Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers)

Reid has had a blinding start to the season and was arguably one of the best two player afield for a second week running. The winger has a happy knack of roaming into all the right areas forward of centre, proving near-impossible to keep track of. She again hit the scoreboard and did so early, which was crucial to Oakleigh’s chances of staying in the game. Her left foot has good range and accuracy and is a weapon when utilised in time and space. As the game wore on, Reid was forced to bomb long a touch more than she would have perhaps liked, but most of her decisions were made well and with great class. Her clean hands also bode well for more time spent pushing hard off the line at centre bounces, as well as increased time up forward. 24 disposals, six marks, five inside 50s and two goals – Reid could soon be a player of the week candidate with such form.

#12 Jemma Rigoni (Oakleigh Chargers)

The daughter of former Melbourne player, Guy Rigoni, Jemma is a raw and athletic centre half forward with enormous potential. The bottom-ager showed lively pace off the mark and presented brilliantly high up on the attacking arc. Whether competing in the air or mopping up ground balls, Rigoni looked like making something happen when the play entered her area and while she did not find the goals, was still impactful as Oakleigh charged home in the final term.

#14 Eliza James (Oakleigh Chargers)

James put in another strong shift from midfield and only added to the grunt that Rowbottom provided at each contest. Much of her work was done at the coalface, but James also made an impact when stationed up forward in the final term. Stationed deep in a one-on-one, she managed to latch onto a long kick over the top as her opponent fell and kicked a crucial goal to help seal the deal for Oakleigh. Earlier, her best moments in midfield came through explosive runs with ball-in-hand, though her disposal was a touch raw at times. Still, there are some great tools to work and James has proven a strong competitor.

#15 Ameile Smith (Oakleigh Chargers)

Having made a splash on debut last week, Smith showed a few different strings to her bow with a solid game rotating forward through the ruck. Slightly undersized against pretty stiff opposition, the bottom-ager competed well both in the air and at ground level with a springy leap and clean hands. She reverted to a forward role more frequently in the second half and very nearly made an immediate impact, showing her smarts to win a clutch one-on-one but narrowly missing her running shot on goal. Smith would later be gifted such reward, converting from a 50-metre penalty to give Oakleigh the lead early in term four.

#29 Amanda Ling (Oakleigh Chargers)

Perhaps an unheralded member of the Chargers’ midfield brigade, Ling played an important role in setting the tone early for her side. Her ground level work was terrific and perhaps even more pleasing were her defensive efforts with unrelenting tackles and brave smothers. She saw plenty of the ball with 23 disposals, 17 of which were handballs to release her running teammates. A strong player for her size and hard worker to boot, Ling deserves plenty of credit for helping Oakleigh compete in the early proceedings.

OTHERS:

Oakleigh’s Charlotte Van der Vlies and Calder’s Tahlia Read enjoyed a tough battle on the wing for much of the game, both cracking in hard and looking to move their side forward. Neve Crowley showcased a wonderful intercept game, particularly in the first half, while Olivia Manfre was another strong contributor for the Cannons. Alexandra McCulloch absorbed plenty of pressure in the Chargers’ defence, while Taylah Morton looked to play her role as a small forward up the other end.

Bendigo Pioneers vs. Geelong Falcons

By: Peter Williams

STANDOUTS:

#41 Tegan Williams (Bendigo Pioneers)

The young key defender was steadfast on the last line and stood out far beyond what the stats might suggest. Still yet to turn 17 until next month, Williams held down the fort and took a strong intercept mark to then hit-up a teammate at half-back. Some of the traits that caught the eye included her composure, clean hands and positioning, especially when under pressure.

#27 Jayda Richardson (Bendigo Pioneers)

The versatile tall had a go at both key forward and ruck, but also found herself in defence early in the game when the Pioneers’ defence was under siege. She has a strong set of hands and is difficult to beat in the air. Her fierce attack on the ball is admirable as well, with a vertical leap which troubles a lot of taller opponents. Towards the end of the game she gave away back-to-back free kicks from a block and late contact, but never stopped giving her all.

#5 Elizabeth Snell (Bendigo Pioneers)

The midfielder/forward showed clean hands and a clean set of heels with high-level agility around the stoppages. She rushed some of her kicks under pressure at times, but she put together yet another four quarter performance. Snell is one of those players who once she can find an exit, is hard to stop due to her speed/agility combination. Just continued to crack in and do what she could on the inside for her team.

#1 Lila Keck (Bendigo Pioneers)

The 2005-born Keck is projecting as a promising talent for a few years, with natural footy IQ and athleticism. Couple that with the fact she can kick on either foot and the signs are promising. Some of her highlights include a terrific run down tackle on the strong Elizabeth Dowling in the third term, and then was able to spin one way, then the other and snaps off her foot in traffic to hit a target. She has the confidence to take the opposition on, and while she was brought down by Mia Van Dyke on the wing, she backed herself to fend off a couple.

#11 Lily Den Houting (Bendigo Pioneers)

The top-ager was quite busy early in the match, cracking in and winning the contested ball, also taking a good intercept mark at half-back. She pushed up to the wing at times and then provided an option for the switch, and while was quieter in the second half, still featured on some plays out of defence.

#37 Madeline Marks (Bendigo Pioneers)

For a ruck prospect, Marks shines when the ball is in transition and her work rate is something of a strength. She was able to compete well in the ruck, and then receive the ball on the run in a 1-2 in the second term, willing to present as a transition option. Whilst she has clean hands with her taps, the next step is clunking a few more marks inside 50 to become a dangerous target.

#39 Renee Tierney (Geelong Falcons)

A huge contender to be the leading goalkicker this year, Tierney is just a reliable source of scoring. With the capacity to push up the ground and impact the midfield, Tierney is good one-on-one and gets to the right position more often than not. The forward not only slotted four majors on the day, but set up at least a couple more as well, and hit the behind post later in the game.

#37 Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons)

Arguably the in-form defender of the competition, Lee is the composed player every defence needs. Possessing a variety of traits from strength in the air and on the ground, to skill and decision making, Lee is one of the few players that ticks a lot of boxes across the board. She might come in at sub-170cm (169cm) but she plays like a key position defender, and her athleticism coupled with her strength makes her hard to beat on any given day. One to watch this year.

#4 Poppy Schaap (Geelong Falcons)

A player who is consistent as they come, Schaap just keeps attacking the ball and driving it forward when required. Her in-and-under work is always there, but it was her perfect hitup to Renee Tierney for the first goal of the second term that caught the eye. Defensively she stacks up against anyone, producing a great smother early in the third term and took a contested one-grab mark later in the quarter.

#11 Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)

Another strong outing for the midfielder who just finds ways of being involved in the play. She was continually busy. across the ground and kicked an important goal on the half-time siren after receiving a free kick for a Pioneers density violation. She read the play well in defence to take a terrific one-on-one grab, and covered ground sensationally.

#15 Gabbi Featherston (Geelong Falcons)

Always threatening to kick a bag, Featherston has the contested marking ability, fierce attack on the ball and penetrating kick to make her a danger for any defender. Time and time again she put her body on the line, and was able to finish off with a powerful set shot goal early in the third term. At times she could be a little more composed when taking shots on goal, but when she has time and space, she just makes things happen.

OTHERS:

Charlotte Simpson had another strong outing across the board, working hard to win plenty of the ball and cover the ground well, whilst Zoe Garth‘s two goals back-to-back early in the match really put her team in a commanding position. Elizabeth Dowling and Ingrid Houtsma were other Falcons who provided size at opposite ends. For the Pioneers, Octavia Di Donato used her run to advantage, while Scarlett Orritt was also among the Pioneers’ best.

Eastern Ranges vs. Gippsland Power

By: Michael Alvaro

STANDOUTS:

#14 Alyssia Pisano (Eastern Ranges)

A deserving Draft Central Player of the Week nominee, Pisano returned a breakout performance in just her second NAB League outing. The 15-year-old is not draft eligible until 2023, but proved more than up to speed with her elder counterparts with four terrific goals. She set the tone after five minutes of play by slotting the game’s first major, but came to life in the third term with two goals within the opening 90 seconds. She added another later in the same stanza to further compile Gippsland’s misery, more significantly putting her name on the radar as one to watch for the future.

#11 Olivia Meagher (Eastern Ranges)

One of the leaders among Eastern’s side and a player gunning to prove her worth as an elite level prospect, Meagher continued her strong start to the season with 22 disposals (17 kicks) and seven inside 50s. While capable of doing the tough stuff through midfield, the top-ager was able to find a bit of freedom in moving the ball forward to good effect. She is the kind of player who will prove a barometer for this Ranges outfit, which is currently in very good form.

#18 Bridget Deed (Eastern Ranges)

After a strong showing in Round 1, Deed again took her game to another level with her impactful performance from midfield. She did just about everything in this game; racking up 22 disposals, laying five tackles, notching three inside 50s, and booting two goals as her side ran riot. Much of Eastern’s ability to apply scoreboard damage came down to its better spread across the ground, but also the work of players like Deed who set the Ranges on the right foot from where it matters most.

#44 Georgia Campbell (Eastern Ranges)

A promising top-age ruck, Campbell put up great numbers for a player of her position. She made her mark in terms of hitouts with 25 – building on her effort of 20 in Round 1 – but also got her hands dirty with three tackles and impacted the Ranges’ forward momentum with two inside 50s from her nine touches. The cherry on top, and perhaps the most pleasing aspect of Campbell’s game was her ability to hit the scoreboard, notching a hat-trick of goals spread across three different quarters.

#35 Matilda Van Berkel (Gippsland Power)

Stationed in the under-siege Gippsland defence, Van Berkel was her side’s standout player and a pillar of the Power’s resistance. All 14 of the top-ager’s disposals came via foot, showcasing an urgency to help ease pressure on the Power’s backline. Seven of those kicks registered as rebound 50s too, with meterage key to allowing her side some time to reset. She also used her height to clunk six marks and showed great versatility to hold down such an important role in defence after spending plenty of time rucking in Round 1.

OTHERS:

There were plenty of terrific contributors for Eastern in its record-breaking win. Matilda Hardy, Isabelle Khoury, Keeley Sherar, and Jorja Livingstone all earned their fair share of possessions while also hitting the scoreboard with a goal each, making for a damaging team effort. Courtney Fletcher was a fighting member of Gippsland’s defence with six rebound from her 10 disposals, while the likes of Sunday Brisbane, Yasmin Duursma, and Grace McRae were up against it among the engine room.

Dandenong Stingrays vs. Western Jets

By: Declan Reeve

STANDOUTS:

#10 Abbey Jordan (Dandenong Stingrays)

Often playing as a down the line midfield option or a kick behind the play, her read of the ball was on full display as she was going for grabs and impacting contests anytime she was around. Her work in close was superb, and with ball in hand there were few that used it better, often placing her kicks in front of teammates in dangerous positions

#11 Emily Shepherd (Dandenong Stingrays)

Dangerous in the first quarter kicking the Stingrays only goal, but having two very good shots resulting in behinds as well, just looks dangerous in the midfield especially when unchecked, getting first or second possession from the ruck fairly easily. Also presented as a main target up forward at times, showing her versatility and threat in multiple areas of the ground

#6 Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays)

Looked electric up forward, the type of player you genuinely feel like can kick a goal from anywhere or make anything happen. Her speed and leap are obviously a class above, often running past 2-3 Jets players to give herself space for a kick. Often looks to bring team mates into the game when going forward as well, instead of blazing away. Her speed is an asset in the midfield, with a burst of acceleration not many can match

#27 Charley Ryan (Dandenong Stingrays)

Playing through the midfield she was able to showcase her composure and skill with the footy, finding time in every situation she was in to get the footy out to the advantage of her teammates. This was highlighted in the 3rd quarter when she found herself with the ball after a centre bounce and side stepped a Western player to deliver a lace out kick to a teammate waiting on the wing

#44 Jaide Anthony (Dandenong Stingrays)

Her work wrapping up loose balls in the backline went a long way to keeping the Jets on a short leash in the first half,  the ball really well and works hard to ensure all her teammates are backed up in the backline. Her foot skills were an obvious strength through out the game

#1 Charlotte Baskaran (Western Jets)

Whilst not racking up the numbers she did against Eastern, Bakaran’s class with the footy was on show on the day when she had her chances, with her fantastic ball use, especially via foot, still a highlight of the game. She often holds the footy in and draws the opposition player in before releasing to a teammate, giving them more time than they otherwise would have.    

