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Top Performers: NAB League Girls – Round 8

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

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

EASTERN RANGES vs. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

Nil.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#18 Bridget Deed (Eastern Ranges)

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

#16 Isabelle Khoury (Eastern Ranges)

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

#14 Alyssia Pisano (Eastern Ranges)

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

#40 Georgia Wilson (Eastern Ranges)

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

#21 Ruby O’Dwyer (Eastern Ranges)

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

#4 Keeley Sherar (Eastern Ranges)

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

#5 Jorja Livingstone (Eastern Ranges)

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

#15 Sofia Hurley (Sandringham Dragons)

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

#37 Ebony Angelopoulos (Sandringham Dragons)

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

#22 Emma Stuber (Sandringham Dragons)

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

 OTHERS: 

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

Calder Cannons vs. Western Jets

By: Michael Alvaro

AFLW ACADEMY MEMBERS:

#18 Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons)

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

#41 Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)

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

TOP PERFORMERS:

#1 Charlotte Baskaran (Western Jets)

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

#8 Zali Friswell (Calder Cannons)

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

#38 Montana Ham (Western Jets)

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

#39 Abbey McDonald (Calder Cannons)

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

#42 Jemima Woods (Western Jets)

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

OTHERS:

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

TASMANIA DEVILS vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS

By Hamish Spence

AFLW ACADEMY MEMBERS:

#11 Perri King (Tasmania Devils)

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

#11 Maykaylah Appleby (Northern Knights)

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

TOP PERFORMERS:

#3 Amy Bissett (Tasmania Devils)

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

#16 Ella Maurer (Tasmania Devils)

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

#15 Jemma Webster (Tasmania Devils)

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

#49 Charlotte Vandenberg (Tasmania Devils)

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

#28 Candice Belbin (Tasmania Devils)

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

#9 Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)

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

#36 Ava Jordan (Northern Knights)

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

#7 Teleah Smart (Northern Knights)

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

#15 Tarrah Delgado (Northern Knights)

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

#40 Tannah Hurst (Northern Knights)

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

OTHERS:

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

GEELONG FALCONS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#8 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

TOP PERFORMERS:

#10 Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

#29 Amanda Ling (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

#7  Charlotte Taylor (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

#16 Erin Woodford (Oakleigh Chargers)

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

#23 Elizabeth Dowling (Geelong Falcons)

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

#11 Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)

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

#37 Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons)

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

#15 Gabbi Featherston (Geelong Falcons)

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

#4 Poppy Schaap (Geelong Falcons)

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

#39 Renee Tierney (Geelong Falcons)

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

OTHERS:

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

DANDENONG STINGRAYS vs. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#33 Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers)

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

TOP PERFORMERS:

#38 Felicity Crank (Dandenong Stingrays)

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

#31 Jemma Radford (Dandenong Stingrays)

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

#27 Charley Ryan (Dandenong Stingrays)

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

#63 Georgia Malkoun (Dandenong Stingrays)

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

#11 Emily Shepherd (Dandenong Stingrays)

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

#26 Charlotte Blair (Dandenong Stingrays)

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

#17 Keeley Skepper (Murray Bushrangers)

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

#16 Mikayla Jones (Murray Bushrangers)

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

OTHERS:

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

GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS vs. NORTHERN TERRITORY THUNDER

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#30 Ashanti Bush (Northern Territory)

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

TOP PERFORMERS:

#29 Freda Puruntatameri (Northern Territory)

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

#25 Bella Clarke (Northern Territory)

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

#11 Grace Mulvahil (Northern Territory)

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

#1 Lilli Condon (GWV)

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

#27 Molly Walton (GWV)

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

OTHERS:

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

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. GIPPSLAND POWER

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

Nil.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#27 Jayda Richardson (Bendigo Pioneers)

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

#15 Drew Ryan (Bendgio Pioneers)

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

#30 Octavia Di Donato (Bendigo Pioneers)

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

#35 Matilda Van Berkel (Gippsland Power)

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

#2 Alexei Guy-Toogood (Gippsland Power)

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

#5 Yasmin Duursma (Gippsland Power)

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

OTHERS:

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

2021 NAB League Girls: Round 8 wrap – Power break drought as Thunder win at MARS

GIPPSLAND Power have finally broken through for their first win of the NAB League Girls season, meaning every side will finish 2021 with a victory. In other results, most of the finals-bound teams grabbed wins, as Geelong Falcons upset Oakleigh Chargers, and Northern Territory Thunder got a win over the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels.

EASTERN RANGES 0.0 | 3.3 | 6.5 | 9.5 (59)
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 1.2 | 1.2 | 1.3 | 1.4 (10)

By: Declan Reeve

Eastern Ranges have continued their good form with a 49-point win against Sandringham Dragons at Kilsyth Recreation Reserve. The Dragons started the game well, holding the Ranges scoreless in the first quarter with some good defensive work and hardness in the middle, but from the second onwards the Ranges put their foot down and didn’t give Sandringham a sniff for the rest of the game, finishing 9.5 (59) to 1.4 (10) thanks to the efforts of multiple goal scorers Georgia Wilson (four) and Alyssia Pisano (three) in a rather clinical display for both.

Outside of Wilson and Pisano, the Ranges had some really good displays from Ruby O’Dwyer and Keeley Sherar in the midfield, with both particularly dangerous around stoppages, and reliable ball winner Bridget Deed winning plenty of it on the inside. Isabelle Khoury and Jorja Livingstone were the other main ball winners for the Ranges, with Khoury enjoying a move that saw her used more on the inside. 

Sandringham were admirable in the loss, with consistent ball winners Sofia Hurley and Emma Stuber again battling to get Sandringham clean possessions, winning it on the inside to get it out to the likes of Keely Coyne and Bridie Hipwell who both did a bit with it.

After the break of NAB League Girls action for the U19 National Championships, Eastern Ranges will finish their Home and Away season against the Northern Territory at Highgate Reserve on April 24, before heading into finals. Sandringham have the honour of playing on ANZAC Day against the Murray Bushrangers at Wangaratta Showgrounds.

GOALS:

Eastern: G. Wilson 4, A. Pisano 3, J. Vukic, J. Livingstone.
Sandringham: M. Mottram.

DC BEST:

Eastern: G. Wilson, I. Khoury, K. Sherar, A. Pisano, B. Deed, J. Livingstone
Sandringham: S. Hurley, E. Stuber, B. Hipwell, K. Coyne, E. Angelopoulos

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Georgia Wilson (Eastern Ranges)
4 – Isabelle Khoury (Eastern Ranges)
3 – Keeley Sherar (Eastern Ranges)
2 – Alyssia Pisano (Eastern Ranges)
1 – Sofia Hurley (Sandringham Dragons)

CALDER CANNONS 2.1 | 3.2 | 3.2 | 5.2 (32)
WESTERN JETS 0.2 | 0.6 | 1.8 | 2.9 (21)

By: Peter Williams

Calder Cannons secured their finals spot with a hard-earned 11-point win over the only challenger who could knock them from their spot in the Western Jets. The Jets had more than their fair share of forward half possession, and it reflected on the scoreboard with 11 scoring shots to seven. Unfortunately for the visitors, they could not convert those scores into goals, kicking six straight behinds in the first half until Caitlin Sargent finally slotted the Jets’ first. Whilst they kept the Cannons to just one goal in the middle two quarters, a costly 50-metre penalty allowed Alisa Magri to boot her second, and then Jessica Zakkour finished off the game with a goal to secure the 5.2 (32) to 2.9 (21) win.

Zali Friswell was really busy through midfield, as Tahlia Gillard offered herself up as an option in transition as well. Running hard on the wing, Mali McLeod found plenty of it, whilst Georgie Prespakis, Ruby Smith and Abbey McDonald were all really impressive. It was a team effort with Magri’s two goals and the mosquito fleet in the forward half creating the chances.

For Western, it was the usual suspects with Charlotte Baskaran and Montana Ham having the ball on a string. Jemima Woods showed some class in the midfield as well, while Paige Ryan and Stephanie Asciak also won plenty of the footy. Ciara Singleton and Krystal Russell were also influential around the ground.

Calder Cannons finished their NAB League Girls campaign up against Geelong Falcons, whilst the Jets lock horns with Bendigo Pioneers. The games were originally scheduled for Avalon Airport Oval, but that is yet to be confirmed.

GOALS:

Calder: A. Magri 2, Z. Friswell, G. Prespakis, J. Zakkour.
Western: C. Sargent, E. Tyson.

DC BEST:

Calder: Z. Friswell, T. Gillard, G. Prespakis, M. McLeod, A. McDonald
Western: C. Baskaran, J. Woods, M. Ham, K. Russell, C. Singleton

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Charlotte Baskaran (Western Jets)
4 – Zali Friswell (Calder Cannons)
3 – Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons)
2 – Jemima Woods (Western Jets)
1 – Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)

TASMANIA DEVILS 1.4 | 2.4 | 3.6 | 6.8 (44)
NORTHERN KNIGHTS 0.5 | 3.5 | 5.5 | 5.7 (37)

By Hamish Spence

A gutsy final quarter comeback from Tasmania Devils saw it prevail by seven points against the Northern Knights in Launceston. In a thrilling and tight contest, Tasmania overcame an 11-point deficit at three-quarter time to kick the last three goals of the game and keep Northern goalless in the last. The Knights cut the Devils up at times with their slick and fast ball-movement out of stoppages and going forward, including a burst at the start of the second quarter where they kicked three goals in five minutes. But Tasmania was always in the contest and put together a complete performance in the final term to come out on top.

Amy Bissett was the match-winner, with two of her three goals coming in the final quarter to get Tasmania the win. Perri King, Ella Maurer and Jemma Webster all had moments in the midfield, with Maurer standing out with the way she competed around stoppages when the Devils were behind. Charlotte Vandenberg won a game-high 26 hit outs and made a noticeable difference whenever she attended a ruck contest. Candice Belbin was one of the Devils’ primary movers out of the backline.

Maeve Chaplin, Ava Jordan, Teleah Smart and Maykaylah Appleby were all slick and dominant at times through the middle for Northern. Chaplin (26 disposals) and Jordan (25 disposals) were the two leading disposal getters on the ground, while Smart (two goals) and Appleby (one goal) made an impact on the scoreboard. Tannah Hurst continued her excellent season deep in defence, while Tarrah Delgado took advantage of some of the Devils’ shallow inside 50 entries with a game-high eight rebound 50s.

GOALS:

Tasmania: A. Bissett 3, T. Kikoak, G. Clark, S. Saward.
Northern: T. Smart 2, E. Smallacombe, M. Appleby, L. Jatczak.

DC BEST:

Tasmania: A. Bissett, E. Maurer, C. Belbin, C. Vandenberg, P. King, J. Webster
Northern: M. Chaplin, T. Smart, A. Jordan, M. Appleby, T. Hurst, T. Delgado

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Amy Bissett (Tasmania Devils)
4 – Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)
3 – Teleah Smart (Northern Knights)
2 – Ella Maurer (Tasmania Devils)
1 – Ava Jordan (Northern Knights)

GEELONG FALCONS 1.2 | 4.4 | 4.4 | 5.4 (34)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 2.0 | 2.2 | 3.4 | 3.5 (23)

By: Declan Reeve

Oakleigh Chargers have lost their first game eight rounds into the season, with a strong Geelong Falcons outfit – which had a couple of key inclusions from the week prior – winning the midfield battle and keeping the pressure on the Chargers backline all day. They did most of the damage in an impressive second quarter display kicking 3.2 to just the 0.2 behinds from Oakleigh. The Falcons defence held up well in the second half despite a determined Oakleigh outfit, summing up a team effort well.

The Falcons engine duo of Poppy Schaap and Tess Craven worked really well throughout the day, often combining as a one-two punch from stoppages and getting it in deep, where Renee Tierney was involved in everything to create goals for her side. Down the other end Elizabeth Dowling and Annie Lee were constant obstacles for Chargers when they went forward.

Charlie Rowbottom managed to win the most ball of any Oakleigh player even with her increased time up forward, while Amanda Ling, Brooke Vickers and Charlotte Taylor the other ball winners in the midfield, as Erin Woodford put in a great defensive performance, and Stella Reid was good in multiple positions.

Round 9 will see the Geelong Falcons hosting Calder Cannons at a yet to be determined venue, whereas the Oakleigh Chargers know they will be hosting the Gippsland Power at Warrawee Park on the afternoon of Saturday April 24.

GOALS:

Geelong: M. Van Dyke 2, R. Tierney, G. Featherston, Z. Garth.
Oakleigh: S. Reid, S. Morley, C. Taylor.

