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Top Performers: NAB League Girls – Round 8

THE 2021 NAB League Girls competition had its penultimate round prior to the AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships break with Round 8 run and done. Our weekly (self explanatory) Top Performers series delves into some of the best individual feats across each weekend of action. This week produced plenty of highlights as players continue to impress in the elite talent pathway. Starting with AFL Academy-listed prospects, we take a look at the top performers out of an exciting set of fixtures.

Each game’s top performers are the opinion of the individual writer.

EASTERN RANGES vs. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

Nil.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#18 Bridget Deed (Eastern Ranges)

Had a really good day on the inside where Sandringham just didn’t have any answers for what she was bringing to the table. I really like how she slows down the game when she gets a mark or free kick, really commanding her teammates to stop and think about the best lead or position to help the team. 

#16 Isabelle Khoury (Eastern Ranges)

Won a lot of it in and around the midfield, contributing a lot in open play and getting Eastern moving with some smart disposal. She really looks to open up the game by using the width of the field, rarely just kicking down the line even under pressure, much preferring those inside kicks. Was pretty evasive as well around the ball, rarely getting caught trying to do too much.

#14 Alyssia Pisano (Eastern Ranges)

Just continues to do everything right as a forward, getting herself three goals for the day, with two being perfect examples of how a smaller forward should be playing, hitting the front and centre of a contest but also being prepared to get around the back in case it goes over the top. She looks set to play more midfield in the coming years, pushing up onto the wing at times during the game where she didn’t look out of place, and her penetrating kick can do some real damage to opposition.

#40 Georgia Wilson (Eastern Ranges)

Playing as the main target for Eastern going forward, Wilson put in an all round dominant display, dominating in the air, or following up on aerial contests at ground level where she’d body opponents with ease. Something that really impressed was her leading patterns, she just knew where to run and even how to run for each teammate delivering to her, and this was evident throughout, leading to her getting four goals for the game.

#21 Ruby O’Dwyer (Eastern Ranges)

Plays really smart as a rover, knowing when to play as an inside ball getter or outside receiver, her versatility to switch between both leads to a really good Eastern midfield dynamic. A real highlight was one particular centre bounce, where she started on the outside, went to go in but saw her teammate going in as well, so she readjusted, got the handball from her teammate and delivered inside 50 with a snap. While not overly fast, her game sense allows her to get away from opponents easily as well.

#4 Keeley Sherar (Eastern Ranges)

Almost an impossible match-up all day for the Sandringham midfielders, because when she gets two to three steps in front it’s already over, with her acceleration being really hard to match. Whilst stoppage work is her strength, she still contributes really well around the ground, not afraid to take on opponents when she’s got the ball in hand, drawing them in and then handballing out. Had an opportunity to kick a goal, running into an open goal square but missed the ball with her foot before being tackled.

#5 Jorja Livingstone (Eastern Ranges)

Made the wing her own with pure gut running and understanding of how to hold space really well. Her classy left foot set up plenty of goal scoring opportunities, even getting herself on the scoreboard when she was tight against the left boundary.

#15 Sofia Hurley (Sandringham Dragons)

Continues to be a shining light for Sandringham, impacting and winning the ball wherever she’s lining up on field, and working hard to help out in the backline even if she’s a midfielder. She looks more and more confident each week with her ball winning on the inside or with contested situations, even going head to head against the likes of Deed and Sherar at times and coming off on top. 

#37 Ebony Angelopoulos (Sandringham Dragons)

Was the main target in the Sandringham forward line, a difficult task for a smaller player, but she stepped up in a big way. Despite not getting on the scoreboard a whole heap she was a genuine marking threat for the Dragons but kept doing the things that have impressed for the season, with her crumbing and pressure work top notch throughout.

#22 Emma Stuber (Sandringham Dragons)

Playing a mixed role between defence and midfield for the day, Stuber impressed with her hunt for the ball evident, running hard at it and not wavering from attempting to win it even when outnumbered or not in the best position to win it. Her run and carry game was a big part in Sandringham’s drive going forward, where she’d run the ball 15 meters and bomb it long forward for the Sandringham forwards to run onto. If she can add some more penetration on her kick, she will be a very handy player.

 OTHERS: 

With Georgia Campbell out injured we saw Eastern rotate through a couple of rucks, with debutant and 2005-born Jess Vukic coming in and impressing when she rolled through the ruck, even getting onto the scoreboard. Eloise Chaston was lively up forward, with her leading and positioning going a long way to help her teammates get shots on goal. Sandringham were well aided by the likes of Bridie Hipwell and Keeley Coyne as outside receivers, whose class remained even in the wet conditions. Captain Kiana Lynch was once again impactful across multiple positions, and Pia Staltari was strong with her ball use throughout. 

Calder Cannons vs. Western Jets

By: Michael Alvaro

AFLW ACADEMY MEMBERS:

#18 Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons)

Arguably the leading tall on the ground, Gillard enjoyed a terrific tussle with Krystal Russell while operating through the ruck, and also impacted around the ground. She had the height advantage but showed good athleticism and strength to win a number of hitouts, which helped Calder’s star-studded engine room get to work. She positioned well behind the ball to impact kicks coming out of the Cannons’ attacking arc and even found a bit of ball in the back 50 to relieve pressure. Set for a big national carnival with Vic Metro.

#41 Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)

The standout player afield for the winners, Prespakis continues to churn out high-level performances at a remarkably consistent rate. She finished as the game’s leading ball winner and constantly pumped Calder forward with her long kicking, which has come to the fore a touch more recently having already established a strong craft by hand. The number one pick candidate also booted a classy goal in the first term to spark her side and will shortly lead a very strong Vic Metro midfield.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#1 Charlotte Baskaran (Western Jets)

Baskaran is already an established name in the competition, but has really elevated her game to new heights over the last few weeks with more time on the inside. Her class on the ball is exceptional and she wins plenty of it, with her ability to extract contested ball defiant of her frame and age. She is exactly the kind of player you want delivering the ball inside 50 and with seven of those from her 20 kicks on the weekend, she was an influential player for the Jets.