#38 Montana Ham (Western Jets)

Was a presence everywhere on the ground throughout the game, with her foot skills, aerial strength and tackling on full display as she was best on for the Jets. Her tackling pressure around the contest is exceptional for a girl of her height, and her athleticism is a big strength,she backs herself to beat most opponents and rarely makes a poor decision in those judgements. When she moved up forward in the 4th as a main target she showed her versatility, handling it well and often found herself winning 2 on 1 situations inside forward 50

#24 Laura Elliott (Western Jets)

Knows where to be when positioning herself behind the ball, took some very good grabs throughout the game to stop fast coming Dandenong attacks, showing off her knack for transition work as well her skills on the rebound are also good, often hitting inside 45 kicks to get Western moving Kick ins were all effective

#42 Jemima Woods (Western Jets)

Good at closing down space between her and opponents, making her an extremely efficient and dangerous tackling threat, often got herself free kicks for holding the ball around the midfield leading to inside 50’s

OTHERS:

19-year-old tall defender Zoe Hill (15 disposals, 4 inside 50’s) had a good performance, with her efforts in the air and follow up work at ground level impressive for a tall. Defender Brooke Smith (12 disposals, 4 rebound 50’s) was also influential in the Dandenong’s defensive half. Ashleigh Richards (13 disposals) was a strong ball winner on the inside as well. For Western, Caitlin Sargent (7 disposals, 3 marks) showed her aerial work with some nice grabs, and a goal over the top of the pack showing her forward craft, whilst 2022 eligible ruck Krystal Russell (6 disposals, 28 hitouts) had another dominant display in the ruck

GWV Rebels vs. Murray Bushrangers

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#20 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)

The contested marking talent stepped up from her first game to be more of a threat in the forward half and up the ground, though most of her good work was done at ground level. She still took her fair share of marks, but her work to spin out of trouble or keep the ball moving in transition was a highlight. She kicked a goal snapping off the left foot in the second term.

#30 Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)

Playing predominantly on the inside but still enjoying run on the outside, Dojiok had a big three quarters after a quieter first term. Her power and acceleration out of the stoppage was yet again a problem for the opposition, and while she occasionally bombed it forward, she was gaining important metres for her side, and in the second half particularly she was having the ball on a string.

#33 Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers)

The ruck stepped up from Round 1 to provide a target inside 50 when she drifted down, a strong presence around the ground at stoppages. She had a couple of early shots on goal which missed, before earning a set shot and making no mistake in the first term. Her ruckwork was clean and she just competes in the air or at ground level, battling hard against some quicker opponents at times.

STANDOUTS:

#5 Paige Scott (GWV Rebels)

A match-winner with three important goals, Scott enjoyed herself on the weekend feasting on a range of intercepts and loose checking by the defence, she looked dangerous every time she went near the ball. The bottom-ager is progressing nicely and has a fierce attack on the ball with a passion for tacking and then benefiting off defensive work, to play that mid/forward role well.

#1 Lilli Condon (GWV Rebels)

The tough mid really started getting going from the second term on and then brought her own ball with her after that. She kept popping up in all thirds of the ground and showed a cleanliness at ground level which was important. Condon is constantly looking at ways to tuck the ball under the arm and take off, catching the opposition on the hop from a stoppage.

#15 Chloe Leonard (GWV Rebels)

Unassumingly just does her job in the defensive half of the ground, racking up the ball with ease and driving it out of defence and down the ground in transition. Leonard has that natural leadership trait and is able to find space, and always has a crack not worried about copping contact.

#17 Keeley Skepper (Murray Bushrangers)

There are penetrating left foot kicks, and then there is Skepper’s left foot. Playing on the inside and then looking to get to the outside, Skepper enjoys getting on the move and putting in a powerful bullet inside 50 to teammates. She starred on the weekend and just drills passes in, with opponents trying to knock her off balance or put her under pressure. She has some great defensive attributes as well to match her athleticism, but her lightning quick hands and penetrating boot are what make her so damaging.

#2 Aurora Smith (Murray Bushrangers)

The speedy winger backed up her strong Round 1 game with another impressive performance on the outside. She wins the ball and backs herself with some unbelievable speed and ability to release by hand. At times she does not realise she has more time than she thinks and can rush with her disposal or pass it off prematurely, but when she gets going, she is hard to stop. Smith even laid a great run-down tackle late in the game to force her opponent to rush a handball.

#32 Mindy Quade (Murray Bushrangers)

Rock solid in the back 50, it was clearly noticeable the Bushrangers defence is much more settled with Quade in there. She is strong overhead, competes and can hit targets, but it is her ability to intercept and then drive the ball out of the back 50 that catches the eye. Quade has great courage and does not panic under pressure, always giving 100 per cent.

OTHERS:

GWV Rebels’ Crystal Summers found plenty of the ball through midfield and created some run through the middle, Tahlia Meier was busy early with two goals and then provided immense defensive pressure, while Jorja Jones, Rosie Pickles and Ally Trigg were also strong across the board. Olivia Cicolini created two goals up forward for the Bushrangers, while Molly Kennedy was strong in the air with her spoiling, Lily Sharp pushed hard in the forward half and Chloe Locke picked up in the second half with a number of good defensive efforts.

Sandringham Dragons vs. Northern Knights

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#11 Maykaylah Appleby

Once again her strength in the run and carry was on show utilising the space she got on the wing to take space with a couple of bounces and damaging kicks. IN the second quarter she managed a run from the mid win to half way inside the forward 50, out running two Sandringham players on the way. She played a big part in the last quarter as well, at times controlling the tempo and steadying the play for Northern on the way out of defence.

STANDOUTS:

#2 Keely Coyne (Sandringham Dragons)

Playing a range of roles from, half forward, rover and winger, she again won plenty of the footy, throughout the day. She started off playing as the link up player in the first half for Sandringham, then moved into the midfield and did well around the stoppages. Her skills were clean, with her decision making and handballing hurting Northern often. She also showed composure when under immediate pressure, willing to take contact to ensure a high quality disposal

#15 Sofia Hurley (Sandringham Dragons)

Moving into the rover spot after spending round 1 on the wing, Hurley showed her game sense around stoppages, getting herself into dangerous areas in close and getting distance behind her kicks when she won the ball. She was clean with the ball when in space, but also showed composure under pressure

#37 Ebony Angelopoulos (Sandringham Dragons)

Was versatile in her playstyle up forward all day, making hard leads when the space was in front of her and she was required to but also showing off her natural crumbing sense with her read of the ball off hands of the taller players, highlighted by her getting herself a goal out the back of a contest in the 3rd

#30 Pia Staltari (Sandringham Dragons)

Playing off the half back her ball use, especially by foot, was once again exceptional, getting plenty of penetration and distance which got Sandringham some quick rebound opportunities. She moved into the forwardline in the first quarter and managed to create some scoring opportunities, showing she’s capable of playing either end of the ground.

#9 Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)

Was a standout contested ball winner through the midfield and a danger around the stoppages because of it. Sandringham didn’t have an answer for her ball winning which allowed her to have it on a string all day, damaging in the midfield, but also working hard in the backline and getting herself on the scoreboard in the 3rd quarter, it was complete performance from Chaplin, looking untouchable at times.

#20 Georgia Kitchell (Northern Knights)

Took advantage of the relative lack of height in the Sandringham ruck division and won most ruck contests with ease. Her ability to out body the opposition ruck in stoppages around the ground went a long way to making the contests a sure thing, giving her midfielders prime position for winning clearances

#22 Ella Smallacombe (Northern Knights)

A gifted natural forward, her instinct with ball in hand is impressive, often taking on multiple opponents and getting past them inside 50 means she’s a constant threat to the opposition. Kicked two goals in the first quarter to put early pressure on Sandringham

#4 Brooke Plummer (Northern Knights)

Stationed on the wing, Plummers work around the ground was exceptional, playing as essentially another rover she was a danger as a back release option around stoppages, but also as a switch option in open play. She also showed a high work rate, getting involved in play deep in Northern’s defensive 50

#36 Ava Jordan (Northern Knights)

A 2023 draft eligible player, Jordan’s composure and skill for her age and size is an asset that’ll hold her in good stead going forward. Fitting in seamlessly into the Northern midfield she was a key cog in moving the ball forward efficiently, taking on players much taller than her in ground and aerial duels.

#10 Megan Girolami (Northern Knights)

Playing as Northern’s main target up forward for the majority of the game, her contested marking and ball use damaged Sandingham every time she got near it. Took a contested pack mark in the 3rd quarter to kick a goal on the siren. She ended the day with a game high 3 goals for efforts, where she was a danger in the air and ground level

OTHERS:

Sandringham captain Kiana Lynch (20 disposals) and Charlotte Ryan (15) were the major ball winners for the Dragons, playing through the midfield and on the wing for the day, whilst 19-year-old Chloe Saultry was again an obstacle for her opponents with 8 tackles. Teleah Smart (14 disposals, 5 tackles) was influential for Northern through the midfield, finding separation from stoppages with ease, Trinity Mills (13 disposals, 1 goal) enjoyed a good day for a forward.

2021 Draft Central NAB League Girls TOTW: Round 3

SELECTING a 24-player squad for Round 3 was even more difficult than in the opening round, but Draft Central has released its NAB League Girls Team of the Week. In a weekend that featured mostly one-sided results, the biggest winners in Eastern Ranges had a record four players in the team, while Geelong Falcons, Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels and Dandenong Stingrays all recorded three players in the team this week.

Other winners, Oakleigh Chargers and Northern Knights had two players, as did narrow losers Calder Cannons and Western Jets. The three sides on the receiving end of the bigger losses – Bendigo Pioneers, Murray Bushrangers and Gippsland Power – all had the one representative this round, while Sandringham Dragons were unlucky not to have a representative due to the strength of the midfield where their top standouts played.

Captaining the team this week is Dandenong Stingrays’ bottom-ager Emily Shepherd who won the Draft Central Player of the Week for Round 3, named on-ball for our Team of the Week. She is joined in the side by two teammates, defender Jaide Anthony (back pocket) and utility Amber Clarke (interchange). The vice-captain of the team this week is Eastern Ranges’ Alyssia Pisano with the Under 16s talent having a standout game with four goals up forward in the Ranges’ 114-point victory over Gippsland Power. Pisano’s teammates, Georgia Campbell (ruck), Olivia Meagher (wing – due to the strength of the on-ball group) and Bridget Deed (interchange) are also in the side.

Up at Epsom Huntly, Geelong Falcons had an impressive win over Bendigo Pioneers. The Falcons’ defence was again impressive with Annie Lee named for the second consecutive week, while Renee Tierney kicked an equal round-high four goals. Poppy Schaap is another dual inclusion after making the bench following a strong midfield effort, while partner-in-crime Tess Craven came close but in a strong midfield week was made an emergency this time. In the second game, the GWV Rebels had a good win over Murray Bushrangers, and looked dangerous in the forward half. Paige Scott booted three important goals and slotted into half-forward alongside key forward and teammate Ella Friend, while midfielder Lilli Condon was pushed onto a wing, but deserved to start in the team. Chloe Leonard was another one close to squeezing in, but has been named as an emergency.

In the opening game of the round at Craigieburn, Oakleigh Chargers duo Charlie Rowbottom and Stella Reid make the side again, and Reid has cheekily been pushed back to half-back due to the high quality of outside midfielders and Reid’s versatility. On the opposition, Emelia Yassir and Georgie Prespakis again squeezed in following impressive performances in the midfield. The other teams with two representatives included the Western Jets, this time Montana Ham (forward) and Laura Elliott (defence), while Northern Knights had Ella Smallacombe (forward) and Maeve Chaplin (interchange).

Each of the remaining three teams had one representative in the Team of the Week. Three of the six defender places are taken up by sole team representatives, as Gippsland Power’s Matilda Van Berkel and Bendigo Pioneers’ Tegan Williams hold down the key position spots, whilst Murray Bushrangers’ Keeley Skepper also made it into the team on the bench. Sandringham Dragons had a couple of potential candidates, but missed out this week due to the strength of the midfield, though Sofia Hurley is first emergency.

DRAFT CENTRAL NAB LEAGUE GIRLS TEAM OF THE WEEK: ROUND 3

B: Jaide Anthony (DS) – Tegan Williams (BP) – Laura Elliott (WJ)
HB: Annie Lee (GF) – Matilda Van Berkel (GP) – Stella Reid (OC)
C: Olivia Meagher (ER) – Georgie Prespakis (CC) – Lilli Condon (GWV)
HF: Ella Smallacombe (NK) – Ella Friend (GWV) – Paige Scott (GWV)
F: Montana Ham (WJ) – Renee Tierney (GF) – Alyssia Pisano (ER) (vc)
R: Georgia Campbell (ER) – Charlie Rowbottom (OC) – Emily Shepherd (DS) (c)
INT: Maeve Chaplin (NK) – Amber Clarke (DS) – Bridget Deed (ER) – Poppy Schaap (GF) – Keeley Skepper (MB) – Emelia Yassir (CC)

EMG: Sofia Hurley (SD) – Chloe Leonard (GWV) – Tess Craven (GF)

2021 NAB League Girls: Round 3 wrap – Falcons, Ranges and Chargers go two from two

ROUND 3 of the 2021 NAB League Girls season saw the Geelong Falcons, Eastern Ranges, and Oakleigh Chargers go two-from-two in this year’s competition, firming as early frontrunners. Players hit the ground running after a week away due to the postponement of Round 2, though four of the six fixtures were decided by over six goals. We take you through all the weekend’s action from what was an exciting return to elite pathways football.