DC BEST:

Geelong: P. Schapp, R. Tierney, T. Craven, E. Dowling, A. Lee
Oakleigh: C. Taylor, C. Rowbottom, E. Woodford, A. Ling, S. Reid

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Poppy Schapp (Geelong Falcons)
4 – Renee Tierney (Geelong Falcons)
3 – Charlotte Taylor (Oakleigh Chargers)
2 – Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)
1 – Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers) 

DANDENONG STINGRAYS 2.1 | 4.3 | 5.5 | 8.5 (53)
MURRAY BUSHRANGERS 0.1 | 0.1 | 0.3 | 1.4 (10)

By: Michael Alvaro

Dandenong Stingrays kicked off Sunday’s double-header at Trevor Barker Oval with a comfortable 43-point win over Murray Bushrangers. The finals-bound Stingrays were met by a competitive Bushies outfit, but ultimately outclassed their fellow country competitors with four goals in either half in a strong showing of their depth. Murray went goalless through the first three terms, but eventually got on the board through Olivia Cicolini in the 8.5 (53) to 1.4 (10) loss.

Speaking of goals, Georgia Malkoun was the standout forward with three, while also showcasing some outstanding aerial marking. Charley Ryan and Felicity Crank were other Stingrays to keep busy and hit the scoreboard, while the exploits of stand-in captain Emily Shepherd helped to break the game open during term two.

Murray ruck Ally Morphett was her side’s best and dominated the hitouts, with Keeley Skepper playing an important role on each line at ground level. Cicolini finished as the sole Bushranger to kick a major, but the likes of Madison Gray, Kaylea Kobzan, and Mikayla Jones all contributed strongly, along with tall defender Mindy Quade.

While Dandenong joins the remaining regions in enjoying a season intermission for the Under 19 National Championships, Murray will take on the Geelong Falcons on April 11 in a Round 2 make-up fixture. Meanwhile, Dandenong returns on April 24 for its Round 9 clash with the Northern Knights.

GOALS:

Dandenong: G. Malkoun 3, C. Ryan, H. Monk, E. Watts, F. Crank, C. Blair
Murray: O. Cicolini

DC BEST:

Dandenong: J. Radford, C. Ryan, G. Malkoun, E. Shepherd, F. Crank, C. Blair
Murray: A. Morphett, K. Skepper, M. Jones, M. Gray, K. Kobzan, O. Cicolini

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Jemma Radford (Dandenong Stingrays)
4 – Charley Ryan (Dandenong Stingrays)
3 – Georgia Malkoun (Dandenong Stingrays)
2 – Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers)
1 – Keeley Skepper (Murray Bushrangers)

GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS 0.1 | 1.2 | 1.2 | 1.3 (9)
NORTHERN TERRITORY THUNDER 0.0 | 0.2 | 2.4 | 4.7 (31)

By: Peter Williams

Northern Territory Thunder players have gained extra confidence ahead of the 2021 AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships, knocking off the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels by 22 points at MARS Stadium on Sunday. The Thunder started slowly, trailing by a goal at the main break, but then managed to click into gear in the second half, booting 4.5 to 0.1, including two goals from talented youngster Ashanti Bush.

Bush was impressive up forward, while Freda Puruntatameri stepped up to one of the best out there. Having already had state representation experience, Bella Clarke kicked a goal and was consistent across the match, as J’Noemi Anderson joined her state after playing for the Oakleigh Chargers this season. Grace Mulvahil was another talented player who unsurprisingly stepped up to the level after a famed NTFL Women’s junior career.

Due to Vic Country’s clash next Friday, the Rebels were without a host of talented players, meaning others had to step up in their place. Lilli Condon has been getting it done regardless of who is around her, and she was a clear standout in defeat. Molly Walton continued her great form this year to be another impressive player and was right up there with Condon in outstanding honours, while Jorja Jones, Stephanie Glover and Stella Bridgewater were among some of the other players that stood out.

In Round 9, the GWV Rebels take on Tasmania Devils at Warrawee Park, while the Northern Territory Thunder face Eastern Ranges at Highgate Recreation Reserve.

GOALS:

GWV: S. Bridgewater.
NT Thunder: A. Bush 2, F. Puruntatameri, B. Clarke.

DC BEST:

GWV: L. Condon, M. Walton, S. Glover, J. Jones, S. Bridgewater
NT Thunder: F. Puruntatameri, B. Clarke A. Bush, G. Mulvahil, J. Anderson

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Molly Walton (GWV Rebels)
4 – LIlli Condon (GWV Rebels)
3 – Freda Puruntatameri (NT Thunder)
2 – Bella Clarke (NT Thunder)
1 – Ashanti Bush (NT Thunder)

BENDIGO PIONEERS 0.2 | 1.7 | 2.7 | 3.11 (29)
GIPPSLAND POWER 2.1 | 3.1 | 4.5 | 4.6 (30)

By: Michael Alvaro

Bendigo Pioneers were made to rue a raft of missed opportunities as they went down by a single point for the second week running, this time against Gippsland Power on Sunday. The 4.6 (30) to 3.11 (29) result from Trevor Barker Oval now sees every NAB League team boast a win in 2021, though the Power were made to earn it in dramatic fashion with the ball locked in Bendigo’s attacking 50 for nearly the entire final five minutes. Having looked off the pace in the face of Gippsland’s pressure, the Pioneers just fell short of a remarkable turnaround.

Draft Central Player of the Week nominee Matilda Van Berkel was an enormous presence in the winning side, impacting through the ruck and leaning on her physicality in an inspired performance. Alexei Guy-Toogood was a constant in defence, while Yasmin Duursma continued her good form in midfield among what was a valiant team effort.

Bendigo had its contributors too, with Jayda Richardson swinging back to provide a cool head and plenty of drive forward, while Octavia Di Donato came to life in the dying stages as the Pioneers’ intensity lifted. Drew Ryan was another to impress, with much of the Bendigo team beginning to believe after half time.

Both sides will look forward to a few week’s rest as the competition undergoes its intermission for the Under 19 National Championships. When Round 9 finally swings around, Bendigo will take on the Western Jets while Gippsland faces the league’s toughest assignment in the Oakleigh Chargers.

GOALS:

Bendigo: M. Elliott, S. Hooker, K. Fullerton
Gippsland: C. Bailey, P. Tracey, J. Sochackyj, I. Makai

DC BEST:

Bendigo: J. Richardson, D. Ryan, O. Di Donato, K. Fullarton, L. den Houting, M. Elliott
Gippsland: Ma. Van Berkel, A. Guy-Toogood, Y. Duursma, M. Gilmour, I. Makai, A. Molesworth

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Matilda Van Berkel (Gippsland Power)
4 – Alexei Guy-Toogood (Gippsland Power)
3 – Yasmin Duursma (Gippsland Power)
2 – Jayda Richardson (Bendigo Pioneers)
1 – Drew Ryan (Bendigo Pioneers)

Top Performers: NAB League Girls – Round 7/2c/3b

THE 2021 NAB League Girls competition treated us to an extended weekend of fixtures in Round 7. Our weekly (self explanatory) Top Performers series delves into some of the best individual feats across each weekend of action. This week produced plenty of highlights as players continue to impress in the elite talent pathway. Starting with AFL Academy-listed prospects, we take a look at the top performers out of an exciting set of fixtures.

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

 

DANDENONG STINGRAYS vs. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

Nil.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#34 Ashleigh Richards (Dandenong Stingrays)

A really lively performance from the Stingrays’ co-captain who booted two goals and was a clear driving force in the win. Not only did she snag the two majors, but she hit the post and kicked another behind to finish with 2.2 from four scoring shots, and plenty of creativity in the front half of the ground. She also rolled through the midfield at times, laying some fierce tackles and driving the ball forward to be outstanding across the four quarters.

#6 Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays)

Looking dangerous every time she goes near the ball, Clarke goes from zero to 100 really quickly, and looks to play on every chance she gets. At times she could take a breather and take a set shot or go back to assess options, but she knows once she gets goalside no one will catch her. What she did so well in this game was not only hit the scoreboard (1.1) but also lay a remarkable amount of tackles (eight) and do as much work without the ball as with it.

#31 Jemma Radford (Dandenong Stingrays)

Played further up the ground more so than just stationed in the back half, Radford cracked in to compete for the hard ball and get it out of stoppages and going forward. As versatile as they come, and showed she could play through the midfield and win the ball with ease, she was a crucial link in transition moving the ball from half-back inside 50.

#38 Felicity Crank (Dandenong Stingrays)

Having a purple patch of late, stepping into the shoes of Emily Shepherd and being that strong inside midfielder despite standing at 167cm. She cracks in and laid a game-high 11 tackles, but as a kick-first player, she is one who also finds space around the ground, and on a night where marking the ball was difficult due to wind and the chilly conditions, Crank was able to provide an option, and she also worked hard both ways to win the ball in each third of the ground.

#21 Kiana Lynch (Sandringham Dragons)

Without Lynch in defence, the Dragons surely would have let through plenty more goals .The talented utility aided her side at ground level, applying defensive pressure through tackling and implied pressure, then driving the ball out of defence 10 times. She teamed up well with Abby Thompson and Ella Schiberras among others, but was utilised as the player to drive the ball in transition when coming out of the back 50.

#15 Sofia Hurley (Sandringham Dragons)

Continued her rich vein of form with another good performance. She was impressive around the stoppages, winning the ball and trying to create some space. Whilst she was not afforded the same luxury as past weeks. she still did her bit, and also got her hands dirty with seven tackles. Given her clean ball use and ability to use her athleticism to advantage, she is hard to contain,

#20 Abby Thompson (Sandringham Dragons)

Kept the Stingrays forwards at bay for as long as she could, and worked well in tandem with the other defenders to drive the ball out of danger and repel the attacks. Whilst she was often found in contested situations, she was very good at keeping her cool and then clearing the ball to safety or gaining distance close to the line.

#22 Emma Stuber (Sandringham Dragons)

Played a solid four-quarter role across the match and was balanced between her offensive and defensive ability. She laid some great tackles, and also kept the ball moving in transition, finding herself as the recipient at half-back and getting it further afield. She ended up winning a lot of the all and was a crucial player for the Dragons on the night.

OTHERS:

Charley Ryan was superb across the night with her silky skills and footy IQ, while Charlotte Blair, Grace Chapman and Olivia Robinson all impressed for the Stingrays. Looking at the Dragons, Bridie Hipwell worked hard with Sascha Pribil, while Ebony Angelopoulos did well in midfield, and Pia Staltari played her role onball as well.

EASTERN RANGES vs. CALDER CANNONS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#41 Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)

Just at another level compared to anyone else around her, commanding a run with player around stoppages to try and negate her effectiveness, which she quickly figured out how to play against and continued doing ‘Georgie’ things. Played a much more kick happy game than we usually see from her which probably led to her being even more dangerous given her kicking skills, where she’d more often than not look to get the ball more central going forward. Had those moments again where she had just see the game in slow motion and work her way through contests or around opponents in situations where she just shouldn’t have been able to.

#18 Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons)

As good as I have seen her this year, her work around the ground was really impressive, positioning behind the ball when she was in the ruck to be part of any contest that formed outside of the Cannons forward 50, and playing her role as a main target down forward really well, where she had always get front position in a contest to make it nearly impossible to stop her from holding the mark. I really like that she lowers the eyes going forward and tries to get it to teammates in better spots rather than taking 50/50 shots herself.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#44 Georgia Campbell (Eastern Ranges)

Played really well in the ruck, winning more hitouts than losing for sure against a rucking division that runs deep. Her athleticism is obvious, and was highlighted at the first bounce of the game where she leapt much higher than 189cm Tahlia Gillard, winning the hitout without any trouble. She was good around the ground when she was near the ball and made everything difficult for her direct opponent, or for any opponent at ground level after a ruck contest. Unfortunately went off in the hands of the trainers early in the third quarter and took no further part in the game 

#4 Keeley Sherar (Eastern Ranges)

Possesses a really good burst of speed which makes her a very difficult matchup around stoppages, where she does her most damage by getting away from opponents and then delivering a kick forward. One that seems to enjoy initiating that contact on an opponent at a stoppage, giving her that advantage in those situations to push off and use that speed she has.

#5 Neve Crowley (Calder Cannons)

Continued on from her high quality game against Gippsland to have a real impact up forward against a strong opposition side. Playing as more of a high half forward than a traditional KPF, she was busy in the forward half, being a good marking option for teammates and then delivering with class inside 50. Really high impact per disposal as well, and you can see that her team want the ball in her hands because of her ball use. I really liked her leading patterns for the game as well, where she would lead one way but change direction at the last second to catch her opponent off guard.

#25 Cadhla Schmidli (Eastern Ranges)

Held up really well against a side that uses the ball well going inside 50, and she’d just be there to cut off a lot of attacks really well. Often playing as the deepest defender, her read of the game and command of the backline was really good, and her ball use out of deep defense gave the Ranges the best chance to get out and start a dangerous counter attack. 