#8 Zali Friswell (Calder Cannons)

A really important part of the Cannons midfield, Friswell has less frills than some of her teammates but can be equally impactful in the engine room. She ticked over 20 disposals for the first time this season and was a reliable ball winner on the inside, while also working well defensively to lay some good tackles. Friswell kicked a goal in the first quarter to add a string to her bow and broke forward well on a couple of occasions to carry Calder inside 50. A really solid outing once again.

#38 Montana Ham (Western Jets)

The sole 2004-born player to be selected in Vic Metro’s squad on Friday, it is easy to see why Ham will get that opportunity. She is ready as anyone to compete against bigger bodies and again showcased her physicality in midfield with strong work over the ball and some bustling play to break forward. Her penetrating kick was also useful as Western looked to make a dent in Calder’s defence, and she was able to enter the forward arc on five occasions. An area of improvement will be refining those kicks and mixing them up to find shorter targets out of congestion when appropriate, but she has strong potential to do plenty of damage and hit the scoreboard.

#39 Abbey McDonald (Calder Cannons)

One who popped up and had some really impressive moments, McDonald was more than handy for Calder moving forward. She was another to notch a season-high disposal tally (12), but more importantly applied smothering pressure and laid some big tackles to really make her mark on the game. It has been a real feature of her season at times, and should put her in good stead going into her top-age campaign next year.

#42 Jemima Woods (Western Jets)

Woods has arguably elevated herself to be the top 2003-born Western prospect, and showed exactly why on the weekend with one of her best games to date. Woods is a really dynamic and versatile tall with great athleticism, allowing her to play key position roles, win hitouts or take marks, and even rotate through midfield. While she did the former three once again, Woods’ work as a midfielder was ultra impressive, with her clean hands and strong body at the contest making for a promising showing overall. It caps off a handy run of form for the 17-year-old.

OTHERS:

Calder had plenty of strong contributors as always, with Mali McLeod and Emelia Yassir again lively on the outside and inside of midfield respectively. Ruby Smith and Kiara Delia were others to pop up and play impressive roles. For Western, Stephanie Asciak worked hard in midfield and Krystal Russell competed well as the primary ruck against tough opposition. Paige Ryan was again solid and Ciara Singleton also played a strong hand down back.

TASMANIA DEVILS vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS

By Hamish Spence

AFLW ACADEMY MEMBERS:

#11 Perri King (Tasmania Devils)

King set the standard against the Knights, leading her side in disposals (22) and tackles (11). She attended most stoppages and was an offensive threat with the way she pushed forward. She could have used the ball better at times, as indicated by her three behinds, but she was still among Tasmania’s best on the day and has proven to be a classy operator throughout the season.

#11 Maykaylah Appleby (Northern Knights)

Impressed with every touch of the ball she had, working hard on the wing to cover the whole ground and get involved in plays. She was particularly strong in the first half, her drive and the opportunities she created for her team were symbolic of the difference between the two sides at the point in the game. She supported her defenders down back and kicked her side’s first with a classy running goal in the second quarter.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#3 Amy Bissett (Tasmania Devils)

Proved to be the match-winner on Saturday, with two of her three goals coming in the Devils’ final quarter comeback. She stood up when her side needed a hero and brought the X-factor required to overcome the 11-point three-quarter time deficit. She also influenced the game with her 15 disposals at the top of forward 50 and further up the ground. While Bissett has shown an ability to kick goals and gather the ball at centre-half forward, this was the match where she brought both those aspects of her game together.

#16 Ella Maurer (Tasmania Devils)

Played at the standard we’ve come to expect from her this year, putting in another impressive performance with her 21 disposals and eight tackles. She’s the Devils’ conduit around stoppages, continually finding a way to win the ball at the coalface. While she does not always get the best penetration with some of her disposals, the way she stood up during the second quarter and in parts of the third made her one of Tasmania’s most important players.

#15 Jemma Webster (Tasmania Devils)

A pure hard-nosed and contested midfielder, the high pressure and congested nature of Saturday’s contest suited Webster perfectly. She made her presence felt around the frequent stoppages throughout the match with her 18 disposals and 10 tackles. Her current form and continued improvement has given Tasmania one of the deepest engine rooms in the competition.

#49 Charlotte Vandenberg (Tasmania Devils)

She was the most dominant ruck on the ground, winning a game-high 26 hitouts and making an impact at ground level. She asserted herself on the contest early with some great taps in the first quarter and gave her midfielders first service. There was an adverse difference for the Devils when she was not on the ground or could not attend a ruck contest, with their fortunes noticeably changing whenever she was at a stoppage.

#28 Candice Belbin (Tasmania Devils)

When Priscilla Odwogo was announced as a late out, it meant Tasmania’s backline needed to step up in her absence. Belbin certainly did, producing one of her best performances of the season. She mixed a strong defensive game with some attacking drives off half-back, finishing with 12 disposals and eight tackles. She particularly stood up when the Devils’ back six were put under pressure for parts of the second and third terms.

#9 Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)

Was the best midfielder at Prospect Park, putting together a prolific game with her 26 disposals, seven tackles and six inside 50s. When Northern got on top and started cutting through Tasmania in the second quarter, Chaplin was at the centre of it and leading the way. Her influence and control over the game at times was clear to see, with the Knights’ best plays often correlating with her involvement.

#36 Ava Jordan (Northern Knights)

Jordan was another midfielder who flourished on Saturday, gathering plenty of possessions and relishing in the tight nature of the game. Her main role was to win the ball around stoppages and distribute it to one of her teammates, as indicated by the fact that 22 of her 25 disposals were handballs. She thrived when the game slowed down and was highly pressured in patches, allowing her to compete strongly at the contest.

#7 Teleah Smart (Northern Knights)

While Chaplin and Jordan were the accumulators, Smart provided a spark that threatened to take the game away from the Devils. Her 14 disposals and eight tackles show the effect she had in the midfield, but it was her surging runs forward off stoppages that took her performance to another level. She arguably produced the highlight of the match when she kicked two goals in a minute during the second quarter, despite starting in the middle both times.