Calder Cannons vs. Oakleigh Chargers

By: Michael Alvaro

Oakleigh Chargers came out on top in a battle of premiership contenders, kicking away from the Calder Cannons during an inspired final term to salute by 16 points. The wind favoured Calder in the fourth quarter, who looked primed to ride out a tense win as scores were tied at three quarter time, but the Chargers took full toll with an irresistible surge to stamp themselves as a bonafide flag threat. Now 2-0, they sit second and boast a number of draftable prospects currently taking the league by storm.

Outside midfielder Stella Reid was crucial in helping Oakleigh establish an early foothold, booting two goals in the first half before finishing as the game’s leading ball winner. Charlie Rowbottom, Amanda Ling, and Eliza James contributed some strong work at the stoppages, with the latter also snagging a crucial late major. Brooke Vickers was also terrific off half-back and Ameile Smith competed well as a slightly undersized ruck/key forward.

The midfield trio of Georgie Prespakis, Emelia Yassir, and Zali Friswell was also impactful for Calder, as they all lifted at important times to give the Cannons a fighting chance. Charlotte Clayton booted two opportunistic goals while stationed deep inside 50 as Tahlia Gillard also proved dangerous when rotated from the ruck, while Kasey Lennox tried hard alongside Neve Crowley in defence and Olivia Manfre put her hand up in the loss.

The Cannons will look to reload and fire again when they take on the Bendigo Pioneers in a tough road trip, while Oakleigh is booked for a meeting with Tasmania on the Apple Isle in Round 4.

CALDER CANNONS 0.0 | 3.2 | 4.2 | 4.4 (28)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 1.3 | 2.3 | 3.8 | 6.8 (44)
 

GOALS:

Calder: C. Clayton 2, Z. Friswell, O. Manfre
Oakleigh: S. Reid 2, E. James, A. Smith, H. Kenealy, B. Vickers

DC BEST:

Calder: G. Prespakis, E. Yassir, Z. Friswell, K. Lennox, T. Gillard, O. Manfre
Oakleigh: S. Reid, C. Rowbottom, B. Vickers, A. Ling, E. James, A. Smith

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers)
4 – Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)
3 – Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)
2 – Emelia Yassir (Calder Cannons)
1 – Brooke Vickers (Oakleigh Chargers)

Oakleigh forward Taylah Morton speaks to Draft Central’s Michael Alvaro post-match:

 

Bendigo Pioneers vs. Geelong Falcons

By: Peter Williams

Two Round 1 winners headed north up to Epsom Huntly Recreation Reserve to face off in warm conditions, which organisers allowed for by moving the game half an hour earlier to 10am. It was the visitors who raced off to a dominant start through Renee Tierney and Zoe Garth (two goals), and never really looked back. The Pioneers had a good second quarter thanks to goals from Jemma Finning and Charli Dorrity, but the Falcons maintained control in the second half, booting four goals to zero to run out comfortable 50-point winners on the road.

Tierney was a huge turning point for the Falcons with her four goals and setting up another few, while defenders Annie Lee and Elizabeth Dowling were again consistent. Through the midifield Tess Craven and Poppy Schaap did the bulk of the heavy lifting in a team effort, while Gabbi Featherston had multiple shots on goal and looked damaging every time she went near it. For the Pioneers, future stars in Tegan Williams and Lila Keck really stood out, while Elizabeth Snell and Jayda Richardson were again consistent across the match roaming hard and covering ground.

BENDIGO PIONEERS 0.0 | 2.1 | 2.3 | 2.4 (16)
GEELONG FALCONS 3.1 | 6.3 | 9.4 | 10.6 (66)

GOALS:

Bendigo: J. Finning, C. Dorrity
Geelong: R. Tierney 4, Z. Garth 2, E. Perrett, L. Were, K. Stacey, T. Craven

DC BEST:

Bendigo: T. Williams, E. Snell, J. Richardson, L. Keck, M. Marks, L. Den Houting
Geelong: R. Tierney, A. Lee, P. Schaap, T. Craven, G. Featherston, E. Dowling

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Renee Tierney (Geelong Falcons)
4 – Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons)
3 – Poppy Schaap (Geelong Falcons)
2 – Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)
1 – Gabbi Featherston (Geelong Falcons)

Eastern Ranges vs. Gippsland Power

By: Peter Williams

Eastern Ranges sent a message to the rest of the NAB League Girls competition after flexing their muscles during a 19.3 (117) to 0.3 (3) romp of Gippsland Power. The huge win broke the all-time high score and winning margin records, with 12 individual goalkickers contributing 19 goals for the match. Their accuracy of 19 majors from just 22 shots also helped their case, and while the Power did manage to contain them to three goals in the second and fourth quarters, could not manage to put through a major themselves on the day.

Alyssia Pisano was best on ground with four majors in the match, while Georgia Campbell took control of the ruck for Eastern, and then went forward to deliver three majors too. The midfield pair of Bridget Deed and Olivia Meagher was ticking over, while Georgia Wilson (two) goals, Isabelle Khoury and Matilda Hardy were all prominent on the scoring front. For the Power, Matilda Van Berkel put in a four quarter effort from defence, combining well with Courtney Fletcher back there, while Sunday Brisbane and Yasmin Duursma won their fair share of the ball despite the defeat.

EASTERN RANGES 7.1 | 10.2 | 16.2 | 19.3 (117)
GIPPSLAND POWER 0.0 | 0.2 | 0.3 | 0.3 (3)

GOALS:

Eastern: A. Pisano 4, G. Campbell 3, G. Wilson 2, B. Deed 2, J. Livingstone, K. Sherar, C. Wilsmore, S. Humm, J. Grace, I. Khoury, L. Stone, M. Hardy
Gippsland: Nil.

DC BEST:

Eastern: A. Pisano, G. Campbell, O. Meagher, B. Deed, M. Hardy, I. Khoury
Gippsland: M. Van Berkel, C. Fletcher, I. Makai, A. Molesworth, S. Brisbane, Y. Duursma

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Alyssia Pisano (Eastern Ranges)
4 – Georgia Campbell (Eastern Ranges)
3 – Olivia Meagher (Eastern Ranges)
2 – Bridget Deed (Eastern Ranges)
1 – Matilda Hardy (Eastern Ranges)

Dandenong Stingrays vs. Western Jets

By: Declan Reeve

A three-goal third quarter saw the Dandenong Stingrays win by 10 points in their first game of the year over an improved Western Jets outfit at Bluescope Recreation Centre. Dandenong’s inaccuracy in the first term saw Western remain within striking distance, even taking the lead by two points at half time. But the third quarter saw the Stingrays drift away from the Jets, with the latter unable to get the difference back as the game finished 6.6 (42) to 5.2 (32) in Dandenong’s favour.

2022 draft eligible trio Montana Ham (Western), Emily Shepherd and Amber Clarke (Dandenong) led the goalkicking with two apiece, with Ham getting both of hers playing as a forward target in the last quarter. The trio was also highly influential through the midfield throughout the day, with Abbey Jordan and Charley Ryan also working hard for the Stingrays in the engine room. Laura Elliott and Jaide Anthony were two standouts in their respective teams’ defences for the day, with Elliott showing off her ability to read the ball in flight and position herself to cut off Dandenong attacks, and Anthony doing similarly down the other end, sweeping up any dropped marks and rebounding quickly.

Next week sees the Stingrays hit the road to face GWV Rebels at MARS Stadium, whilst the Jets head to Cathedral College in Wangaratta to take on the Murray Bushrangers.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS 1.4 | 2.4  | 5.6  | 6.6 (42)
WESTERN JETS 1.0 | 3.0 | 3.0 | 5.2 (32)

GOALS:

Dandenong: A. Clarke 2, E. Shepherd 2, J. Radford, H. Monk
Western: M. Ham 2, A. Gray, C. Sergeant, A. Anthony

DC BEST:

Dandenong: E. Shepherd, A. Clarke, J. Anthony, A. Jordan, B. Smith
Western: M. Ham, L. Elliott, J. Woods, C. Baskaran, P. Ryan 

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Emily Shepherd (Dandenong Stingrays)
4 – Montana Ham (Western Jets)
3 – Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays)
2 – Jaide Anthony (Dandenong Stingrays)
1 – Laura Elliott (Western Jets)

GWV Rebels vs. Murray Bushrangers

By: Peter Williams

Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels stormed to a dominant, high-scoring win over Murray Bushrangers to bounce back from a narrow Round 1 defeat at the hands of the Geelong Falcons. Both teams were no doubt feeling the heat at Epsom Huntly, but both played with a fierce brand of football. The Rebels got off to a fast start and never looked back, piling on seven goals to two by half-time. The Bushrangers managed to arrest the momentum somewhat and make it more of an even contest after the main break, though some late majors to the Rebels blew the margin out to 44 points by the final siren.

Paige Scott stood out with three important goals up forward, while Nyakoat Dojiok was simply sensational after quarter time. Her work around the stoppages and teaming up with Lilli Condon and Crystal Summers really made life difficult for the Bushrangers. Ella Friend looked lively at ground level this week after a dominant marking effort the week before, while Chloe Leonard was again consistent for the winners. Aurora Smith and Keeley Skepper were the dominant players through the midfield for the Bushrangers, while Molly Kennedy did well one-on-one against Friend, and Ally Morphett provided a target up forward while also rolling through the ruck.

GWV REBELS 4.0 | 7.1 | 8.4 | 11.6 (72)
MURRAY BUSHRANGERS 1.1 | 2.2 | 3.2 | 4.4 (28)

GOALS:

GWV: P. Scott 3, T. Meier 2, P. Kissel 2, I. Cullenward R. Pickles, E. Friend, K. Tomkins
Murray: O. Cicolini 2, L. Sharp, A. Morphett

DC BEST:

GWV: P. Scott, L. Condon, E. Friend, N. Dojiok, C. Leonard, C. Summers
Murray: K. Skepper, A. Smith, M. Kennedy, A. Morphett, M. Quade, L. Sharp

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Paige Scott (GWV Rebels)
4 – Lilli Condon (GWV Rebels)
3 – Keeley Skepper (Murray Bushrangers)
2 – Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)
1 – Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)

Sandringham Dragons vs. Northern Knights

By: Declan Reeve

A composed and determined Northern Knights came out 37-point winners over the Sandringham Dragons at Trevor Barker Oval on Sunday, with a four-goal first quarter setting up the high-level team performance. The Dragons had their opportunities throughout the day but were unfortunately inaccurate in front of goal, with the Knights defenders able to move the short dropping balls out of defence quickly and seeing out the 10.6 (66) to 4.5 (29) result.

Maeve Chaplin was the standout performer for the Knights, leading the way in the midfield with her relentless hunt for the footy which the Dragons just did not have any answers for. She was well assisted by Ava Jordan who showed composure with the ball throughout, setting up team mate Megan Girolami for one of her game-high three goals. The Dragons still showed plenty of fight through the likes of 2022 draft eligible Keely Coyne and Sofia Hurley, who did hard work around the ground, and Ebony Angelopoulos who snared two of her own goals.

The Knights will be looking to make it two on the trot when they come up against Gippsland Power at Churchill Football Ground next round, whilst Sandringham will have time to recoup with a bye before it faces Gippsland in Churchill the following week.

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 2.1 | 3.4 | 4.4 | 4.5 (29)
NORTHERN KNIGHTS 4.1 | 4.4 | 7.5 | 10.6 (66)

GOALS:

Sandringham: E. Angelopoulos 2, S. Pribil, C. Murphy
Northern: M. Girolami 3, E. Smallacombe 2, M. Chaplin, T. Mills, R. Wilcox, C. Laurie, M. Papachristos

DC BEST:

Sandringham: K. Coyne, S. Hurley, P. Staltari, E. Angelopoulos, K. Lynch
Northern: M. Chaplin, M. Girolami, A. Jordan, B. Plummer, E. Smallacombe

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)
4 – Megan Girolami (Northern Knights)
3 – Ava Jordan (Northern Knights)
2 – Brooke Plummer (Northern Knights)
1 – Keely Coyne (Sandringham Dragons)

NAB League Girls Round 3 preview: Teams return after quick fixture switch

A SNAP lockdown and subsequent quick team swap later, and the NAB League Girls competition is set to return tomorrow for Round 3 of action. The Round 2 matches have been postponed, though with the border restrictions coming into play and 14 days quarantine required for any person from Victoria to enter Tasmania, it meant the Devils could not play their road trip against Eastern Ranges. Instead the Ranges will suit up as if Round 2 had have gone ahead, playing Gippsland Power, albeit as a home game at Kilsyth rather than on the road at Morwell East.

