Two strong sides have emerged in the big battle of the top four sides, with wall to wall pressure absolutely suffocating their previously undefeated oppositions.
Collingwood v Fremantle — Thursday @ Victoria Park
Collingwood 0.1.1 | 1.1.7 | 1.1.7 | 1.1.7
Fremantle 1.1.7 | 2.3.15 | 2.7.19 | 5.8.38
Collingwood: Brittany Bonnici
Fremantle: Hayley Miller (2), Ebony Antonio, Gemma Houghton, Roxy Roux
The Fremantle Dockers jumped to action the moment the ball was tossed in the air, scoring their first goal within a minute via Roxy Roux, then suffocating Collingwood for the remainder of the match. The full ground press applied by Fremantle in the 34 degree heat was impressively sustained across four quarters and left Collingwood no reprieve.
Collingwood didn’t adapt to the pressure, constantly thinking they had more time and space, they were caught holding the ball nearly 20 times, handing the ball straight back to their opponents. Fremantle laid 76 tackles for the night, led by Gabby O’Sullivan and Ebony Antonio with nine and eight respectively.
Off the back of that manic pressure, Fremantle sent the ball forward 40 times, totally dominating the territory battle. The Pies were only able to go inside 50 ten times for the match, the lowest inside 50 count in the club’s history, which led to their lowest score in the AFLW.
Aine Tighe has been playing a role up forward and in the ruck for the Dockers so far this year, proving her athleticism and slick hands. Thursday night was different, however, as she went head to head with Sabrina Frederick in defence. Tighe registered the second-most intercepts by any Docker in history with 12 and impressed both in the air and once the ball hit the ground. Frederick was held to just nine disposals—largely high up the field—and two marks for the match.
New captain Hayley Miller has continued her stellar season, stealing the show against Collingwood. Coming into 2022, Miller had kicked four goals across her 28 career games. In four games this year, Miller has kicked six goals, and is averaging 17 disposals, well above her previous career average of 12.1. She kicked another two important goals on Thursday, including an impressive, pressured kick from 40m out, and only became stronger as the game went on.
GWS Giants v Western Bulldogs — Friday @ Henson Park
GWS Giants 3.0.18 | 5.1.31 | 5.1.31 | 7.1.43
Western Bulldogs 1.4.10 | 1.4.10 | 2.8.20 | 2.10.22
GWS Giants: Nicola Barr (3), Louise Stephenson (2), Jess Doyle, Cora Staunton
Western Bulldogs: Ellie Blackburn, Richelle Cranston
GWS Giants: N/A
Western Bulldogs: N/A
The Western Bulldogs returned to the field after a 20 day layoff thanks to the competition’s health and safety protocols severely disrupting their start to the season. GWS seemed like a gettable side after their disappointing performance last week, and six key players were out of the side. This ended up being far from the truth as the Giants hit the first quarter with a bang, spreading far more effectively and moving the ball out of defence with much more intent than we’ve seen from them.
Forced changes for the Giants ended up being a blessing in disguise, encouraging players to line up in new positions—highlighted by Nicola Barr and Louise Stephenson up forward—and others to take the game on, not relying on bigger name players to take the lead. It was refreshing to see GWS mix it up for the first time in the last few seasons, and they reaped the rewards for it.
Nicola Barr came into the game with 33 games under her belt after being the first ever player drafted to an AFLW side back in 2016. What Barr hadn’t done, however, was kick a goal. That all changed as she smoothly kicked the opening goal of the game with an opportunistic soccer off the ground. Later in the game she would show off her classy set shot routine, ending with three goals for the game. It’s hard to imagine Barr spending much more time in the back half for the remainder of the season.
It was to be expected that the Bulldogs would be a little rusty, after all training runs can only simulate so much elite match pressure. The Giants’ attention to applying pressure, and the Dogs’ fumbly first touches combined for a frustrating game for the away side. Typically a team who utilises quick hands and run, the Bulldogs struggled to gather the ball cleanly first up, and that need to take a second grab at the ball invited pressure from GWS, playing right into their hands.
Despite that pressure, the Bulldogs were able to get the ball inside 50 33 times, and registered 12 scores—four more than their opponents. They simply weren’t able to convert when they had the advantage of the wind, while the Giants were. Isabelle Pritchard got forward on more than one occasion, and looked to do the team thing and set up a teammate, but this didn’t prove fruitful. It would be good to see young players like Pritchard and Grant—who have been spending time in defence to cover a number of missing players—help support Bonnie Toogood up forward, given the absence of Isabel Huntington and Kirsten McLeod.