#14 Alyssia Pisano (Eastern Ranges)

Insanely smart in her forward craft, she understands her role exceptionally, hitting the front of packs with speed to pick up a spilled ball, or taking her opponent up field and beating them running back into the goal square, she’s just a delight to watch, with her creativity being a highlight. A particular instance to showcase this was when she was one-on-one inside 50 with Cannons defender Kasey Lennox, beating Lennox with her speed coming back towards goal and slotting it on the run, even taking a bounce under pressure, showing not only her forward craft but also her confidence in herself.

#3 Emelia Yassir (Calder Cannons)

Her most prolific game for the season, she continues to impress with her workrate and ability to impact in any situation she finds herself in, whether it be a contested ground ball, contested marking situation or running into space one-on-one, she just finds ways to win against any opponent. Her overhead marking for someone her height is super impressive and was a big part of Cannons fourth quarter surge, where she was able to cut off the rushed kicks from the Ranges defenders, then kick long back inside 50. 

#9 Mia Busch (Eastern Ranges)

Had pretty much the perfect game for a half-back player, with her tendency to press up with the ball inside 50 playing a big part in Eastern’s ability to lock the ball inside their forward half. Really confident when she pushes up and attacks a contest or a loose ball, and composed with her kicking even under pressure, she was able to create from nothing for Eastern which made her a real danger in transition. Also impacted aerially where she could, which made it difficult, especially in the first three quarters, for Calder to get any dangerous shots on goal

#41 Grace Walsh (Eastern Ranges)

Another 2022-eligible defender from Eastern that really stood up and caused Calder a lot of issues, Walsh really made it difficult for the Calder talls to get any easy marks with her work one-on-one, able to spoil towards the boundary line and allow Eastern to reset. Was dangerous by foot coming out of defensive 50 as well, giving Eastern plenty of opportunities to counter attack.

OTHERS:

From the home side Zali Friswell again won plenty of it and tried to create where she could, with Mali McLeod continuing her solid body of work as a winger, really getting into the role and showing she’s starting to understand it well. Abbey McDonald and Kasey Lennox were solid in defense despite the loss, still stopping a few Eastern attacks. Eastern had plenty of contributors in the victory, with Ruby O’Dwyer and Bridget Deed winning plenty of it through the midfield. Winger Jorja Livingstone also won a bit of ball on the wing despite finding herself in one-on-one battles often, with Isabelle Khoury also doing some good things on the opposite wing. Cassy Wilsmore did well as a relieving ruck, then taking over when Campbell went off injured, keeping her opponents accountable for the game.

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. DANDENONG STINGRAYS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#28 Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers)

Had a hard day at the office with Dandenong not giving her an inch around the ground to do her usual stuff, so much so she finished the day with zero marks. Despite this, she still found ways to impact around the ground playing more like a smaller player for the day, winning ball on the inside around stoppages, or running past teammates to receive a handball and kick forward. 

TOP PERFORMERS:

#30 Octavia Di Donato (Bendigo Pioneers)

A good performance as she pushed further into the midfield than she usually plays, even getting herself on the scoreboard with an unlikely kick from 40 out, Di Donato was a threat around the ground all game, with her marking and class by foot really damaging and troubling the Stingrays throughout, especially in transition. What I liked most was that Di Donato was never not providing an option when Bendigo had the ball, she was always screaming for it, spreading across the ground for a switch option or leading straight at the ball carrier

#5 Elizabeth Snell (Bendigo Pioneers)

As usual found the ball without much difficulty throughout the day around the midfield and stoppages, however she was also a marking threat around the ground, often positioning herself down the line from the play when Bendigo kicked it forward, just in case of return kick from Dandenong. Her kicking was also pretty good throughout the day, placing it to the advantage of team mates more often than not, allowing them to play on after marking it if they wanted to. 

#15 Drew Ryan (Bendigo Pioneers)

Played a vital role in between the arcs for Bendigo as an outside runner or switch kick option, often being the target of Bendigo transitioning outside of defensive 50 or being tasked with holding the ball up when outnumbered if Dandenong used her side of the ground, Ryan found ways to win the ball and get it going forward, also dropping back to assist the backline at times

#1 Lila Keck (Bendigo Pioneers)

Had the difficult task of playing on Amber Clarke when she was down forward, and the 15-year-old really gave Clarke a challenge, being able to match her for speed for most of the game and making it a real scrap when the ball was at ground level. It wasn’t all locking down for Keck though, as she offered a lot by foot around the ground as well.

#6 Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays)

Provided a lot of spark around the ground for Dandenong, which came as no surprise, given her athleticism makes her such a difficult match up it was a real trouble for Bendigo to match her in the midfield. Up forward she did well to create opportunities for her teammates but often found herself in two-on-ones which made it difficult for her to get free and have a shot on goal. In the midfield her work around the ground was really good, showing a high workrate to get from contest to contest and continually impact the play. 

#17 Zoe Hill (Dandenong Stingrays)

Played the difficult matchup on Slender when she was in the forward line and held her really well, negating her aerial impact which no one has been able to do previously. A familiar sight throughout the season has been Hill streaming off the half-back line to meet a loose ball and kick it long forward, and it was once again crucial against Bendigo in repelling a lot of attacks, especially in the final quarter when the heat was really turned up. Hill was one that never wavered and kept the pressure up throughout the game.

#65 Olivia Robinson (Dandenong Stingrays)

Got herself into the midfield more than previous games and took the opportunity with both hands, playing a hybrid sort of role she proved she is as capable at getting in and winning a contested ball as she is as holding her space and receiving a handball on the outside. Managed to get herself on the scoreboard as well with a goal.

#5 Mackenzie Eardley (Dandenong Stingrays)

Got thrown into the forward line with great effect, providing an additional target to teammate Amber Clarke, giving Dandenong an extra avenue to goal she slotted 2 for the day, but her work around the forward half can’t be understated, with her kicking giving her teammates plenty of opportunities to score, and her presence demanding special Bendigo attention.

OTHERS:

The home side had a lot of contributors in the loss, with Scarlett Orritt, Jemma Finning and Jayda Richardson winning their fair share of the ball around the ground, getting Bendigo moving forward with their kicking. Bottom-aged defender Tegan Williams continues to be a reliable bookend for Bendigo as well. The Stingrays as usual put in a team effort, Olivia Laity and Felicity Crank winning a bit of ball between the midfield and forwardline, and Abbey Jordan and Eloise McCrae having various crucial plays in the defensive half of the ground, McCrae in particular stepping up in the final few minutes.

GIPPSLAND POWER vs. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#33 Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers)

Had a fascinating tussle with Grace Matser as the pair showed off their respective abilities throughout the game. Whilst Matser won the honours around the ground, Morphett was strong in the ruck, and when going forward took a great one-on-one mark by reading the ball in flight in the goalsquare. She kicked truly and ensured she hit the scoreboard, making the most of limited possessions, with a higher impact as a target and using her body for defensive acts.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#2 Aurora Smith (Murray Bushrangers)

The Draft Central Player of the Week was simply outstanding across the board, having the ball on a string in the first half. She won everything running along the wing, and used her pace to advantage to burst away from the stoppages and drive the ball forward. There was little time in between touches as she gathered a ton of them, and whilst she might have had less in the second half, still stepped up for some memorable moments in a clear best on ground performance, providing both defensive and offensive highlights.

#46 Zara Hamilton (Murray Bushrangers)

Located on the other wing, Hamilton did a lot of running throughout the game, winning the ball in each third of the ground and teamed up well with Smith in bringing the ball forward in transition. As a taller player she is strong in the marking contest, and was able to position herself well when drifting forward as well. Sometimes too far out to score, Hamilton set the ball up for scoring opportunities to teammates inside 50, and was a driving force in the win.

#3 India Lehman (Murray Bushrangers)

Casually went about her business in a four-quarter effort and provided some great run on the outside. Standing at just 162cm, Lehman returned from the GIANTS Academy last week to put up her standout performance of the season. With a tendency to break the lines and work well with Smith and Hamilton in transition, she was one who was memorable for her consistent output throughout the match.

#17 Keeley Skepper (Murray Bushrangers)

Did a bit of everything throughout the match, and while her offensive and defensive traits are usually on display, she had a few memorable moments. The best was her last quarter mark, which came with the clock winding down and the game over, but showed her courage to intercept in defence and stop a potential Gippsland Power set shot. No one would have blamed her for not putting her body on the line, but the courage was terrific, and her passion – which included a fierce return of the ball to the boundary umpire when she believed she had kept it in during the same quarter – was great.

#35 Matilda Van Berkel (Gippsland Power)

As solid as a rock and with others sore towards the end of the game, was almost single-handedly pulling down anything in her way. Often on the last line of defence, her last quarter in particular was outstanding, and her contested marking – which was clean – and defensive position were standout traits. She had a massive eight rebound 50s for the game, and it is easy to see why she was the Power’s best, holding up the fort throughout four quarters with a consistent impact.

#25 Lily-Rose Williamson (Gippsland Power)

A sore back could not even contain the talented bottom-ager whose full athleticism and power was on display throughout the match. Providing great run out of defence in a role she has made her own, Williamson reads the ball well in the back 50, then sees the ball and steamrolls anyone in her way. One of the cleanest fend-offs of all time in the fourth term – with Lily Sharp being the unfortunate recipient – was unbelievable. She has a knack of either evading people or just running straight through them, and is able to use the ball well with a powerful kick, which makes her so damaging.

#5 Yasmin Duursma (Gippsland Power)

A really classy game from the left-footer who was silky smooth in midfield. She won a lot of the ball and most importantly used it well, sidestepping opponents and creating space for herself to work in. Whilst she has been building that football understanding over the season, this was her best game of the year, and she was quite a handful for the Bushrangers midfielders, as she was not only able to win the ball, but utilise her kicking.

#40 Grace Matser (Gippsland Power)

The ruck did really well around the ground and finds plenty of the ball for a taller player, not afraid to be used in transition. Her contested marking is still a work in progress, but what she does well is her second efforts and ground level work, where she can be quick to aide teammates. Her work rate is high and she can win the ball across all thirds of the ground, and works over her opponents who often have to rotate in and out to match her.

OTHERS:

Murray Bushrangers’ Molly Kennedy was fierce with her tackling and won plenty of the ball in close, as did Kristy Whitehead, while up forward Lily Sharp and Olivia Cicolini both snagged two goals. For Gippsland Power, Molly Van Berkel helped out her sister in defence, while Grace McRae, Hayley Woolfe and Paris Tracey worked hard in transition.

 

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS vs. WESTERN JETS

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

Nil.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#26 Chloe Saultry (Sandringham Dragons)

Returned to the side for the match and was rock solid in defence, repelling everything she could during important moments. With a slippery ball and others nervous under pressure, Saultry settled down the defence, and was a great intercept marker and rebounder throughout the match. She did get caught once trying to get out of the back 50, but she played a consistent match throughout the four quarters and was a star for the side in the narrow loss.

#15 Sofia Hurley (Sandringham Dragons)

Played wet weather football, and while it was not her cleanest game by any means, she was important in just seeing ball, winning ball and driving ball forward. Of her 20 touches, 19 were kicks so she had less time and less instinct to use the ball by hand, and instead just bomb it forward to best help her side. She had plenty of inside 50s and rebound 50s throughout hte match which supported her work rate and ground coverage, whilst the wet conditions allowed her to bury in and lay a number of fierce tackles in close to lock the ball away.

#30 Pia Staltari (Sandringham Dragons)

In a game that was always going to be scrappy given the conditions, Staltari provided the highlight of the game in the second term. Tucked up tight against the boundary line, Staltari kicked a remarkable goal that sailed home to get the Dragons on the board. All in all she played a consistent game, but it was the important goal that kept the Dragons in the contest and ensured they did not go another half without a goal.

#2 Keeley Coyne (Sandringham Dragons)

Provided a mix of run and defensive pressure, the talented outside mover got her hands dirty in close with eight tackles. She managed to thrive in the wet and won the ball in close, often giving it off by hand to move it forward, or kick into space for teammates to work with. In what was a pretty even performance across the board, Coyne played her role and impressed throughout the game.

#1 Charlotte Baskaran (Western Jets)

Had the ball on a string and showed composure throughout the match. Her elite kicking skills were on show as the game went on after the rare turnover early in the match, with Baskaran ending up accumulating a massive 28 touches across the four quarters. She also laid seven tackles and then drove the ball out of defence and got it forward to set up scoring opportunities in a really complete performance. She did not have as much time and space as she was used to by going on-ball, but she kept working hard throughout the game, and it was fitting that she took the last mark of the match to have the ball when the siren sounded.

#38 Montana Ham (Western Jets)

Racked up clearance after clearance and bombed the ball from stoppages after taking a few steps to find the space. She worked well with Baskaran in the midfield to win plenty of the footy, and also lay some big tackles throughout the match and be a standout performer for the Jets. Always having to fight for the hard ball in close, Ham was one who took time off the clock late before the siren in a smart move, which came after she desperately took a sliding mark at half-back.