CALDER CANNONS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Saturday, February 20 @ 10am
Highgate Recreation Reserve, Craigieburn

First up in Round 3 is a battle of two heavyweights who are considered serious title contenders in the NAB League Girls competition. Calder Cannons have an array of talent from AFL Women’s Academy members to talls and smalls who provide balanced depth across the field. Oakleigh Chargers also have great depth, and disposed of the Northern Knights quite easily in Round 1, showing off a number of young players who stepped up to the mark. Both these teams head in off the back of a win following the Cannons’ strong second half showing against the Dragons a fortnight ago.

The onball matchups could be where the game is won and lost with AFL Women’s Academy members, Tahlia Gillard and Georgie Prespakis, as well as talented ball-winner Emelia Yassir named for the Cannons there. Ameille Smith – who snagged three goals on debut up forward last week –  has a massive task up against Gillard, while Amanda Ling and Charlie Rowbottom make it a dream contested bout. The potential matchup between Rowbottom and Prespakis in particular will catch eyes as two of the top Vic Metro prospects going head-to-head.

Outside the midfield, both teams have plenty of depth, with Stella Reid having an outstanding game in Round 1, playing off a wing but able to float back to half-back and assist there. She takes on Mali McLeod who is one of a number of Cannons with plenty of talent, such as the key defence post of Kasey Lennox and Neve Crowley. With Oakleigh having dangerous smaller forwards such as Taylah Morton and Jorja Jackson inside 50, the ball entry could be key as to how the game pans out.

In Round 1, Oakleigh proved the second most efficient with ball-in-hand, averaging 22 disposals and four inside 50s per goal in the Chargers’ win over the Knights. Calder adopted a handball-oriented style against Sandringham, with the teams two of the top three with lowest kick-to-handball ratio. Defensively the Cannons hit the contest hard, ranked third overall for tackles in Round 1 – laying 92 tackles – while the Chargers produced just the 50 as they played some impressive disposal-footy to keep the ball off their opponents and use their outside run.

This game will be more contested, but it will be particularly interesting to see which team can get the game on their teams for longer. Both have an abundance of talent, and it sets up as a potentials finals preview.

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. GEELONG FALCONS
Saturday, February 20 @ 10am
Epsom Huntly Recreation Reserve, Bendigo

Heading further north, a double-header at Epsom Huntly Reserve in Bendigo takes place for four of the country teams to do battle. In the first game, Bendigo Pioneers and Geelong Falcons lock horns in a chance to start the 2021 season with a 2-0 record. The Pioneers came to play on the border up against Murray Bushrangers, taking care of business by 16 points, while Geelong Falcons ground out a win against Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels at Deakin University on the Sunday, in what was an entertaining contest.

What Round 1 showed is both these teams can find their own footy, with Geelong ranked first overall for disposals and handballs, while Bendigo ranked first for kicks. The Pioneers adopted a kick-dominant style, where they produced 104 more kicks than handballs for a competition-high 73.6 per cent kick-to-handball ratio. The Falcons were lower at 61.1 per cent, but they balanced their style, also ranking second for kicks behind the Pioneers for the round. Both the teams also impressed in the air, with the Falcons ranking first for marks, and Bendigo third, while they were also top five for tackles. Bendigo was the only side to finish the round top five in both inside 50s and rebounds, while Geelong really took control in the ruck, ranked in the top five for hitouts, with Bendigo lowly in that area.

This week it will be Madeline Marks‘ chance to arrest some of that Falcons’ dominance in the ruck, coming up against Keeley Hardingham who got first hands to it against the GWV Rebels in Round 1, teaming up well with Analea McKee as both combined for 31 hitouts. Marks and Jayda Richardson did the majority of the ruck work for the Pioneers, having stiff opposition in Bushrangers talent and AFL Women’s Academy member, Ally Morphett. Also roaming around in the midfield with some experience are the likes of Elizabeth Snell and Lily den Houting, while fellow top-age returnee Jemma Finning can roll through the midfield too after coming off half-back. The Falcons shone bright on ball last week, with Tess Craven and Poppy Schaap racking up a truckload of the ball, as did the versatile Charlotte Simpson.

Ingrid Houtsma has been named on a wing after playing both centre half-forward and centre half-back in Round 1, showing off her versatility as a taller player. The Geelong forward dynamic is really damaging, with captain Lucy Were, contested marking specialist Renee Tierney, and the quick Gabbi Featherston all offering different aspects to the front six. One key player who could assist at either end not named is Tara Slender, with the AFL Women’s Academy player missing for Round 3. Instead the younger Pioneers will be required to step up, with bottom-agers Tegan Williams and Octavia Di Donato providing good rebound. Lila Keck showed some promising signs in Round 1, and the forward line of the Pioneers will come up against the likes of Elizabeth Dowling and Annie Lee who both impressed in Round 1.

Geelong Falcons have a well-balanced side and would be tipped to win here, especially with Bendigo missing Slender. Though based on Round 1, the Pioneers will put it up to the Falcons and do have the home ground advantage.

EASTERN RANGES vs, GIPPSLAND POWER
Saturday, February 20 @ 12pm
Kilsyth Recreation Reserve, Kilsyth

One of the few teams to actually be benefited from the Round 2 bye was Gippsland Power, with ruck Grace Matser – injured in the first round – not named for Round 2 against Eastern Ranges, but a week later and the talented tall is ready to go in the Kilsyth clash which is crucial coming up against the talented Georgia Campbell. The Power were a bit rusty up against a Tasmania Devils side that was structured and ruthless credit to a few less restrictions over the past 12 months, while the Ranges showed just how good they could be with transition, conceding the most inside 50s to the Jets (33), but only conceding the one goal.

The Ranges defence held up well, with Mia Busch and Cadhla Schmidli both starring in the back six, rebounding and running it out to form a formidable combination back there. Grace McRae was the sole goalkicker for the Power in Round 1 and she is tough to match up on be it in the midfield or forward line with her strength and one-on-one ability. Leesa Guastella has been named as a forward target this round, and Matilda Van Berkel showed she could do it all from key forward option to stand-in ruck after Matser’s injury, but has been named in defence this round.

Further up the ground, both teams have some speed with Sunday Brisbane winning plenty of it and showing her bursts coming off half-back and along the wing, with Poppi Fleming providing run on the other wing. With Jorja Livingstone being one of the top outside ball movers in the competition, the Power will look to provide their own run out there. Inside the battle between McRae and Olivia Meagher could be a great one as two top-age hardnuts battle it out. Isabelle Khoury and Bridget Deed will also lock horns with Lily-Rose Williamson and Yasmin Duursma in midfield, which promises to be a fantastic battle. Up forward, Scarlett Potter, Matilda Hardy and Alyssia Pisano are among the goal threats for Eastern, whilst the likes of Holly Booth, Van Berkel and Taylah Bourne will look to contain them.

Eastern Ranges will be favourites heading into the Round 3 clash after their impressive win in Round 1, but the Power showed they could match it with sides for long periods of time, and always gave it a crack for four quarters.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS vs. WESTERN JETS
Saturday, February 20 @ 12pm
Bluescope Steel Centre, Hastings

When talking about long breaks, look no further than Dandenong Stingrays, who, after already having 11 months off and then an extra week due to the bye, postponed their first match back in 2021 until Round 3 of the competition. The Stingrays finally are able to run out in the NAB League Girls, hosting a Western Jets side no doubt determined to capitalise on their opportunities when they meet in Hastings. The Jets recorded the most inside 50s of any side in Round 1 (33), but could only muster the one goal. It did show their midfield has the capacity to take control and run the ball forward, giving their front six the best chance to put scores on the board.

Delivery inside 50 will be crucial against arguably the best defence in the competition. Top-ager Zoe Hill and bottom-ager Mackenzie Eardley are strong in the air and provide a contest when the ball gets to ground. Both players will cause headaches for the opposition, with Western’s sole goalkicker in Round 1 – Jemima Woods – set to do battle with Vic Country representative, Hill. Also back there for the Stingrays are Jaide Anthony and Brooke Smith who have the versatility to push up the ground as well. Caitlin Sargent adds another target for the Jets against the stringent defence.

Western’s strength lies in its midfield and ball movement down the field with Charlotte Baskaran having a field day to earn our Draft Central Player of the Week nod after a sensational 28-disposal game on the wing. Teaming up with fellow bottom-ager Montana Ham, the Jets have some serious talent and kicking ability, to try and pinpoint targets inside 50. Trinity Skenderis and Leah Spargo also provide some hardness on the inside, while the Stingrays have Ashleigh Richards and Emily Shepherd who know how to win the contested ball then spread to the outside, whilst also not forgetting the speed of Abbey Jordan who will be playing a new role on the inside this season.

This match is set to be a cracker, and the Jets will want to get off to a strong start having the match practice in, but the Stingrays will be hungry after an extended break on top of the already unimaginable period away from football. Dandenong is one of the challengers for the title so should be favourites, though the game is set to be one of the matches of the round.

GWV REBELS vs. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Saturday, February 20 @ 12pm
Epsom Huntly Recreation Reserve, Bendigo

In the second game of a double-header at Epsom Huntly Recreation Reserve, the GWV Rebels take on Murray Bushrangers in a battle of two Round 1 losers. The Rebels were gallant in defeat, in a match that could have gone either way against one of the top teams going around in Geelong Falcons, while the young Bushrangers, with a number of debutants and bottom-agers, fell to Bendigo Pioneers at Yarrawonga. For at least one of these teams, they will break the duck and get their first points, and it sets up for a fascinating contest.

The Rebels showed last week they are focusing on a kick-first mentality, finishing Round 1 with a no-nonsense 73 per cent kick-to-handball ratio. Despite being well beaten in disposals, the Rebels only had five less inside 50s, and had four more rebounds. They averaged around 44 disposals per goal, and 6.8 inside 50s, which is still fairly strong across the board. Murray were good defensively with their rebounding and holding up, they were just beaten in disposals, and out-tackled with the Pioneers laying 90 tackles to 55. Having had that experience in the bank, expect the Bushrangers to come out fierce in this one.

Morphett will look to take full control when in the ruck for the Bushrangers, who have a hardened midfield group. Bottom-ager Keeley Skeeper and Mikayla Jones will go head-to-head against the smooth-moving Nyakoat Dojiok and hard nut Lilli Condon for this match, while Aurora Smith and Zara Hamilton will look to control the wings for the Bushrangers. Ella Friend is the danger for the Bushrangers’ defence, with Molly Kennedy named as her direct opponent to start, though the contested marking talent is hard to beat in the air or at ground level. Mindy Quade and Chloe Locke are among a host of defence-first Bushrangers who provide rebound as well, while up the other end, Kate Adams and Kristy Whitehead provide some experience, as does Lily Sharp who has been named at full-forward. The battle at half-forward between Adams and Chloe Leonard, and Whitehead and Molly Walton could be some of the best on the ground, with the two Rebels players their best last week.

GWV Rebels were arguably the best of the losing sides from Round 1, so should be favourites here with a great mix of talents across the ground. The Bushrangers have some great youngsters coming through, and will get better with every game.

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Sunday, February 21 @ 10am
Trevor Barker Beach Oval, Sandringham

The standalone Sunday game is also between two sides that tasted defeat in Round 1, with Sandringham Dragons and Northern Knights doing battle at Trevor Barker Beach Oval. The Dragons went down to Calder after a good defensive showing in the first half, while the Knights lost their first game since the 2018 grand final, heavily beaten by Oakleigh Chargers in the second game of a double-header at Craigieburn.

In those matches, both teams were beaten statistically, though the Dragons did rank fourth in handballs for the round, and recorded the highest handball-to-kick ratio across the competition of 45.7 per cent. The Knights just could not get the ball inside 50, with just 16 entries, whilst the Dragons had their chances, but the Cannons defence proved up to the task. One area where the Knights are likely to have the advantage is in the hitouts, where Georgia Kitchell stood up well to help her side to rank first overall for Round 1, whilst the team also finished third in the rebounds.

Sandringham will still be without Bridie Hipwell who was injured in the first round, though is not too far away from returning to the action. The Dragons do get back a talented runner though, with Tayla Jones coming into the side after missing Round 1. She could go head-to-head with either AFL Women’s Academy member Maykaylah Appleby, or Brooke Plummer who provided some much needed run on the other wing. The Knights defence was one aspect that never gave in through the Round 1 loss, and led by Tarrah Delgado – who was a standout talent – and Maeve Chaplin – who provided run across the ground – will be key players once again. A battle between Delgado and Charli Murphy could be a great one to watch with the key forward starved of too many chances from the first match, whilst Keely Coyne stood out across half-forward on debut. Pia Staltari and Emma Stuber coming off half-back and Sofia Hurley through the midfield are among some other Dragons who could be key players in the game.

