Tag: maykaylah appleby

NAB League Girls Round 4 preview: Unbeaten sides to go head-to-head across Super Saturday

NAB League Girls action is back for a second consecutive week – unfortunately for the first time this season due to the Victorian snap lockdown – but it provides teams with a couple of instant classics, as well as sides that are battling for their first wins of the season.

EASTERN RANGES vs. GEELONG FALCONS
Saturday, February 27 @ 10.30am
Kilsyth Recreation Reserve

Two unbeaten sides go head-to-head in the early Saturday morning game when Geelong Falcons travel east to take on Eastern Ranges at Kilsyth Recreation Reserve from 10.30am. The Falcons are coming off back-to-back wins over Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels and Bendigo Pioneers in the opening rounds, while the Ranges put Gippsland Power to the sword last week with a record-breaking 114-point win after getting past an inefficient Western Jets in Round 1. Both these sides come into the game as two of the most in-form teams which spells the potential for a classic.

The Ranges’ midfield is a real strength with the likes of Bridget Deed and Olivia Meagher providing inside contested grunt work, and the class of Jorja Livingstone on the outside providing the run. Inside 50, Alyssia Pisano has become a revelation with four goals last week following a promising Round 1 debut, and the bottom-age prospect is shaping as a top-end talent for 2023. Georgia Campbell was outstanding in her effort against Grace Matser last week, and will look to hold down the fort again coming up against Keeley Hardingham of the Falcons, whilst Geelong have a number of inside midfielders themselves with Tess Craven, Poppy Schaap and Charlotte Simpson always having a crack in there.

Up forward, Renee Tierney has already kicked six goals in two games, with captain Lucy Were, and the dynamic Gabbi Featherston capable of anything when inside 50. It will be up to the Ranges’ defence to try and contain the Falcons forward six, with Cadhla Schmidli and Mia Busch having promising starts to the 2021 season. Annie Lee and Elizabeth Dowling up the other end have been impressive at flanking Mia Van Dyke to be a dominant half-back line, intercepting nearly anything that comes their way. The Ranges will need to be smart with their ball use, and pinpoint their passes inside 50 to ensure the best efficiency going forward.

The game is neck and neck, with the Final Siren podcast team split, with Geelong marginally ahead 2-1 in the tipping, though it genuinely could go either way.

 

GIPPSLAND POWER vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Saturday, February 27 @ 11.30am
Ronald Reserve, Morwell East

Two sides looking for a big effort are out at Morwell East when Gippsland Power heads back home to host Northern Knights. It will be their first game at the venue this season following the Round 2 home game with the Eastern Ranges being flipped around and played at Kilsyth Recreation Reserve instead. The Power will be looking to put in a more competitive effort in Round 3 after a 114-point defeat at the hands of Eastern Ranges last round, and will look to do it against a Northern Knights side that looked pretty good against Sandringham Dragons in Round 3. The Knights were blown away by Oakleigh Chargers in Round 1, but responded last week, and Gippsland will look to do the same in this clash.

The Power have a strong inside midfield group, led by Grace McRae who is a natural ball-winner. She will need to lead the way with hard ball gets against a Northern side that feasted on it last week thanks to the work of Maeve Chaplin. Lily-Rose Williamson is another inside body that will help extract the ball from the contest, whilst Matilda Van Berkel can play anywhere from midfield, ruck to key position and was the main interceptor in defence last week. Sunday Brisbane and Yasmin Duursma are happy to run the ball forward and that is where the Power can take advantage, with the Knights missing AFL Women’s Academy member Maykaylah Appleby from the clash.

Matser has a chance to take control in the ruck with dominant hitout specialist Georgia Kitchell also missing the game, though the Knights have plenty of depth to step up. Ella Smallacombe and Megan Girolami were busy last week combining for five goals, and the likes of Van Berkel, Holly Booth and Courtney Fletcher will have their work cut out for them. Expect Tarrah Delgado to continue her form and be a rock in defence, while Brooke Plummer will step up to bring that outside run on a wing and become the key playmaker in the match.

Northern are favourites after last week’s effort, but missing a couple of key personnel could make it a little tougher, but should still get the job done. Gippsland have the strengths to match it with Northern on the inside, with the battle between McRae and Chaplin the highlight.

 

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS vs. WESTERN JETS
Saturday, February 27 @ 12.15pm
Cathedral College, Wangaratta

Up north, Murray Bushranger host Western Jets in a battle of two winless sides looking to get on the board in season 2021. The Bushrangers went down to Bendigo Pioneers in the opening round, then lost out to GWV Rebels in Round 3. The Jets were unlucky not to capitalise against Eastern Ranges in Round 1, before just falling short against Dandenong Stingrays in Round 3. Heading into this game, the Jets will be keen to make almost-there become success.

Grace Hay returns for the Bushrangers having to juggle her football and netball commitments which immediately strengthens the Bushrangers’ back six and provides another strong ball user out there. She will team up with a half-back line featuring the strong hands of Molly Kennedy – due for a great battle with Jets’ Caitlin Sargent – and Chloe Locke who both can provide some offence to go with their defensive work. Mindy Quade at full-back is another strong player who can win one-on-ones regularly, and use her powerful boot to clear the area. Going head-to-head with Jemima Woods, the Bushrangers’ talls will need to quell the Jets’ targets inside 50.

Two of the more in-form wings could go head-to-head in Charlotte Baskaran and Aurora Smith, with both having outstanding games in the opening two rounds. Montana Ham and Keeley Skepper are two of the most promising prospects for next year and will likely lock horns in the midfield, while Krystal Russell will look to take full advantage in the ruck with Bushrangers’ AFL Women’s Academy member Ally Morphett out. The Bushrangers still have scoring options in the likes of Kristy Whitehead and Sophia McCarthy, while Kate Maxwell and Laura Elliott were good in defence last week.

The Jets are favoured in this contest, but some of the one-on-ones should be fantastic to watch.

 

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. CALDER CANNONS
Saturday, February 27 @ 12.30pm
Epsom Huntly Reserve

From two winless sides to two with a 1-1 record, Bendigo Pioneers host Calder Cannons in a much anticipated Round 4 matchup. The Cannons were arguably the team to beat given their two AFL Women’s Academy members and host of likely Vic Metro talents, but were just outclassed by an incredible Oakleigh Chargers outfit last week, after knocking off Sandringham Dragons in the opening round. Bendigo took out Murray Bushrangers in the opening round, but then suffered defeat at the hands of Geelong Falcons in Round 3, so will be looking to make up for that loss with a huge scalp here.

Tara Slender returns from a concussion precaution that kept her out of the Pioneers’ Round 3 loss, and will play a crucial role at centre half-forward. It forces one of Neve Crowley or Kasey Lennox to make sure she has a close-checking key defender on her, with Tegan Williams seamlessly slotting into Slender’s role up the opposite end of the ground. Bottom-ager Lila Keck, as well as top-ager Lily Den Houting have been named inside 50, and could provide scoring options for the home team. Meanwhile up the other end, Alisa Magri and Jessica Zakkour could be targets inside 50 for the Cannons.

The ruck battle between Madeline Marks and Peppa Poultney will be a fascinating one, with the Pioneers midfield getting a huge challenge to try and contain the Cannons’ onball group. Georgie Prespakis and Zali Friswell will head in with Emelia Yassir this week, while Elizabeth Snell and Jayda Richardson will line up with Chantelle Mitchell to try and take control in there.

The Cannons will go in as strong favourites, but the Pioneers are back to full strength with Slender returning, and if they can get on top in the midfield, anything is possible.

 

TASMANIA DEVILS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Saturday, February 27 @ 12.30pm
Twin Ovals

After missing out in Round 2, Tasmania Devils return to Twin Ovals for their first home game of the year. They take on Oakleigh Chargers who 12 months ago, took them to pieces in a triple-figure victory on the Apple Isle. Fast forward to 2021, and the Devils are a stronger, more cohesive unit that are coming off an impressive 12-goal win over Gippsland Power in the opening round. Oakleigh Chargers are a different group altogether and right now the benchmark of the competition, which gives Tasmania a great chance to measure themselves against the top team.

