In an ever changing world, AFLW enjoyed a triumphant return over the weekend. Some debutants had their say, but plenty of experienced players took control.
Carlton v Collingwood – Thursday @ Ikon Park
Carlton 0.0.0 | 0.0.0 | 3.1.19 | 4.3.27
Collingwood 0.1.1 | 4.2.26 | 5.2.32 | 5.3.33
Carlton: Kerryn Harrington, Jess Hosking, Nicola Stevens, Darcy Vescio
Collingwood: Chloe Molloy (2), Aishling Sheridan (2), Brianna Davey
- The season opener proved to be quite similar to their round two matchup last year, with Collingwood controlling the first half and Carlton rising to the challenge in the second, but falling short. Collingwood capitalised on turnovers across the back half, and quickly moved the ball with clean skills through the corridor before changing angles coming into their forward 50.
- Without jumping the gun, it seems the Pies have potentially found a solution to their scoring woes. Rather than target forwards to come in and have an immediate impact, they have utilised the development and depth of their midfield. Thanks to Jaimee Lambert, Brittany Bonnici and even Sharni Norder (nee: Layton), coach Steve Symonds has the flexibility to rotate players like Brianna Davey to the goal square. Add in Chloe Molloy picking up where she left off last year and the fact that Sarah Rowe will soon return to the side, Collingwood may have found themselves a forward line.
- Early in the piece it was obvious how many strong defenders there were on the field. For the Blues, Charlotte Wilson was reading the ball well with five marks and showing strength in the one on one. Mua Laloifi played a freer role, gathering eight contested possessions and seven intercepts while attempting to generate some attack out of the backline. For Collingwood, Ruby Schleicher immediately stood out. After just two games last year, she looks stronger than ever and along with her career-high 12 disposals, she also propelled the ball inside 50 three times. Meanwhile, Stacey Livingstone continued to be the rock we know her to be. With her 15 disposals came five marks, nine intercepts and 309 metres gained.
- What became apparent during the game was the panicked way in which Carlton’s key contributors used the ball. While Collingwood registered just two more tackles than the Blues, the pressure applied to the home team all game was immense, and they simply didn’t handle it well. These long, quick kicks up the field combined with how well the Pies’ defence structures itself, was simply a recipe for disaster for Carlton.
- As flagged in Play On Radio’s predicted best 21 for Collingwood, it was fair to expect Ebony O’Dea to come into the side with a very specific role, and this week it was to wreak havoc on Maddy Prespakis and Elise O’Dea’s ability to find space or clear the ball effectively. The Blues would have loved to have Lucy McEvoy out there—missing with a fractured cheekbone—to allow more flexibility during the game between their forward line and midfield.
St. Kilda v Western Bulldogs – Friday @ RSEA Park
St. Kilda 3.0.18 | 6.0.36 | 6.2.38 | 8.3.51
Western Bulldogs 3.3.21 | 3.5.23 | 4.6.30 | 6.6.42
St. Kilda: Caitlin Greiser (2), Darcy Guttridge (2), Georgia Patrikios, Kate Shierlaw, Tyanna Smith, Jacqui Vogt
Western Bulldogs: Ellie Blackburn (2), Isabel Huntington (2), Bonnie Toogood (2)
St. Kilda: N/A
Western Bulldogs: N/A
- The Saints were strong last year when it came to limiting opposition score, but really did struggle to score through anyone but Caitlin Greiser. This game, however, proved that their off season recruiting and a more confident game style generated far more prolific scoring. They enjoyed six different goal kickers—the most in their short existence, and well above their 2020 average of 2.8—and their highest score, previously 6.6.42 from round six, 2020.
- That being said, they seem to have found more confidence in their defensive unit when evenly matched. While St. Kilda conceded 33 inside 50s for 12 scoring shots—the most in their history—they certainly looked more comfortable than expected without an anchor sitting behind the ball.
- Last year’s rising star Isabel Huntington has returned to the forward half for the Bulldogs and made her presence known. Dominant in the air—Huntington took seven marks, five of which were contested—she kicked two important goals, had five score involvements and was also key in the Dogs’ delivery forward. Alongside her in attack was the experienced Bonnie Toogood who looked back to her best, also kicking two goals.
- For the Saints, Georgia Patrikios hit her second year running. Without Nicola Xenos or Olivia Vesely, and Rosie Dillon only playing 65% of game time, Patrikios really took charge at the contest. Racking up 22 disposals, four clearances, four tackles, 370 meters gained and topping it off with a goal, the young star was key to the team’s ability to attack so consistently.