#15 Tarrah Delgado (Northern Knights)

Delgado was an influential and calming force for the Knights down back. She finished with an impressive 17 disposals and took advantage of some of the Devils’ shallow inside 50 entries with a game-high eight rebounds 50s. She also stood up when the backline was under pressure, particularly for parts of the third quarter and in the last, keeping her opponent accountable and setting her team up on the rebound.

#40 Tannah Hurst (Northern Knights)

Continued to do what she’s done all season, being a reliable and consistent stopper for Northern down back. She was one of the main reasons Tasmania was restricted to a goal a term across the first three quarters. While the Devils eventually broke through, Hurst can hold her head high after another strong performance. She didn’t make as much of an impact coming out of defence as she has in other games, but the ball rarely got past her when it entered defensive 50.

OTHERS:

Jemma Blair complemented Belbin with an equally impressive performance off half-back for the Devils. Madison Brazendale stood out with some of her bursts of speed going through the middle off the ground. Georgia Clark looked dangerous at half-forward with the first goal of the game and the opportunities she created inside 50. Despite Vandenberg taking the ruck honours, Georgia Kitchell had an impressive performance in her own right, winning 13 hitouts and helping Northern’s midfield get on top for parts of the game. While they didn’t impact on the scoreboard, Rylie Wilcox (12 disposals) and Tallia Pulcino (11 disposals and a game-high 13 tackles) made sure their presence was felt up forward and further up the ground.

GEELONG FALCONS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#8 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)

Still racked up the most ball for the Chargers despite playing a lot of time up forward. Did a lot of her usual work, charging through packs and coming out the other end with the footy, leaving opponents in her dust. Was a really strong pressure type player, with her tackling being superb throughout the day which highlighted her defensive work rate. Had a couple of opportunities to get herself on the scoreboard but chose to pass off to teammates, even if they weren’t in a favourable position comparatively.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#10 Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers)

Was not as obviously involved as she has been so often this season, but was just smart with her positioning and ball use, getting some uncontested marks down the line and sending the ball long with her penetrating kick, or getting on the scoreboard herself. 

#29 Amanda Ling (Oakleigh Chargers)

Won a lot of the ball on the inside, utilising her speed to break free from opponents and deliver good penetrating kicks forward or handballing to outside runners. She’s smart with her running patterns, never getting in the way of other teammates, especially around stoppages, where she’ll hold out to let someone like Rowbottom win the clearance, or go in when she’s the main inside player.

#7  Charlotte Taylor (Oakleigh Chargers)

Really great game as mostly a wing player, but also getting her runs through the guts and even relieving the ruck around the ground at times, she did a bit of everything in an all round top notch performance. I really liked her kicking, with her strength being in her placement, putting it in front of teammates to run onto rather than trying to put a hole in their chest with a hard kick.

#16 Erin Woodford (Oakleigh Chargers)

Stood up in the Chargers defence when it was needed as the second quarter went on especially. Did well to keep her opponents quiet for most of the day, and positioned herself in the middle of prime marking spots to make it a contest and difficult for the Falcons to get marks inside 50.

#23 Elizabeth Dowling (Geelong Falcons)

Reads the game really well as a defender which allows her to be a threat in the air and on the ground constantly. Strong when running and carrying, getting around opponents without much trouble which makes her rebound game especially dangerous. 

#11 Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)

Was really impressed with her ability to control the game and flow of the ball even without it, making shorter leads for teammates that no one else was making, they were safer leads but would end up being more damaging as Craven opened up space and kicked it centrally. Her kicking is always good, as mentioned she often looks to move it centrally but even the down the line kicks are calculated and more often than not pay off.

#37 Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons)

Super strong aerially setting herself up down the line from the play and cutting off a lot of Chargers rushed kicks forward, with no one able to match her leap and strong hands. Her follow up kicking was dangerous too, even if she was often forced to go down the line.

#15 Gabbi Featherston (Geelong Falcons)

Has a good leap which makes her dangerous in marking contests and a reliable target up forward for Geelong, also leading to her playing as a relieving ruck, winning a few hitouts in that time as well. She is also very aggressive on the ball carrier leading to opponents to hesitate against her when they have seen others come off second best.

#4 Poppy Schaap (Geelong Falcons)

Pretty close to perfect game for an inside midfielder, with her athleticism and ball reading making up for her lack of height against some of the taller mids in the Chargers midfield group. She ended up forming a good one-two punch with teammates Tess Craven and Charlotte Simpson around stoppages, handballing to their advantage so they could get a bit of momentum going forward.

#39 Renee Tierney (Geelong Falcons)

Had a consistent game, creating a contest when the ball game forward and fighting to get scoring opportunities. Stepped up early in the fourth quarter with two really crucial contested marks that led to the goal of the quarter, with the other kick being a deep inside 50 entry that Oakleigh struggled for a few minutes to get out.

OTHERS:

Kara Stacey and Charlotte Simpson both won a bit of ball for the Falcons around the ground, with fellow bottom-ager Mia Van Dyke getting herself two goals in her return from injury. Zoe Garth was lively on the wing, doing well as a link up option. The Chargers remained competitive thanks to the efforts of Brooke Vickers, Lily Hart and Eliza James through the midfield, with Mia Clift and Alexandra McCulloch strong in defence.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS vs. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#33 Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers)

The Academy tall had a day out in the ruck given Dandenong’s lack of talls, as she dominated every ruck contest she was involved in, showing really good ruck craft throughout. It was not just the height advantage that led to this big performance though, she often got front position and would shepherd her opponent away from the ball to give her an open area to work with. Around the ground she was handy as well, being a down the line target for Murray to kick to where it’d take two to three Stingrays to stop her taking the mark. 