#42 Jemima Woods (Western Jets)

Building some nice form over the past few weeks, Woods provided a target up forward and pushed right up the ground to win the ball in midfield and drive it forward herself. Even winning the ball in the back 50 at one stage, Woods was a livewire across the field, and was a four-quarter performer. She kicked the Jets’ second goal from a set shot just to give them some breathing space again, and always looked dangerous near the ball.

#29 Kiera Leare (Western Jets)

In wet conditions, Leare did what any forward should do when under pressure in the goalsquare and just boot it off the deck, which she did to great effect. Kicking the Jets’ first goal through opportunistic circumstances, Leare got her team on the board and then proceeded to be busy throughout the game, having far more impact than her eight touches might suggest. She held up an opponent late in the game to knock her off balance, which helped the side hold on for the win.

OTHERS:

Kiera Whiley laid a match-winning tackle in the last minute of the game, Leah Spargo was sensational in defence, Krystal Russell controlled the ruck with 28 hitouts and Paige Ryan stepped up to midfield for the Jets. Charlotte Ryan, Emma Stuber and Summer Trim all had impressive performances, while Bridie Hipwell and Ebony Angelopoulos also had their moments.

EASTERN RANGES vs. TASMANIA DEVILS

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#11 Perri King (Tasmania Devils)

Had another prominent game in the midfield to continue her great form this season, not only known for her athleticism, but her tackling too. On this occasion she laid a game-high 13 tackles – four more than any other player on the ground – and was consistent in trying to drive the ball forward out of congestion time and time again to be a top player on the day.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#9 Mia Busch (Eastern Ranges)

Clean and and classy, the bottom-age talent thrived in the wet to play another outstanding game. Whilst her consistency is still building with some up and down games, when needed she has the capacity to really turn it on and provide great running out of the back 50 and drive it forward. Definitely a kick-first players, Busch also mopped up in defence with eight rebounds, mimicking her effort against the Western Jets in Round 1 where she was outstanding, with the two games over the weekend the best of her season thus far.

#18 Bridget Deed (Eastern Ranges)

Had a game-high 25 touches and kept bullocking away at the stoppages with some fierce intent. A four-quarter performer who rarely waivers in her consistency to get to the right ball-winning spots, Deed stepped up in the final term to put the nail in the coffin with a last quarter goal to settle the nerves and ensure the points were heading back to Kilsyth.

#21 Ruby O’Dwyer (Eastern Ranges)

A promising game playing through the midfield to find space in the forward half and take a game-high six marks. She also won plenty of the pill through her work rate, and would drive the ball forward to help her side, Another player suited to the wet-weather style, O’Dwyer played an on-brand wet weather game with her kicking forward.

#14 Alyssia Pisano (Eastern Ranges)

The classy left-footer just pops up when required, kicking important goals in the first and third terms to finish with couple of majors yet again. Having do to the work primarily at ground level, the dangerous Pisano kept up her streak of six games hitting the scoreboard, to take her total to 12 for the year in an outstanding debut season for the 15-year-old. Just so clean and ability to create something out of nothing.

#15 Jemma Webster (Tasmania Devils)

The Devils’ best and has had a real purple patch over the last few matches after promising signs early in the season. Won more of the ball in close and was clean with it, recording more handballs than kicks for only the second time this season as she looks to have a big influence through the midfield. Her running game was still on show, but for a player who get work hard to get to the outside, Webster has plenty of defensive attributes including her kicking where she laid another six tackles.

#9 Claire Ransom (Tasmania Devils)

No matter how many times she finds the ball, Ransom is just an eye-catching player. Clean and composed with ball-in-hand she can play in the dry or wet with the same impact. She has the athletic traits to burst out of a stoppage and drive the ball forward, but also can drop back and rebound the ball out of the defensive 50. Not as many disposals as she has some weeks but she makes the most of it when she does win it.

#7 Meghan Gaffney (Tasmania Devils)

A player with whom that you know exactly what you are going to get week-in, week-out. With her hard running and work rate a clear standout not only in her game, but across teh board, Gaffney worked hard to mop up in defence, then drive the ball forward with a kick-first mentality. In wet weather conditions, Gaffney was able to find her consistent amount of ball once again and keep her side in contention with her movement in transition.

OTHERS:

Ella Maurer again brought a ray of consistency to the Devils’ side, with Brianna Oates moving the ball well in transition. Jemma Blair and Olivia Smith also provided good run out of defence and through the middle, while Shania Saward laid an impressive eight tackles. For the Ranges, Matilda Hardy was among the most prominent players with a goal and finding plenty of the ball pushing up the ground, whilst the clean and athletic Jorja Livingstone had all kicks from her 15 touches in another strong game, and the likes of Keeley Sherar, Jade Hutchinson and Sarah Humm brought the heat, and Eloise Chaston booted a goal and looked strong up forward.

GEELONG FALCONS vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#11 Maykaylah Appleby (Northern Knights)

Did not necessarily have the biggest numbers, but played a really good game, where her strengths shined when given the opportunity. Her marking was particularly impressive, punishing the Falcons for a few missed kicks when they attempted to switch the ball, where she’d take the grab and then go for a quick run and deliver long forward. Had a real highlight reel moment when she got onto the end of a Riley Wilcox handball in the centre of the ground, went for a two-bounce run and slotted a goal in the third quarter, again utilising her elite speed and really good kick. 

TOP PERFORMERS:  

#4 Poppy Schapp (Geelong Falcons)

Nice bit of speed around the ground when she can it going, however with the congested style Northern forced on Geelong when they had the ball it was hard for her to showcase.  Plays her role as a hybrid sort really well, especially when she’s receiving a handball from a first possession winner and using her kick to get it going forward, she just looks hard to stop in those situations.

#11 Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)

Consistent throughout the game with her attack on the footy and then follow up ball use, it’s no surprise she’s one of the leading ball winners this season. Reads the ball off the rucks hands really well which made her dangerous, particularly as the game went on and others started to tire out a bit more. I really liked her decision making with the ball, often looking to use the width of the ground and switch the ball rather than bombing down the line like most Falcons players seemed to do as the pressure built more and more.

#37 Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons)

Reliable in the backline for the last three quarters after starting on the wing, she was really strong aerially and made Northern switch up their style going inside 50 purely because she was just picking off entries for fun in the second and third quarters. Understands the game well with her positioning, so she is always around where the ball is going to be in defensive 50. Took all the kick outs for the day where she often had the right idea, but sometimes her teammates could not compete in the air or were outnumbered, but then started taking some less obvious options in the fourth quarter which saw Geelong move it out of defense with more effect.

#9 Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)

Played with a lot of confidence in her ability on the inside, which comes as no surprise, but to be straight back into it after some time off due to injury was impressive. Seemed to have a bit more of a focus on bringing other teammates into the game with her favouring the handball rather than kicking long which was a nice element to see of her game, and the Knights looked better off overall as a team for it. Seeing her previously play as someone that runs through packs to win the ball it was interesting to see that she appeared more agile and composed today, rather than using her strength she was using her footy IQ to get the ball out of packs, allowing her to deliver better quality disposals to teammates .

#37 Riley Wilcox (Northern Knights)

Showed off a really impressive workrate throughout the game, as she was never really starting any centre bounces or stoppages as a midfielder but she was getting involved everywhere around the ground, getting involved in a lot of handball chains especially in the middle of the ground or around the forward 50 mark, one of which preceded an impressive goal from teammate Maykaylah Appleby and the handball was perfect, put just in front of the already full pace Appleby, which showed that Wilcox’s disposal is measured and planned rather than just handballing to the first jumper she sees. Set up a couple of good set shots as well instead of blazing away and going for a goal, so that teamwork sense is there and fairly natural. 

 #40 Tannah Hurst (Northern Knights)

Solid in defense all day on the occasion it came down, that’s nothing particularly new for her, what really impressed was here impact moving up the ground when there wasn’t a threat of a Falcons score. She was positioning herself well behind the ball, taking some really good marks to keep the pressure on the Falcons and stop possible counter attacks, then moving the ball forward well to her forwards. 

#4 Brooke Plummer (Northern Knights)

Really been a consistent piece of the Knights midfield slotting onto the wing opposite Appleby, and her impact during the game was felt, showing off her ability to run both ways by helping out in defense, even as a spare at some stages, and then pushing up to get the ball and hit a leading forward target, her kicking is just so dangerous. I really like that she can mix it between really bulleting a kick, or softly placing it in front of a leading target, catering to different situations well.

OTHERS:

Despite the loss, the Falcons backline had some impressive contributors that were really hard to get past, particularly in the first half, with bottom aged pair Mackenzie McGrath and Taiya Morrow being the two main ones, as well as Elizabeth Dowling who was superb in the first quarter in particular. Zoe Garth also fought hard on the wing, despite finding herself outnumbered more often than not. Gulia Ceravolo and Tarrah Delgado both won a lot of it in the defensive half, with Delgado even sneaking into the midfield for the final quarter. Teleah Smart provided as an option around the ground well and won a bit of it on the outside.

GWV REBELS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS

By: Michael Alvaro

AFLW ACADEMY:

#20 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)

Tried in a few different roles of late, Friend found herself stationed on a wing for most of the match before shuffling back to defence in the final term. The tall prospect competed well at ground level and while her hands were not always as clean as usual, Friend was able to impact some key loose balls. She also did well to float across and take a couple of handy intercept marks, with her only real aerial fly coming on the forward 50 arc in term one.

#30 Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)

Before limping off in the hands of trainers late in the game, Dojiok enjoyed another terrific outing. The tall defender has a rare combination of size and athleticism, which again came to the fore in her many rebounding forays. She consistently backed herself to take aggressive positions across the backline and attack the ball when it came her way, instead of worrying about what her direct opponent was doing. As a result, she cut off a great number of Oakleigh attacks both in the air and at ground level. The final piece of the puzzle will be to sharpen her execution by foot, particularly on the run as she so often finds herself. A top performance nonetheless.

#8 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)

Rowbottom spent a good amount of time deep forward and could very easily have ended up with three goals, instead of just one. She scuppered a couple of golden opportunities in the first term close to goal, but maintained her presence and even seemed to lift in intensity as the game wore on. She got her major score in the second quarter after clunking a trademark one-on-one grab, having already set up a teammate minutes earlier. In her work up the ground, Rowbottom’s physicality was evident as she repeatedly bullied her opponents around the contest and backed herself to muscle through or around would-be tacklers. Not a massive game numbers-wise, but she was impactful when called upon.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#1 Lilli Condon (GWV Rebels)

As is always the case, Condon showcased a remarkable work-rate from midfield to not only find the ball herself, but to also impact with tenacious tackling which defies her size. The diminutive ball winner seems to accumulate at will, credit mostly to her running ability and repeat efforts at ground level. One play perfectly captured Condon’s attitude and desire to compete; when she was beaten in a one-on-one marking contest, but kept her head in the game to smother the resultant kick. Distance and damage in her kicking are areas of growth, but would only add to her sound acumen on the inside.

#15 Chloe Leonard (GWV Rebels)

Leonard was afforded a wealth of midfield minutes and took the opportunity well, translating her ball winning ability and tackling pressure to the centre bounces. When she wasn’t winning her own ball, the experienced Rebel laid a number of big tackles to lock the ball in or prevent Oakleigh from getting the ball to the outside. She also chimed in with a couple of quality marks in defensive 50, with one going back with the flight of the ball particularly impressive. A cool head across the ground, Leonard was one of her side’s top performers.

#27 Molly Walton (GWV Rebels)

The bottom-age defender played an important role in defence for GWV, especially given how much time the ball spent in the Rebels’ own half. Stationed deep for most of the day, Walton was entrusted with the kick-in duties and patrolled the last line with aplomb. There were a few nervy moments and fumbles in key areas, but she competed well against quality opposition for the most part. Having matched up one-out on Rowbottom for a short period, the learnings from this game would have been great for the budding prospect.

#5 Mia Clift (Oakleigh Chargers)

Clift played an underrated role in the Chargers’ defence, tasked with matching up on fellow number five, Paige Scott. She has already proven able to take on such lockdown roles, and did well to subdue the impact of GWV’s forwards throughout the day. While she does have the defensive acumen, Clift can also make her mark on the rebound but looked to play a team game in this outing and was solid.

#9 Brooke Vickers (Oakleigh Chargers)

One of Oakleigh’s best in the win, Vickers was able to showcase even more of her offensive capabilities as she moved up from half-back to play on the wing. Often opposed to Friend, Vickers more than held her own and backed herself to get into aggressive attacking positions. She has a knack of finding space to receive and reads the play well to do so, allowing her to then provide run-and-carry down the line. While Vickers’ forward momentum is invaluable, she was still able to win the hard ball and contribute defensive acts, such as a magnificent aerial spoil in the third quarter. She capped off her game with arguably the goal of the day in term four, competing in the air before weaving around an opponent and slotting the ball home.