The Devils were able to have high efficiency going forward in Round 1, with Amy Prokopiec slotting four goals – including two in the first quarter – against the Power, while Amy Bissett also nailed a couple of majors. Having Charlie Vandenberg take the first ruck spot has enabled Camilla Taylor to be another target inside 50, while the midfield group of Perri King, Ella Maurer and Claire Ransom was terrific against the Power. Now they meet the most dominant group in the league, with Charlie Rowbottom, Amanda Ling and Eliza James on-ball, and Stella Reid tearing it up on the the outside.

Tasmania will need to ensure the Oakleigh midfield does not get off the chain as the Chargers can score quickly and heavily when given the chance, especially with Jemma Rigoni and Ameille Smith being targets inside 50. Charlotte Thomas and Candice Belbin are some of the defensive options back there for the Devils, whilst up the other end, Brooke Vickers has been a source of run and carry for the Chargers. If Oakleigh can get the ball forward, they have an abundance of smalls running around at the feet of the talls, such as Taylah Morton who could hit the scoreboard.

Overall, the Chargers have passed every test thrown at them and deserve to be overall favourites. The key to this game is seeing how much the Devils have progressed in 12 months, and if they can cause a huge boilover in front of their home fans.

 

GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS VS. DANDENONG STINGRAYS
Sunday, February 28 @ 11.30am
MARS Stadium

The standalone Sunday game is a must-watch, with the GWV Rebels sitting 1-1 and the Dandenong Stingrays 1-0 after a delayed entry into the competition. The Stingrays were due to return to the competition in Round 2, but Victoria’s snap lockdown pushed it back a week, where they took care of the Western Jets in a competitive match. The Rebels had a similar clash in Round 1 going down to the Falcons, before they put Murray Bushrangers to the sword in a seven goals to two first half last week at Epsom Huntly, then steadied in the second half to record a strong win.

The Rebels are one of only two sides – with Calder Cannons – that have two AFL Women’s Academy members, and this week Nyakoat Dojiok has been named beside Ella Friend in the half-forward line. With Dandenong’s abundance of strong defenders, it provides the Rebels midfield with another target to use, and Dojiok is more than capable of taking on opponents at ground level. Mackenzie Eardley will have a huge job on the contested-making Friend, while Tahlia Meier works hard both ways and will need to hit the scoreboard whilst being aware her opponent Brooke Smith can do damage the other way. Zoe Hill, Jemma Radford and Jaide Anthony are all capable of intercepting in the back 50, so the Rebels will need to be good with their ball use.

In midfield, Amber Clarke has been thrown there alongside last week’s Draft Central Player of the Week Emily Shepherd, and top-age talent Abbey Jordan. The trio of Paige Scott, Lilli Condon and Crystal Summers worked well for the Rebels in Round 3, and they will lock horns in a fantastic battle of inside midfields. Chloe Leonard is the key for the Rebels off half-back, though Molly Walton has also made a splash for the Rebels in her debut season, and they will have to rebound the Stingrays’ attacks, with Ashleigh Richards one to watch inside 50 who could do some damage.

This is a 50-50 game and both these teams have such a well-balanced list. The Stingrays might be able to get the job done due to their intercepting firepower, but the Rebels have plenty of attacking options. Expect it to be a tough, low-scoring game.

2021 VFLW season preview: Carlton

CARLTON has hit “the reset button” on its VFLW program and is looking towards long-term development in 2021 and beyond, according to new head coach Luke O’Shannessy. With vast experience in the talent pathways system, most notably at the Oakleigh Chargers, O’Shannessy says he is excited to see how the group progresses across his first season at the helm.

“It’s been a really interesting preseason for us,” O’Shannessy said. “We’ve had a significant list turnover for the last two years, so there’s a lot of new faces. “During summer and preseason there has been a big focus on squad bonding and that real connection between the playing group, and we’re starting to see that come to fruition. It’s great to see a group gel so quickly over a short preseason.

“I was really pleased with how the group came back after having 2020 put on pause from a structured and formal training sense, requiring players to drive their own training – whether that’s from a fitness or skills perspective. “When I came on board in late-October/early-November our first month was still online and I was really nervous I suppose, but I was very pleased that clearly they’d been putting in the hard yards over the Covid break and came back in really good shape.”

The long-term approach Carlton has adopted towards its VFLW program as a potential feeder to its AFLW squad has also pleased O’Shannessy. As an aligned club, the Blues will have access to AFLW-listed players who miss out on senior selection throughout the top flight season. O’Shannessy said the perks running concurrent competitions makes for a “win-win” for both programs.

“It can only benefit the program, he said. “We had nearly seven players go up and spend two weeks training with the AFLW program (during preseason). “It was invaluable for their development, the chance to go up and see how the AFLW program works, mingle and work with no-doubt their role models in the AFLW program and work under ‘Harf’ (Daniel Harford) and his crew.

“When they came back they were able to share some of their learnings, both positive and maybe some areas they needed to lift moving forward – whether it was their running capacity, the speed and intensity of training and match sim, the physicality – all those sorts of things that they learned.

“From the other side of things, over the last couple of practice matches, we’ve had the luxury of having between five and six AFLW-listed players spend a game with us and five of the six have been the same in both game, so we got a chance to get to know them from a staff point of view and the players have gotten to know them as well.

“They really slotted in seamlessly and we acknowledge that they’ve got aspirations to crack the senior side and we want to get them there through being able to perform with us, but at the same time we want to learn from them. “It’s only going to make us stronger and role model the sorts of match play and professional behaviours that we know they bring from an AFLW point of view.”

At the core of a fresh and young-looking squad are a couple of returning leaders who will head Carlton’s cause in 2021. Ally Bild was voted in as captain and will be supported by vice-captain Jen Lew, along with three others in a five-player leadership group. O’Shannessy identified his two official leaders as benchmark players for the side, while some promising recruits are also primed to make a splash.

“(Bild and Lew) are really setting the tone for the playing group and becoming real benchmarks for levels of professionalism on and off the field,” he said, “They’re ticking all the boxes and really role-modelling the sorts of behaviours that you’d like to see at VFLW level and beyond… there’s a reason they’ve been voted in as captain and vice-captain.

“We’ve got some players who have relocated down from Cairns in Jasmine Ware and Akayla Peterson. “Jasmine Ware is a small-medium defender, has really slotted in nicely and had her best showing in the weekend’s practice match. Akayla is a running outside player who can play tall but also run end-to-end. We see her being able to feature on the wing at times or as a half-forward hit-up target.

“Then we’ve got a lot of good young talent coming through as well… we’ve got Amber Micallef who’s a 19-year-old straight out of the NAB League, she’s going to feature strongly in the midfield. “They’re just a few names to keep an eye out for… I’m really keen to see each and every player in the squad because it’s my first year working with each of them, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they go this year.”

Carlton will also have access to 18 and 19-year-old NAB League-listed prospects, most significantly through its alignment to the Northern Knights talent region. AFLW Academy member Maykaylah Appleby has already spent some time training with the Blues, while 19-year-old Maeve Chaplin has had experience on the track with their AFLW program. Teleah Smart is also poised to join the squad, and was coached by O’Shannessy in the 2019 Vic Metro Under 16 squad alongside Appleby.

The Blues enjoyed two practice matches against the Western Bulldogs, going 1-1 in the games held at Princes Park and Whitten Oval. O’Shannessy said the repeat fixture ended up being “a blessing in disguise”, providing some valuable insight as his side prepares for season proper.

“We were able to benchmark ourselves against the same club twice to see what was the same, to compare and contrast our performance and that of the opposition,” he said. “From our point of view results ultimately don’t really matter, it’s all about what you see from game one to game two over a two-week period… we were really pleased to see that the girls put a really strong showing in game two.

“We liked a lot of game one, we saw some glimpses, but then we saw a really rounded performance in game two. “You could argue it was a real good three and a half quarters of really strong football that fills us as a squad with great confidence going into Round 1.

“We saw increased scoring from our point of view and an increased hunger for the contest, which is something we’re trying to build into the squad as two key pillars. “High-scoring and stronger around the contest with some good run-and-carry on the outside.”

Looking towards Round 1, the Blues are booked to take on Casey Demons at Princes Park on Saturday afternoon. O’Shannessy said the squad is about “90 per cent” good to go, with some returning players set to make team selection a difficult one come Thursday.

“We’re ready to rock and roll and I couldn’t ask to be in a better spot at this time of the year,” he said.