TOP PERFORMERS:

#38 Felicity Crank (Dandenong Stingrays)

She had been in some really good form heading into the game, and in the absence of some Vic Country teammates took the chance with both hands to announce herself as one to watch. Cracked in and was Dandenong’s main inside midfielder, consistently getting the ball out to outside teammates to help Dandenong keep the ball heading forward. Had an impressive workrate around the ground, often getting into the backline to help out, especially when Murray had quite a big surge in the last quarter.

#31 Jemma Radford (Dandenong Stingrays)

Has been thrown around all over the ground this season but played mostly in defence for this contest and was just superb throughout the game, constantly coming up the field to meet the ball, winning it majority of the time and keeping the pressure on going forward for Dandenong. Was really smart with her ball use as well, in a game where there wasn’t much time to compose for a kick she managed it well to hit up some shorter targets, breaking the flow of the long bombs most others were doing, so her kicks were more often marked by teammates to keep possession.

#27 Charley Ryan (Dandenong Stingrays)

Super composed with ball in hand, especially when the game had a bit of sting in it during the first quarter, she was probably the only player able to compose herself and deliver some dangerous kicks to break the game open. Moving to a rover spot rather than her usual wing, she did not look out of her depth in a more contested spot, still doing the things like holding her space and working around opponents really well, and impacting heavily with her ball use. One area she might want to improve in future is her kicking on goal, finishing the day with 1.3.

#63 Georgia Malkoun (Dandenong Stingrays)

In the absence of consistent goal kickers like Amber Clarke, Ashleigh Richards and Mackenzie Eardley, Malkoun took the opportunity to announce herself as a genuine forward target, with three straight goals for the day and creating plenty more goal scoring opportunities for her team. Her leading patterns were especially impressive and led to her impressive display, able to lose her opponent well, and she would’ve had more marks if it weren’t for the crowding from Murray defenders. A particular highlight came just before the half time siren, when she took a courageous contested mark on the 50 meter arc, proving her aerial threat and capabilities. 

#11 Emily Shepherd (Dandenong Stingrays)

Might have only played about 50 per cent of the game, but had immediate impact when she came on in the second term, holding space well and receiving the ball from the likes of Crank on the inside. It is amazing how even when she does a long bomb forward out of the pack you feel like she knows exactly what’s going to happen, with a few of those bombs leading to inside 50 marks for the Stingrays.

#26 Charlotte Blair (Dandenong Stingrays)

Got involved in a lot of the play throughout the ground, applying pressure around the forward half to keep the ball in dangerous spots for Dandenong. Seemed to use her hands quite often, looking to pass off to team mates already on the move or in better positions. When she did elect to kick, it was usually a well placed one out in front of teammates so they could run into it.

#17 Keeley Skepper (Murray Bushrangers)

The bottom-age star was a consistent threat around the midfield for the day, often getting away from her direct opponent to make a run to win a clearance or receive a handball out the back. Looks to get the ball moving with her long kick which gave the Stingrays defence a few scares, with the high balls leading to contests that Skepper would try and run to, to hit the front and centre, so that workrate was evident throughout. 

#16 Mikayla Jones (Murray Bushrangers)

Played a really good sweeper role for Murray, setting up outside of the forward 50 and doing well to cut off rebounds from Dandenong, then fire it back in to keep the pressure on, with the entries being penetrating kicks to advantage of her teammates. Tapered off a bit towards the end of the game, but remained a pressure presence.

OTHERS:

Defender Zoe Hill was especially present in the first half for Dandenong, playing a big role in keeping Murray goalless for the majority of the game, with Hayley Monk playing a good game as a half forward and Bella Enno continuing her strong tackling and inside work. Murray were aided by the likes of Zara Hamilton and Madison Gray around the midfield, as well as Kaylea Kobzan getting involved. Mindy Quade also did a lot down back to repel Dandenong attacks and keep the scoreline lowered.

GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS vs. NORTHERN TERRITORY THUNDER

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#30 Ashanti Bush (Northern Territory)

After a quieter first half, Bush came alive in the second, having multiple shots on goal and converting two in the space of a minute in the fourth quarter. After missing a set shot late in the third term, Bush used the outside of the boot to snap a classy goal eight and a half minutes into the last quarter, then the next inside 50 a minute later saw her mark one-on-one with really strong hands and convert with relative ease 20m out. She almost had a third goal moments later working her opponent under the ball and running towards goal but just slipped at the crucial moment and could not get boot to ball.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#29 Freda Puruntatameri (Northern Territory)

Worked really hard across the match and was one of Northern Territory’s four-quarter performers. Predominantly starting in the ruck, she would often thump the ball long down the ground, but also showed some nice dance moves by sidestepping opponents to create space herself. Sometimes she would get caught, but she kept worrying the opposition with her ability to move well through contests.

#25 Bella Clarke (Northern Territory)

Used her experience throughout the match to be a prominent ball winner and lead her younger teammates. She started off in the midfield and kept cracking in. She covered plenty of ground and spent a fair amount of time inside 50, having a set shot from 20m out early in the third term she pushed to the left. A couple of minutes later, her second efforts and determination were on show, when she wrestled the ball from an opponent on the goal line and got boot to ball.

#11 Grace Mulvahil (Northern Territory)

A quieter first half, but throughout the match provided some eye-catching dashes with her first few steps very impressive. Her marking is an area of improvement, dropping a couple of uncontested grabs around the ground, but once she was on the move with ball-in-hand she was hard to stop. Mulvahil danced around a couple of opponents and drove the ball inside 50 and showed good work rate to offer herself as an option in transition.

#1 Lilli Condon (GWV)

Continued her great form this season with another hard-working effort across the ground. Alongside some inexperienced teammates, Condon led by example with her attack on the football and work rate around the ground. She was quick to get boot to ball to clear the zone, and while she was often under pressure and had to rush, used it well when she had time on her side. A moment in the second term where she pickpocketed an opponent at a stoppage was impressive, followed by some nice speed on the wing a moment later. Condon also took a strong mark in the fourth term with contact coming from behind.