#10 Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers)

Reid’s level of consistency in a ball winning sense has been outstanding throughout the season, and it was no different in this game. She just seems to pop up everywhere and can play on just about every line, as she proved during a wealth of time up forward here. Her ability to present and offer a marking target was terrific, offering another string to her bow while still impacting at the contest and willing the ball forward via her left boot. Her footy smarts were also on show in a variety of little instances; she was one of the only players to properly judge the wind while taking a set shot at goal, resulting in a major score and unfortunate poster, while pinning her opponents’ arms in tackles to lock the ball in proved another clever act. She still seems most comfortable in space, but has a crack and impacts in each role she is given.

#29 Amanda Ling (Oakleigh Chargers)

Perhaps one of Oakleigh’s more unheralded midfielders, Ling was as busy as anyone afield in this game. She was involved from the get-go, battling hard at ground level and covering the ground well to win a heap of ball in all areas. Her accumulative factor was high, and Ling was able to find more possessions on the outside in this outing which allowed her to make a greater impact going forward. Despite her size, she also pulled off a couple of handy aerial feats, including a nice overhead mark during the third term. Solid as ever, and a key part of this star-studded side.

OTHERS:

Kalani Scoullar has proven a real problem for opposition rucks of late and dominated the hitouts once again for GWV, while also digging in for a few nice tackling efforts. Paige Scott was dangerous in patches and impressed with her vigour, while Olivia Leonard also got her hands dirty in defence for the Rebels. Charlotte Van der Vlies was again impactful on a wing for Oakleigh, as Lily Hart played her role in midfield and Tayla Morton set the tone up forward.

2021 NAB League Girls: Round 7 wrap – Three teams double-up

THIS past week in NAB League Girls action saw a couple more make-up games take place alongside the regular Round 7 action, with Dandenong, Sandringham, and Eastern all facing quick turnarounds from their midweek bouts. Two contests were decided by the narrowest of margins on the weekend, with three sides also kept scoreless across four quarters in the results below. That, and more in our weekly wrap.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS 0.3 | 2.6 | 4.7 | 5.7 (37)
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.3 (3)
Note: Round 2 fixture

By: Peter Williams

GOALS:

Dandenong: A. Richards 2, H. Monk, A. Liddle, A. Clarke.
Sandringham: Nil.

DC BEST:

Dandenong: A. Richards, J. Radford, F. Crank, A. Clarke, C. Ryan
Sandringham: K. Lynch, S. Hurley, P. Staltari, A. Thompson, E. Sciberras

Dandenong Stingrays snapped a two-game losing streak with a dominant defensive display under lights at a windswept Casey Fields on Wednesday night. The Stingrays battled to a lead in the first half, but only managed the three behinds in the first term, credit to the Dragons’ defence.

The Stingrays started to capitalise on their efforts in the second term, but it was not until Hayley Monk slotted a goal right on the siren that handed the home team an 18-point advantage. From then on, the Stingrays never looked like losing, though the Dragons never threw in the towel either, adding their only three scores of the game – three behinds – in the last quarter, to go down by 34 points, 5.7 (37) to 0.3 (3).

Ash Richards had a massive game up forward and rotating through the midfield with two majors, whilst the likes of Jemma Radford and Felicity Crank stepped up throughout the match, and Amber Clarke and Charley Ryan showed touches of class throughout the contest. The Dragons still put in a solid performance across the board, with Kiana Lynch a clear standout rebounding everything out of defence, and the likes of Sofia Hurley and Pia Staltari impressive in midfield, and Abby Thompson and Ella Sciberras rock steady in defence.

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Ashleigh Richards (Dandenong Stingrays)
4 – Jemma Radford (Dandenong Stingrays)
3 – Kiana Lynch (Sandringham Dragons)
2 – Felicity Crank (Dandenong Stingrays)
1 – Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays)

CALDER CANNONS 2.1 | 3.1 | 3.1 | 5.5 (35)
EASTERN RANGES 2.1 | 4.2 | 5.5 | 6.6 (42)

By: Michael Alvaro

Eastern Ranges won out in a game with heavy finals ramifications, defeating the Calder Cannons by seven points at Highgate Recreation Reserve on Thursday night. The Ranges steadily built their lead across the second and third terms, before holding firm in the last to take out a richly deserved 6.6 (42) to 5.5 (35) victory. It came four days after Eastern’s late loss to Northern, making the resistant win all the more satisfying.

Georgie Prespakis led all comers with 27 touches in a losing effort, winning the ball in all parts of the ground and pumping Calder forward. Mia Busch topped Eastern’s disposal tally with 23 on the back of some persistent work in defence, while Alyssia Pisano booted three classy goals up the other end. Teammates Keeley Sherar and Bridget Deed were again solid in midfield, battling well against Emelia Yassir and Zali Friswell, as Neve Crowley continues to thrive in a new forward role.

Both sides are set to suit up next on Saturday, with the Cannons preparing to face Western while Eastern takes on Sandringham in a set of all-Metro fixtures in Round 8.

GOALS:

Calder: A. Magri, T. Gillard, J. Zakkour, G. Prespakis, E. Yassir
Eastern: A. Pisano 3, G. Wilson, M. Hardy, B. Deed

DC BEST:

Calder: G. Prespakis, N. Crowley, Z. Friswell, E. Yassir, T. Gillard
Eastern: M. Busch, A. Pisano, K. Sherar, G. Walsh, C. Willsmore, B. Deed

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)
4 – Mia Busch (Eastern Ranges)
3 – Alyssia Pisano (Eastern Ranges)
2 – Keeley Sherar (Eastern Ranges)
1 – Neve Crowley (Calder Cannons)

BENDIGO PIONEERS 1.4 | 3.8 | 3.9 | 4.11 (35)
DANDENONG STINGRAYS 2.0 | 3.0 | 5.4 | 5.6 (36)

By: Declan Reeve

Inaccuracy cost Bendigo Pioneers an upset win over the Dandenong Stingrays, with the Rays coming out one-point victors after an absolutely thrilling finish to the Saturday afternoon contest at Epsom Huntly Reserve. The game was a contested scrap throughout which was highlighted on the scoreboard, with neither team really getting a substantial lead throughout the day. The final quarter saw a big surge from the Bendigo Pioneers, but the ball was pushed over the boundary line in the final minute and ultimately chewed up too much time for them to get a score through. 

Both teams had some solid contributors in the scrap, with Elizabeth Snell having a fantastic game through the midfield, assisted well by Drew Ryan and Octavia Di Donato as they battled against a determined Dandenong midfield that bats fairly deep. Dandenong saw big performances from bottom aged duo Amber Clarke and Mackenzie Eardley who both got themselves two goals on the day to get the Stingrays over the line, with the help of Olivia Robinson through the midfield and on the scoreboard.

Round 8 sees both these sides playing at Trevor Barker Beach Oval in an all-country double header, with the Stingrays taking on Murray Bushrangers at 11:30am and Bendigo taking on Gippsland Power at 1:30pm.

GOALS:

Bendigo: C. Mitchell, O. Di Donato, J. Douglas, L. Painter
Dandenong: A. Clarke 2, M. Eardley 2, O. Robinson

DC BEST:

Bendigo: E. Snell, O. Di Donato, D. Ryan, L. Keck, T. Slender
Dandenong: A. Clarke, M. Eardley, O. Robinson, Z. Hill, F. Crank

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays)
4 – Mackenzie Eardley (Dandenong Stingrays)
3 – Elizabeth Snell (Bendigo Pioneers)
2 – Octavia Di Donato (Bendigo Pioneers)
1 – Olivia Robinson (Dandenong Stingrays)

GIPPSLAND POWER 0.0 | 0.1 | 0.1 | 0.1 (1)
MURRAY BUSHRANGERS 1.1 | 1.4 | 5.5 | 7.6 (48)

By: Michael Alvaro

The Murray Bushrangers collected their first points of season 2021, downing Gippsland Power by 47 points on neutral territory at Highgate Recreation Reserve. While the final score makes for ominous reading, both sides came out with fierce intent and produced a largely competitive match, with the Bushies’ six-goal second half ensuring they would break away and finish 7.6 (48) to 0.1 (1) victors. There was a lack of polish at times, but plenty of memorable passages between the country regions.

Aurora Smith was superb in the win, collecting a game-high 25 disposals between the arcs with her speed and work-rate evident. Zara Hamilton was another of Murray’s best alongside Keeley Skepper, while Olivia Cicolini and Lily Sharp deservedly finished with two goals apiece. Gippsland owed plenty to the efforts of Lily-Rose Williamson and Matilda van Berkel down back, as Yasmin Duursma gave it her all in midfield. Talls standouts Ally Morphett and Grace Matser also enjoyed a good tussle through the ruck.

Gippsland’s next assignment comes against another country region in Bendigo on Saturday, while Murray prepares to take on the highly-fancied Dandenong Stingrays on the same day in Round 8.

GOALS:

Gippsland: Nil
Murray: L. Sharp 2, O. Cicolini 2, K. Adams, S. McCarthy, A. Morphett

DC BEST:

Gippsland: L. Williamson, Ma. Van Berkel, Y. Duursma, P. Tracey, G. Matser, G. McRae
Murray: A. Smith, Z. Hamilton, O. Cicolini, K. Skepper, I. Lehman, A. Morphett

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Aurora Smith (Murray Bushrangers)
4 – Lily-Rose Williamson (Gippsland Power)
3 – Zara Hamilton (Murray Bushrangers)
2 – Matilda Van Berkel (Gippsland Power)
1 – Olivia Cicolini (Murray Bushrangers)

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 0.1 | 1.2 | 1.2 | 2.3 (15)
WESTERN JETS 1.0 | 1.2 | 2.4 | 2.4 (16)

By: Michael Alvaro

In a wet and windy thriller at RSEA Park, the Western Jets clawed their way to a one-point victory over Sandringham Dragons thanks to some desperate last ditch efforts. The low-scoring slog saw just four goals kicked, but the cream truly rose to the top amid hotly contested passages. Western snuck ahead in term three and somehow held on to win with the ball locked in Sandringham’s forward 50 in the dying stages. Ultimately, the 2.4 (16) to 2.3 (15) result proved yet another game of the year contender.

Western stars Charlotte Baskaran and Montana Ham were unsurprisingly in the thick of things and both ticked over 25 disposals, with the likes of Sofia Hurley and Charlotte Ryan among Sandringham’s key ball winners. Chloe Saultry was also important down back for the Dragons, as Pia Staltari‘s class shone through and Ebony Angelopoulos proved dangerous up forward. Jemima Woods got on the board for Western and was lively, while Leah Spargo led valiantly and Kiera Leare posed a threat in the front half.

Both sides are set for another round of metro opposition, with Sandringham facing the in-form Eastern Ranges on Saturday in Round 8, while Western readies to take on Calder on the same day.

GOALS:

Western: K. Leare, J. Woods
Sandringham: P. Staltari, A. Luca

DC BEST:

Western: C. Baskaran, M. Ham, J. Woods, L. Spargo, K. Leare, K. Whiley
Sandringham: S. Hurley, C. Ryan, P. Staltari, C. Saultry, E. Angelopoulos, E. Stuber

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Charlotte Baskaran (Western Jets)
4 – Sofia Hurley (Sandringham Dragons)
3 – Charlotte Ryan (Sandringham Dragons)
2 – Montana Ham (Western Jets)
1 – Jemima Woods (Western Jets)

GEELONG FALCONS 0.0 | 0.2 | 0.2 | 1.3 (9)
NORTHERN KNIGHTS 2.1 | 2.4 | 3.5 | 4.10 (34)

By: Declan Reeve

The Northern Knights stunned Geelong Falcons at Deakin University on Sunday, winning by 25 points, with their quick ball movement by hand and speed through the middle of the ground proving too much for the Falcons to contain. The Knights almost got through the game without conceding a goal, as Maeve Chaplin led the way in her return outing after missing the previous fixture.

It was a day to remember for bottom aged forward Riley Wilcox who was everywhere, creating a lot for her teammates around the ground, with Gulia Ceravolo, Tarrah Delgado and Tannah Hurst doing plenty of work behind the ball, and midfielder Teleah Smart getting in amongst it for the Knights. The Falcons were led by Annie Lee who did her best to generate drive from the backline, with midfielders Tess Craven and Poppy Schaap working hard around the ground to keep Geelong in it.

Round 8 sees Geelong hosting Oakleigh Chargers at the same oval at 2:30pm on Saturday, with Northern heading to the Apple Isle to play Tasmania Devils at the same time.