Image Credit: (Retrieved from) @carltonfc_w via Twitter

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.

Top Performers: 2021 NAB League Girls – Round 1

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 1 produced plenty of highlights as players returned to competitive action for the first time in 11 months. Starting with AFL Academy-listed prospects, we take a look at the top performers out of an exciting opening set of fixtures.

EASTERN RANGES vs. WESTERN JETS

By: Michael Alvaro

STANDOUTS:

#9 Mia Busch (Eastern Ranges)

In a game which was tense and tight for the best part of three quarters, Busch was a reliable outlet for Eastern in the back half. The bottom-ager notched eight rebound 50s – an equal round-high – among her 14 kicks and 16 disposals overall, providing a cool head amid the arm-wrestle that ensued. In what was her NAB League debut, the bottom-ager proved she is up to the level and built on outstanding preseason testing results in the agility and endurance categories.

#11 Olivia Meagher (Eastern Ranges)

One of the more unlucky players not to be drafted as a top-ager last year, Meagher has returned to the Ranges’ program again looking to become a real leader through midfield. She was a steady ball winner on the day, collecting 16 touches and pumping the ball inside 50 four times. Perhaps the most pleasing part of Meagher’s game was her defensive acumen though, highlighted by a monster 10 tackles.

#18 Bridget Deed (Eastern Ranges)

Eastern’s leading disposal winner on the day, Deed was another to put up some impressive numbers in a winning effort. Like Meagher, her 21 touches were complimented well by two-way efforts in the form of an equal competition-high 11 tackles. She was able to penetrate either arc and popped up in just the right areas to allow the Ranges to push onto the front foot after absorbing some pressure.

#25 Cadhla Schmidli (Eastern Ranges)

In just her second NAB League outing, Schmidli showed marked improvement from her debut last season to finish as one of the round’s most valuable defenders. Armed with a handy vertical leap and good height, she was able to clunk three marks and set Eastern going the other way with three rebound 50s among her 10 kicks for the day. Her efforts were enough to feature in the Draft Central team of the week.

#1 Charlotte Baskaran (Western Jets)

Despite ending up on the losing side, Baskaran was able to showcase all her class in a performance fitting of the Draft Central player of the week mantle. Still just 16 years old, the bottom-ager’s potential is scary and she looks to have gone to yet another level in 2021. The versatile midfielder finished with 28 disposals (23 kicks), five marks, 11 tackles, and eight inside 50s as the best player afield and one to watch for next year’s draft. Her skill on either side combined with a strong ball winning capacity make her a damaging prospect.

#38 Montana Ham (Western Jets)

The ever-impactful bottom-ager was near her explosive best in Round 1, utilising her frame to dig in and win the ball at ground level, while also showcasing terrific aerial prowess. She was one of the better Jets in the first half and finished with 15 disposals, taking four marks and penetrating either arc a combined five times. Along with Baskaran, Ham is a standout bottom-ager in the Western region.

#52 Krystal Russell (Western Jets)

Another NAB League debutant and one who really impressed in her ruck duties, Russell was a real standout for the Jets. Her competitiveness both in the ruck contest and otherwise was conveyed in her stat-line which included 11 disposals, three tackles, six inside 50s, and 23 hitouts. The bottom-ager has good scope for improvement and a strong base to build upon after her promising performance against multiple Eastern rucks.

OTHERS:

Among the players who earned plaudits from the Eastern staff, Keeley Sherar (10 disposals, four tackles) played a role, while the game’s sole multiple goalkicker in Scarlett Potter was key to ensuring the Ranges compiled a winning score. Midfielder Jorja Livingstone also achieved solid numbers with 16 disposals, 15 of which were kicks. For the Jets, Trinity Skenderis (13 disposals, six tackles) got her hands dirty in midfield alongside Paige Ryan (11 and eight), while Caitlin Sargent also showed good signs.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS vs. BENDIGO PIONEERS

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#33 Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers)

The talented ruck was among the Bushrangers best on the day, racking up10 disposals, three marks, two tackles and 13 hitouts. As a versatile player, Morphett is someone who can have an impact up forward and she slotted a goal, but also had the five inside 50, driving the ball there when she could. At 188cm, she looms a problem for most opponents and is incredibly tough to beat overhead.

#27 Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers)

Playing in the forward half compared to her usual defensive role, Slender was still among the best on the day. She might have missed a couple of chances on goal with two behinds, but she was able to have an impact and push up the ground and rack up 16 disposals, three marks and five inside 50s. Impressively, she also laid six tackles to show off her natural defensive capabilities, and it will be interesting to see if she remains forward in Round 2 or goes head-to-head with fellow AFL Women’s Academy member Ella Friend up the other end.

STANDOUTS:

#5 Elizabeth Snell (Bendigo Pioneers)

Returning as the new top-ager, Snell needed to make an impact and she certainly did that, slotting two goals from 18 touches. Those two goals really built the momentum for her side, both coming in the second quarter to give the Pioneers a buffer at half-time. She is no stranger to goals, having kicked a bag as a bottom-ager a couple of years ago against Gippsland Power, but it was not only her offensive work, but her defensive work that was noticed with 10 tackles as well.

#26 Jayda Richardson (Bendigo Pioneers)

While Snell started the momentum, Richardson built on it, effectively closing out the contest in the opening few minutes of the second half. Richardson slotted back-to-back goals, and in the blink of an eye the game was all but over. She finished with nine disposals and six tackles, as well as racking up nine hitouts which was mighty impressive for a 174cm player against taller opponents.

#2 Lila Keck (Bendigo Pioneers)

Coming into a new season, there are always bottom-agers who come into the team with a lot of unknowns, but from the start Keck has proven she can compete against much older opponents. The 15-year-old racked up 14 disposals, but possibly the most eye-catching aspect was her tackling – laying 11 tackles – which considering not only her age, but standing at 160cm is something to prove she is not afraid to crack in and have a go.

#2 Aurora Smith (Murray Bushrangers)

Having played a couple of games last year, Smith stepped up in her first game of 2021 to be the Bushrangers’ top player on the day. As a draft-eligible talent, she roamed around the ground to finish with 16 disposals, two marks, five tackles and seven inside 50s. Her ability to drive the ball forward ranked second overall across the league from Round 1.

#6 Lily Sharp (Murray Bushrangers)

Touted as one to watch this season by the Bushrangers coaching staff, Sharp is one who managed to find the ball through the midfield and also have chances when forward. Whilst she finished with two behinds, she picked up 15 touches, three marks and two inside 50s in the process, and will be a crucial cog in Murray’s onball brigade this season.

#22 Grace Hay (Murray Bushrangers)

A player not eligible until next year’s draft, Hay is also an incredibly talented netballer. On the football field, she thrives in defence, and picked up 15 disposals – 12 kicks, whilst recording four rebounds and four marks. Murray has a lot of talented players for next year’s draft, and Hay fits the bill as she continues to improve and should have more continuity in season 2021.

OTHERS:

Bendigo had a wide range of contributors across the board, with Nalin Moore (16 disposals, six inside 50s), Bryde O’Rourke (14 disposals, one goal) and Drew Ryan (14 disposals, three marks and four rebounds) among the top disposal winners. For the Bushrangers, Mikayla Jones had the equal most touches on the ground with 18, while Kristy Whitehead (15 disposals, three marks), Chloe Locke (15 disposals, three marks, five tackles and five rebounds) and Keely Skepper (12 disposals, five tackles, two inside 50s and three rebounds) were also busy.

TASMANIA DEVILS vs. GIPPSLAND POWER

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#11 Perri King (Tasmania Devils)

The speedy midfielder rotated between the middle and up forward and played an impressive game. Many of the midfielders at the stoppages were inside ball winners, but King provided that touch of class, reading the taps well and sprinting away to gain separation on her opponent. There were a couple of times where she might have done a touch too much and got herself into trouble, but was lucky not to be pinged. Her aerial work was as impressive as her ground work, taking a great mark up forward and later setting up a goal in the final term with a quick burst out of a stoppage to open space, allowing Ella Maurer to run into an open goal.