Both these teams will be hungry for a win, and going off Round 1 form, Sandringham have the upper hand. The Knights will be keen to bounce back from a rare loss and should take control in the ruck, but it will be the midfield where the game is won and lost.

Skill and pace the key for Stingrays

THEY might have to wait an extra week to finally taste NAB League Girls action for the first time in 11 months, but the Dandenong Stingrays will be ready to go when it happens.

The Stingrays have a Round 1 bye this weekend, then host Sandringham Dragons at Frankston Park on Saturday, February 13 from 11am. For new coach Nick Cox – who has previously taken the reins at the boys – it was an exciting time, and the team would be ready for the first bounce.

“They’re excited about it obviously,” Cox said. “We’re lucky we’ve got Round 1 off, we’ve got a bye so we’ll get a few extra training sessions into them, but they’re really enthusiastic in the game sim stuff that we’re able to do. “But we’re looking forward to the games and seeing how they go there. Their enthusiasm there is another level to the boys that I’ve seen, so I can’t wait to see what they can produce.”

For Cox the role is one that is not too dissimilar to when he coached the boys’ side, and now it is about juggling and adapting both of the Stingrays’ elite junior squads.

“I was thinking about it over the weekend, last weekend after our first week at training,” Cox said. “It’s going to be a lot different but I’m actually excited and can’t wait for it. “I know every coach will say that, but just the dynamics of being back in a box and coaching gameday will be something that’s been missed by us all, but thank goodness that our country at least is getting back to some sort of normality, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The last 12 months have been challenging for every club, and the Stingrays are not immune to that. Cox said the onus was put on the players to ensure they were ready to hit the ground running once the group training returned following the lifting of lockdown protocols.

“There was a fair bit put back on the girls over the break to make sure they follow their program,” Cox said. “At the end of the day, the ones who make it are the ones who have intrinsic motivation and come back after doing it all themselves. “The difference is we’re doing a lot of things differently, education via Zoom calls, that kind of stuff, so we can get as much training into them when we see them. “It’s been different, but we have to work with it. “Everyone’s in the same boat so we’ve got to try and make them better by the time Round 1 comes.”

It might have only been a couple of weeks, but Cox admitted the feeling around the club was buoyant as the players could sense that games were not far away.

“The preseason has been wonderful so far, we haven’t had the girls back in for that long,” he said. “I think it’s been a couple of weeks, so they’ve come back in good condition and obviously follow their programs over the break. “It has been pleasing thus far, the energy and enthusiasm that they’re showing at training.”

Speaking about the 2021 NAB League Girls list, Cox said there were “a lot” of impressive preseason performers.

“I’ve been really impressed with our two 19-year-olds coming back from an AFL/VFLW preseason at St Kilda in Abbey Jordan and Zoe Hill,” he said. “Some of our bottom-agers, Amber Clarke‘s been exceptional, and probably one to continue to watch. “Emily Shepherd, Mac (Mackenzie) Eardley, our top-ager Ash Richards has been great, come back in a really good spot.

Jaide Anthony who was in the Academy last year, unfortunately didn’t make it this year has come back well, we’ve got some girls who have been quite impressive and we’ve been looking forward to seeing what they can produce in a couple of weeks time.”

Having that balance between the new top-age, middle-age and bottom-age players will make it a juggling act for the clubs, and with Dandenong having talent across all three years, Cox said the team would do its best to try and showcase everyone’s talent.

Obviously the 18 and 19-year-olds will get more of an opportunity early, but it’s still our role to showcase talent,” he said. “If a 17 year-old is better than an 18-year-old then we’ll put them on the park and get them ready for next year. “But there is a balance to give the 18 girls an opportunity, but if they’re not up to speed it’s like any elite program, others will jump ahead of them. “It will be what it will be.”

As for a style, the Stingrays have enough talent around the ground to provide some impressive and eye-catching ball movement. Cox listed speed and skill as two of the key areas that his squad seemed to be flushed with across the board.

We’ve got some girls who kick the ball exceptionally well and I think we can utilise that,” he said. We’ve got a little bit of pace, we’ve got a pretty good all-round mix. “But I think the two things would be our speed and our ability to execute really well. “I know that is simplistic, but they are two of the things I’ve been impressed with as a coach thus far in preseason.”

2021 AFLW Under 18s Ones to Watch

NOW the curtain has closed on the 2020 AFL Women’s off-season period, we turn our attention to the next group of budding stars across the country who will be vying for a spot on an AFL Women’s list. We have named 25 players who have already shown some great signs in their bottom and middle-age seasons, as well as a number of others to watch out for in 2021.

Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

A name that has been circulating for a number of years now, it is hard to believe the all-round talent was robbed of what she could potentially do in her middle-age year. She looked more than comfortable at the level in her bottom-age year as a 16-year-old and caught plenty of attention with a seven-goal haul against Greater Western Victoria Rebels. Taller than her sister – AFL Women’s league best and fairest winner Madison – Prespakis is hard at it, has great athleticism and is ridiculously strong one-on-one. A highlight-reel package nearly any time she steps out on the field, Prespakis is a future star and could play just about anywhere, but expect her to play inside midfield and rest forward.

Teagan Levi (Bond University/Queensland)

The sister of recently drafted Gold Coast Suns’ talent Maddison, Levi is 11cm shorter and plays onball rather than forward. Her athletic traits are similar to that of Georgia Patrikios in the way that she can seamlessly get herself out of trouble by wrong-footing and side-stepping opponents with ease. Not only is she able to beat them in congestion, she can run and take the game on down a wing, and then when the opponent wins it, she is the first to lay a strong tackle. Similar to Prespakis, Levi has so many weapons and is as effective defensively as she is offensively, and is the standout Queensland prospect for next year and in the clear top few talents running around.

Courtney Rowley. Picture credit: Owen Davies / Peel Thunder

Courtney Rowley (Peel Thunder/Western Australia)

A player who has been building very nicely over in Western Australia over the past two seasons and then was the most impressive of the middle-agers in the WAFL All-Stars game. A really smooth mover, Rowley often plays off a wing and knows how to distribute the ball so well, winning Peel Thunder’s League best and fairest last year as a 16-year-old competing against senior opponents including AFL Women’s talents. Whilst she had more support in 2020 as the Thunder rose from wooden spooners to premiers in a remarkable turnaround, it is hard not to admire what the talented midfielder could be in her top-age season next year.

Zoe Prowse (Sturt/South Australia)

The standout ruck prospect in next year’s draft, Adelaide will have another promising talent on their radar in Prowse. Winning Sturt’s best and fairest award this year, Prowse was just about the best in nearly every game she played for the Double Blues, particularly in the second half of the season. Despite standing at just under 180cm, Prowse has ridiculous athleticism with a high vertical leap and is almost like a fourth midfielder. She can get down and apply second and third efforts to ground level players, and is one who could also play forward if required. With great ruck nous, she can outwork her opponents around the ground, and it was easy to see why she was the sole South Australian AFL Women’s Academy member in her middle-age year.

Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)

An absolute star in the making. Capable of playing midfield or forward, Rowbottom just knows how to set scoring opportunities up in transition. The sister of Sydney’s James, Rowbottom has similar ball-winning abilities and defensive attributes, but has a lot to offer offensively as well. She showed in the Chargers’ win over Tasmania that she is not only able to hit the scoreboard herself – kicking two goals – but set up a number of chances for her teammates. One that will really surprise in 2021 as a leader for the Chargers.

Charlie Rowbottom. Picture credit: Solstice Digital & Photography

Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers/Vic Country)

With quite a few tall defenders in this year’s AFL Women’s Draft, Slender would be putting her hand up as potentially the pick of the bunch. Her intercepting capability and reading of the ball in flight is exceptional, and while she did miss her middle-age year, Slender is one who could catch the attention pretty quickly. Having played alongside some Vic Country representatives in the past – and playing at Under 16s level for her state – Slender is good in one-on-ones and looms as a key lynchpin for the Pioneers. It would also not be too surprising to see her take a similar transition to Isabelle Pritchard and move into the midfield given she has the traits to slot right in there.

Makaylah Appleby (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)

Class personified. Appleby has managed to catch the eye on more than a few occasions over the past few seasons despite playing in such a stacked team at the Northern Knights. She often played off a wing or provided run on the outside like during the 2019 NAB League Finals Series. Appleby is now the top prospect at the Knights for the upcoming season as a member of the AFL Women’s National Academy, and as a damaging ball user, Appleby is one that teammates want to get the ball in the hands of in order to create scoring opportunities up the field.

Charlotte Thomas (Subiaco/Western Australia)

A dangerous forward half player with clean skills and a nous for goals, Thomas is the other AFL Women’s Academy member from Western Australia in her middle-age year along with Rowley and has a big future. Playing in an experienced team like Subiaco, Thomas was able to still stand out, regularly hitting the scoreboard. Standing at 175cm, Thomas has good size and good hands and having made her League debut in 2020, big things are predicted for 2021 with a lot of AFL Women’s talent, and more experienced heads around her.

Nyakoat Dojiok. Picture credit: Draft Central

Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)

A player who is not afraid to take the game on and really take it to the opposition is GWV Rebels’ Dojiok who has been developing year-on-year over the last few years. Playing as a 15-year-old a few years back, Dojiok is one who when she gets going is hard to contain, and she has that rich blend of power and speed. She is utilised best as that outside runner, playing off half-back or along a wing, but is eye-catching in the way she plays and the way she can bring teammates into the game. Entering her top-age year, expect her to see even more midfield time as she has some seriously great traits.

Elizabeth Dowling (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)

A player who might be flying under the radar that has some casual NAB League Girls watchers reaching for the team lists next year is Dowling. An incredible talent who showed progression in her two games this year, she has only managed to fly under the radar due to the enormous amount of talent coming out of the Falcons’ football factory. She played in defence as a bottom-ager then got time more up the field last year, and expect her to play through the midfield in 2021. She can play anywhere, at that hybrid 171cm-plus size and can be too athletic for talls and too strong for smalls, Dowling is one who should not be forgotten when talking about Vic Country prospects.

Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers/NSW-ACT)

The standout NSW/ACT prospect for 2021, Morphett is the sole AFL Women’s Academy member from her state. The developing 189cm-plus ruck is one who improved from her bottom-age season and it would have been fantastic to see her going up against the Melbourne-drafted Maggie Caris if their teams had met in the NAB League Girls before the season ended. She is commanding overhead and able to drift forward if required, Morphett is one of the few NAB League Girls prospects to play this year. Representing Belconnen Magpies in the AFL Canberra League, Morphett finished second in the league best and fairest, and then won best on ground in the Magpies’ premiership win. Not bad for a 17-year-old and she is one anticipated to take a huge step in 2021.

Maggie Harmer (Maroochydore/Queensland)

Stood tall at senior level in the QAFL Women’s competition for the Roos and is one of a remarkable three players in the AFL Women’s Academy from the side. Harmer showed in the Queensland All-Stars game that she looms as a strong prospect in 2021 with her overhead marking, read of the play and powerful kicking standing out in a tight game. A member of the Brisbane Lions Academy, Harmer is 170cm and could play at half-back as that intercepting rebounder, or through the middle, seemingly able to break down opposition defences on transition by getting in the way and then pumping it long.

Maggie Harmer. Picture credit: Deion Menzies, Highflyer Images

Amy Franklin (Claremont/Western Australia)

If we are talking upside, then Franklin, not too dissimilar to her West Australian namesake, has plenty of that for the future. A tall marking forward, Franklin has speed that makes smaller opponents envious, and standing at 180cm, she is big enough to outmark most opponents. Still quite raw and lightly built compared to more experienced WAFL Women’s defenders she came across, Franklin is one that once the ball gets goalside, you can almost put the glasses down. Terrific athleticism and one who is threatening to be an even bigger threat in 2021, she is yet another exciting tall forward to come out of Western Australia.

Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

If you are talking upside and potential in next year’s AFL Women’s Draft crop then take 186cm Gillard as an example. Only turning 17 in December this year, the key position utility can play in all three lines, starting off as a key defender, spending time up forward and has the size if required to play ruck. For a player of her size, Gillard is so good at ground level and able to create something out of nothing. While she is still a raw and developing talent, she is another from the Cannons’ program who has already had plenty of NAB League Girls experience that will only make her better.

Ella Friend (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)

A second GWV Rebels player making the list, Friend did not get many chances this season to show what she is capable of, but what she did in that short space of time was quite remarkable. Another member of the AFL Women’s National Academy, Friend looked comfortable in the tight contest against the Western Jets back in Round 3, racking up a ton of the ball – 19 touches – and having a real influence in the forward half. Not only that, but she iced the game for the Rebels with a match-winning goal, and provided as much offence (six inside 50s) and defence (five tackles) to suggest she is a gamechanger and one to look out for next season.