GOALS:

Geelong: I. Houtsma
Northern: T. Delgado, M. Appleby, M. Chaplin, R. Wilcox

DC BEST:

Geelong: T. Craven, A. Lee, P. Schaap, T. Morrow, Z. Garth, M. McGrath
Northern: M. Chaplin, R. Wilcox, T. Hurst, B. Plummer, T. Smart

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)
4 – Riley Wilcox (Northern Knights)
3 – Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)
2 – Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons)
1 – Tannah Hurst (Northern Knights)

GWV REBELS 0.0 | 0.1 | 0.2 | 0.2 (2)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 0.3 | 2.4 | 3.5 | 4.5 (29)

By: Michael Alvaro

Oakleigh kept its perfect 2021 record in tact on Sunday, keeping the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels goalless to win by 27 points at Mars Stadium. The Chargers were without a goal themselves after term one, but soon enough found some scoring form with two goals in the second term, and singles in the remaining quarters to run out 4.5 (29) to 0.2 (2) victors, seeing their record extend to 6-0 atop the NAB League Girls ladder.

A trio of Chargers stood out on the day; with Stella Reid continuing her outstanding form, Amanda Ling again doing the hard yards in midfield, and Brooke Vickers advancing up the ground to roam a wing in their side’s win. The Rebels also had some terrific contributors as the likes of Nyakoat Dojiok, Chloe Leonard and Lilli Condon all found plenty of the ball while also getting their hands dirty going the other way. Kalani Scoullar also had a day out in the ruck with 37 hitouts.

Oakleigh will again prepare for a country opponent and road trip as Geelong awaits on Saturday afternoon, while GWV prepares to host the Northern Territory Thunder Academy on Sunday, once again at Mars Stadium.

GOALS:

GWV: Nil
Oakleigh: S. Morley, S. Reid, B. Vickers, C. Rowbottom

DC BEST:

GWV: N. Dojiok, C. Leonard, L. Condon, M. Walton, K. Scoullar, E. Friend
Oakleigh: S. Reid, B. Vickers, A. Ling, L. Hart, C. Van der Vlies, C. Rowbottom

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers)
4 – Brooke Vickers (Oakleigh Chargers)
3 – Amanda Ling (Oakleigh Chargers)
2 – Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)
1 – Chloe Leonard (GWV Rebels)

EASTERN RANGES 2.0 | 4.0 | 5.0 | 6.1 (37)
TASMANIA DEVILS 2.0 | 2.2 | 2.2 | 4.2 (26)
Note: Round 2 fixture

By: Peter Williams

Eastern Ranges picked up back-to-back wins against two of the top sides in four days, defeating Tasmania Devils in a Round 3 clash, making up for the fixture that was missed due to the Victorian snap lockdown that required Tasmanians to serve 14 days quarantine upon return to the Apple Isle. In this match, it was the Ranges who got the better of the Devils, handing Tasmania its second loss of the season, with a 6.1 (37) to 4.2 (26) victory at Highgate Recreation Reserve.

Alyssia Pisano was again lively up forward, slotting two goals in the win, with the Ranges slotting 5.0 to the final break, including 3.0 to 0.2 across the middle two quarters. Bridget Deed closed the door on a potential Devils comeback with a last quarter major, before the Devils built some momentum into their next game with two gaols in the final term.

Ruby O’Dwyer was impressive alongside Deed, whilst Mia Busch was strong in defence, and Jorja Livingstone and Matilda Hardy also among the best. For the Devils, Jemma Webster continued her great form of late, while Pia King was a tackling machine, and the additional midfield trio of Claire Ransom, Meghan Gaffney and Ella Maurer were all busy again.

GOALS:

Eastern: A. Pisano, E. Chaston, M. Hardy, I. Khoury, B. Deed
Tasmania: K. Hennessy, M. Edwards, A. Prokopiec, A. Bissett

DC BEST:

Eastern: M. Busch, R. O’Dwyer, B. Deed, J. Livingstone, M. Hardy
Tasmania: J. Webster, P. King, C. Ransom, M. Gaffney, E. Maurer

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Mia Busch (Eastern Ranges)
4 – Ruby O’Dwyer (Eastern Ranges)
3 – Jemma Webster (Tasmania Devils)
2 – Bridget Deed (Eastern Ranges)
1 – Perri King (Tasmania Devils)

Top Performers: NAB League Girls – Round 6

THE 2021 NAB League Girls competition treated us to an extended weekend of fixtures in Round 6. Our weekly (self explanatory) Top Performers series delves into some of the best individual feats across each weekend of action. This week produced plenty of highlights as players continue to impress in the elite talent pathway. Starting with AFL Academy-listed prospects, we take a look at the top performers out of an exciting set of fixtures.

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

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#8 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)

A quiet game compared to her usual lofty standards, Rowbottom’s influence on the game still can’t be understated as she demanded a run with player around the ground throughout the game. Despite this, she still found ways to impact, especially up forward where she was played as the main target, able to hit the scoreboard for her troubles. Still had moments of brilliance where she’d get away from her player and win the clearance, leaving everyone in her dust. 

TOP PERFORMERS:

#10 Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers)

Just finds ways to outdo herself throughout the game as it goes on. It felt like she was adding a new string to her bow each quarter with her ball winning early impressive, then adding her speed the next quarter, then adding her overhead marking the next and finally adding her composure in the final quarter, not that any of those were weaknesses earlier on, but became more apparent as the game went on. Really reads the play well and puts herself in great spaces all the time, highlighted by a patch in the third quarter where she got an intercept mark, kicked it back forward and then got another one intercept mark when Sandringham worked it back out. Worked hard throughout the game, with her two-way running being a desirable trait. 

#29 Amanda Ling (Oakleigh Chargers)

Has some really eye catching moments, especially around stoppages, where her in-and-under, unrelenting hunt of the ball, mixed with her burst of speed and equally quick use of the ball by hand, is a real strength. This game she had a presence as a forward as well, taking a few good grabs and setting up some good inside 50 opportunities with her kicks.

#14 Eliza James (Oakleigh Chargers)

Had a solid game splitting her time through the midfield and up forward as a deeper target. Did some good things in the first three quarters around stoppages in particular, where her acceleration was hard for Sandringham to deal with, but it was in the final quarter when the pressure started mounting that she really stepped up and shined, getting involved all around the ground with her in close pressure work, and taking a particularly crucial contested mark to slow down play and run down the clock in the final two minutes, showing a deep understanding of the game and how to deal with those situations. 

#9 Brooke Vickers (Oakleigh Chargers)

Has been a consistent contributor in the Chargers defense and this game was no different, with her tendency to leave her opponent and making contests 2-on-1 in her teams favour, and her confidence to attack incoming balls at ground level and in the air, she’s a very well rounded attacking defender, that doesn’t neglect her defensive responsibilities. She stood up in the big moments, especially in the final quarter as Sandringham were clawing themselves back into the game.

#4 Alexandra McCulloch (Oakleigh Chargers)

Stood up again in the Oakleigh backline, where her willingness to back herself was on show, flying for marks in packs and taking on opponents when tucking the ball under her arm and running with it. Her reliability throughout the game allowed other Oakleigh defenders such as Brooke Vickers to run off their opponents to impact further up the ground, which made her a very valuable part of the win.

#10 Bridie Hipwell (Sandringham Dragons)

Had some really good moments, especially with ball in hand, where she’d use her agility to get around multiple opponents and then getting the ball to a teammate. Not overly crash and bash with her ball winning, but she’s very capable of winning a contested ground ball with her poise around contests, which means that more often than not she’s in a good position to handball off to a teammate effectively 

# 18 Mia Zielinski (Sandringham Dragons)

It’s hard to believe this was just her second game at this level, just plays in such a confident and assured manner, confident to take on opponents in a foot race, on the ground or in the air. Her aerial work is superb, rarely dropping a mark and not wasting a single disposal, she became Sandringham’s main target inside 50, flying for everything, very much one to watch for the 2023 draft. 

#11 Tayla Jones (Sandringham Dragons)

Despite playing as a winger, she got involved quite a bit down deep in defence, where she was winning herself a few free kicks through getting to the ball first. Followed up her kicks if they went wayward which obviously made her teammates much more assured. Further up the ground she was punishing Oakleigh for missed kicks when she was in the area, sweeping up loose balls and delivering accurately to teammates.

#15 Sofia Hurley (Sandringham Dragons)

Followed up her brilliant game against Gippsland with another big performance against a physically stronger midfield, where her athleticism and footy IQ held her in good stead for the game, often selling candy or side stepping opponents with ease then delivering a long accurate kick forward or handballing off to a teammate on the outside, it really looks like her confidence is growing game by game. Was one of the main dragons to take that step up in the final quarter to get them within a kick.

OTHERS:

In such a well rounded performance there’s plenty of others worthy of a mention. From the victors, Erin Woodford and Lily Hart played a big role in pushing their side through for a win. Jemma Rigoni was also good around the ground, getting a goal in her usual forward spot but pushing up and impacting in the midfield, with talented bottom-ager Ameille Smith also having an impact up forward and in the ruck. Sandringham’s winger Charlotte Ryan won plenty of it and did some damage with her signature speed, Pia Staltari was again thrown around in all 3 sections of the ground, but used it well wherever she was. Abby Thompson was a solid aerial presence in defense with captain Kiana Lynch creating plenty going forward.

 

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS vs. GWS GIANTS ACADEMY

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#36 Ally Morphett (GWS GIANTS Academy – but also Murray Bushrangers)

It must have been weird for Morphett lining up against her NAB League teammates, but she certainly had no qualms making an impact in the game. The opening bounce saw the ruck punch a thumping ball forward into the path of her teammates, and then had a number of shots on goal in the opening term. Her set shot from 50m shanked to the right and was intercepted, then her quick snap on goal was good, but went to to the left and stayed in. She kept putting her body on the line and winning her fair share of the ball, thumping it forward. She took a really strong overhead mark, clunking the ball and her ball movement inside 50 led to a goal.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#3 Cynthia Hamilton (GWS GIANTS Academy)

A standout throughout the match for the GIANTS Academy providing run all over the ground. She played between the wing, forward and even dropping back into defence, finding plenty of the ball and keeping it moving in transition. Her work rate was a feature of her game, and she stepped up to kick two goals in the match; the first when she went to full-forward midway through the term thanks to a quick kick running back to it, and then booted a second goal in the third term with a snap out of nothing. Hamilton had a courageous marking attempt in the forward 50 and would continue to run hard throughout the match to be one of the GIANTS’ standout players.

#11 Jayde Hamilton (GWS GIANTS Academy)

Just cracked in for four quarters, and having been one of the AFL Women’s Draft Combine invitees from last season, and someone who has already debuted at VFL Women’s level, Hamilton showed her experience and ball-winning abilities. She can tend to throw the ball on the boot at times, but her vision and timing of handballs is quite good, able to release at the right point. She reads the stoppage work well and can get forward for some shots on goal.

#30 Jessica Whelan (GWS GIANTS Academy)

A lovely kick of the ball, Whelan has great technique and and played between midfield and forward, with a few eye-catching highlights. She laid a fierce tackle in the middle of the ground in the opening term, took a great intercept mark on the wing and hit a low dart of a pass inside 50 in the third term which led to a goal, then earned a 50m penalty to have a set shot from the goalsquare and made no mistake.

#31 Hayley Macdonald (GWS GIANTS Academy)

Booted two goals in the game and looked lively inside 50. She arguably could have finished with more majors, given her first set shot from 20m out straight in front missed to the right. She kicked her first early in the third term with a great snap around her body, and continued to present throughout the second half. Early in the fourth quarter Macdonald kicked her second, able to get her boot to the ball in the goalsquare to double her output.

#2 Aurora Smith (Murray Bushrangers)

Having some sort of season is the outside talent, with her speed and ball-winning capacity on show. At times she just needs that extra touch of composure or awareness to know she has more time than she thinks she does, but when she is up and going it is impressive. She is strong overhead and is not afraid to take on the opposition, at one stage evading two players, but then getting caught by the third. With her athletic traits and aggressive play with ball-in-hand, Smith is perennially an eye-catching player and has some attractive traits to her wing role.

#22 Grace Hay (Murray Bushrangers)

An important player in the Bushrangers’ defensive setup, Hay generally uses the ball well aside from the odd kick, and is always mopping up deep in defence. She is a strong interceptor and takes the game on with running meterage, and then puts her body on the line such as a great smother to save a goal in the third term. She was clean off the deck and able to quickly transition from the pickup to a smooth handball in the final quarter, having put together and impressive overall performance.

#17 Keeley Skepper (Murray Bushrangers)

Another strong performance from the bottom-age talent with a penetrating left boot. She showed clean hands at ground level and her usual defensive pressure, with her sidestepping ability to get on her left side and then wind up with a powerful pass always something to enjoy. Skepper is able to take some strong overhead marks and cover the ground well, laying tackles in each of the thirds of the ground, and it is about refining the left boot to match the execution with the technique. Whilst she courageously went up for a mark late in the game, she landed a little awkwardly and was rested.

#46 Zara Hamilton (Murray Bushrangers)

Working with tandem with Smith as the prime ball mover in transition, Hamilton played an impressive game from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. Often she would apply pressure to the opposition to force a turnover such as a dropped mark inside defensive 50, and when she had the ball used it fairly well. Not afraid to use some athleticism to sidestep and opponent and kick long, Hamilton set up a goal to Olivia Cicolini who made no mistake from a free kick in the third term.

