As we approach the halfway point of the 2021 season, AFLW round four was testing for a number of teams, with just two remaining unbeaten.
St. Kilda v Geelong – Friday @ RSEA Park
St. Kilda 1.1.7 | 1.3.9 | 4.9.33 | 7.9.51
Geelong 0.2.2 | 1.2.8 | 1.2.8 | 3.4.22
St. Kilda: Caitlin Greiser (3), Kate McCarthy, Isabella Shannon, Kate Shierlaw, Jacqui Vogt
Geelong: Richelle Cranston, Phoebe McWilliams, Georgia Rankin
St. Kilda: N/A
- The Saints have been a strong defensive team since they entered the competition last year, and Tilly Lucas-Rodd and her on-field leadership is a big part of this. The way Lucas-Rodd organises their defensive group is impressive, and has allowed the likes of Tarni White and Hannah Priest to flourish. It’s not just organisation that she brings, however. In 2021 Lucas-Rodd is averaging 16 disposals—most of which are kicks—and she uses the ball at an impressive 75% efficiency. On top of that, she is winning 6.25 intercepts a game, and laying 4.25 tackles.
- It’s because of players like Lucas-Rodd that young talent is also able to excel in this side, and Tyanna Smith is certainly doing that. Against the Cats she laid 13 tackles—only six other players in the history of the competition have registered 13+ in a game—had four inside 50s, eight score involvements and 303 metres gained. The way in which she moves around the field and evades congestion is unteachable, but even better is her awareness, allowing her to make really smart decisions when using the ball.
- With that sort of delivery forward, it’s no wonder Caitlin Greiser had her best return at goal since round six last year. She kicked three goals from five scoring shots to really separate the Saints and Geelong. That being said, Greiser would often be crucially involved in other passages of play leading to scores, whether it was a tap forward or a soccer off the ground, Greiser does more than just kick goals—although those are pretty spectacular too.
- For the Cats, it was evident that their on-field communication is struggling. Frustration seemed to seep in and impact their ability to play cohesively as a unit. This was often causing their structures to break down and prevent them from playing the kind of game they clearly want to play.
- Often Geelong would get sucked into one half of the ground—their defensive half—allowing the Saints to comfortably play someone a kick behind the play. This meant that every time the Cats won the ball back in defence and wanted to move the ball quickly, they were stunted. This made the job of attacking arduous for Geelong for much of the evening.
Carlton v Richmond – Saturday @ Ikon Park
Carlton 0.2.2 | 4.2.26 | 7.3.45 | 8.3.51
Richmond 3.0.18 | 4.1.25 | 5.1.31 | 7.4.46
Carlton: Darcy Vescio (3), Maddy Prespakis (2), Tayla Harris, Lucy McEvoy, Nicola Stevens
Richmond: Courtney Wakefield (3), Katie Brennan (2), Tayla Stahl (2)
- Richmond managed to get the early jump on Carlton, kicking three goals straight to win their first ever first quarter. They showed the kind of football they can play if they have an awareness of one another on the field. This was particularly evident when watching the movements of Richmond’s forward line when their mids were looking to kick into attack. Last year, inside 50 the Tigers were completely stagnant, but it seems that they’ve learned to make space for one another and create options for the ball carrier.
- Their midfield also looks more solid—even compared to round one this year. The work of Maddy Brancatisano at the contest was immense. Her quick hands and vision regularly set up the likes of Monique Conti and Ellie McKenzie to run through a stoppage and gather the handball receive. Brancatisano had a career-high 17 disposals, four clearances, three score involvements and, crucially, used the ball at 88% efficiency.
- In the forward line Courtney Wakefield yet again stood strong, kicking three goals. She so often creates opportunities out of nothing, simply through her quick thinking and repeat efforts. Inside 50, she also laid five tackles to go along with her ten disposals.
- At the other end of the ground, Darcy Vescio was playing her most dominant forward game in years. We’ve seen her take some big marks this year, but not impact games in the way we know she can, but she seemed right at home in the goal square against the Tigers. Vescio took six marks for the game—four of which were inside 50—and kicked three goals in the third quarter when Carlton needed to put their foot down.