Jorja Livingstone (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)

Made her debut in the NAB League Girls competition and just has that X-factor about her that makes you sit up and take notice. Elite acceleration out of the stoppage and some really top-end traits, Livingstone came into the Ranges’ midfield and assimilated easily that it was hard to believe she was not a top-ager. Behind the experienced Olivia Meagher and Tarni Brown, Livingstone was the next biggest performer onball, and with another preseason behind her, it will be exciting to see just what she can produce with her athletic traits and ability to get forward and look dangerous.

Emelia Yassir (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

Yassir is just a fierce competitor who can play through the midfield or as a small forward. Standing at just 161cm, Yassir defies her size and is not afraid to take on bigger opponents, laying multiple tackles and is a contested ball winner. She stood up during Calder’s NAB League Girls finals series as a bottom-ager in 2019, and started strongly in 2020. She will have a bigger role in 2021 and has a bucketload of talent that will have opposition players wary of when she is in the zone.

Mikayla Pauga (Maroochydore/Queensland)

Another small forward and member of the AFL Women’s Academy, Pauga might just stand at 161cm like Yassir, but packs plenty of punch as a damaging forward. The second Maroochydore player in this list, Pauga finished second in her club’s goalkicking with 13 majors in 14 games, and was a clear standout. With an eye for goal and a large endurance base that sees her outwork opponents, Pauga is one who could step up again in 2021 and will be one to watch at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships having shown her wares at senior level in the QAFL Women’s already.

Zoe Venning. Picture credit: SANFL

Zoe Venning (West Adelaide/South Australia)

A hard-nosed midfielder/forward from West Adelaide, Venning came on in leaps and bounds throughout her second season in the red and black. She became a crucial member of the Bloods’ midfield, playing between wing and forward, though her attack on the ball shows she can easily translate into an inside midfielder. Providing great assistance to equal league best and fairest winner, Rachelle Martin as well as young talent Abbie Ballard, Venning is one who is dangerous around goals. She is still developing some areas of her game such as her kicking, but her work rate and intensity in play is superb.

Kasey Lennox (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

A reliable key defender for the Cannons, Lennox is a fourth member of the Calder side to make this list, and shows just how strong their top-age group will be next season. Lennox is one who is good at ground level for a taller player, being one of the most dominant rebounders in the competition to start the 2020 NAB League Girls season. As a player who stood out on the big stage of the 2019 NAB League Girls Grand Final, Lennox is not afraid of big moments, and will team up well with Gillard as a couple of talls in a really strong Cannons outfit.

Amy Prokopiec (Clarence/Tasmania)

The sole Tasmanian prospect in the AFL Women’s National Academy, Prokopiec became one of the standout defenders for Tasmania Devils, albeit in just a handful of games in her bottom and middle-age years. As she showed with Clarence in the TSL Women’s competition this year and in the Tasmanian All-Stars game, Prokopiec is capable of playing at either end, and becoming that versatile tall utility. As a long kick and strong overhead, she is a crucial cog in the both the Roos and Devils sides, and will be hoping for a full season next year to test herself against the best in the NAB League Girls.

Amy Prokopiec (right). Picture credit: Solstice Digital & Photography

Gypsy Schirmer (South Adelaide/South Australia)

There are quite a few talls in this list with potential, and Schirmer is another one who just has that look about her that she could be in for a big 2021. In her middle-age season with reigning premiers South Adelaide, she acquitted herself well and while she did have some really outstanding performances, even when she was quieter, there was always a moment or two within games where you could see she was capable of kicking a couple of goals and winning the match for her side. Not far off 180cm, Schirmer can push up to a wing or even in defence, but she always looks damaging inside 50 and a real target for her teammates to kick to.

Eliza James (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)

A good size and capable of hitting the scoreboard, the 176cm James is a damaging prospect. She showed in her two games this year how she has developed both her offensive and defensive traits, and even as an Under 16s player for the Chargers, stood up in nine games and booted five goals. As one of a number of Chargers who were able to provide support to the top-end talent this year, James is another leader in the group to standout in her own top-age year in 2021.

Alana Lishmund (Norwood/South Australia)

Was a prominent member of the Norwood side in her debut SANFL Women’s season, then really stepped up as one of the best in the All-Stars match last month. She is predominantly a forward talent who can push up the ground into the midfield, and then play high or deep forward when required. A reliable kick for goal, she has that X-factor about her inside 50 and can be a leading or crumbing target, playing taller than her 166cm size, and one who will be another South Australian jostling for a spot as one of the more prominent talents in the state.

Alana Lishmund. Picture credit: AFL Media

Jaide Anthony (Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country)

A multi-sport talent for the Stingrays, Anthony also has that something special about her game playing as a forward. She can play at either end, and has progressed through the pathway from V/Line Cup to the NAB League Girls. One who has shared her football journey with cricket duties – she has only managed the five games for the Stingrays – she knows how to hit the scoreboard and provide a presence. Despite standing at just 166cm, Anthony plays like a taller forward and finds space, and will be a top talent to watch out for from the Stingrays in 2021.

Others:

Maroochydore’s Bella Smith is another member of the AFL Women’s National Academy who stood up for Maroochydore this season in the QAFL Women’s, whilst Georgia Hutton and Caitlin Thorne are a couple of Gold Coast Academy members who showed some top-end traits during the All-Stars match.

The South Australian group has been sensational with plenty having senior experience, led by South Adelaide’s Lauren Clifton who stood out in the All-Stars match up forward. Central District’s Madison Lane, North Adelaide’s Kate Case, Glenelg’s Brooke Tonon and Woodville-West Torrens’ Jamie Parish are others who have been ones to watch at SANFL Women’s level this season.

Over in the west, Chloe Reilly remains a dangerous forward option for East Fremantle with her work at ground level and around goals, whilst Swan Districts’ Emma Nanut, and South Fremantle trio, Tayla Whincup, Taylah Cruttenden and Poppy Stockwell are also great talents.

Looking to the NAB League and there are plenty of names to throw up, but a few in the mix include Mikayla Jones (Murray Bushrangers), Jemma Radford (Dandenong Stingrays) and Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons) who have shown to be natural players in their respective areas. From the Vic Metro perspective, Peppa Poultney (Calder Cannons), Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers), Caitlin Sargent (Western Jets) and Tarrah Delgado (Northern Knights) were terrific this year, while a host of middle-age Sandringham Dragons got their starts and will no doubt produce a number of surprise packets alongside their elite bottom-age talents.

Perri King is another Tasmanian prospect behind Prokopiec to watch, making history as the Devils’ first goalkicker last season and will be keen to build on that again. From Northern Territory, there is a heap of great young talents coming through from 2022 onwards, with one 2021 draft prospect being Georgia Johnson, a 160cm talent from Waratah who stood out in the NT All-Stars match last month. Playing in defence, she was one to take note of as she regularly mopped up and got the ball down the field for Team Hewett.

Alongside the top-age talents, a number of over-age talents who missed out on being drafted this year will no doubt be trying to stake their case against be it via the NAB League or state leagues, including Brooke Hards, Jemma Finning and Annabel Strahan (all Bendigo Pioneers), Zoe Hill, Abbey Jordan and Jess Matin (all Dandenong Stingrays), Ash Snow and Maeve Chaplin (both Northern Knights), Amber Micallef (Oakleigh Chargers), Olivia Meagher (Eastern Ranges) and Grace McRae (Gippsland Power) who all received AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites but were unlucky to miss out.

In Western Australia, Maggie MacLachlan (Subiaco), Brianna Hyde and Mikayla Hyde (both Swan Districts) head into 2021 as over-agers, while mature-agers Ella Smith and Jess Low (both Claremont), Rosie Walsh (East Fremantle) and Sarah Wielstra (Swan Districts) are others who missed out on the AFL Women’s Draft but will remain ones to watch.

Elsewhere, Northern Territorian Mattea Breed continues to develop for Norwood in South Australia, whilst Abby Favell (Murray Bushrangers), Jayde Hamilton (Queanbeyan Tigers) and Kiara Beesley (Southern Power) were draft combine invitees from NSW/ACT.

In Queensland, Beth Pinchin has shown great resilience as a mature-ager coming back from multiple injuries, while Courtney Bromage and Brooke Spence are other mature-agers who caught attention this year. Christine Okesene, Ebony Peterson, Laura Blue, Chloe Gregory and Madison Goodwin were also in the mix this year with Draft Combine invites so will be kept on close watch in 2021. The other two players to receive AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites but miss out were the exciting Freda Puruntatameri (Calder Cannons/Northern Territory) and Charlie Vandenberg (Wynyard/Tasmania) who have plenty of development left in them.

NAB League Girls preview: Round 2 – Huge clashes book-end Super Saturday

A HUGE Super Saturday takes place in the NAB League Girls competition this weekend with five games across three venues – two double-headers – including a couple of blockbusters book-ending the round and a clash between two winless sides. Tasmania Devils also make their debut in the league and host Oakleigh Chargers, whilst Western Jets could record back-to-back wins and keep in touch with the top couple of sides.

NORTHERN KNIGHTS v. GEELONG FALCONS
Saturday, March 7, 11:30am
RMIT University Bundoora

The opening game of the round pits the 2018 grand finalists against each other, with Northern Knights going one step further last year, whilst the Geelong Falcons fell in the semi-finals stage. In Round 1, the Knights held off a determined Calder Cannons outfit at this venue by a goal, whilst in the game immediate after, Geelong Falcons ran out 33-point victors over Gippsland Power. Both these teams have stars across the park and were forced to play very different gamestyles in Round 1. The Knights were impressive across the board in the way they were able to defend and then move the ball down the field to set up their forwards such as Alyssa Bannan (five goals). Led by co-captains Ellie McKenzie and Jess Fitzgerald in midfield, the Knights were able to use a nice blend of power and speed to get the ball inside 50, whilst the underrated Maeve Chaplin was tipped to have a big game by Fitzgerald in the Final Siren podcast this week. Competing against them in the midfield is an equally damaging midfield, with AFL Women’s National Academy members Laura Gardiner and Darcy Moloney making the matchups something to behold onball. Gardiner racked up 38 touches and had 14 tackles in Round 1 to be the Draft Central Player of the Week, whilst Moloney (28 disposals, six tackles) and Poppy Schaap (24 disposals, six tackles) also brought the heat. What was most impressive about the way the Falcons went about it was the fact they racked up a whopping 271 disposals, but also laid 94 tackles with their defensive pressure amongst the best in the league. They could have been more effective in front of goal, which is an area to build on, and something they cannot afford to suffer from in this clash against arguably the benchmark team this season. Expect this match to be another close one with both sides missing players from their encounters over the past couple of seasons, but the Knights deserve favouritism at home.

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS v. BENDIGO PIONEERS
Saturday, March 7, 12pm.
RAMS Arena

From two sides looking to extend their strong starts to the season, we head to Craigieburn where two teams go head-to-head in a bid to get off the mark in season 2020. Sandringham Dragons will be ruing missed opportunities against Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels where they arguably had plenty more chances to kick a big score, but were let down close to goal. Their defensive pressure was a highlight however and is something that will be a trademark of this game. Both sides are renowned tacklers, and whilst Sandringham can play a possession style of game as well, the Dragons are more than happy to get their hands dirty in pursuit of a win. The Pioneers are not a high possession style team but look to be efficient with ball-in-hand, running the ball down in transition and getting it inside 50 as effective as possible. An area the Pioneers can get on top in this clash is in the ruck, with the Dragons having just two hitouts last week against the number one ruck in the competition, Maggie Caris. They still won their fair share of clearances though, and led by Eliza McNamara (20 disposals, eight tackles and six inside 50s) and Winnie Laing (18 disposals, five tackles and five inside 50s), were able to pump the ball inside 50 enough to suggest that if they do that consistently enough and improve their finishing ability then the results will come. The Pioneers had co-captain Brooke Hards waste no time influencing the contest off the back of her middle-age best and fairest year, winning 18 disposals and laying seven tackles. With Elizabeth Snell out of the side, the Pioneers will look to other experience around the ground, with co-captain Annabel Strahan and Jemma Finning‘s work out of the back 50 as a way of getting control of the ball. The two centre-half backs in Sarah Hartwig and Tara Slender are some of the best in their age groups and the teams cannot afford to put it down their throat too often or the ball will come straight back out. Sandringham should be favourites in this game given the amount of chances they can generate, but the Dragons must be clean around goal.