STANDOUTS:

#24 Amy Prokopiec (Tasmania Devils)

It was hard to look past Prokopiec for best afield honours in an even day. She started the game on fire with two first quarter goals and could have had a third. Whilst renowned for her marking and powerful kick, she actually conjured up her first major off the ground, beating her opponent to the ball and kicking it through off a slight angle. Her second came from a marking contest and slotting the set shot, before finishing the game with four. The best of the lot was her last one, which came from a snap around the body under pressure as it curled home brilliantly. Having played as a defender in the NAB League 12 months ago, her work up forward was more eye-catching and she was not afraid to crash packs. Had she managed to nail all her shots, she could have easily had half a dozen goals.

#9 Claire Ransom (Tasmania Devils)

Ransom is one of those eye-catching players who just shows enough to remember the impact she has had on the game. Early on she got front position in a marking contest and then quickly moved the ball on to get it over the back and goalside for her teammate. She showed equal amounts of offensive and defensive pressure, with a running goal from inside 50 off the back of hard work in the first half indicative of her effort. One passage of play that might not be on the highlight reel but was crucial, was applying enough pressure when Gippsland was running it out of defence as she ran over to lock the ball up and force a stoppage against two opponents. It showed she stayed active even when the team was well in control.

#3 Amy Bissett (Tasmania Devils)

Finished the day with a couple of majors and looked dangerous in the forward half. Her first goal came in the second term and she quickly had a flying shot on the run not long after that missed to the right. A third term “fresh-airey” in the goalsquare was able to be viewed with a laugh in hindsight as Kara Hennessy finished off the work there, and then Bissett made up for it with a remarkable running goal in the fourth term. Taking off from the forward side of the wing, Bissett ran through the middle of four Gippsland Power players, and with the help of teammates shepherding, ran all the way to the goalsquare to slam it home and put the nail in the coffin of the game.

#7 Meghan Gaffney (Tasmania Devils)

Felt she provided some spark through the midfield and added extra speed, particularly when Perri King was playing forward. She would create separation from her opponent, and her quick hands and decision making helped her through midfield. Occasionally she would kick to space more so than directly to a teammate, but her ability to still put it to the right spots, especially at pace was impressive. Her second efforts were similarly noticeable.

#26 Grace McRae (Gippsland Power)

The standout four-quarter player from the losing side, she just never gave in and willed herself to contest after contest. McRae had a clean pickup early in the game, and went about suffering leather poisoning as she won the ball in each third of the ground. Winning a free kick for a great tackle in the first quarter, she slotted what would be Gippsland’s only goal from the set shot. Despite Tasmania gaining control around the ground, McRae continued to battle hard and had a number of crucial possessions with a low and sharp kick inside 50 to a lead, and then showed great strength to fend off Perri King and boot the ball forward in the third term.

#35 Matilda Van Berkel (Gippsland Power)

Having to play as an undersized ruck after Grace Matser suffered an injury in the first half, Van Berkel proved to be a strong target around the ground. She clunked a number of big grabs, and would even steal it out of the ruck contest to bomb it forward. Had a snap on goal after moving out of traffic inside 50 but it just missed early in the game. Overall she provided strength around the contest and up forward and was hard to beat one-on-one.

#1 Sunday Brisbane (Gippsland Power)

Much like McRae, Brisbane just gave it a real red hot crack for four quarters against the odds. Despite being smaller than her opponents, she was not afraid to lay a number of big tackles and put her body on the line when required. Brisbane provided dash out of the backline and through midfield, and took a good intercept mark at half-forward. At times when under pressure she could rush a bit, but had extremely quick hands at ground level.

OTHERS:

Holly Booth worked tirelessly on the last line to provide some rebound and run in a difficult match for defenders, Shanara Notman was busy around the ground, Lily-Rose Williamson showed fierce intent with her tackling and fend-offs, while Taylah Bourne also stood out for the Power. Olivia Smith was great early in the game for the Devils through midfield, while Charlie Vandenberg was clean around the stoppages with her ruck craft, in what was a really even team effort. Ella Maurer, Jemma Webster and Aprille Crooks were among others who found plenty of the footy for the visitors.

GEELONG FALCONS vs. GWV REBELS

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#20 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)

A marking machine to put it lightly. Friend is one of the best marks going around, and not only when she finds the space. So clever at creating separation on her opponent and timing her leads to perfection, she also managed to pull down some huge grabs, including one against three opponents. She showed a nice vertical leap when going for her marks, and her decision making was good. A couple of times her set shots just fell a touch short which caused the defence to have numbers back and clear, but in terms of her ability to win the ball, once the hands went up it was a done deal.

#30 Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)

Having seen her progress over the last few years, you can see the fundamentals of Dojiok’s game have really improved. Her kicking in particular was quite good, including one low pass at top speed along the wing. She still has areas to work on such as one-grab marks and decision making at times, but on a number of occasions she backed herself in and took charge to burn off opponents and fend them away to break down opposition defensive zones. A really exciting player.

STANDOUTS:

#11 Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)

The best on ground in my opinion, Craven was on from the first bounce until the final siren. She just kept finding the pill and did a bit of everything in the front half. Craven showed courage in going back with the flight in the second term to almost mark 15 metres out from goal, and then was used in a distributor role going inside 50 to hit up a number of targets such as Renee Tierney and Ingrid Houtsma. A late shot on goal that was almost the game-winner just hit the post on its way through but showed her quick instincts to put boot to ball.

#37 Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons)

Lee is a defender who had a nice balance between aerial and ground ball work. She has clean hands to beat her opponent in the air, but is happy to get those hands dirty with run-down tackles likes she did on Lilli Condon when the pressure was up in the final term. She just finds space and plays that interceptor role perfectly, knowing when to push up the ground and when to stay back. She has a fantastic tackling technique and can hit targets over short and long distances. Overall a consistent effort back there.

#39 Renee Tierney (Geelong Falcons)

One-on-ones are Tierney’s speciality and it showed when isolated inside 50. She was able to swing the momentum back in the Falcons’ favour during that third term by kicking back-to-back goals through marks and set shots. Her kicking is reliable, and she could have had another one or two from snaps, but her marking is on point. Tierney also showed good defensive pressure which is what you want to see from your key forward and it will be exciting to see her push up the ground and impact the midfield with her strength at ground level.

#4 Poppy Schaap (Geelong Falcons)

A natural ball winner who just keeps on finding the ball wherever she goes. Working overtime around the ground, she reads it at stoppages and finds it in close where she distributes out to her teammates. The big moment came in the final term, where after missing a flying shot on goal earlier in the quarter, she had a quick snap which sat up perfectly with a nice bounce against two Rebels defenders to get home and seal the match.

#15 Chloe Leonard (GWV Rebels)

The Rebels’ best four-quarter performer and she never stopped trying. At times she was under pressure and could rush her kicks, but when she had the time and space, particularly trying to move the ball on quickly from the kick-out, she was able to grab some metres and drive her team forward. Always courageous and gets straight back up from a bump, she produced a lovely pass into Tahlia Meier to set up a goal. Her inside 50s in particular stood out and she was able to create some scoring opportunities.

#27 Molly Walton (GWV Rebels)

A debutant who really stood out, the 2004-born Walton was a player who excelled in her one-on-ones. Her work rate and second efforts were also good, which was exemplified when she intercepted a ball in defensive 50, unfortunately turned it over, but then worked hard to slide in and retake the grab again. Once Leonard pushed up the ground, Walton was tasked with the kickouts and gained some serious meterage. Her one-on-one duel deep with Tierney to stop a goal just metres from the line was a huge step in her first game.

#1 Lilli Condon (GWV Rebels)

The small midfielder just kept battling on across the four quarters and she always brings a consistent effort. Condon is able to keep the ball in front of her, and then gain separation from her opponent and kick long inside 50. She won the ball in each third of the ground, and had great second efforts. One time later in the match she was caught before she could dispose of it, and had a flying shot on the goal that missed, but for the most part, she kept finding it and pumping it forward to aide her team’s scoring opportunities.

OTHERS:

It was a really even team performance across the board for both sides, with the likes of Gabbi Featherston, Lucy Were and Ingrid Houtsma all impressing for the Falcons in the forward half, and defence in the second half for Houtsma. The Rebels had a balanced load with the likes of Paige Scott and Ally Trigg consistent throughout the contest.