#27 Molly Walton (GWV)

Incredibly composed for a player in her debut season, not much seems to phase Walton who held up in pressure situations, using clean hands and footy IQ to drive the ball out of the defensive 50. Time and time again she would mop up at the back and boot the ball forward, and took the kickout duties to provide some run and long kicking down the ground. She laid a great run-down tackle on Bella Clarke in the second term to win the free kick, and also won a one-on-three in the final term, and rushed a behind when under pressure to stop a certain goal.

OTHERS:

J’Noemi Anderson showed some nice toe and was presenting around the ground, while Tatyana Perry and Shanoah Leedie were also named among the best. Georgia Johnson and Charlotte Elcoate also found their fair share of the football in the win. For the Rebels, Stella Bridgewater was busy throughout, kicking a goal in second term from the top of the goalsquare, while Stephanie Glover was strong one-on-one deep in defence, and the likes of Jorja Jones, Crystal Summers and Olivia Leonard also having plenty of the play.

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. GIPPSLAND POWER

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

Nil.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#27 Jayda Richardson (Bendigo Pioneers)

Played a mixed role through the game, starting in the midfield before being moved into the backline later on. She looked really good in the backline, bringing her usual strengths like her speed, ball winning and long kick to the position, which led to more dangerous counter attacks from the Pioneers and played a big in their second half fight back. In the midfield she was again dangerous, able to run through packs to win the footy, come out the other side and bomb long forward.

#15 Drew Ryan (Bendgio Pioneers)

Got her opportunity to play more on the inside with some regulars out for the Pioneers and really impressed, with the timing of her runs around contests especially impressive, where she’d be able to receive the ball already close to top speed and break away from opponents, then deliver forward via foot.

#30 Octavia Di Donato (Bendigo Pioneers)

Started the game a little quiet but really came up in the second half, where her work in and around the midfield exceptional for Bendigo, playing a big part in their surge late in the fourth, where her long kicking kept Bendigo going forward, and her occasional short kicking moving them centrally to open up the forward line. She’s a joy to watch setting up behind play or spreading across the ground and calling for the ball, taking marks with ease and then taking space to go forward.

#35 Matilda Van Berkel (Gippsland Power)

Playing as the Gippsland main ruck throughout the game, she had an outstanding performance topping the disposals and hitouts stats, as she was just always involved whenever she was around. It was impressive to see that she still kept a defensive focus throughout the game, having no troubles going down back when the ball was there and helping out with her strength in the contest being an asset in winning the footy and getting it out. It was that strength that allowed her to have such a big performance in the ruck, out muscling and jumping through opponents without issue, giving Gippsland first use around the ground.

#2 Alexei Guy-Toogood (Gippsland Power)

Provided a lot of run and drive from the defensive 50 for Gippsland, with her ball use coming out good, often to the advantage of a teammate, it gave Gippsland a real chance every time to convert from the counter attacks. She’d come to meet a loose ball as well, making it difficult for Bendigo to set up and prepare for the counter. Impressed with her tackling in the final quarter as well, forcing stoppages to stop Bendigo from scoring.

#5 Yasmin Duursma (Gippsland Power)

Very well could have ended the day with 20-plus disposals if it weren’t for an extended period on the bench in the second quarter, but when she was on the field she did well to make the loss of Grace McRae less evident, using her disposal well, winning the ball then handballing to outside runners or kicking forward herself trying to get Gippsland going quickly. 

OTHERS:

For Bendigo Lila Keck used the ball well and set up well behind play to get a couple of intercept marks. Keely Fullerton and Lily Den Houting had some key moments especially in the final term push for a goal. Lexie Moss and Tegan Williams also had good moments. Gippsland was not short of contributors in their victory, Macie Gilmour, Alisha Molesworth and Indiana Makai winning a bit of ball around the midfield and flanks. Taylah Bourne also offered a lot in the Gippsland defensive half.

NAB League Girls Round 8 preview: Penultimate round for last pre-championships showing

ROUND 8 of the NAB League Girls marks the final round before a break with the Easter weekend and AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships taking place over the next couple of weekends. One more round will be completed later in the month, with finals to take place after that for the top four teams in the metropolitan and country regions.

EASTERN RANGES vs. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS
Saturday, March 27 @ 10:00am
Kilsyth Recreation Reserve

Up first to open the weekend is an all-metropolitan battle between the Eastern Ranges and Sandringham Dragons. The Ranges are back at home at Kilsyth for an early start against the Dragons, with back-to-back wins against Calder Cannons and Tasmania Devils since capitulating in the final quarter against Northern Knights. They head in as strong favourites against a Dragons side that has been unlucky in recent weeks, pushing the undefeated Oakleigh Chargers and going down to Western Jets by a point either side of the loss to Dandenong Stingrays at Casey Fields. They still remain at 1-5 from six games compared to the Ranges’ 4-2 record.

The Dragons defence has held firm in recent weeks with Chloe Saultry dropping back with Kiana Lynch to win plenty of intercept possessions and drive the ball up the ground. They will need to do just that with the dangerous forwards of Alyssia Pisano and Scarlett Potter, as well as Matilda Hardy running around in there. In the midfield, Bridie Hipwell and Sofia Hurley are likely to face the consistent Bridget Deed and Keeley Sherar in there, whilst up forward, Charli Murphy and Ebony Angelopoulos have the goal-scoring ability, and will lock horns with one of the more consistent defences featuring Grace Walsh, Cadhla Schmidli and Mia Busch.

 

CALDER CANNONS vs. WESTERN JETS
Saturday, March 27 @ 10:30am
Highgate Recreation Reserve

Also up for an early start, Calder Cannons host Western Jets at Highgate Recreation Reserve. Live commentated via the NAB League app, the match will be the first of a double-header at the ground, with the NAB League Boys up at 1pm. The Cannons sit at 4-2, with the Jets at the opposite 2-4, but both have had plenty of close results over the journey. Western held on in a thriller against Sandringham Dragons at a wet RSEA Park last week, while the Cannons suffered defeat at the hands on Eastern Ranges at Highgate. While the Cannons are sitting pretty for finals, they will want to make sure they take the points her to secure the spot with Western the only team that can mathematically knock out one of the top four sides.