TASMANIA DEVILS v. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Saturday, March 7, 12.30pm
North Hobart Oval

Crossing the Bass Strait to the Apple Isle, Tasmania Devils enter the NAB League competition for the first time, taking on a red-hot Oakleigh Chargers. Whilst the Devils sat out Round 1 watching on, they would have been impressed by what they witnessed at Wangaratta when the Chargers ran wild in a 50-point win over Murray Bushrangers. The Chargers have no problem possessing the ball, and they had a massive 40 inside 50s, giving their forwards a multitude of chances inside 50. For Round 2 the Chargers have lost some of their Round 1 firepower, with Amelia James and Alice O’Loughlin both out of the side after combining for five goals between themselves. The captain Mimi Hill led from the front during the Chargers’ win, racking up 29 disposals and five inside 50s, while vice-captain Joanna Lin had 17 disposals and six inside 50s. Eliza James showed plenty of talent during the match with an impressive 18 disposals, four marks, five tackles and match-high seven inside 50s. For the Devils, it is hard to judge just where they sit in terms of the competition just yet, with plenty of developing youngsters coming through the ranks. Amy Prokopiec is the one to keep an eye out for with the middle-age defender already having experience in the NAB League Girls after playing in the Devils’ few games last season. Overager, Camilla Taylor provides height at 180cm and will look to dominate the ruck battle with her extra experience, whilst drifting forward to provide a target inside 50 for the Devils midfielders to aim at. Another overager sure to provide that added experience is Tahlia Bortignon with the 19-year-old named on a wing for this match. You would be a brave person to tip against Oakleigh given the Chargers’ Round 1 match, but this game will be more about seeing a host of new young stars living out their dreams of playing in an elite youth competition by the Devils making their debut in the competition.

WESTERN JETS v. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Saturday, March 7, 1.15pm
RMIT University Bundoora

Following on from the Knights-Falcons clash at Bundoora is the battle between Western Jets and Murray Bushrangers. In Round 1, the Jets triumphed for the first time in their history when they toppled Bendigo Pioneers at Queen Elizabeth Oval by 22 points. The next day, Murray succumbed to a rampaging Oakleigh side by 50 points. Though one positive that could come out of that game from a scoreboard perspective was the fact that after conceding seven consecutive goals, the home team booted the last three goals of the match to avoid it being a potentially worse scoreline. Heading into this match minus their top key forward in Olivia Barber (concussion), the Bushrangers will need to utilise their smalls to hit the scoreboard and cause havoc for a Western defence that is well drilled based on the first round. The Jets were able to balance their ball use from the back 50 to the attacking 50 with some nice running ability, and did well around the stoppages despite conceding height in the ruck and thus the hitouts. Both teams favour a kick-first gamestyle which means we could potentially witness plenty of end-to-end football in this game. Leading the way last week for the Jets were bottom-agers, Montana Ham (19 disposals, seven marks, five inside 50s and three rebounds) and Charlotte Baskaran (19 disposals, seven tackles, four inside 50s and five rebounds), while new top-ager Amelia Velardo looked impressive with her athletic ability on her way to 16 disposals and three inside 50s, as well as four hitouts going up against taller opponents. With Isabelle Pritchard playing across all thirds of the ground, she is the star prospect for the 2020 group at Western and will be hard to combat in the middle. The Bushrangers also have some AFL Women’s Academy members with top-ager Abby Favell working through the midfield and Ally Morphett switching between ruck and forward. Mindy Quade will play an important role down in defence, whilst Mikayla Jones and Zali Spencer were another couple of players who stood up in defeat last round. Western brings winning form into this match and would be a good chance to go 2-0, though the Bushrangers always find something special.

CALDER CANNONS v. DANDENONG STINGRAYS
Saturday, March 7, 1.45pm
RAMS Arena

The final game of the round is another huge clash between two sides with good form. Calder Cannons fell a goal short of victory against Northern in the first round of action, and return to their homeground, RAMS Arena to take on a Dandenong Stingrays side that was the surprise packet of Round 1. It was not necessarily the fact that the Stingrays won that was the surprise, but the fact that they did it so convincingly in the end – 50 points – against an Eastern Ranges side with plenty of talent. Stingrays coach, Dave Carden said post-game that it was important the club looked to improve from the Round 1 performance in terms of their stoppage position, but he was impressed with their clean hands and ball movement – something that will be crucial if they are to cause an upset against last year’s grand finalists. The Cannons midfield is well established, with middle-ager Georgie Prespakis and fellow 2003-born Emelia Yessir assisting captain, Laura Cocomello in the middle. Jessica Zakkour was the Cannons’ best last round with two goals from 18 touches and eight tackles, whilst the key defensive combination of Tamsin Crook and Kasey Lennox one of the best in the competition. It will also be important to combat the Stingrays’ talls with Georgia Grimmer out of this match, but Serene Vudiniabola (two goals in Round 1) able to crunch packs and bring the ball to ground for the likes of Ashleigh Richards (two goals) and Jaide Anthony (one). Tyanna Smith is the midfielder to watch on the Stingrays’ side, dominating last week and along with Abbey Jordan, provides some incredible running power out of that onball group. The Cannons have some targets inside 50 themselves with Charlotte Clayton (three goals) and Freda Puruntatameri (one) both looking dangerous last week. These teams are very evenly matched based on the first round statistics with no more than six differential between any of the major stats heading into the Round 2 clash. This is a buckle-up and get ready game because both these teams will take it right up to the other making it a real spectacle for the onlookers.

Stingrays stun Ranges with 50-point win

DANDENONG Stingrays have produced one of their best performances in the NAB League Girls competition to-date, downing Eastern Ranges by 50 points at Holm Park Reserve in Beaconsfield. In warm conditions without a lot of breeze, the Stingrays went into the contest with a heavy bottom-age presence with talls up either end supported by a couple of more experienced players around them. It was an arm-wrestle for the most part in the first half, with Dandenong eventually turning the tables on Eastern thanks to an inspired performance by AFL Women’s National Academy member, Tyanna Smith.

While she was solid in the first quarter, it was the second term where Smith came to life, having multiple inside 50s – including three consecutive – and booting a remarkable goal from the boundary line to blow out the half-time margin to 33 points at the break. The first five minutes of the match was spent between the arcs, but a quick kick inside 50 gave debutant overager, Serene Vudiniabola the opportunity with her strong hands to dish off to Jess Matin who slotted the easiest of first goals. The Stingrays double up late in the term when Ashleigh Richards converted from 30m out straight in front, but it was off the back of a huge Mackenzie Eardley tackle, stopping Lily Peacock in her tracks on the wing. Both Smith and Olivia Meagher were battling hard for their respective sides, throwing their bodies on the line to win the contested ball despite being outnumbered.

Eardley continued in the second term where she took a huge contested one-on-one mark inside defensive 50, while Smith’s dominance came to the fore. After a couple of dropped marks by teammates and Vudiniabola’s missed chance for a goal herself, Smith gathered the ball right by the boundary line amongst traffic and snapped it across her body off a step to put it through the middle in a remarkable effort. Meagher and Jorja Livingstone were trying hard for Eastern, with Livingstone bearing similar traits to Smith with her ability to sidestep opponents and kick it clear. The Stingrays’ defence kept holding up however, and both Georgia Grimmer and Vudiniabola got on the board late in the term. Tarni Brown had a chance in the dying seconds right on the boundary but was knocked over as she kicked it, with the ball cannoning into the behind post ensuring the Stingrays were in firm control of the contest.

It did not take long in the second half for Dandenong to keep building the lead with Richards converting her second in the opening few minutes. The drought was broken for the Ranges in response when a contest deep in the Eastern forward line produced something out of nothing with Victorian Netball League (VNL) netballer, Saskia Nannes making her mark on the game with a clever snap which bounced past a couple of defenders and home. Richards almost had a third for the Ranges, but it was touched on the way there. Meagher’s defensive work and contested ability was there throughout the four quarters, wrapping up Zoe Hill to win a free kick and subsequent 50m penalty, but her set shot drifted to the right. Not to be outdone, Smith then ran down an opponent with five minutes left in the quarter to save a certain goal, then moments later marked inside 50, 30m out on an angle. She too missed the chance to add to the lead, but Jaide Anthony did not, when a fortuitous fumble close to the line saw an opponent overrun the ball and collect her high with a subsequent snap from the free kick sailing through and the margin was 39 at the final break.

The last quarter started with more promise for the Stingrays as Vudiniabola booted her second major just 51 seconds into the contest, and Grimmer made it two for herself with a goal midway through the term with a remarkable long bomb off a snap. Unfortunately Eastern copped two injuries in the final term with players having to be helped off, but the game was done and dusted by that stage, and while a number of Ranges had impressed, it was a terrific performance from the Stingrays. Dandenong head coach, Dave Carden said it was a terrific effort from the playing group to put out the performance it did.

“It’s interesting, because you’re not really sure what to expect,” he said. “We’re such a new squad. “We had 11 debutants play their first game for the Stingrays today and we’re pretty much a brand new coaching staff. “So we’ve worked on a lot of things over the summer and it’s really been about the fundamentals. “Making sure we’re getting our kicking right under pressure. Massive focus on clean hands, but also them having the courage to take the game on. “We talked about it as players, we want them to bring their strength to the game, rather than a whole heap of structural stuff and be you. “You know what? I think they did a really, really good job right across the ground doing that.”

Smith finished with 26 disposals, four marks, five tackles, six inside 50s, two rebounds and a goal, leading the way perfectly from Amber Clarke (12 disposals, two marks and four tackles), while Grimmer, Richards and Vudiniabola all booted a couple of majors each as a damaging forward combination. Eardley was superb in defence with a couple of marks, four rebounds, five tackles and seven touches, while Matin missed a couple of chances in the third term to boot a handy three majors, but finished with 1.2 from 10 disposals and four tackles. Captain Abbey Jordan also produced a lot of one percenters, recording nine disposals and two inside 50s with a lot of hard running throughout the contest. For Eastern, Meagher was the standout with 16 disposals, two marks, five tackles and three inside 50s, well supported by Livingstone (13 disposals, two tackles) and Brown (20 disposals, three tackles). Ruby O’Dwyer (12 disposals, three inside 50s and two tackles) and Jess Grace (seven disposals, 12 hitouts) were also among Eastern’s best in the loss.

Next week the Stingrays head to Cragieburn to take on the Calder Cannons, wile Eastern has a bye in Round 2 ahead of a home match at Kilsyth against Tasmania Devils.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS 2.0 | 5.3 | 7.4 | 9.4 (58)
EASTERN RANGES 0.0 | 0.0 | 1.1 | 1.2 (8)

GOALS:

Dandenong: A. Richards 2, S. Vudiniabola 2, G. Grimmer 2, J. Matin, J. Anthony, T. Smith.
Eastern: S. Nannes.

BEST:

Dandenong: T. Smith, M. Eardley, G. Grimmer, A. Jordan, S. Vudiniabola
Eastern: O. Meagher, J. Livingstone, T. Brown, R. O’Dwyer, J. Grace

DC Medal:

5 – Tyanna Smith (DS)
4 – Olivia Meagher (ER)
3 – Mackenzie Eardley (DS)
2 – Georgia Grimmer (DS)
1 – Jorja Livingstone (ER)

NAB League Girls preview: Round 1 – New talent to shine in opening round of action

NAB League Girls action is back on the agenda this weekend with a grand final rematch among a host of expected tight contests with all sides back on level pegging at 0-0 to start the season and hoping to kick-off their seasons with wins.

NORTHERN KNIGHTS v. CALDER CANNONS
Saturday, February 29, 10:15am
RMIT University Bundoora

The first game of the round is a fitting opener to the new NAB League Girls season, with Northern Knights hosting Calder Cannons at a refurbished RMIT University ground in the 2019 Grand Final rematch. The Knights had five players drafted last year, with the remainder signed up for state league level football in 2020, while the Cannons just had the two, but had a number of players on the periphery. Both these sides have plenty of talent with the Knights potentially a year ahead in development, finishing runner-up in 2018 before winning last year, while the Cannons made the grand final last season, and will be hoping to build on that this year. The Knights have five players in the National AFL Women’s Academy, led by Ellie McKenzie and last year’s grand final best on ground medallist, Jess Fitzgerald who are both amongst a strong midfield core. Fellow Academy member, Maeve Chaplin is also named onball, while Maykaylah Appleby will run down the wings as the sole middle-age Academy member. Alyssa Bannan is a leading target and strong overhead named at centre half-forward, and a battle with the likes of key backs, Tamsin Crook and Tahlia Gillard – the latter of whom is in the AFL Women’s Academy too will be a match-up to watch. The name that will always catch the eye is Georgie Prespakis, a 2021 draft prospect and sister of Carlton Rising Star, Madison. She is capable of anything and her battle with McKenzie will be intriguing. The Cannons also have some serious depth at their disposal, with Emelia Yassir and Kasey Lennox another couple of youngsters who made their debuts last season and looked at home. With Freda Puruntatameri playing with Palmerston in the NTFL Women’s competition up forward for the Cannons, there is plenty of X-factor there too.

GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS v. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS
Saturday, February 29, 11:30am
City Oval Ballarat

Up in Ballarat, the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels host the Sandringham Dragons in a battle between two sides who should improve on their 2019 placings. Both sides have a number of AFL Women’s Academy member with the Rebels (five) and the Dragons (three) both having some serious top-end talent. The Rebels have a strong spine with Maggie Caris likely to be the top ruck in the competition this year with her height and tap work causing problems for the opposition. Renee Saulitis has played up forward and down back, but is named in the middle, with her athleticism and ability to sidestep opponents a feature of her game. Along with Isabella Simmons who has also been named through the midfield, all three Academy members are very different and add varied elements to the game style. They will face an equally impressive midfield of Dragons’ captain Winnie Laing, potential St Kilda father-daughter selection, Alice Burke and Bella Eddey who provide a real hard edge to the onball brigade. Sarah Hartwig is one of a couple of premier rebounding defenders, reading the ball in flight so well and able to create a lot of offensive run while nullifying her opponent defensively. Playing at half-forward is Eliza McNamara who is a tackling machine and elite runner, who will work her opponent over, while Abbi Moloney lines up at full-forward to try and clunk a few grabs by outmuscling her opponent one-on-one. The Rebels will look to run the ball out of defence through Nyakoat Dojiok who is a 2021 draft prospect in the Academy, while Chloe Leonard has been named at full-forward for the Rebels who will look to have a spread of goalkickers rather than a dominant target.

GEELONG FALCONS v. GIPPSLAND POWER
Saturday, February 29, 12:00pm
RMIT University Bundoora 

After its first finals loss last season, Geelong Falcons return to the NAB League Girls with a hunger to get back to the heights of 2018, starting off the 2020 season with a clash against Gippsland Power. The Power have a lot of players who were able to run out last season and will be more experienced in 2020, so they will no doubt look to push the Falcons who have plenty of young players themselves. Geelong’s duo of Darcy Moloney and Laura Gardiner will be damaging through the midfield as the Falcons’ two AFL Women’s National Academy members. Joined in the middle by basketballer Carly Remmos, the Falcons have a strong foundation to continue the success of past years. Elizabeth Dowling is a name that will be raised over the next couple of years, and along with Renee Tierney as targets up forward and Poppy Schaap‘s defensive pressure, the Falcons are in a good shape going forward. Mia Van Dyke is one of a number of prospects who have come through the club’s V/Line Cup program and despite being just three days away from being a 2023 draft eligible prospect (only turned 15 in December), she is one of a number who have come through the pathway with some high wraps from the coaching staff. Gippsland has some familiar names in its line-up, led by midfielder and AFL Women’s Academy member, Megan Fitzsimon. She, along with Grace McRae forms a strong midfield duo in there, and will compete strongly for the contested ball. In defence, Shanara Notman returns as a 19-year-old named at centre half-back and will provide some good rebound there, right alongside Leyla Berry who played for the Power back in 2018. On the other flank is a familiar Power name with Yasmin Duursma (sister of Port Adelaide’s Xavier), while when talking about bottom-age talent, Lily-Rose Williamson is one who will be a standout along a win having starred for the club through the V/Line Cup in past years.

BENDIGO PIONEERS v. WESTERN JETS
Saturday, February 29, 12:50pm
Queen Elizabeth Oval 

Turning the attention to Bendigo, the Pioneers host Western Jets in a curtain raiser to the AFL Women’s clash between Richmond and Geelong. Bendigo has the one official AFL Women’s National Academy member in key defender Tara Slender, but have a midfield that will trouble opposition onballers. Brooke Hards and Annabel Strahan have both been named onball and the co-captains will provide a hard-edge to the midfield and be difficult to beat there. Along with Maeve Tupper who has some impressive athletic skills and great goal sense when up forward, the midfield is a strength for the Pioneers. Jemma Finning has been named at half-back to provide some run out of defence with Slender, while up forward, Hannah Stewart is a target inside 50 as a 19-year-old. The Jets have opted to throw rebounding defender, Isabelle Pritchard into the midfield to counteract the Pioneers’ onball and develop her game even further. Along with bottom-age tall, Montana Ham and Nikita Wright in the middle, the Jets have some good height and ball-winning ability in there with upside. A highly rated bottom-ager with Ham is Charlotte Baskaran who is considered elite with her foot skills and decision making, so will be one to watch coming off half-back where she has been named. Both these sides are going to go close to winning in this tight contest with a fair few bottom-agers on show, though Bendigo should be more prepared after their top-agers had consistency through the team as middle-agers last season.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS v. EASTERN RANGES
Sunday, March 1,  11:00am
Holm Park Recreation Reserve 

In a rewind to 2018, Dandenong Stingrays and Eastern Ranges return to Holm Park in Beaconsfield to open their seasons on Sunday. While both played different opponents on that day two years ago, they will both be hoping for more ideal temperatures than the 37 degrees on that day. The Stingrays are coming off a solid season in 2019. just missing out on finals, while Eastern reached the post-season series and pushed eventual premiers, Northern Knights all the way in the preliminary final clash. The Stingrays’ standout prospect in 2020 is Tyanna Smith, with the AFL Women’s National Academy member having the combination of speed and strength in the middle, which she will use to burst out of the stoppages and create scoring opportunities for her team. Abbey Jordan showed last season she can win the ball through the middle, while young talls, Jaide Anthony and Georgia Grimmer up forward provide a glimpse into the future for the Stingrays having come through the V/Line Cup program. Down back, the ever-reliable Zoe Hill is alongside Jemma Radford, while Serene Vudiniabola comes highly rated as an overager who played school footy last year and is tied to Old Haileybury. Eastern Ranges pack a punch in the midfield as well, with Olivia Meagher and Tarni Brown the club’s two AFL Women’s Academy members. With ruck, Jess Grace likely to get first hands to them more often than not, the contested ball-winning Meagher and slick Brown will give their forwards some nice feeds inside 50. Matilda Hardy has been named at half-forward as one to watch, while Mietta Kendall is a reliable source of calmness in the back pocket, and Lily Peacock named as one to watch with her run along the wing.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS v. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Sunday, March 1, 1:00pm
Norm Minns Oval 

The final game of the round is another curtain raiser, this time for the Collingwood and Richmond AFL Marsh Series clash at Wangaratta. A big crowd is expected in attendance for the game, with two teams expected to improve in 2020 to battle it out. Murray Bushrangers and Oakleigh Chargers both had some superb performances last season, but had to iron out some consistency issues at times. Both having a number of talents coming through the ranks this season, the Bushrangers had a lot of middle and bottom-agers last season who have progressed through to the next year of their youth careers. The Charges had five players drafted and will be looking to replace them through a team approach. The Chargers have three players in the AFL Women’s National Academy with captain Mimi Hill and middle-ager Charlie Rowbottom named on-ball to rove the work of ruck, Kalarni Kearns. Also in the midfield is Joanna Lin on the wing, working the ball forward to an even front six. The Bushrangers have a two-pronged tall attack with AFL Women’s Academy members, Olivia Barber (top-age) and Ally Morphett (middle-age) rotating between ruck and forward. Abby Favell is a natural ball winner and will rotate between midfield and forward, while Kate Adams is another player who can be slippery around the stoppages and find the goals when inside 50. Keeley Skepper showed last season in the Under 16 Championships that she has a lot of upside, while a number of players on both teams loom as surprise packets in what could be one of the games of the round.

Raw talent set to excite for Stingrays in 2020

DANDENONG Stingrays will have a “different feel” to them in the NAB League Girls competition this year after a large list turnover saw plenty of fresh faces make the squad for the upcoming 2020 season. Female Talent Manager, Matthew Crozier said the squad was raw but talented with plenty to like about the coming years at the club.

“It’s a bit of a different feel to it this year,” he said. “We only retained 20 to 25 players from 2019, so a lot of new kids, a lot of new faces trying to get them up to the standard. “But a really good young group.”

The three standouts that Crozier is excited to see perform this year are AFL Women’s Academy member, Tyanna Smith, as well as midfielder, Abbey Jordan and tall defender, Zoe Hill. He said the three led by example out on the track over the pre-season and were prepared for a big year which he hoped could continue to place them in the spotlight for the AFL Women’s Draft at year’s end.

“Tyanna Smith’s been pretty good,” Crozier said. “Abbey Jordan’s come back like a house on fire so pretty stoked for her at the moment. “Zoe Hill from Vic Country last year has got a lot fitter and come a long way. “Those three are hopefully going to go to Vic Country and hopefully got to a VFL club later in the year and show them what they’re made of.”

While Smith was renowned for her acceleration out of the stoppage and ability to get goal side with ball-in-hand, Crozier said she would be “thrown around” into different positions to showcase her versatility and appeal to AFL Women’s clubs. Jordan’s run and carry will become a feature in the forward half of the ground, while Hill’s ability to play well as a defender on the last line will be tested up the other end of the ground at times.

“Yeah we want to mix it up,” Crozier said. “We want to try and play her forward and give her an opportunity, but in saying that, that’s her best position and probably the position she’s going to play at Nationals. “Hopefully if all goes to plan, we’re a development program, we’ve got to try and put these girls up in lights and expose them to the AFL clubs and the national recruiters to get them there, and that’s obviously with the 16s as well.”

The Stingrays list is set to be young again in 2020, with one 19-year-old prospect a potential excitement machine all things going well.

“We have one girl who’s never played footy in her life – Serene Vudiniabola,” Crozier said. “She’s played at Haileybury at 2019 in her Year 12 year. “Previously a sprinter at about 183 (cm), she’ll be exciting but she’s not sure what she’s doing with uni yet so we’re waiting to see on that. “But for a player who never really played a competitive game, at local or in a program, she’s going to be a really good force to be reckoned with if she makes our list.”

Vudiniabola is not the only cross-coder to test their hand at Australian rules, with a couple of other talents already on the list, including an AFL Women’s National Academy member in Jaide Anthony.

“There’s a lot of basketballers and those with cricket as well like Jaide Anthony,” Crozier said. “Jess Matin who hasn’t really done much with us, but is a really good talent and hopefully going to be a bit of a smoky later during the year. “She’s never been in a NAB League program before so hopefully she has a really good year and has been touted at the next level. But she needs to prove herself here at the moment.”

Along with Anthony, there are a number of 17 and 16-year-olds that could catch the eye throughout this season and the coming years.

“We’ve got a few (bottom-agers to watch),” Crozier said. “Amber Clarke really, really good player had a good V/Line series. “Mackenzie Eardley is about six foot and she’s 15 and could play as a wing, a running wing or a running half-back. “She played a Futures Game with us last year and didn’t look out of place so hopefully this year she can push for a spot in the first side. “Another one we have in Monet Ferris who was in the Gold Coast SUNS Academy and played Under 15s for Queensland in the girls competition down in Tasmania last year. “Her family moved down at the end of last year and were looking for a club, and fortunate for us she landed right in the middle of our zone, so that was fantastic to get her. “But that bottom-age group is a really strong age group and I would expect in the coming years with the development and work we will put into these girls that they’ll push forward.”

The Stingrays season unofficially kicks off on Saturday with the first competitive hitout of the pre-season taking on the Western Jets at Seaford, followed by a second clash against Oakleigh Chargers on Sunday, February 16. Crozier said he felt it was a better tune up for the real season by having a couple of trial games.

“Last year we only had one hitout prior to the season and now I think having two, it will be more beneficial for the girls and the coaches as well,” he said. “We have a really new coaching group as well. “From last year we’ve only kept two coaches, and we’ve got another eight development coaches who are mostly female now. “We’re looking at not only developing players, but developing coaches and people as well, and females in footy.”

The Stingrays came close to sneaking into the NAB League Girls finals last season, and while Crozier admits it would be nice to play in those “marquee games”, that was not the goal of the organisation in the development league.

“I don’t really have many expectations,” he said. “It’s always good to win games but for us, it’s the cliche answer. “I couldn’t care if we were none and nine as long as we do our job, and all 48 girls on our list leave the program better than when they came in – an influence back at local or VFL or Nationals – that’s a win for us. “I know the girls and some of the coaches at times really want to be playing in those games. “They are marquee games and they get looked at by a lot more recruiters. “It would be good, but I still think Northern and Calder and those types of teams are going to be the ones to beat.”

There has been plenty of change at the club with Dave Carden coming on as head coach of the Girls’ program after success at Hawthorn in the VFL Women’s.

“He had a couple of years there and was involved with their premiership back in 2018,” Crozier said. “He’s been really good and he’s brought a couple of development coaches in with Steph Carroll – I think she captained that side in the premiership year. So she’s been a really good player transitioning into that coaching fraternity now. But she’s been really good on educating the players and what it’s like to train, especially the younger ones what the training standards are. “It’s been good.”

Dandenong Stingrays have a tough start to the 2020 NAB League season on March 1 against last year’s finalist Eastern Ranges at Beaconsfield, before facing last year’s grand finalists back-to-back in Calder Cannons and Northern Knights on the road.