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Top Performers: 2021 NAB League Girls – Round 3

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

Calder Cannons vs. Oakleigh Chargers

By: Michael Alvaro

AFLW ACADEMY:

#8 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

#41 Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)

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

#18 Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons)

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

STANDOUTS:

#3 Emelia Yassir (Calder Cannons)

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

#4 Kasey Lennox (Calder Cannons)

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

#8 Zali Friswell (Calder Cannons)

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

#9 Brooke Vickers (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

#10 Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

#12 Jemma Rigoni (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

#14 Eliza James (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

#15 Ameile Smith (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

#29 Amanda Ling (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

OTHERS:

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

Bendigo Pioneers vs. Geelong Falcons

By: Peter Williams

STANDOUTS:

#41 Tegan Williams (Bendigo Pioneers)

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

#27 Jayda Richardson (Bendigo Pioneers)

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

#5 Elizabeth Snell (Bendigo Pioneers)

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

#1 Lila Keck (Bendigo Pioneers)

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

#11 Lily Den Houting (Bendigo Pioneers)

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

#37 Madeline Marks (Bendigo Pioneers)

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

#39 Renee Tierney (Geelong Falcons)

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

#37 Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons)

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

#4 Poppy Schaap (Geelong Falcons)

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

#11 Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)

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

#15 Gabbi Featherston (Geelong Falcons)

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

OTHERS:

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

Eastern Ranges vs. Gippsland Power

By: Michael Alvaro

STANDOUTS:

#14 Alyssia Pisano (Eastern Ranges)

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

#11 Olivia Meagher (Eastern Ranges)

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

#18 Bridget Deed (Eastern Ranges)

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

#44 Georgia Campbell (Eastern Ranges)

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

#35 Matilda Van Berkel (Gippsland Power)

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

OTHERS:

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

Dandenong Stingrays vs. Western Jets

By: Declan Reeve

STANDOUTS:

#10 Abbey Jordan (Dandenong Stingrays)

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

#11 Emily Shepherd (Dandenong Stingrays)

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

#6 Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays)

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

#27 Charley Ryan (Dandenong Stingrays)

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

#44 Jaide Anthony (Dandenong Stingrays)

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

#1 Charlotte Baskaran (Western Jets)

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

#38 Montana Ham (Western Jets)

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

#24 Laura Elliott (Western Jets)

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

#42 Jemima Woods (Western Jets)

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

OTHERS:

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

GWV Rebels vs. Murray Bushrangers

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#20 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)

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

#30 Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)

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

#33 Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers)

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

STANDOUTS:

#5 Paige Scott (GWV Rebels)

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

#1 Lilli Condon (GWV Rebels)

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

#15 Chloe Leonard (GWV Rebels)

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

#17 Keeley Skepper (Murray Bushrangers)

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

#2 Aurora Smith (Murray Bushrangers)

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

#32 Mindy Quade (Murray Bushrangers)

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

OTHERS:

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

Sandringham Dragons vs. Northern Knights

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#11 Maykaylah Appleby

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

STANDOUTS:

#2 Keely Coyne (Sandringham Dragons)

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

#15 Sofia Hurley (Sandringham Dragons)

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

#37 Ebony Angelopoulos (Sandringham Dragons)

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

#30 Pia Staltari (Sandringham Dragons)

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

#9 Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)

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

#20 Georgia Kitchell (Northern Knights)

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

#22 Ella Smallacombe (Northern Knights)

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

#4 Brooke Plummer (Northern Knights)

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

#36 Ava Jordan (Northern Knights)

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

#10 Megan Girolami (Northern Knights)

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

OTHERS:

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

2021 Draft Central NAB League Girls TOTW: Round 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calder Cannons vs. Oakleigh Chargers

By: Michael Alvaro

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

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

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

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

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

GOALS:

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

DC BEST:

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

DC MEDAL VOTES:

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

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

 

Bendigo Pioneers vs. Geelong Falcons

By: Peter Williams

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

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

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

GOALS:

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

DC BEST:

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

DC MEDAL VOTES:

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

Eastern Ranges vs. Gippsland Power

By: Peter Williams

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

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

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

GOALS:

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

DC BEST:

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

DC MEDAL VOTES:

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

Dandenong Stingrays vs. Western Jets

By: Declan Reeve

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

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

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

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

GOALS:

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

DC BEST:

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

DC MEDAL VOTES:

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

GWV Rebels vs. Murray Bushrangers

By: Peter Williams

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

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

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

GOALS:

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

DC BEST:

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

DC MEDAL VOTES:

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

Sandringham Dragons vs. Northern Knights

By: Declan Reeve

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

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

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

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

GOALS:

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

DC BEST:

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

DC MEDAL VOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belief growing at the Pioneers

BELIEF is a powerful motivator in any walk of life, and the Bendigo Pioneers’ NAB League Girls program is one that has building on and off the field over the last few seasons. In 2019, the Pioneers Girls’ program showed how they had grown from the previous year, winning four games – three more than the previous year – and being more competitive throughout each game. Pioneers’ Talent Manager Stephen Sharp said the girls’ confidence had increased throughout their time in the program.

“Yeah, look they no doubt did (grow in confidence), and they had an extra year in the system,” he said. “When we first came in we deliberately didn’t have any bias particularly around age in preference of playing the older girls. “If the younger girls were better and we thought they had the potential to grow, we’d pick them. “In the first year or two we were a bit that way and then as they’ve got a few games under their belt – the 17s or the 18s last year might have been in the system for a couple of years, where it wasn’t about just trying to win games, it was about trying to develop kids and develop the list so we could be more competitive.”

Sharp said the club’s development as a whole had been “absolutely good” and they would continue with the same method under a different coach this season. Cherie O’Neill has taken over from Shawn McCormick who has coached the past three seasons. O’Neill has been involved with the boys’ program for the past couple of seasons so has the understanding of the organisation and its intricate workings.

The Pioneers will be a young group in 2020, with Sharp noting that the club picks the best possible players who trial over the off-season, rather than opt for a top-age heavy list.

I think we’ll go for a list of about 35-40 and I’m guessing there’ll be about 10 or a dozen top-age girls and there could be as many as 17/18 17-year olds,” he said. “We might have four 15-year-old girls that’ll play that’ll be approved on application, that’ll play in our futures games. “But they’re better than some of the 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds. “So that’s why we’re playing them, and to give them a little taste.”

He said as with the boys’ program that selection would come down to weighing up both natural talent and athleticism, rather than age.

“There’s no point taking top-age girls again through who aren’t at the level,” Sharp said. “So the changes we’ve made, particularly with athletic profiling is that the girls that can run and have that athleticism and vertical leap that can still play – they’ve still got to be able to play – they’re going to get to more contests, they’re going to keep us in the game.”

The Pioneers have one player in the AFL Women’s National Academy – tall defender Tara Slender – who Sharp said is a perfect example of someone who has developed throughout the Pioneers’ program from V/Line Cup through to her first season of NAB League last year as a 15-year-old.

“She’s a great example,” Sharp said. “She went to the Academy up in Darwin recently and she’s quite well-equipped with other sports as well. “She’s an impressive kid, a really good kid who’s really committed and dedicated and she trains hard. “(In terms of) athletic profiling she’s what you need to be able to play today’s game at NAB League girls and AFLW, she’s the prototype – she’s your model there of what girls need to aspire to and she’s great at training so we’re looking forward to watching her play. ” She’s really committed to it, loves it, and if you put the work in you get the result.”

A late bloomer in terms of her age, Slender does not turn 17 until November, but she has proven to stand up at each level required. In her eight games last season, Slender averaged 11.4 disposals, two marks and three rebounds playing off half-back. With two full years left in the system, she is someone who will have plenty of development left in her.

But Slender is not the only player Sharp said spectators should watch out for with a number of top-age talents showing their skills last season as both footballers and leaders.

“We had a couple of girls last year in Brooke Hards and Elizabeth Snell who both played at the nationals in Queensland in July,” he said. “They’re both training really well, Elizabeth’s down here (Bendigo) and Brooke’s still up in Mildura so she’ll just travel down. “It was remarkable what she did last year, she left at 4:00 on Saturday morning to come to our trial games in Bendigo to watch the girls play – she didn’t play. So that’s the commitment there, it’s a return trip in the day equivalent to a drive from Melbourne to Sydney. “She’s (Hards) clearly our role model/leader.”

Asked if the trio would cover each third of the ground in similar positions to last year with Slender in defence, Hards in midfield and Snell up forward, Sharp said it was likely.