Charlotte Baskaran and Montana Ham have been in exceptional form of late, with the former heading onball to win a lot more touches in close. The forward line functioned well despite only kicking the two goals last week, with Jemima Woods and Kiera Leare in particular standing out, and Kensley Ward looking dangerous. Up against the Cannons, they have the likes of Kasey Lennox and Kiara Delia back there to settle them down, but it is the midfield battles that will be the ones to watch. Georgie Prespakis, Emelia Yassir, Zali Friswell and and Olivia Manfre all present worries to the opposition, whilst the ruck battle between Tahlia Gillard and Krystal Russell will be another head-to-head to watch.

 

TASMANIA DEVILS vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Saturday, March 27 @ 12:30pm
Prospect Park, Launceston

Returning home to the Apple Isle, Tasmania Devils will have another tough challenge, this time up against the Northern Knights. Both sides are at 4-2, with the Devils having gone down to Eastern Ranges at Craigieburn last week in a make-up of the Round 2 fixture, whilst the Knights impressed in a big win over Geelong Falcons at Deakin University. Northern has found form since their Round 1 disappointment, posting four wins in five games and taking their win-loss record to 4-2 from six matches. They will have their hands full with a Devils outfit that is yet to be blown away, going close in both losses to Oakleigh Chargers and the Ranges, whilst taking care of Dandenong Stingrays on the Apple Isle.

The Devils have a really deep midfield that has held them in good stead this season, led by Perri King and Claire Ransom through the middle and running forward, the likes of Meghan Gaffney, Ella Maurer and Jemma Webster have all enjoyed strong seasons to-date. Amy Prokopiec has proven she can kick multiple goals up forward, and Amy Bissett is another goal-scoring threat inside 50. The Knights have plenty of goal-scoring threats of their own with bottom-ager Megan Girolami, Trinity Mills and Under 16s talent Ava Jordan – from the midfield – all able to hit the scoreboard. Maykaylah Appleby and Brooke Plummer provide the hard running on the outside, and Tarrah Delgado has been someone who can play on the last line or mix it up by being thrown into the middle.

 

GEELONG FALCONS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Saturday, March 27 @ 2:30pm
Deakin University, Waurn Ponds

Hoping to snap a two-game losing streak – unfortunately both at the very venue they hope to snap it at – the Geelong Falcons host Oakleigh Chargers at Deakin University in Waurn Ponds. The Falcons went down to Sydney Swans Academy a few weeks back, then suffered a loss at the hands of Northern Knights last week, and just need to refocus for the Round 7 clash. It will be a tough assignment though, coming up against the red-hot Oakleigh Chargers who are yet to drop a game and will be hungry to add another victory to their name.

The Falcons have a consistent side across the board, with a midfield core of Tess Craven, Charlotte Simpson and Ashleigh Van Loon providing the heat in close, and Poppy Schapp rotating through and adding clean hands and pressure around the ground. The Chargers have a stacked midfield as well, as Charlie Rowbottom and Stella Reid provide the inside and outside talent, whilst Amanda Ling is winning the ball at will currently. With Brooke Vickers having an impact all over the ground, the Chargers are in a good spot going forward. Geelong will look to Renee Tierney and Lucy Were to hit the scoreboard and apply pressure to the Oakleigh defence, whilst Keeley Hardingham could take control in the ruck, and Annie Lee and Liz Dowling drive the ball out of defence. Oakleigh have Alexandra McCulloch and Taylah Morton up opposite ends to provide some run and class as well in a strong unit.

 

DANDENONG STINGRAYS vs. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Sunday, March 28 @ 11am
Trevor Barker Oval

In the first of a double-header at Trevor Barker Oval, Dandenong Stingrays host Murray Bushrangers from 11am on Sunday, which will feature live commentary via the NAB League app. The Stingrays will look for their third consecutive win against a Bushrangers outfit who got up for their first points of the season against Gippsland Power last week at Craigieburn. Whilst finals is likely to be just out of their grasp unless results go favourably their way, the Bushrangers do have three matches remaining to close the gap on some rivals. This game will be a tough one against a Dandenong side that accounted for Sandringham Dragons and Bendigo Pioneers in the past week and a half.

Dandenong Stingrays will be keen to welcome Jaide Anthony back from concussion to shore up a defence that was already doing its job pretty well, keeping the Dragons to just three behinds at Casey Fields. Jemma Radford and Zoe Hill will be key players in the absence of Mackenzie Eardley in defence, while the midfield and forward options will look different without Abbey Jordan, Ashleigh Richards and Amber Clarke in there. The Bushrangers defence is also able to contain sides, keeping the Power goalless in their clash, and only conceding one behind. Mindy Quade, Grace Hay and Kristy Whitehead can all win the ball in the defensive half of the ground, whilst the form of wings, Aurora Smith and Zara Hamilton is impressive. Keeley Skeeper in the midfield has also continued her bottom-age form, whilst Lily Sharp and Olivia Cicolini both hit the scoreboard multiple times last game. Dandenong will look to Felicity Crank through the middle to win her fair share of the footy.

 

GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS vs. NORTHERN TERRITORY
Sunday, March 28 @ 1:00pm
MARS Stadium

Their season delicately poised at 3-3 from six games, the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels come up against a side that will have a lot of unknowns entering the match in the Northern Territory Academy. For the Top End side, it will be a chance to get a run around against a quality Victorian opposition ahead of the AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships on the Gold Coast when they team up with NSW/ACT and Tasmania to create the Allies. The Rebels have been a solid mid-table team with some great wins, and then falling to the top sides to enter the contest with a 50 per cent win-loss record.