Adelaide v Melbourne — Saturday @ Norwood Oval
Adelaide 2.1.13 | 2.5.17 | 4.10.34 | 4.11.35
Melbourne 0.1.1 | 0.2.2 | 0.2.2 | 3.3.21
Adelaide: Erin Phillips (3), Rachelle Martin
Melbourne: Daisy Pearce (2), Tayla Harris
Adelaide: Chelsea Randall (hamstring)
Melbourne: Lauren Pearce (ankle)
This game wasn’t too dissimilar to Adelaide’s round one match up against the Lions. Wall to wall suffocating pressure limiting any sense of clean ball movement for the opposition. From the first siren, it was immediately evident that the Crows had studied how St. Kilda controlled Melbourne for three quarters last week, and thanks to their superior fitness were able to do a more complete job.
That pressure forced not only poor disposals from the Demons, but poor decision making. Early in the game, when they did win the ball Melbourne would simply kick long down the line, right into the hands of impressive tall marking duo Sarah Allan and Montana McKinnon. If they did get the ball to half forward, kicks inside 50 were not to the advantage of forwards, rather put on top of a pack of players where Adelaide would ultimately win out and calmly rebound out of defence. This was unlike the Melbourne of the first three rounds where they would possess the ball, pick out options with clean disposal and the forward line would separate the defensive unit and find themselves in one-on-ones.
Despite this, Tayla Harris has continued an understated, but important start to the season for Melbourne. She has now kicked seven goals for the year—already the second-most in a single season of her career—and averages 2.5 marks a game.
It wasn’t easy to be a forward for the Demons in this one. Not only were the entries poor, but the well oiled machine that is Adelaide’s defence worked seamlessly as a unit. Allan led that unit, taking two strong contested marks early to really set the standard. She finished the day with 13 disposals, seven intercepts and 319 metres gained.
Across the start of the season Ash Woodland has been the most dangerous forward at the Crows, but the story was different on Saturday. Erin Phillips started in the middle and pushed forward, kicking three goals to take her career tally to 46 and sees her back on top of the competition’s all time goal kicking tally. Phillips ended the game with 17 disposals, four marks and six tackles for an arguably best on ground performance.
Brisbane v Geelong — Saturday @ Maroochydore Multi Sport Complex
Brisbane 0.2.2 | 1.4.10 | 2.7.19 | 3.9.27
Geelong 1.0.6 | 1.0.6 | 2.0.12 | 4.1.25
Brisbane: Emily Bates, Dakota Davidson, Orla O’Dwyer
Geelong: Chloe Scheer (3), Chantel Emonson
Brisbane: Gabby Collingwood (knee)
Brisbane came off a four day turnaround to face Geelong at their temporary home ground in Maroochydore. Fortunately, Dakota Davidson was back early from an injury that was originally expected to see her miss five weeks of footy, so the absence of Taylor Smith wasn’t felt nearly as keenly.
Without Smith as a chop out, Tahlia Hickie reminded everyone why she is the Lions’ first choice ruck. Winning a career-high 34 hitouts—and a record 12 to advantage—Hickie also willingly applied ground level pressure, laying four tackles.
Orla O’Dwyer is having a special start to the season, so it was surprising to see Geelong happy to let her run unattended out on the wing. Averaging a massive 472.8 metres gained each match—the most in the competition this year—O’Dwyer is important to how Brisbane transitions the ball into attack. She is averaging a career-high 18.3 disposals, five inside 50s and four tackles a game, while also nailing a much needed goal against the Cats.
The defensive duo of Maddy McMahon and Meg McDonald is making life especially difficult for opposition forwards this season. The pair has combined for 52 intercepts, 14 rebounds and 39 one percenters over the first four rounds, and has held strong despite the Cats conceding nearly 30 inside 50s per game.
At the other end of the ground, Chloe Scheer came to the fore after a difficult start to the season. Playing out of the goalsquare, Scheer hadn’t seen enough ball to really make an impact on games before Saturday, but as Geelong found a surge in the final quarter Scheer became the dominant forward on the ground. She kicked three goals in the second half, and threatened to snatch the win for the Cats with a fourth shot late in the final quarter that just fell to the wrong side of the goalpost. This injection of confidence will likely see Scheer have more say in future games.