“I think so, I think we’ll spread them fairly evenly,” he said. “It is a development program and Tara will play in different roles but she’ll probably predominantly be at half-back where she’s pretty comfortable and reads the play and can intercept and use her left foot effectively. “You don’t want them all on-ball, there’ll be a spread, because otherwise you break down in those lines and then kids don’t develop. “And part of their development is to play them in different roles as well so they can experience those roles.”

The only confirmed overager at this stage – with list finalisation still ongoing – is Hannah Stewart, a talent from New South Wales who has also shown a remarkable dedication to the sport she loves.

Hannah Stewart, who played in the National Championships in Queensland at that same time with the Eastern Allies – she’s a girl from Hay, in fact she was down at training last night from three and a half hours away,” Sharp said. “She would normally train in Swan Hill, which is only a four hour return trip. “She’s our only 19-year-old at this stage we think, I don’t know whether we’ll apply for another one or not, but she’s an elite kick and a good player.”

Sharp said across the list there were a number of potential surprise packets in 2020, including Maeve Tupper – who at 155cm showed she has no problem finding the ball with 15.9 disposals per game last year. Developing talent Madeline Marks and potential Melbourne father-daughter selection in Tegan Williams (David, 67 games) are also exciting prospects heading into the season.

“We’ve got some girls who have tested really well and we use that as a bit of a measure, it’s always an assistance. There’s a young girl who is really good athletically and she’s learning the game so we’re probably going to include her to take her to the next level, a young girl locally who’s showed some good things and has a really good attitude, because attitude counts for a lot. “We think the girls are in a pretty good position.”

Bendigo has one of the toughest challenges in the NAB League competitions with its network far and wide across hundreds of kilometres. Like some of the other country teams, the Pioneers have multiple bases to try and limit the travel and workload on the players, and Sharp said he is often amazed at what the players do to play at this level.

We’ve got four big bases in Mildura, Swan Hill, Echuca and Bendigo,” he said. That way we can actually provide an opportunity for the girls, give them a good reason to come to training. “So if they’re only within an hour of Mildura, an hour to Swan Hill or similarly probably half an hour or 40 minutes to Echuca, it just gives them an opportunity to actually be able to come in.”

One example was a new player in list contention with plenty of talent, but due to family work commitments struggled to get to training. Sharp said the club was always willing to accomodate in situations where possible.

“We’ve got a girl in Ouyen who may well be one of our better players, or she’d be in our best half a dozen, she’s only bottom-age, but hasn’t trained once but she came to the trial game and discussions were around ‘We can’t list her’. “But we need to understand the circumstances, she’s a girls from a multicultural background, I met with her dad who speaks broken English and said to him the other day, we want her to continue but she needs to train. “He works every day, he works late and he starts early and he’s a hard worker so he can’t get her from Ouyen to Mildura so we’re working on a plan to get her to train one night a week, because then I can justify selecting her, because I can’t not select her, “She’s that talented and she works hard. “There’s all these obstacles, it’s just the way it is.”

Off the field, Bendigo has already had a number of changes with the new coach working alongside Pioneers boys’ coach and director of coaching, Damian Truslove who was also appointed over the off-season. O’Neill is also on a part-time role rather than previously being casual or volunteer – emphasising the growth of the youth program. The Pioneers have also said they will look to appoint a female wellbeing coordinator to further grow the program.

On the field, Sharp said the team was looking to have a good balance of attack and defence heading into 2020, as well as some key fundamentals.

I think it’s just making sure the girls have a good understanding of their offensive and defensive structures,” he said. “While we don’t heavily emphasise or haven’t done a lot of work on that, it’s the key part to what we do at training in regard to contested ball and where we get to receive it or where you get to defend it. So it’s a fairly simple format that Damian’s drawn up … and he works with Cherie who’s our new female coach so that we mirror it and all have a similar style. “So we haven’t done a lot of work on that, we’ve done a lot of work on fundamentals, just being able to mark, kick, handball, taking the ball cleanly below you knees so they’re the things we’ve mostly been working on.”

Bendigo Pioneers kick off their campaign on Saturday, February 29 at Queen Elisabeth Oval against Western Jets, before a trip to Highgate Recreation Reserve the following Saturday to face Sandringham Dragons.