- At quarter time things looked bleak for the Blues. Down by 16 points against the winless Richmond, they were told in no uncertain terms to ‘get their heads in the game’ by coach Daniel Harford. This launched a four goal second quarter which began with their ball movement into attack. Too often this year we’ve seen Carlton just bomb the ball inside 50 in hope of a teammate getting on the end of it, but in their resurgence on Saturday, it was the work of Georgia Gee and Nicola Stevens making smart decisions going forward, which allowed them to score more readily. That saw Carlton’s forward line operate more effectively as a unit and enjoy a spread of five individual goal kickers—the same as their average goal kicking spread in their strong 2020 season.
Fremantle v Gold Coast – Saturday @ Fremantle Oval
Fremantle 0.0.0 | 1.5.11 | 4.7.31 | 7.13.55
Gold Coast 1.0.6 | 1.0.6 | 1.0.6 | 1.0.6
Fremantle: Gabby O’Sullivan (2), Ebony Antonio, Hayley Miller, Roxy Roux, Ashley Sharp, Sarah Verrier
Gold Coast: Leah Kaslar
Gold Coast: Alison Drennan (ankle)
- Fremantle fans were no doubt a little on edge at half time—ahead by just five points—but a pattern is beginning to emerge with the Dockers. Last week against the Crows they went into half time with just two goals and up by 11 points, only to come out and kick five goals straight in the second half and win by 30 points. This week they kicked a huge 6.8.44 in the second half to win by 49 points, keeping the Suns scoreless after the first quarter. A scary prospect for opposition sides, Fremantle has the fitness to not just run out games, but put the foot down late.
- Gold Coast, meanwhile, did the opposite. After kicking the first goal of the game just minutes after the opening bounce, they failed to register another score for the day. Registering just 13 inside 50s for the game, more than half of those came in the first term.
- The Suns’ pressure game was certainly on show, however, notably with a number of first year players buying into the team strategy. While they lost the tackle count, 73-46—keeping in mind that Kiara Bowers alone was responsible for 15 of those 73—just two Suns failed to register a tackle. Lucy Single spent plenty of time going toe-to-toe with Bowers and laid seven tackles herself, while other fourth-gamers Bess Keaney and Maddison Levi laid five and four respectively.
- One of the most enticing matchups in this game was certainly the exciting Roxy Roux against the reliable Jade Pregelj who is averaging ten intercepts a game this year. Under the pump for the duration, Pregelj kept her cool even when her agility let her down against some more athletic opponents, and conceded just one—spectacular—goal to Roux from a free kick.
- Bowers was a star once again, but it was some other Dockers who stole the show—particularly during their second half surge. Gabby O’Sullivan was lively, providing a spark in the forward line on a day when Gemma Houghton and Sabreena Duffy struggled to get going. Hitting contests at speed and with a real intent to attack, O’Sullivan kicked two goals from her 16 disposals, with which she gained 304 metres. Hayley Miller was the other standout Docker, gathering five clearances and 17 disposals, and delivering inside 50 five times. Her strength to break away from stoppages and either hit up a teammate, or the scoreboard herself, Miller was hugely influential.
North Melbourne v Collingwood – Saturday @ Marvel Stadium
North Melbourne 0.0.0 | 0.3.3 | 0.5.5 | 0.8.8
Collingwood 2.2.14 | 3.2.20 | 3.4.22 | 4.4.28
North Melbourne: N/A
Collingwood: Chloe Molloy (2), Jordan Membrey, Aishling Sheridan
North Melbourne: Nicole Bresnehan (hand)
- The theatre of these two sides has been building for years. After being awarded an AFLW license ahead of the 2019 season, North Melbourne pilfered Collingwood’s playing list, winning over Jasmine Garner, Emma King, Jess Duffin and Moana Hope, hitting the competition with a bang. Then there was that famous final in 2020 where the Pies pushed the fancied Kangaroos right to the final siren. A contested mark from none other than Jasmine Garner handing the two point win to North, devastating the exhausted Pies. The 2020 off-season saw North Melbourne unable to renew the contract of coach Scott Gowans, and he was quickly snapped up as an assistant by Collingwood. We got a glimpse at the sides in a practise match on the eve of the 2021 season. From what we saw, it seemed that Collingwood may be finally able to best the Kangaroos after these years of fierce rivalry and this weekend gave Pies fans what they’d been waiting for. This is another example of a genuine rivalry being born out of the contest in the AFLW, and not something leaning on the history of the men’s game. More of these blockbusters—and the AFLW’s willingness to focus on these matches, scheduling them accordingly—will do great things to continue to grow the women’s game.