Carlton v North Melbourne — Sunday @ Princes Park
Carlton 1.1.7 | 2.2.14 | 2.3.15 | 3.3.21
North Melbourne 1.2.8 | 3.4.22 | 4.6.30 | 7.9.51
Carlton: Georgia Gee, Brooke Walker, Darcy Vescio
North Melbourne: Daria Bannister (2), Alice O’Loughlin (2), Kaitlyn Ashmore, Daisy Bateman, Tahlia Randall
North Melbourne: N/A
In their second home game for the season, Carlton again succumbed to quick, direct ball movement down the corridor from an opposition. North Melbourne used leg speed through the middle, led by Emma Kearney off the half back line, to split open the Blues’ defences and isolate their tall forwards, resulting in ten marks inside 50 to Carlton’s two.
The way the Blues use the ball invites pressure from the opposition. High, looping handballs and kicks through the middle of the ground makes teammates wait under the ball, providing the opposition with time to get to the drop zone and contest. It’s this clean disposal that prevents Carlton from getting the game on its terms, using the wings to run and carry and make use of the handball overlap.
Darcy Vescio became the first player to kick 25 goals at one venue, taking their career tally to 45. It hasn’t been an easy start to the season for the damaging forward, with little clean ball movement into attack and no key forward to play off, but it was good to see Vescio kick their first of the season.
North Melbourne have a willingness to send new blood through the middle, and use more experienced players like Kearney and Jasmine Garner in other areas of the ground. Ash Riddell has taken control in the middle, and is averaging a massive 28.8 disposals a game, but Mia King’s position at stoppages has seen her game improve, too. King won 25 disposals against the Blues—ten more than her previous career best of 15—while also registering five inside 50s, four clearances and five tackles.
Slowly the Kangaroos are getting their high-scoring, oppressive game back this year. They are the only side to average 40+ points every season they have been in the competition, and a slow start to the season saw them uncharacteristically kick just 50 points across the first two rounds. Since then, the Roos have piled on 105 points and brought their average points for up to 38.8.
Gold Coast v Richmond — Sunday @ Carrara Stadium
Gold Coast 1.5.11 | 3.7.25 | 3.7.25 | 5.9.39
Richmond 1.0.6 | 3.3.21 | 5.3.33 | 5.4.34
Gold Coast: Tara Bohanna (2), Cheyenne Hammond, Sarah Perkins, Kate Surman
Richmond: Katie Brennan (2), Sarah Dargan, Kate Dempsey, Tessa Lavey
Gold Coast: Jade Pregelj (knee)
Last year Gold Coast failed to win a game, and that included falling to Richmond by 15 points at home. This year their matchup was a different story. The Suns were coming off a postponed game due to health and safety protocols, and their first win in over 600 days, so were vying for their first back-to-back wins since joining the competition.
The Suns got the jump on Richmond, controlling the territory for much of the opening quarter, but not able to really translate that to the scoreboard. Their forward duo of Tara Bohanna and Sarah Perkins works wonderfully as a unit, setting one-another up and making space in the goalsquare when the other is taking a shot. This exposed Richmond’s limited key defensive stocks after Harriet Cordner went down with an ACL injury last week. Rebecca Miller worked tirelessly all game, but as a second key defender, Sarah D’Arcy was giving up too much height to properly limit Bohanna’s dominance.
At the other end of the ground, Jade Pregelj was ruled out of much of the game due to a knee injury which exposed Gold Coast out the back. Richmond’s third-quarter push came from their ability to get the ball over the back and use speed to run toward goal. Typically Pregelj plays as the Suns’ deepest defender, allowing Lauren Ahrens to play higher and more attacking once the ball is won, but without Pregelj playing as that goal keeper, Richmond became very dangerous out the back.
Kate Surman’s movement around the contest and attack at the ball has been backed up with superior disposal this year, and it has taken her game to a new level. Her quick hands are impressive, snatching the ball out of the air and squeezing handballs out to teammates on the run puts opposition players on the back foot. Added to this, not only is Surman dangerous around goal because of her quick thinking and agility, but her vision when going inside 50 has made their forward line more potent.
Katie Brennan has broken the record for most consecutive games kicking at least one goal, taking her streak to ten straight games on Sunday to steal the record from Chloe Molloy. Brennan has been a real leader at Richmond this year, stepping up in moments of pressure, taking that on her shoulders and getting her side going.