CALDER CANNONS vs. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#41 Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)

It was a typically high-level performance from the reigning NAB League Girls best and fairest winner, involved in everything for the game while showcasing her athleticism and superb skills on both sides of the body – it was a complete game. Outside of her well executed kicks, handballs and tackles, Prespakis did a lot of the small things really well; standing up in tackles, enacting second efforts, evading opponents and applying tackling pressure were noticeable parts of her game as she troubled the Sandringham midfield all match. Her work around stoppages was very high level, punishing Sandringham every time she was left unattended.

#18 Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons)

The AFL Academy member looked dangerous all game, regularly rotating through the ruck and as a deep forward. Her best work was done when playing ruck, having no trouble winning taps, but also posing a marking threat around the ground. She set herself up well outside of the forward 50, ensuring every Sandringham exit had to be perfectly executed to get past. Her performance was wrapped up with a nice contested grab in the goal square leading to a goal in the last quarter.

STANDOUTS:

#3 Emelia Yassir (Calder Cannons)

Was a dangerous midfielder for the Cannons all day, utilising her speed well to win clearances and get the ball moving forward quickly. Her kicking and decision making were well on display all day, often switching the ball across the ground or taking riskier inside kicks to get the Cannons moving forward. Her work in transition was a particular highlight, showing off her two-way running and concentration during games.

#19 Peppa Poultney (Calder Cannons)

Rotating through the ruck and forward line with teammate Tahlia Gillard, Poultney’s dominance in the ruck went a long way in securing the Cannons’ win for the day, getting good direction and placement on her taps to the advantage of her midfielders.

#15 Mali McLeod (Calder Cannons)

Her work on the outside and on the wing made her a threat to Sandringham throughout the day, reading the play well to get herself in the best possible positions around stoppages and contests. Her game awareness was on show in the second quarter, when she made a brilliant lead to get a shot right in front of goal.

#4 Kasey Lennox (Calder Cannons)

Stationed at full back for the day, Lennox held strong against various opponents and did a lot of work to keep opposition forward Charli Murphy from getting any easy possessions. She’d often drift off her opponent and assist teammates in marking contests, especially during the second quarter when they were most under siege.

#10 Bridie Hipwell (Sandringham Dragons) 

2022 draft eligible Hipwell was impactful throughout the day, showcasing her athleticism by often taking the game on with her speed and getting out of traffic with her agility. Boasting a long and accurate right-foot kick, she was a vital part of many Sandringham attacks from the midfield. She set up Sandringham’s first goal with a run from the half-back line and a long kick inside 50. She was unfortunately injured in a tackle early in the third quarter and stretchered off, sitting out the remainder of the game.

#26 Chloe Saultry (Sandringham Dragons)

Was a workhorse in the midfield for Sandringham all day, ensuring Cannons players weren’t winning any easy ball at stoppages or around the ground. She also got herself involved in attacking plays, utilising her long kicking to get the ball forward quickly. A free kick and 50-meter penalty in the fourth quarter saw Saultry get herself on the scoreboard as well.

#30 Pia Staltari (Sandringham Dragons)

Playing mostly at half-back, her work with ball in hand was brilliant, showing off her long and accurate kicking which tested the Cannons structures all day. She moved into the midfield for a bit of the last quarter and won herself plenty of the ball, proving that if needed, she can fill a whole in there with ease. Was classy throughout the day, particularly with her composure down back.

#2 Keely Coyne (Sandringham Dragons)

The leading ball getter for the Dragons did a lot of work to be an option around the ground. Playing a high half-forward role, she’d often be on the outside of contests and stoppages waiting for quick handball out, or offering an option as a switch kick for her teammates.

OTHERS:

Charli Murphy worked hard in the forwardline all day, presenting strong leads but ultimately being beaten by more athletic opponents or being crowded in two-on-one marking contests. Kitty Smyth battled in the ruck all day against a taller and more experienced duo. Ebony Angelopoulos had her opportunities in front of goal, kicking one but missing two others while still being a danger to the Calder defence. Isabella Rowland was hard at it in defence with her fierce tackling. 2022 draft eligible talent, Tahlia Read got herself on the scoreboard with a goal, as well as being a strong tackling presence around the forwardline.

NORTHERN KNIGHTS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#11 Maykaylah Appleby (Northern Knights)

Appleby had a solid game for Northern. Starting on the wing, she found herself getting plenty of opportunities to run, carry, and use her long kick to set up team mates. One particular highlight came in the second quarter, where she managed to get a run through the middle, taking three bounces and having a shot on goal that unfortunately fell short. She was vital during the third quarter in the Knights’ attempts to transition from defence to offence, commanding teammates to shepherd for her as she attempted to continue her run and carry.

#8 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)

In a standout performance the AFL Academy member, Rowbottom showed why she’s one of the top prospects for this year’s AFLW Draft. Splitting time between the forwardline and midfield, she managed to have an impact everywhere she went. She was dominant around stoppages, often running through multiple opponents with the footy and getting the ball long to set up an Oakleigh opportunity. Rowbottom’s ability to stand up and break free of tackles was particularly impressive, often outplaying or out muscling two opponents at a time. When forward, she looked consistently dangerous as the main target for Oakleigh down deep, getting herself two goals on the day. One was when she out-marked Knights defender Tarrah Delgado right on the goal line, once again showing how strong she is in so many areas of the game. In the third quarter she was playing as a deep forward and was the target of a lot of Oakleigh’s attacks. One particular instance saw her in a two-against-one situation, where she managed to get the ball to ground and tap it to the advantage of teammate Ameille Smith, who ran into an open goal and scored.

STANDOUTS:

#9 Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)

Was one of the Knights most prolific midfielders on the day, playing a complete game with plenty of defensive work around the contest as well as winning plenty of ball for herself. Her long kicks away from stoppages caused some trouble for Oakleigh in the third quarter. She moved into the backline in the final quarter and did well to help both in the air and at ground level.

#15 Tarrah Delgado (Northern Knights)

Her read of the ball and the game was excellent all day, often out-positioning opponents in contests to win them, or putting herself in the perfect spot to stop a goal or incoming attack. Her work rate also shone through, often playing higher up the ground as an interceptor and doubling back to be the last line of defence if the ball was going towards the Knights’ defensive 50, away on the other side of the ground from her.

#7 Teleah Smart (Northern Knights)

Spending most of the day in the midfield, Smart was a headache for the Chargers – utilising her burst of speed and accurate kick where possible, while also constantly applying tackling pressure when the Chargers were in possession. Her final stat line may not be kind, but the co-captain was lively when called upon.

#10 Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers)

The left-footer split her time between defence and the wing in a well-rounded performance. She was a threat heading forward, getting involved in plenty of strings of play during the last quarter around the ground, getting herself two goals for her efforts. She was a headache for Northern in the third quarter as well, proving a threat around Oakleigh’s backline and ensuring any spilt ball was heading back out. Her play of the day came in the final term, when she latched onto a ball over the back, shrugged off a would-be tackler and slotted the goal with great class.

#14 Eliza James (Oakleigh Chargers)

James split her time up forward and through midfield for the game, showcasing her versatility by playing both inside and outside. She was a strong ball winner and threat around stoppages for Oakleigh, particularly in the second half where her link-up play with Charlie Rowbottom led to plenty of Oakleigh inside 50’s. Her speed and carry out of congestion was a particular highlight.

#15 Ameille Smith (Oakleigh Chargers)

Smith enjoyed a superb forwardline performance, leading the game with three goals. Her leading was strong, going straight towards the ball carrier and when she wasn’t the target, her work rate was just as good at ground level. Having made the most of her opportunities inside 50, Smith was one of Oakleigh’s more impactful players.

#9 Brooke Vickers (Oakleigh Chargers)

Had a great day out and got involved every time the ball entered her defensive 50. Her evasiveness and willingness to take opponents on lead to her showing good run and carry ability, as well as her kicking which is a strong-suit of her game. Her positioning behind the ball meant she won plenty of intercept possessions and made it hard for any Northern attack to properly eventuate. Her understanding of the game was well represented, pushing high up the ground when the ball was inside forward 50 and being an obstacle for Northern when trying to rebound

#4 Alexandra McCulloch (Oakleigh Chargers) 

Played in a similar style to teammate Brooke Vickers with a strong understanding of the game, pushing herself up the ground and causing Northern difficulty when they were on the rebound. She also played well deep down in defence when Northern got forward quickly and breached the 50-metre arc.