OTHERS:

Sophie Trewartha was impressive for the GIANTS, while Eleanor Bishop won plenty of the footy, and the likes of Georgie Jaques and Anita Manning were also solid. For the Bushrangers, Kristy Whitehead, Mindy Quade, Bonny McKean and Chloe Locke worked well in defence, and Mikayla Jones was also among the better players on the day for the losing side.

 

GEELONG FALCONS vs. SYDNEY SWANS ACADEMY

By: Peter Williams

AFLW ACADEMY:

#7 Jessica Doyle (Sydney Swans Academy)

Whilst Doyle might be lightly built, she certainly packs a punch and plenty of talent with her work in the forward half. Working between midfield and forward as one of those taller mids who can provide a marking target inside 50, Doyle has that X-factor about her that catches the eye. She got the ball rolling for her side against the momentum in the first term with an important goal, then stepped up with her side’s third major of the contest, to finish with the two goals from an equal team-high 19 disposals. Moving well around the ground, Doyle was a key playmaker, driving the ball inside 50 on multiple occasions.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#20 Ella Heads (Sydney Swans Academy)

An absolute rock in defence, Heads was a terrific one-on-one opponent, and took a number of strong intercept marks. She would then take the game on and either go for a run or use her composure to go back and search out a target. As the defence was under siege early, Heads did well to hold the fort up and team up well with the likes of Ruby Sargent-Wilson, and think through the defensive transition into attack.

#10 Ruby Sargent-Wilson (Sydney Swans Academy)

Did not need to win a heap of the ball to have an impact, with five rebound 50s from 10 touches. She popped up from time to time during crucial moments, and was one of the Swans’ best on the day. She used the ball well by foot and was composed when she won it, often weaving away from an opponent to provide teammates with something to run onto.

#19 Maddy Hendrie (Sydney Swans Academy)

Hendrie was someone who caught the eye due to her movement in transition, putting the ball into dangerous spots going inside 50. She was not afraid to get her hands dirty with a number of tackles, and even had a chance on goal but missed. Winning the majority of her touches at ground level, Hendrie was a key playmaker in the front half for the Swans throughout the day.

#13 Danika Spamer (Sydney Swans Academy)

A tough competitor who won her fair share of the ball, Spamer laid the equal most tackles for the Swans and really dug deep at the clinches. She was able to extract the ball from the stoppage and keep it moving, and whilst still developing some areas of her game, she showed she could win the ball and cover the field really well, winning possessions in each third of the ground.

#11 Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)

The Draft Central Player of the Week was absolutely sensational with a competition season-high 31 disposals on the day. She was everywhere, even kicking a goal off a step from just inside 50 to keep the Falcons in the contest, and popped up constantly around the ground. On a number of occasions she just could not quite hold onto a few marks so could have had even more of the pill, but her complete work rate saw her pick up five or more marks, tackles, inside 50s and rebounds just to give a bit of an indication of just how impressive she was in the match. On the most in-form players in the 2021 season.

#4 Poppy Schaap (Geelong Falcons)

Another consistent performer with clean skills and balance, Schaap worked in tandem with Craven throughout the match to ensure the game was controlled out of the midfield. Whilst the Falcons ultimately fell short of victory, Schaap was someone who would put her body on the line, then create her own space and use it well in transition. She was often the player cracking in under multiple opponents to win the contested ball, and then applying her own defensive pressure.

#44 Charlotte Simpson (Geelong Falcons)

Continuing what has been a consistent season, Simpson is the third player in the trio of ball-winning midfielders, and used her strength to advantage in the contest. She was able to win the loose and hard balls, and thump the pill forward to give teammates best chance. At times she can rush with her disposal, but knows how to win the ball and how to protect the ball at ground level, as well as aide with defensive support.

#33 Taiya Morrow (Geelong Falcons)

Really stepped up in defence with the absence of Annie Lee to team up with Elizabeth Dowling back there. She was someone often mopping up on the last line of defence, and then clearing the ball through a long kick to half-back. She put together a four-quarter performance and really came into her own during the match, and is an underrated player in the Falcons’ back six, completing their array of consistent defenders.

OTHERS:

For the Swans, it really was an even team performance, with rucks, Eloise Morgan and April Devine catching the eye, while Kahli Gilchrist and Isadora McLeay also stood out. For the Falcons, Dowling was her reliable self in defence, while Gabbi Featherston and Mia Van Dyke were impressive, as was Analea McKee who played her best game of the season, and Ash Van Loon was fierce before coming off with an injury.

 

TASMANIA DEVILS vs. DANDENONG STINGRAYS

By: Hamish Spence

AFLW ACADEMY:

#11 Perri King (Tasmania Devils)

King finished off her third game in eight days among the best players on the ground once again. Her poise, speed and timing were impressive in the tough conditions, but she still managed to match it around the contest with her 16 disposals and six tackles. One thing that stands out in King’s game is her intent to keep the ball alive and move it forward. While it doesn’t always come off and can result in the occasional mistake, her attacking mindset would have North Melbourne (the AFLW club with her draft rights) excited.

TOP PERFORMERS:  

#7 Meghan Gaffney (Tasmania Devils)

Gaffney’s enjoyed a strong 2021 campaign this year, but Saturday’s game was her finest performance to date. Her gut-running and agility were a luxury for the Devils, as they could distribute the ball to her on the outside and get it away from the contest, where it lived for large parts of the day. She played a typical wingers game, covering the whole ground and racking up plenty of possessions with her line-breaking speed, ultimately finishing with 20 disposals, four tackles, three inside 50s and three rebound 50s.

#15 Jemma Webster (Tasmania Devils)

Starred at ground level and on the inside, making an impact at every stoppage she attended. Her contested game style was perfectly suited to the congested conditions at Dial Park, with Webster often distributing the ball from the bottom of the pack with her 11 handballs. She racked up 20 disposals in total and kicked a goal, continuing the excellent form that has seen her named in Draft Central’s Team of the Week for the second week in a row.

#16 Ella Maurer (Tasmania Devils)

It was another great game for Maurer through the midfield, but it was the impact she made up forward that will turn some heads. She was the only multiple goalkicker for the game; her first was a set-shot after being hit-up on a lead, and the second was a classy running goal out of the contest. If Maurer can keep adding this element to her game, it will serve her well going forward. She was also tough as usual around stoppages with her 18 disposals and six tackles, constantly absorbing tackles to hand the ball off one of her teammates.

#49 Charlotte Vandenberg (Tasmania Devils)

Was the most dominant ruck on the ground, easily winning the ruck battle with her game-high 17 hit outs. Dandenong rotated several different players against her, but Vandenberg didn’t lower her standards or tire out, asserting her physicality at each contest. What was equally impressive was her follow-up and second efforts at ground level, her six tackles represent her want to impact the game even after the ball’s been bounced.

#6 Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays)

She worked tirelessly all game for the Stingrays, finishing as their leading possession getter with 19 disposals, despite playing out of the forward line. She pushed hard up the ground and used her speed to provide an option for her side, as evidenced by her game-high nine inside 50s. She had three scoring shots on goal, before finally getting some reward for effort with the last goal of the game.

#38 Felicity Crank (Dandenong Stingrays)

Was arguably Dandenong’s best midfielder in defeat on the weekend. She looked comfortable around stoppages in the wet conditions, constantly pushing past players and forcing her way through packs. While Emily Shepherd being out due to injury was a blow, it gave Crank a chance to step up in her absence, an opportunity she fully embraced with her 18 disposals.

#34 Ashleigh Richards (Dandenong Stingrays)

Another key contributor through the middle, Richards impressed with her toughness and competitiveness around the ball. She featured at most stoppages and made an impact with her 12 disposals and three tackles. She didn’t seem to push forward as much as she has done in the past, possibly signalling a more midfield centric role moving forward.

#17 Zoe Hill (Dandenong Stingrays)

Hill continued her excellent form marshalling the Stingrays down back, reading the ball beautifully, despite the wet conditions, and keeping Tasmania’s forward line in check. She kept the likes of Amy Prokopiec accountable after Prokopiec kicked the first goal of the game, while impacting the contest in her own right with her 13 disposals, three tackles and three rebound 50s.

#27 Charley Ryan (Dandenong Stingrays)

She didn’t gather as much of the ball as some other players, but Ryan made an impact whenever she had it in her hands. Every one of her nine disposals was effective and laced with class, which stood in the tough conditions on Saturday. She drove her side’s attacks up forward with six inside 50s and wasn’t afraid to work defensively with her six tackles.

OTHERS:

Aprille Crooks (18 disposals and three rebound 50s) and Priscilla Odwogo (15 disposals, five tackles and five rebound 50s) were Tasmania’s two main movers out of the backline, constantly cutting off the ball and sending it back out. Amy Bissett was an important link-up forward, gathering 14 disposals and three inside 50s in a strong performance. While her fellow winger, Meghan Gaffney, took most of the attention, Madison Brazendale (15 disposals and five tackles) was good in her own right on the opposing wing. Abbey Jordan (17 disposals and two inside 50s) was strong through the middle for Dandenong, matching it with some of the Devils’ best onballers around stoppages. Jemma Radford (nine disposals, two inside 50s and two rebound 50s) and Mackenzie Eardley (13 disposals, six tackles and two rebound 50s) held up down back and constantly rebounded the ball. Olivia Robinson (13 disposals, five tackles and three inside 50s) was influential at half-forward, working up the field to impact the contest and applying constant pressure.

 

GWV REBELS vs. WESTERN JETS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#20 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)

Positioned on the wing for the day, she really showed off her workrate and game reading ability, drifting into the backline to provide assistance down there, getting herself in the best spots to take intercept marks, but also pushing forward to provide pressure and scoring opportunities. It’s particularly impressive how aerially, even if she doesn’t hold the mark she’s never beaten with the follow up at ground level, where she’s composed and measured with her ball use as well.

#30 Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)

Really impressive work creating drive from the backline and setting up outside of forward 50 to get the ball straight back in, making it difficult for the Jets to set themselves up defensively again. She showed she understands the game at a high level as well, always doing all she can with the ball in hand, like going for runs, but never pushing it and overestimating what she can do, that mixed with the distance and penetration of her kick can be really damaging.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#15 Chloe Leonard (GWV Rebels)

Coming into the midfield from her usual back flank role, it was a seamless transition for Leonard who topped the disposal charts for the day. All the same attributes that make her such a danger off of half back; her speed, kicking and game sense, were well on show throughout the day as she was often standing beside the Jets Montana Ham around stoppages, and looked to do well in nullifying her whilst getting a lot of it herself. Her tackling around stoppages was really good as well, making it hard for Jets to break free at any stage 

#5 Paige Scott (GWV Rebels)

Had an amazing game playing mostly as the main target for the Rebels inside deep 50, showing her potential to be one of those midfielders that can effectively rest forward. Standing at just the 166 cm, you would’ve thought she was 10 cm taller the way she was flying for every mark and getting a couple of them. It was her work at ground level and in congestion that was most impressive, able to dance around opponents to set up teammates going forward, or handball to an oncoming runner.

#1 Charlotte Baskaran (Western Jets)

The top ball winner for the Jets, Baskaran was her usual composed and classy self throughout the game, with her ball use highly effective and damaging, which played a big part in the Jets second half surge. I really liked that she very rarely just kicks it down the line, she’s always looking to move the ball inside or across for a switch, making it easier for her forwards to get effective shots if they mark it.

#38 Montana Ham (Western Jets)

There’s something very entertaining about watching Ham run straight through stoppages to get the ball moving forward with a long bomb, and she’s just so hard for opponents to stop from doing it. Particularly impressed with how she set up behind the ball for the game, taking on a more defensive focus than we usually see from her, she really effective in creating contests rather than letting the rebels just go end-to-end

#6 Stella Bridgewater (GWV Rebels)

Lined up at centre half-forward to start with, but played one of those games where she could very well have been a midfielder as well, was just everywhere and involved in every area of the ground. Has some really good athletic traits which make her a difficult matchup, either faster or stronger than the opponents rotating on her throughout the game.

#52 Krystal Russell (Western Jets)

Improves more and more every game which is really good to see, and against the Rebels she started putting really direction and distance on her taps, putting it a few meters out in front of teammates already on the move, with her teammates rarely having to slow down for the ball. Her follow up work is good when it’s called upon as well.

OTHERS:

Lili Condon battled hard in the midfield all day for the Rebels, winning plenty of ball, with defensive duo Molly Walton and Stephanie Glover also putting in a good shift in the defensive half for the Rebels, while Kalani Scoullar won the most hitouts across the round. For the Jets, it was some regular contributors in Jemima Woods, Paige Ryan and Stephanie Asciak that battled hard all day in different areas of the ground, with all doing a lot of their work in the midfield.