- Collingwood—likely assisted by the addition of Gowans—identified that much of North Melbourne’s play and attack is generated from their strong midfield. By limiting the efficacy of the Kangaroos’ clearances, and dominating the uncontested ball, the Pies really shut down any meaningful ball movement from North. Making it even more difficult for the home side, the strength of Collingwood’s defence forced their shots on goal wide, and allowed just one set shot for the match.
- In the middle of the ground, the trio of Brianna Davey, Britt Bonnici and Jaimee Lambert racked up 79 disposals, 15 marks, 12 tackles and ten clearances. The control that midfield group was able to get is a testament not just to their ability, but the way in which they complement one another. Davey provides the power and break away ability, withstanding countless tackle attempts. Lambert is a tough, in-and-under ball winner, feeding to the outside run. And Bonnici is a hard running, persistent player who is as comfortable on the outside of the contest as she is inside.
- Add Chloe Molloy to that equation. The beauty of Molloy is her ability to play across all lines and go where she is needed. Molloy played in both the forward and back lines in this game, defending on the temperature of the play, and impacted in both areas. With her 12 disposals Molloy gained a massive 305 metres, but importantly used the ball at 83% efficiency. Not to mention kicking two goals to keep her streak alive—kicking goals in each of her last seven games.
- North Melbourne has become the third team—and second this year—to be held goalless in an AFLW match. After kicking the fifth-highest score in the competition’s history in round one, North have now kicked the AFLW’s equal-sixth-lowest score, too. All in the space of a month. This is also the first time the Roos have lost two games in a row, and are due to face an improving Carlton next week.
Brisbane v Adelaide – Sunday @ Hickey Park
Brisbane 0.0.0 | 3.0.18 | 4.1.25 | 5.3.33
Adelaide 2.5.17 | 4.6.30 | 5.8.38 | 6.9.45
Brisbane: Greta Bodey (2), Dakota Davidson, Courtney Hodder, Taylor Smith
Adelaide: Erin Phillips (4), Renee Forth, Ashleigh Woodland
Brisbane: Shannon Campbell (knee), Lily Postlethwaite (knee)
- We learned a lot about Brisbane in this game, but one of the most encouraging things is that Dakota Davidson’s improvement is legitimate. The young forward has been working hard this year, right across the ground, but that’s easy to do when your team is dominating games. In this match, the Lions really were under pressure and in no way did Davidson’s work rate or effort fall compared to previous weeks. She has now kicked a goal in each of her last five matches and is the competition’s leading goal kicker—with Erin Phillips—after four rounds. The kid is the real deal.
- That being said, when the Lions gained a bit of control in the second half, they made poor decisions when moving forward. They would repeatedly win the ball on the far side of the ground, 70 metres out from goal and just kick to an outnumber on the 50m paint. Every time the mature Adelaide defence would either take the intercept mark, or bring the ball to ground where their smalls would mop up. Brisbane’s inability to even attempt to change angles, or run the ball forward really did hurt them.
- Another brilliant matchup from round four was Chelsea Randall v Kate Lutkins in Adelaide’s forward line. Both players are known for their courage, ball reading ability and marking, so it was a one-on-one to behold. Lutkins ended the match with nine disposals, four marks and four intercepts, while Randall had 13 disposals, seven marks and three inside 50s.
- While Lutkins was preoccupied with the Crows’ captain, Erin Phillips got off the leash—as she is wont to do. She kicked four goals to win back her mantle as the competition’s standalone leading goalkicker—36 in her career to date—while also having 21 disposals, eight marks, five inside 50s and four clearances.
- Frustratingly for Brisbane, they were largely in this contest, but conceded late goals in three of the four quarters. Something Adelaide repeatedly did well in their dominant 2019 season was continue scoring late in quarters and games, and it was effectively these late goals that proved the difference. Adelaide forces their opponents to stay switched on until the very last moment, and any lapse in concentration is punished.