#5 Mia Clift (Oakleigh Chargers)

Positioned on the wing, Clift showed a strong understanding of the outside role, being an option for team mates when they came out of defence and providing deep and quick inside 50’s for her forwards. She possesses a good initial burst of speed which gave her plenty of time to work with when moving forward.

#11 Ruby Vanden Boom (Oakleigh Chargers)

Dominant in the ruck all day, her tap work was vital to Oakleigh’s midfield dominance and constant pressure towards forward 50. Her follow up work was also noticeable when Northern got possession from the taps, as she applied plenty of pressure on their midfielders.

OTHERS:

Amanda Ling fared well as an inside midfielder for the Chargers with her burst of speed being a big strength. Erin Woodford was lively up forward, getting a few smothers and tackles with her persistent pressure. Taylah Morton did well when she had the ball and was another in a long list of strong contributors for the Chargers. Brooke Plummer worked hard along the wing and in the guts for Northern, and Tallia Pulcino’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed, with her defensive work helping Northern throughout.

2021 AFL Women’s Academy squad announced

TWENTY aspiring AFL Women’s future draftees have been named in the 2021 AFL Women’s Academy, which was announced yesterday. The Academy primarily features players who were in the Academy as middle-age talents, though a number of inclusions have been made.

Off the back of a superb season with grand finalists South Adelaide, talented forward Gypsy Schirmer was included on the list, named as one of the top South Australian talents for the 2021 AFL Women’s Draft alongside Zoe Prowse in our 2021 AFLW Under 18s Ones to Watch last month. Also making the list was Launceston midfielder Perri King who made the Academy after stepping up for the Blues in the Tasmanian State League (TSL) Women’s competition, having made history as Tasmania Devils’ first goalkicker in the NAB League earlier this year, while Devils’ teammate Amy Prokopiec was a member of the Academy last year.

Also included in the new list was Claremont forward Amy Franklin who has unbelievable athletic traits and is as good at ground level as she is in the air. Named as the third top West Australian for next year, Franklin joined West Australian hopefuls, Courtney Rowley and Charlotte Thomas in the Academy. Up north, Ashanti Bush had an impressive Northern Territory All-Stars match to earn a spot in the Academy with the talented forward being the sole representative for her state next year. The Northern Territory have a number of talented prospects coming through in future years, however.

The final inclusion to the squad was NSW/ACT forward Jessica Doyle out of Manly-Warringah who joins Murray Bushrangers’ Ally Morphett as the other state representative in the 20-player squad. Once again when it comes to representation, Maroochydore leads the way with three representatives – Maggie Harmer, Mikayla Pauga and Bella Smith – while Bond University’s Teagan Levi is a clear standout prospect for the Sunshine State, looking to join sister Maddison at the elite level.

The Victorian portion of the Academy has been left untouched from 2020 given the playing cohort has not been able to show its wares this year. Calder Cannons’ Georgie Prespakis – one of the clear front runners for the top Victorian selections – is an unbelievable talent and will be highly sought after to join sister Maddy in the AFL Women’s. Cannons’ teammate Tahlia Gillard has the ability to play up either end as a talented tall, whilst the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels duo of running defender/wing Nyakoat Dojiok and mid/forward Ella Friend return to the Academy.

Keep an eye out for Bendigo Pioneers’ Tara Slender who looms as one of the most impressive key position options in this year’s draft, with the rebounding tall capable of playing both offensive and defensive roles. Rounding out the Academy are Charlie Rowbottom – sister of Sydney Swans’ James – out of the Oakleigh Chargers, as well as slick ball user and outside midfielder, Maykaylah Appleby from the AFL Women’s football factory at Northern Knights.

The AFL Women’s Academy take part annual high-performance camps, of which will include an induction program in January, training with AFL Women’s clubs over the summer, and partaking in a high-performance camp and match in July. It also enables the athletes to have access to a wide variety of high-performance coaches and medical staff who work at the elite level.

2021 NAB AFLW Academy

Jessica Doyle (Manly-Warringah/Swans NSW/ACT)
Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers/Giants NSW/ACT)
Ashanti Bush (Darwin NT)
Maggie Harmer (Maroochydore/Lions Qld)
Teagan Levi (Bond Uni/Suns Qld)
Mikayla Pauga (Maroochydore/Lions Qld)
Bella Smith (Maroochydore/Lions Qld)
Zoe Prowse (Sturt SA)
Gypsy Schirmer (South Adelaide SA)
Perri King (Launceston Tas)
Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels Vic Country)
Ella Friend (GWV Rebels Vic Country)
Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers Vic Country)
Maykaylah Appleby (Northern Knights Vic Metro)
Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons Vic Metro)
Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons Vic Metro)
Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers Vic Metro)
Amy Franklin (Claremont WA)
Courtney Rowley (Peel Thunder WA)
Charlotte Thomas (Subiaco WA)

2020 NAB League Girls team update: Northern Knights

WHILE the NAB League Girls competition is on break, we take a quick recap of each team, how the first three rounds have panned out for them and who has already stood up in the short time. In this edition we look at the Northern Knights, who have made an unblemished start to their premiership defence with wins over Calder, Geelong, and Dandenong on home turf.

2020 RESULTS:

R1: defeated Calder Cannons by 6 points
R2: defeated Geelong Falcons by 25 points
R3: defeated Dandenong Stingrays by 23 points

The 3-0 record may look ominous along with the average winning margin of 18 points, but the Knights were made to earn each of their first three victories. First up was a grand final rematch against the Calder, who looked the most direct threat to Northern’s flag defence. After holding the Cannons at bay, long-time closest rival Geelong was up next, but the Falcons hardly got close with just one goal on the board. Arguably the biggest test of Northern’s character came against another finals threat, Dandenong, where the Knights fought back from two goals down to win with a five-goal second half.

FIVE STRONG STARTERS:

Jess Fitzgerald (18.7 disposals, 1.3 marks, 3.7 tackles, 2 rebound 50s, 2.7 inside 50s, 2 goals)

Coach Marcus Abney-Hastings described Fitzgerald as his side’s most important player after last year’s grand final, and she is proving as much in her top-age season as one of the competition’s most well-rounded prospects. The Knights co-captain has stood up at critical times across all three testing games thus far, showcasing the ability to generate run while also digging in hard at the contest. Fitzgerald’s standout game came against Dandenong, where she collected 28 disposals and booted two goals.

Ellie McKenzie (19 disposals, 5 marks, 2.3 tackles, 4.7 inside 50s, 1 goal)

Arguably the front-runner to be taken first off the board come draft time at this early stage, McKenzie has lived up to the hype generated by her under-age seasons. Leading the Knights for disposals and inside 50s as it stands, the dynamic left footer showcased her ability to tear games apart when she combined with co-captain Fitzgerald to drag Northern over the line against Dandenong. As a more permanent midfield fixture, her goals from further afield have become all the more valuable. She currently leads the Draft Central Medal standings alongside Tyanna Smith.

Alyssa Bannan (14.3 disposals, 5.7 marks, 3.3 tackles, 2.3 inside 50s, 9 goals)

Another out-and-out gun along the spine of this Northern side is Bannan, who has thrived as the primary key forward in her top-age season. Leading the competition for goals (nine) and marks (17), Bannan is equally damaging at ground level with her searing pace as she is in the air with her height. A five-goal effort against Calder in Round 1 got the ball rolling, with the 177cm prospect bagging consecutive hauls of two over the next fortnight. Could well be the new key forward prototype.

Maeve Chaplin (11.7 disposals, 1 mark, 2.3 tackles, 1.3 rebound 50s, 1.3 inside 50s)

After impressing as an effective two-way defender in her middle-age year, Chaplin has transitioned into a midfield ace this season credit to her ability to find the ball and use it cleanly. Discounting her three disposals against Dandenong, Chaplin had consecutive 16-touch efforts to open the campaign, showing virtually identical numbers in a typical mark to her consistency. With game winners around her in midfield, Chaplin has proven to be the reliable rock who can perform an important role each week.