 

GIPPSLAND POWER vs. CALDER CANNONS

By: Declan Reeve

AFLW ACADEMY:

#41 Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons)

It’s kind of ridiculous that she can play half of the game away from the rover roles but still have such a high disposal count and impact everywhere around the ground. It’s obvious she’s been playing more forward and defense in the last couple of weeks, and her output hasn’t dropped at all which is a really great thing to see. Was really impressive especially when playing in the backline, with her willingness to attack the footy and move up the ground playing a big part in Calder’s constant pressure and ball movement forward. Throw in some of her usual side steps and composure under pressure and it was a top level performance where she made essentially no mistakes.

#18 Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons)

Had a good game in the ruck where she was tested against one of the best in the comp. What you’re getting with Gillard is a ruck that, even if she doesn’t win the tap her follow up work is unmatchable, with work below her knees being a major strength for someone as tall as she is. Throw on top of this her ability to impact up forward or around the ground as a really good aerially presence and user of the footy and she’s such a valuable player, which was on show against Power.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#25 Lily Rose Williamson (Gippsland Power)

Her run-and-carry is a delight to watch, she’s got a good mix of power/strength as well as composure to understand what her limits are, so it was rare to see her get herself into trouble despite her tendency for that run-and carry. She’s really accountable in defense, even on the occasion her opponent does win the ball they won’t get an easy disposal afterwards with her tackling and relentless pressure. With more time in the midfield, I have no doubt she’ll become one of the stronger stoppage players in the competition.

#5 Neve Crowley (Calder Cannons)

She has such a high impact with her disposal that even without racking up big numbers she’s one of the most damaging players during any given game, and her switch to the forwardline after spending the last few games as a defender proves that with her game high 3 goal haul. A really impressive part of her game was how much she worked up the ground as well, then worked harder than her opponent in transition to impact the play. Another impressive part of her game was her marking, taking a good contested mark in the first quarter.

#10 Olivia Manfre (Calder Cannons)

She’s been on the verge of having a breakout game for a couple of weeks and all it took was a game where she got a really good run in the midfield to do it. A lot of what she’s displayed up forward with her leading patterns, disposal skills and footy IQ shined in the midfield as well, making really good runs around stoppages to get in the best positions, and could then get the ball to outside runners or kick it forward.. She still had her stints up forward as well, getting a goal for her efforts, showing that she’s got that capability of a midfield/forward split going forward.

#2 Reese Sutton (Calder Cannons)

In a similar sense to Manfre she’s been on the verge of a breakout game for a couple of weeks, and with increased midfield time she took it with both hands, her footy IQ on display around stoppages where she does well to put herself where the ball is going to be. Her kicking is a real delight, finding the better options more often than not with well weighted kicks.

#3 Emelia Yassir (Calder Cannons)

Super impressive through the midfield all day, with her burst of speed in particular looking good coming out of stoppages or contests, always followed by a quality kick forward or handball to an outside team mate. Once again was impressed by her two-way running, where she’d be involved in the forwardline, and then pop up in the backline a minute later when Gippsland got a turn over.

#5 Yasmin Duursma (Gippsland Power)

Looking at her play a game, and she just understands it at a really high level. Despite not racking up huge numbers she has really good moments throughout the game where her game sense and footy IQ are on display with her positioning or runs she’s making, especially when reading the ball off of the rucks hands. Her disposal skills under pressure were also really impressive, and contributed to some really good passages for Gippsland

#1 Sunday Brisbane (Gippsland Power)

Really crafty midfielder, who despite her size isn’t afraid to get involved  in the contested side of the game, and that relentless attack on the ball is really advantageous for Gippsland, especially with her handballing being at a good level, even with Calder tightening up on her later on.

OTHERS:

Gippsland had a few admirable performers despite the loss, with Courtney Fletcher winning quite a bit of ball around the ground. Tall duo Matilda Van Berkel and Grace Matser were solid in defense and the Ruck respectively and Grace McRae still impacted well despite having a quieter game than usual. The Cannons had plenty of others that performed their role well, Zali Friswell again being a good ball winner and contributor in other areas around the ground, bottom-ager Abbey McDonald continues to work into her role as rebounding defender really well, and winger Mia Briedis was winning it plenty.

 

NORTHERN KNIGHTS vs. EASTERN RANGES

By: Michael Alvaro

AFLW ACADEMY:

#11 Maykaylah Appleby (Northern Knights)

Appleby was again promising in patches for the Knights, with her speed and running ability evident but not dominant over the course of a highly contested game. She could have been the perfect player to break the contest open on the outside and threatened to do so with ball in hand. Her class shone through with clean takes and use in possession, especially during the third and fourth quarters as Northern began to arrest momentum and mount its extraordinary comeback.

TOP PERFORMERS:

#36 Ava Jordan (Northern Knights)

The best player afield and at 15 years of age, one who has already set the bar high with many seasons left to prosper in the underage pathways. Jordan was a constant figure at the stoppages, using her zippy turn of speed to burst away with ball in hand and thrust Northern onto the front foot. She dug in hard despite her diminutive stature and was the standout performer across four quarters, while also standing up in the clutch moments. Her third term goal gave Northern a sniff, and her second put the Knights within striking distance during term four, capping off what was an outstanding individual performance which inspired her team to victory.

#4 Keeley Sherar (Eastern Ranges)

Eastern’s most outstanding performer on the day, Sherar worked furiously hard to ensure her side would boss the midfield battle early on. All bar one of her 16 disposals were kicks, highlighting Sherar’s ability to gain meterage from the coalface and make an impact where it matters most. Her marking prowess was also on show and the Ranges coaches would have been pleased by her work-rate to not only win possession in all areas of the ground, but to also tackle hard when required. After kicking the second goal of the game, Sherar was set up for a big day and followed through.

#15 Tarrah Delgado (Northern Knights)

With everything to gain late in the contest, Northern pulled the trigger and sent Delgado into the centre bounces – a move which ultimately played a massive part in the final result. Previously, the reliable top-ager was seen intercepting and rebounding in her usual defensive post, which proved key to Northern remaining a chance to turn around and win. At 173cm, her presence was then felt through midfield where she willed the ball forward and booted a crucial goal at the start of term four to spark Northern’s game-winning charge.

#14 Alyssia Pisano (Eastern Ranges)

Another of the 2005-birth brigade, Pisano continues to find the goals for Eastern and impact games up forward. An impressive 14 of her 15 disposals came via foot, and five of them were inside 50 entries, showcasing the creative threat that Pisano presents. Her two goals came with a touch of class and were taken in quick succession during the first term, helping Eastern skip out to what should have been a defining lead. The 15-year-old has plenty of time to develop further and potentially try her hand up the field, but looks so comfortable at the level as a forward.

#22 Ella Smallacombe (Northern Knights)

One of Northern’s key factors up forward, Smallacombe, or ‘Big Brush’ as she is referred to by teammates notched a career-high 17 disposals as she worked hard up the ground to provide a viable target and help link the Knights into their attacking 50. She may not have found the big sticks in this outing, but moreso played to a role which allowed Northern to keep its forward momentum going and have someone who could skilfully deliver the ball into dangerous areas.

#44 Grace Campbell (Eastern Ranges)

One of the competition’s most exciting ruck prospects, Campbell was able to showcase her athleticism and raw ability on the ball in this outing. At over 180cm, her aerial nous is an obvious strength and she brought it to the fore with a game-high 19 hitouts to go with three eye-catching marks. She is one of the few players who can take the ball at its highest point, but not one to admire her work for long, Campbell also showed a knack for playing on straight away and moving through traffic like a much smaller player. She missed the chance to cap off a promising outing with scoreboard impact, with one guilt-edge chance to put Eastern back ahead during the fourth term drifting into the post.

OTHERS:

Both sides had a raft of handy contributors during the day, with plenty of hard workers placed on each line. Eastern had the likes of Jess Grace and Isabelle Khoury return from VFLW duties with aplomb, while Grace Walsh was strong in defence alongside Cadhla Schmidli, and Bridget Deed was reliable in midfield. Northern leader Teleah Smart was also busy in the engine room, aided by the combativeness of stand-in ruck Monique Ramsay. Lulu Beatty was another to impress, while Rylie Wilcox was lively inside 50 and Trinity Mills popped up for a couple of clutch goals.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grateful Knights focussed on building connection

AFTER a difficult year for all, the Northern Knights are putting things into perspective heading into the 2021 NAB League Girls season. Former female talent coordinator, Natalie Grindal has stepped into the new, extended talent operations lead role which oversees both the boys and girls programs, along with incoming coach Leigh Clarke.

Grindal says she sometimes has to “pinch (herself)” though at her latest opportunity, with that perspective extending throughout the Northern talent program. While the wealth of changes and a condensed preseason schedule could be perceived as challenges for some, Grindal insists her Knights are grateful just to have football back.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to work in footy and to be able to do it now full-time and work across our girls program and now with our 17s and 19s boys, it’s amazing,” Grindal said.

“I think everyone is in the same boat with regards to what’s gone on in the last 12 months. “Obviously in terms of the staffing we’ve had a pretty significant change in personnel from a coaching perspective… so for us pre-Christmas and even post-Christmas the real focus was just on building that connection and building those rapports – whether it be player-to-player or player-to-staff – that’s been a real focus for us.”

“To be honest, we’re just really grateful to have footy back in any capacity. “Firstly it was training and now we’re just grateful and excited for the return of games, that’s the attitude that we’re taking at the moment.”

The success of the region, particularly over the last two years, in developing AFLW talent has been outstanding. In 2019 and 2020, number one AFLW draft picks in Gabby Newton and Ellie McKenzie graduated from the Northern program, along with a whole generation of elite-level prospects. Grindal says such honours were a “fantastic” result for the region.

“It was fantastic for the club to have Gabby and Ellie both go number one,” she said. “It’s a huge credit to the work that Marcus (Abney-Hastings), our coaching and support staff put into our program and our players’ development.”

“We’re really blessed in the northern region to have some fantastic local football clubs produce great footballers that come through and we’re just the beneficiary of those two girls, they’re outstanding. “It was fantastic to see Ellie debut on the weekend and Gabby still doing a fantastic job at the Bulldogs as well.”

This year, despite another turnover of top-age talent, the Knights are in good stead to again supply the top level of women’s football. Getting back to training in large unrestricted groups has helped players thrive as season proper approaches, and Grindal says players were “glowing” at the prospect of match simulation during the most recent preseason training stint.

“The girls were split into groups of about 10 (pre-Christmas), so when we returned post-Christmas, which was only two and a bit weeks ago, we were allowed to train in a full squad and you could tell that was what the girls were craving,” she said.

“Even from a preparation perspective, being able to do some match simulation – Leigh and I were talking and you could tell their faces were glowing, they had massive smiles after the first time we did some match simulation. “They obviously haven’t played for close to 11 months now of actual competitive football so for them to be able to get back, play with their friends and do what they love was really exciting.”

An “even split” across the age groups is set to make for a unique squad dynamic, as the competition moves towards Under 19 status in 2021. Grindal says the Knights will potentially have players stretched across four ages at any given time, with a number of standouts already emerging in the draft eligible categories.

“It’s an interesting one,” she said. “We’ll have some 19-year-olds returning, then we’ve probably got a pretty even split between 18 and 17-year-olds and we’ll also have a couple of 16-year-olds that will be on our list as well.”

Maeve Chaplin is going to return this year and play for us which is fantastic. “We’re excited for her to have another opportunity to show her skillset at the NAB League level, she was probably one of the really unlucky ones with the season cutting short – she didn’t get a full season to put her best foot forward and to prove herself to recruiters and AFLW clubs.”

Maykayla Appleby‘s in the AFLW national academy; she’s an 18-year-old, a really smart ball user who had played previously outside mid. “Obviously with Ellie and Fitzy (Jess Fitzgerald) in particular in the midfield last year, we’re looking at different players this year to step up and take that opportunity to take their game to the next level.”

Teleah Smart, who’s an 18-year-old as well, played in our 2019 premiership side as a bottom-ager, so she was 16-years-old then. “Unfortunately she was injured at the start of 2020 and was due to play in Round 4 as the competition was suspended so she’s well and truly itching to get back out there. “She’s an inside mid, an absolute contested ball winner, hard at it and I’m really excited to see her back out there again.”

Tarrah Delgado, probably at the start of the 2020 had a breakout year for us. “She played a couple of games with us in 2019 and then played all three in 2020 and really found her spot in defence. “She’s a really solid intercept marking defender, with an incredible read on the game and a pretty impressive kick on her, so she’s another one that I’m really looking forward to seeing how the year pans out for her.”

The Knights’ leadership group was announced at the club’s jumper presentation event on Wednesday, with Smart and Mikayla Plunkett set to co-captain as Georgia Kitchell takes up vice-captaincy. With no major injuries throughout preseason and a near-full squad to choose from, Northern faces a tough test in facing up to the Oakleigh Chargers for their Round 1 outing on Sunday afternoon.