The Rebels will test a number of their players giving the likes of Ella Friend, Chloe Leonard and Nyakoat Dojiok will be out for this match. Lilli Condon is one natural ball-winner who could be key for the Rebels to get up in this one, as Molly Walton has been a shining light as a bottom-ager in defence. For the Thunder, Bella Clarke comes into the side off experience at state level before, and from her WAFL Women’s debut last week, as ex-Calder Cannons forward Freda Puruntatameri has been named in the ruck. Kaitey Whittaker is one to watch inside 50, whilst one of the biggest names to keep track of is Grace Mulvahil who has a prestigious junior career in the NTFL Women’s Premier League, and will lineup at half-back. Ashanti Bush at half-forward can also kick multiple goals, while Oakleigh Chargers’ J’Noemi Anderson will represent her state in this clash.

 

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. GIPPSLAND POWER
Sunday, March 28 @ 1:30pm
Trevor Barker Oval

With the AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships five days away from the Sunday clash between the Bendigo Pioneers and Gippsland Power, both teams will be without their representatives. Both these teams have just the one win between them, with the Pioneers’ coming in Round 1 against the Murray Bushrangers, and have since had a lot of close outings but are yet to be successful. A one-point defeat to the Stingrays last week had them agonisingly close, and will be hoping to get over the line in this one.

Both teams will be without some of their top talents ahead of the championships, with Grace McRae and Grace Matser both out for the Gippsland Power, whilst Tara Slender, Elizabeth Snell and Jemma Finning will miss for Bendigo Pioneers. In their place, Maddy Marks returns for her second game back, teaming up with Tegan Williams as the key forward targets. Jayda Richardson and Drew Ryan are in the midfield alongside Country emergency Octavia Di Donato, while Lily den Houting and Lila Keck have been named up forward. For the Power, Lily-Rose Williamson will look to lead from defence, with Matilda Van Berkel thrown into the ruck in what will be a small team for the Power. Yasmin Duursma is still in midfield, whilst Jordan Sochackyi has been named in a forward pocket. After injuring herself last week, Sunday Brisbane has been named as an emergency for the Power.

NAB League Girls Round 2a & 5 preview: Footy feast sees six games across seven days

IN a very different footballing landscape, change has become something that everyone has had to deal with in one way or another, and in 2021, the NAB League Girls competition has managed to find a way to make up for lost time. The Round 2 fixtures which were cancelled due to Victoria’s snap lockdown will be played over a few weeks, in midweek fixtures, including three of the six matches over the next six days. These three matches will coincide with the three regular Round 5 matches which were scheduled to take place anyway, meaning fans will be able to attend all six games across six different days.

CALDER CANNONS vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Thursday, March 4 @ 7pm
RAMS Arena, Craigieburn

Kicking off the long weekend is the first of the Round 2 rescheduled fixtures with Calder Cannons hosting Northern Knights at prime time on a Thursday night. It is arguably not what the grand final rematch of 2019 was expected to be, but the teams will be able to strut their stuff in the first night game of the season. Daylight savings help the players with light for most of the match, though expect both these teams to have to adapt to the conditions – much like the ever-changing fixture. Both these sides come in with 2-1 records, having both lost to Oakleigh Chargers, whilst both have also accounted for Sandringham Dragons. On the weekend, Calder scraped across the line in a thrilling comeback against Bendigo Pioneers, whilst Northern put Gippsland Power to the sword in Morwell East.

After their respective Round 1 matches, coming into the initial Round 2 fixtures, it was seeming like Calder Cannons were red-hot favourites for the grand final rematch. Having just taken care of Sandringham Dragons while the Knights were blitzed by Oakleigh, it was no better time for the 2019 runners-up to strike. A week – let alone two – is a long time in football, with a stirring final term from the Cannons up at Epsom Huntly saving them from back-to-back losses since that Round 1 win. The Knights on the other hand booted three goals in six minutes against the Dragons in the opening term of their Round 3 encounter, and have not stopped kicking them since, winning both their games by large margins. Megan Girolami is the in-form player of the competition, booting nine goals from her two games and seems to be the lucky charm the Knights needed since the Round 1 defeat.

The Cannons defence is well-balanced across the board, with Kasey Lennox the rock at the back, and Peppa Poultney and Neve Crowley both capable of dropping back and helping out, while Tahlia Gillard can play at either end. It will need to be a team effort to try and contain the Knights’ forward line which includes the likes of Trinity Mills (three goals on the weekend) and Ella Smallacombe, who have become leading targets inside 50. Maeve Chaplin copped a knock early in the win against Gippsland Power and sat out the entire second half as a precaution, but has been named to face the Cannons. She is crucial in there to face the likes of Georgie Prespakis and Emelia Yassir who win plenty of the ball in close. Maykaylah Appleby returns to the side in a crucial inclusion for the Knights to provide some extra run, whilst for the Cannons, Zali Friswell will join Gillard, Prespakis and Yassir in the middle to form a deadly onball combination.

This is set to be a cracker, and it will come down to whether or not Calder can control the ball through the midfield to limit the supply to Northern’s damaging forwards, or if the Knights can use the ball well enough going forward to isolate the well-organised Cannons defence.

 

DANDENONG STINGRAYS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Friday, March 5 @ 7.45pm
Linen House Centre, Seaford

A top-of-the-table clash between unbeaten sides, Dandenong Stingrays and Oakleigh Chargers takes place at prime time on Friday night down at Linen House Centre in Seaford. The Stingrays have only played the two games but have not put a foot wrong, accounting for the Western Jets and Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels in Rounds 3 and 4 after a bye in Round 1, and the lockdown in Round 2. Oakleigh Chargers easily saw past Northern Knights in the opening round, then took out one of the title contenders in Calder Cannons, before having to fight tooth-and-nail on the Apple Isle after Tasmania Devils took it right up to them for four quarters in an absolute epic contest. Now the sides come in unblemished, and with ridiculous depth across all the lines, making it a must-watch contest from the get-go.