Ashleigh Snow (15.7 disposals, 2.3 marks, 3 tackles, 1 rebound 50, 3.3 inside 50s)

Another who has featured prominently in the Northern lineup over the past couple of seasons is Snow, who has stepped up her ball winning numbers in 2020. Averaging over 15 disposals per game, the nuggety utility continues to go hard at the ball an inspire her side in transition, pushing further afield to penetrate the forward 50 arc after being used in more defensive roles previously. Despite her 158cm standing, Snow is not one to be overlooked and holds her own in the contest.

Others who have stood out: Georgia Kitchell, Tarrah Delgado, Abigail Bennett, Maykaylah Appleby

There are a number of players who can stake their claim here, starting with dominant ruck Kitchell, who has handily won the hitout battle in each of Northern’s three games. Able to follow up at ground level, the middle-ager’s tackle average of five is impressive given her 180cm frame. Another middle-age tall, Delgado has also impressed with her calm work down back, while hard-edged outside movers Bennett and Appleby continue to provide that bit of spark. Bennett, an experienced top-ager, also leads the competition for tackles with 24 over her three games.

Knights keep undefeated streak intact

NORTHERN Knights have stretched their winning streak to three in 2020 after overcoming a plucky Dandenong Stingrays outfit, running out 23-point victors, 8.8 (56) to 5.3 (33). In a testament to their development and high defensive intensity the Stingrays managed to keep the Knights goalless in the opening term, a feat that not many would have expected given the array of talent across the field. But with the game on the line and Knights ruck Georgia Kitchell being stretchered off the field with a suspected concussion in the third the Knights kicked it up a gear, finding a spark inside 50 and kicking six unanswered goals to be runaway winners.

Dandenong kicked the first goal of the match with Tyanna Smith releasing Amie Carroll out the back of a pack just outside the goal square nailing a regulation goal. Minutes later Emily Shepherd kicked the Stingrays second goal in quick succession after being rewarded a holding the ball free kick to give them the early ascendancy. The Knights had two chances late in the quarter to reduce the margin, although were unable to convert with both Maykaylah Appleby and Jade Ventura‘s shots going astray leaving the side goalless in the first term something they would not be used to. Northern’s Ellie McKenzie dominated through the midfield with her brutal attack at the footy although her kicking efficiency was lower then normal credit to the heightened pressure of Dandenong.

The game started to break open in the second term with players lifting their intensity and asserting themselves on the contest. Smith was electric, with her agility on show in the second term. While McKenzie continued to shine in the midfield, assuming her role as a clearance bull. Jess Fitzgerald also started to have a presence for the Knights with her pin-point kicking on full display finding teammates in space. Both teams kicked two goals apiece in the second quarter, with Carroll’s second for the Stingrays the pick of the bunch. Ruck, Phoebe Canning managed to get the ball to Carroll with some great follow up efforts, followed by a solid set shot from the boundary, 40 metres out.

The third quarter started with Dandenong’s Abbey Jordan kicking truly from the goal line after a 50-metre penalty extending their lead to a game high 13 points. Moments later, Knights’ Kitchell was taken high and had to be taken off the ground on a stretcher, halting the game for over ten minutes. This lit a spark in the Knights who would proceed to kick six goals. Appleby effectively took Kitchell’s high free kick, as she kicked the ball passed a pack of players into the arms of proven goal kicker Alyssa Bannan who hammered home the goal. The Knights controlled the momentum for the rest of the quarter with Fitzgerald kicking two goals including a great snap from the pocket and Trinity Mills additionally getting on the scoreboard. A highlight for the Stingrays in the third quarter was midfielder Amber Clarke completing a Marlion Pickett-esque turn in an attempt to evade opponents with just over a minute left.

Appleby brilliantly set up McKenzie for the only goal of the last quarter and the Knights sixth in a row to all but put a nail in the Stingrays’ coffin. Northern peppered the ball inside 50 throughout the final term applying a mountain load of pressure to try and trap the ball in their attacking half. Bannan was busy throughout the term contesting the ball in the air and bombing it deep to create scoring opportunities. Canning dominated the ruck with her opponent off the ground, while Smith continued her hot form although they could not replicate their proficiency on the scoreboard.

Smith was arguably the best player for Dandenong with 21 disposals, while ruck Canning was also serviceable through the middle of the ground. Tall forward, Carroll was able to convert her chances, although she was not able to get the ball enough. While Clarke provided a spark up forward for the Stingrays with her speed worrying Knights defenders. Jordan and Mackenzie Eardley also stood up for the Stingrays across half back. Tarrah Delgado and Megan Barnes (16 disposals) were at their intercepting best in defence while Barnes, was not afraid to take the game on at half back. McKenzie (one goal, 28 disposals) and Jess Fitzgerald (two goals, 28 disposals) were superb for the Knights through the midfield combining seamlessly to dice up the opposition. Abigail Bennett was very quick through half forward, while  Bannan (two goals, 18 disposals) and Mills provided good targets up forward for the Knights.

Next week the Northern Knights will face the Eastern Ranges at RMIT University, Saturday at 11am, while Dandenong will travel to Mars Stadium to face the GWV Rebels next Saturday at 10:45am.

NORTHERN KNIGHTS 0.2 | 2.5 | 7.6 | 8.8 (56)
DANDENONG STINGRAYS 2.0 | 4.0 | 5.2 | 5.3 (33)

GOALS:

Northern: A. Bannan 2, J. Fitzgerald 2, M. Appleby, T. Mills, E. McKenzie, T. Pulcino.
Dandenong: A. Carroll 2, A. Jordan, J. Matin, E. Shepherd.

ADC BEST:

Northern: E, McKenzie, J. Fitzgerald, A. Bannan, M. Ramsay, M. Barnes, A. Snow
Dandenong: T. Smith, A. Clarke, J. Matin, J. Radford, Z. Hill, C. Ryan

DC Medal:

5 – Ellie McKenzie (NK)
4 – Tyanna Smith (DS)
3 – Jess Fitzgerald (NK)
2 – Alyssa Bannan (NK)
1 – Amber Clarke (DS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vic Country run out narrow winners after impressive final term

VIC Country’s Under-16 side has triumphed in the final game of the AFL Women’s Under 16 Championships, running over the top of a fast-starting Metro side with a final quarter burst. Murray Bushrangers’ Keeley Skepper starred, roaming around the ground and having an influence across four quarters, while Matilda Hardy and Emelia Yassir were equally impressive through the midfield for the Metro side.

Metro dominated the opening term but it was Geelong Falcons’ Analea McKee who hit the scoreboard first with great body position one-on-one to run onto a loose ball over the back and put her side on the board. It did not take long for Metro to apply the possession dominance to the scoreboard, with Sandringham Dragons’ Ebony Angelopoulos putting the Metro team back in front, followed by majors to Calder Cannons’ Tahlia Gillard and Northern Knights’ Maykaylah Appleby.

Trailing by 14 points at the first break, it was Country’s turn to control possession but not impact the scoreboard, until McKee slotted her second at a crucial time to pump up her side. Luckily for Country, Metro could only manage the one behind, as the likes of Geelong Falcons’ Elizabeth Dowling and Bendigo Pioneers’ Tara Slender were rebounding everything out of the back half, while Gippsland Power’s Macie Gilmour was strong around the ground, taking a huge mark late in the term, coming off worse for wear before returning after the long break.

When Sandringham Dragons’ Charli Murphy converted her set shot after a strong mark inside 50 early in the third, and Metro was looking dangerous, the signs were ominous for Country. Little did the crowd expect, Country was about to take complete control with the four last goals of the game. Murray Bushrangers’ small forward, Cassidy Mailer converted, as did Gippsland Power tall, Tyla Angwin to draw level by the final break.

With the game evenly poised, Country was the team that took the game on and Gilmour and Tahlia Meier both converted goals to put the result beyond doubt, holding Metro scoreless in the final term to run out 6.8 (44) to 4.6 (30) winners. Grace Matser‘s work in the ruck was impressive with the Gippsland Power tall having an influence around the ground, while Calder Cannons duo, Kasey Lennox and Peppa Poultney were also impressive across the four quarters.

The victory was well deserved for a Country side that controlled play after quarter time, booting five of the last six goals of the match to enjoy a victory over the short series of matches. While Metro could not take home the chocolates, they celebrated a win previously against NSW/ACT Rams, while Country went down to South Australia. For the Under-16 players, they now head back to their local clubs as they keep an eye on their Under-18 teammates on the Gold Coast, aspiring to be in their shoes in 12 and 24 months time.