Western Bulldogs v Melbourne – Sunday @ Whitten Oval
Western Bulldogs 1.0.6 | 2.1.13 | 4.1.25 | 6.1.37
Melbourne 1.4.10 | 1.6.12 | 2.8.20 | 2.12.24
Western Bulldogs: Jess Fitzgerald (2), Isabel Huntington (2), Ellie Blackburn, Kirsten McLeod
Melbourne: Karen Paxman, Shelley Scott
Western Bulldogs: Naomi Ferred (nose), Celine Moody (shoulder)
Melbourne: Kate Hore (illness, replaced in side by Brenna Tarrant)
- Exactly one year since Melbourne’s inaccuracy at goal handed St. Kilda their first ever win, the Dees registered twice as many scoring shots as the Dogs but lost by 13 points. A pattern that most Melbourne fans had hoped was finally broken after an accurate start to the season, they’ve yet again lost a match despite having more shots on goal than their opponent.
- The late withdrawal of Kate Hore due to illness, and with Sinead Goldrick already missing through concussion protocols, Melbourne lacked a lot of the drive through the ground that they’ve enjoyed this season. The Demons have won their games this year by getting the ball to the outside and into the hands of runners. With no Kate Hore as that clean linking player into the forward line, and Daisy Pearce attempting to cover Goldrick’s rebounding defence role, meant that Melbourne wasn’t able to really settle into the game style they wanted.
- On top of this, the Dogs’ pressure was relentless. For four quarters they outnumbered Melbourne at the contest and didn’t allow an inch of space. Their ability to play that style of game for the full four quarters was, frankly, remarkable, and completely stunted any ball movement from Melbourne.
- What made the Dogs even more damaging was their ability to quickly spread into attack when they won a turnover, and use that slingshot to score. We’ve seen it multiple times from them this year—often ending in an Ellie Blackburn or Kirsten McLeod goal—where they pressure up high, make the ground small, and use their speed and fitness out the back.
- Eleanor Brown often goes unheralded in the Western Bulldogs’ defensive line, but she absolutely stood up in this game—especially considering Melbourne won the inside 50 count 19-38. Brown’s ability to read the ball is impressive, but it’s the way in which she is able to position herself to win possession, and then use her breakaway speed to get the ball out of danger that was really evident against the Demons. Brown had five intercepts and five rebound 50s with her 11 disposals, in her best game of 2021.
GWS Giants v West Coast – Sunday @ Blacktown International Sportspark
GWS Giants 4.2.26 | 5.3.33 | 5.4.34 | 7.6.48
West Coast 3.1.19 | 4.1.25 | 4.3.27 | 4.4.28
GWS Giants: Cora Staunton (4), Rebecca Beeson, Jess Dal Pos, Tait Mackrill
West Coast: Ashlee Atkins, Mikayla Bowen, Maddy Collier, Parris Laurie
GWS Giants: N/A
West Coast: Aisling McCarthy (knee)
- The improvement in the Eagles is obvious, the problem being they’ve only found that improvement in the first half of games. They’ve done 81% of their scoring in first halves this year, while conceding a massive 108 points across their four second halves. Multiple times this season they’ve been on track to better their highest score—4.6.30, round 4 2020 against the Western Bulldogs—but have fallen away fairly dramatically. Against the Giants they had registered 4.1.25 to half time, but kicked just three points in the remaining two quarters. Running out games continues to be the Eagles’ biggest problem.
- In a year where young talent is shining, Bella Lewis has flown under the radar. WA’s first draft selection in October last year was one of the best players out at Blacktown on Sunday, and is crucially picking up some of the slack left by Dana Hooker’s absence. Lewis led the Eagles for clearances with five, and had 16 disposals, but also played a strong defensive game with nine tackles.
- Young talent was also on show for the Giants. Emily Goodsir played just one game in her debut season last year, but hasn’t yet missed in 2021. Goodsir had a career-high 16 possessions—12 contested—and six clearances. She appears to be developing quickly in support of star players Alyce Parker and Rebecca Beeson.
- Speaking of Parker and Beeson, the duo yet again led the Giants from the coal face. They combined for 13 clearances, 47 disposals, 14 tackles, five inside 50s and nine score involvements.
- But this game was all about Cora Staunton. The 39 year old was lively in the forward line and made Eagles defenders nervous all game. Kicking four goals, Staunton also had 16 disposals and eight score involvements. It’s the first game this year where she had goals, and it’s worth noting that last season she kicked seven of her eight goals after round five. If this is Staunton yet again warming into the season, the footy world should brace itself for some more stunning games from her.