The Stingrays come in with one of the strongest back six combinations going around. With Zoe Hill and Mackenzie Eardley holding down the fort – and the latter also going forward and kicking two goals last week – and Jaide Anthony in ripping form, Dandenong is hard to score against. Brooke Smith provides the classy run out of the back half, while in the front half, Amber Clarke has the speed to burn and hits the scoreboard as well. The Chargers do not rely on one source for goals, with Ameille Smith slotting three in the opening game, and Holly Kenealy being the key scorer with three of her own on the weekend in a low-scoring contest. Stella Reid has impacted the scoreboard off a wing, while Charlie Rowbottom can do it all from the inside midfield.

The matchup to watch has to be between two of the most in-form midfielders in the competition in Rowbottom and Emily Shepherd, who have natural ball-winning skills and the ability to go forward and have a huge impact on the scoreboard. With Amanda Ling and Abbey Jordan sharing similar athletic traits, there are plenty of matchups throughout the middle to keep an eye on. In defence, Brooke Vickers has been a reliable player, while Reid has been one to drop back and provide an extra number when required, which might be so against a Stingrays outfit that can attack quickly. Jemma Radford leads the Stingrays goalkicking with four majors in her two games, whilst Clarke and Ashleigh Richards have both slotted three this season.

It is near-impossible to predict a winner in this one, the Stingrays are at home which might give them the upper hand, but one thing is for sure, this is set to be a beauty, and based on form, one of the potential grand final previews.

 

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. TASMANIA DEVILS
Saturday, March 6 @ 2pm
LaTrobe University, Mill Park

Nothing is better for motivation than coming within a whisker of a huge upset but falling narrowly short. Luckily for spectators heading to LaTrobe University on Saturday, both these teams are in a similar boat. Bendigo Pioneers looked about a goal away from being home against Calder Cannons, only for a stunning last term fightback and the Cannons to storm home with three majors and the win in what was a brave, but ultimately disappointing loss for the players who showed just what they were capable of. No doubt during the week what they achieved for three quarters will have been emphasised, and they will be ready to go against a Tasmania Devils outfit that pushed the unbeaten Oakleigh Chargers to the limit. Perhaps the most impressive aspect was the fact the Devils were smashed by the Chargers to the tune of 102 points 12 months ago, and they were neck-and-neck with them to the final siren this year.

Tara Slender continues to defy the realms of positional possibilities, after the key defender turned key forward developed into a midfielder on the weekend where she racked up a round-high 28 disposals. It showed the high-end Vic Country prospect can be utilised in any role, and it helped nullify the impact of the Cannons midfielders. Against the Devils, she will likely be added as a target again, but Tasmania have some quick players who can move the ball in transition, led by Perri King and Claire Ransom in the mid-forward half of the ground. The key for the Pioneers will be winning the ball at the stoppages and using it well when extracting it, with the likes of Elizabeth Snell and Jayda Richardson – when rolling through the ruck – those contested ball winners.

Up forward, Amy Prokopiec booted four goals against Gippsland Power in Round 1 and can be a danger against most opposition, with a potential head-to-head with the in-form Tegan Williams something to keep an eye on. Some of the more in-form players over the first few weeks for the Pioneers include Jemma Finning and Octavia Di Donato in the back half, as well as Drew Ryan and Lily den Houting who know how to find the football. Tasmania’s Ella Maurer had a strong performance with 20 touches in Round 4, whilst Meghan Gaffney and Madison Brazendale accumulate the ball on a regular basis. Candice Belbin has been used to distribute in the back half, while Aprille Crooks is another defender who can play up the ground as well.

Another 50/50 contest, it is hard to pick which side gets up in this game, with both teams clearly improved on their 2020 seasons, and it means that for one of them, they will grab their second win of the season.

 

GIPPSLAND POWER vs. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS
Sunday, March 7 @ 12pm
Ronald Reserve, Morwell East

Two winless sides clash on Sunday in a midday battle at Ronald Reserve in Morwell East. The Sandringham Dragons are rested and ready to go after a break in Round 4, having lost to Calder Cannons and Northern Knights in Round 1 and Round 2 respectively. They now make the trek down the highway to face a Gippsland Power side that is coming off three consecutive losses to start the season. The 62, 114 and 72-point losses do not look favourable on paper, but for patches throughout those games the Power were able to remain competitive and match it with the opposition. That being said, with lapses costing goals, it is hard to win games, and Gippsland will be hoping another home game at Ronald Reserve will help them push the Dragons here.

The Dragons will see this as a crucial game to win and kick-start their season given the busy schedule coming up which will feature a Wednesday night fixture against Dandenong Stingrays in a couple of weeks. Pia Staltari has been a ray of consistency for the Dragons, coming out of defence and being a steady head with ball-in-hand. She will be tasked with clearing the defensive zone, given the Power can match the Dragons on the inside with bigger bodies such as Grace McRae and Lily-Rose Williamson, which could mean more clearances and inside 50s. While the Power have strength, the Dragons have speed, and a number of outside players who can run the ball in transition such as Kiana Lynch, Keely Coyne and Charlotte Ryan.

Bridie Hipwell has been a huge loss for the Dragons as that bigger body at the stoppages, and against the Knights, it was the likes of Chaplin who took full advantage. Gippsland Power will be favoured to get first hands to it at the stoppage through Grace Matser who played her best NAB League game last week, while Sofia Hurley and Chloe Saultry will bring the tackling pressure required in there. Ebony Angelopoulos will look to get on the end of a few goals, leading the team with three majors and key forward Charli Murphy having two. The Power have only booted the two goals, but have some promising talent coming through for next year led by Williamson and Yasmin Duursma in midfield.

Sandringham Dragons are favourites in this one given the team’s respective losses, but Gippsland should be able to get first hands on it through the ruck and bigger bodies inside, so it will be up to how they use the ball going forward that will be key.

 

WESTERN JETS vs. TASMANIA DEVILS
Monday, March 8 @ 11am
RAMS Arena, Craigieburn

Preview to come Sunday.

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. GWV REBELS
Wednesday, March 10 @ 6pm
Epsom Huntly Reserve, Epsom

Preview to come Tuesday.

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.

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.