VIC COUNTRY 1.0 | 2.4 | 4.6 | 6.8 (44)
VIC METRO 3.2 | 3.3 | 4.6 | 4.6 (30)

GOALS:

Vic Country: A. McKee (Geelong) 2, C. Mailer (Murray), T. Angwin (Gippsland), M. Gilmour (Gippsland), T. Meier (GWV)
Vic Metro: E. Angelopoulos (Sandringham), T. Gillard (Calder), M. Appleby (Northern), C. Murphy (Sandringham)

BEST:

Vic Country: K. Skepper (Murray), A. McKee, M. Gilmour, T. Slender (Bendigo), E. Dowling (Geelong), G. Matser (Gippsland)
Vic Metro: M. Hardy (Eastern), E. Yassir (Calder), K. Lennox (Calder), S. Reid (Oakleigh), P. Poultney (Calder), J. Woods (Western)

Scouting notes: AFLW U16 Championships – Vic Country vs. Vic Metro

THE Under 16 Girls national carnival wrapped up over the weekend, and Vic Country managed to get one-up on their Metro counterparts in a hard-fought 14-point win. We were on hand to take note on players who caught the eye. All notes are opinion-based of the individual writer.

Vic Country

By: Taylah Melki

#3 Poppy Schaap (Geelong Falcons)

Good long booming kick to push the ball forward and was good in close to try and win the ball for Vic Country. She was not afraid to put her body on the line and get involved in the contest going in hard at every opportunity. Showcased great footy smarts with a clever tip out the contest to try and flick the ball out to a teammate. Schaap won a free kick but was unable to capitalise in front of goal just missing but ran hard all game to open up the forward line and laid some big tackles throughout the match.

#5 Gabbi Featherson (Geelong Falcons)

Featherson worked tirelessly in defence and used her strength and speed to break away from the pack and push the ball forward. She showed good courage to stand under the ball and take a good contested grab. She was composed with ball in hand, displayed a strong set of hands throughout the match and highlighted her ability to read of the flight of the ball to position well and take it cleanly. Her kicks out of the goal square showed good footy smarts to kick to a player on the lead and make sure they were perfectly weighted to her teammates advantage.

#14 Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers)

Slender worked her way into the game taking a good pack mark that showed her impressive elevation to get over the back of her opponent and propel the ball back forward for Vic Country. She had strong hands under pressure and showed great intent to continuously push the ball forward and provide scoring opportunities for her team. Slender did not back down from the contest applying good strong physical pressure laying tackle after tackle highlighting her intent to win the ball.

#18 Analea McKee (Geelong Falcons)

McKee led the way in Vic Country’s forward 50 kicking their first goal of the second quarter and presenting well up at the footy. She had clean hands and good leading patterns to create space in the forward 50 on multiple occasions. Good read of the play snatching the ball out of her opponents hand and kicking the ball long down the line. She was barely beaten in a one on one using her body well and strength to outmuscle her opponent and win the ball for Vic Country.

#19 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)

She was electric and at times seemed to have the ball on a string gaining plenty of touches and always near the footy. Friend contested hard and used her quick hands to dish the ball out of traffic and onto a teammate. She worked tirelessly to win the ball in close and offered up at the footy to take a good mark. Friend displayed her clever decision making, to move the ball into a better position in the forward 50 with a carefully weighted kick inboard and took a very strong mark in the final quarter to lift her side. She pushed up hard to trap the ball in Vic Country’s attacking 50 and showed good composure to stand under the ball and control the mark.

#20 Elizabeth Dowling (Geelong Falcons)

She was a lynchpin down in defence and stood up under the pressure throughout the match. She worked tirelessly in defence and used her quick hands to move the ball out of dangerous positions on multiple occasions throughout the game. Dowling displayed her general footy smarts and ability to make good decisions when under pressure not get flustered or blazing away. She tried to repel the attacking forays of Vic Metro dropping back into gaps and taking a few big marks to stop their forward momentum.

#22 Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)

Had a bit of a slow start but worked her way into the game in the second quarter with her clean hands and clever body positioning to out position her opponent. At times she was unable to capitalise doing all the ground work but missing the finishing touches with a couple of dropped marks but her intent and skill were certainly there. Dojiok showed her talent below her knees with a good pick up off the deck. She had a good passage of play showcasing her speed to break away from the pack in the defensive 50 and drill the ball forward. Almost claimed goal of the game in the final quarter surging forward but was unable to capitalise with the ball sliding through the point post.

#24 Keeley Skepper (Murray Bushrangers)

Skepper played a huge role down in defence for Vic Country winning plenty of the ball proving to be a dominant force down back. She repelled plenty of ball that came her way sending it back down the line and bodied up well on her opponent to make sure they did not get an easy shot at goal. She held her own in one on one contests and showcased her good vision to kick to a teammate in space while also highlighting her intent to apply attacking pressure to move the ball out of defence.

Vic Metro:

By: Michael Alvaro

#3 Ebony Angelopoulos (Sandringham Dragons)

Started brightly with her work inside 50, and booted Metro’s first goal of the game after out-bodying her opponent to mark and converting into the open goal. Looked lively and kept busy in the forward half, keeping relevant without the ball as she caught an opponent holding the ball on her offensive arc. Faded out of the game somewhat as Country got on top, but has some good spark.

#4 Emilia Yassir (Calder Cannons)

Looked very Madison Prespakis-like in her Metro #4, and plays a bit like her as a nuggety Cannons midfielder who does just about everything through the engine room. While her contested ball winning ability is obvious and damaging, Yassir really made an impact with her pressure around the ball – laying some crunching tackles and crashing her opponents in aerial contests. Just kept on hunting the ball at stoppages and proved hard to tackle, pumping her legs to break away from congestion and get a kick off. Also looked strong overhead for her size and isn’t afraid to compete in the air, which can be put down to her aggression and clean hands. Contributed a couple of neat touches with an accurate kick to find Charli Murphy inside 50, as almost got on the board by ultimately sprayed her shots on goal. One of Metro’s clear best.

#6 Emma Stuber (Sandringham Dragons)

Another who made a good start, Stuber looked a handy intercept and rebound half-back flanker. The Dragons product got to a wealth of ground-ball contests coming off the defensive 50 arc after centre bounces, mopping up and disposing of the ball quickly. She played a key role in keeping Country relatively quiet in the first half, but was not as prevalent after the main break.

#9 Matilda Hardy (Eastern Ranges)

Was named Metro’s best and rightly so, as she built into the game nicely and seemed to be everywhere at times. Made a bit of a slow start in the first half, but really came to life off the wing after the main break with some key touches moving forward. Worked really well on the outside to receive handballs from the likes of Yassir, and gained some good meterage on the back of it. Showed her class in traffic early in the last quarter with a stop and prop as opponents ran past, while also competing well twice in one-on-one marking contests. Look for her to be a very handy link between the arcs in the future.

#11 Maykaylah Appleby (Northern Knights)

The premiership Knight assumed her typical role on the opposite wing to Hardy, working hard forward to make an impact. Is most prominent on the run, most often finishing with long kicks down the line, but also looks dangerous inside 50 – as she showed with a spin at pace and checkside shot on goal in the final term. While that shot fell short, Appleby had already hit the scoreboard in the first quarter from a free kick. She loves a celebration, and always seems to be a vocal member of the team on-field.

#17 Kasey Lennox (Calder Cannons)

Lennox was solid as a rock in defence and while Country eventually broke through after half time, the Calder gun more than played her part in the resistance. Reads the play well and moved off her direct opponent to intercept multiple times, forming a wall for Metro. Always looked for distance with her kick-outs but lacked an option at times, and had a couple of unfortunate turnovers as Country poured the pressure on. Still looked astute deep inside the 50 and was hardly beaten, doing the defensive things well. Is obviously good in the air but also competed at ground level, running straight through the ball to mop up cleanly.

#22 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)

The sister of Sydney draftee, James, Rowbottom is a handy player in her own right. Made a particular impact in the air down back, winning one-on-one duels and proving strong on the last line to kill the ball. Was also quick to rebound once she had won possession, working actively to clear her lines. Was a little patchy as the game wore on, but made her presence known as she popped up in the final term with a solid pack mark in defensive 50.