- It was debuts galore, with seven players running out for the first time, and a further two making their club debut. Jacqui Vogt, Tahlia Meyer, Renee Saulitis and Alice Burke were all important for St. Kilda, but Tyanna Smith was a standout with 16 disposals, three clearances, a goal and 345 metres gained—the second most on the ground behind Patrikios. For the Dogs, Jess Fitzgerald was key to their midfield and Sarah Hartwig’s positioning in defence is certainly going to cause some problems for opposition forwards this year.
Gold Coast v Melbourne – Saturday @ Metricon Stadium
Gold Coast 3.1.19 | 3.3.21 | 5.4.34 | 5.5.35
Melbourne 2.0.12 | 7.1.43 | 9.1.55 | 9.2.56
Gold Coast: Sarah Perkins (2), Leah Kaslar, Brittany Perry, Jamie Stanton
Melbourne: Tegan Cunningham (2), Kate Hore (2), Krstel Petrevski (2), Shelley Heath, Lily Mithen, Eden Zanker
Gold Coast: Annise Bradfield (knee)
- The Suns unleashed high profile recruit Sarah Perkins after plenty of discussion during the off season, and she certainly didn’t disappoint. Taking two marks inside 50 and kicking two goals, Perkins’ impact didn’t stop there. The forward covered the ground better than we’ve previously seen, and was instrumental in delivering the ball forward. Perkins’ place kicking is remarkable, and the way she’s able to pinpoint teammates amongst a number of opposition players is invaluable.
- When it comes to Melbourne’s forward line, accuracy has always been their issue, steadily decreasing since 2017 to a low of 43.84% in 2020. Against the Suns, the Demons had their most efficient scoring performance in their history at 82%. This is something they will be desperate to continue throughout the season.
- A large part of that forward efficiency was thanks to Tegan Cunningham’s return to form. Last season Cunningham played seven games for two goals and six contested marks. In this game alone she kicked two goals and took three contested marks. More importantly, she attacked the game with a confidence we haven’t seen since 2019, and despite the Suns’ best efforts, she couldn’t be contained.
- Lauren Pearce was another big return for Melbourne after playing just two games in 2020. Her contribution in the middle was massive, not just with her own stats—a casual six clearances, two contested marks, two inside 50s—but also by allowing Eden Zanker to play the full game as a forward. One passage of play in particular highlighted this, with Pearce gathering an intercept across half back and moving the ball forward resulting in Zanker’s goal. This simply wouldn’t have been possible last year.
- Both midfields went into this game without key personnel, and the way in which each adapted was encouraging. The Suns were missing their best pressure on-baller in Jacqui Yorston, but new recruit Alison Drennan absolutely stood up to the challenge. With nine tackles, 15 contested possessions and six clearances—equal-most on the field—the loss of Yorston didn’t feel nearly as stark as one might have expected. For Melbourne, it wasn’t just their first match without the traded Elise O’Dea, but Maddi Gay also didn’t make the trip north. That being said, the Demons found themselves a bit more well-rounded, with Lauren Pearce leading the way. Importantly, young midfielders Tyla Hanks, Lily Mithen and debutant Eliza McNamara were vital at the contest.
West Coast v Adelaide – Saturday @ Mineral Resources Park
West Coast 0.1.1 | 2.3.15 | 2.3.15 | 2.6.18
Adelaide 2.1.13 | 3.2.20 | 7.5.47 | 8.8.56
West Coast: Mikayla Bowen, Niamh Kelly
Adelaide: Erin Phillips (2), Ashleigh Woodland (2), Chelsea Biddell, Aisling Considine, Eloise Jones, Ebony Marinoff
West Coast N/A
Adelaide Anne Hatchard (corked calf)
- There was clear improvement in the Eagles, they simply weren’t able to sustain it for long enough. Importantly, they found a way to win the ball on the outside of the contest—something they really struggled to do in their inaugural year. Unfortunately, in the second half they retreated back into the team we saw last year, but the glimpses of what they’re working toward is encouraging.
- West Coast’s new recruits certainly had an impact, with Aisling McCarthy and Bella Lewis strong in the middle—but needing more support to play more of an outside game. In defence, Tayla Bresland held her own, but it was the tiniest flash of brilliance from Shanae Davison that was most exciting. Late in the second quarter, the ball was on the Eagles’ forward flank, and Davison ever so cleanly gathered it with one grab and helped get it deep inside 50, resulting in Mikayla Bowen’s goal.
- For Adelaide, Ashleigh Woodland was such a threatening forward presence. Playing as their deepest forward, Woodland was able to mark strongly, apply ground level pressure and kick two goals. Every time the ball entered Adelaide’s attack, she was somehow involved and she really helped create repeat opportunities.
- We’ve heard plenty about the returning Crows, and for good reason. Captain Chelsea Randall got up the field and delivered inside 50 five times, Rhiannon Metcalfe won 24 hitouts and, crucially, used the ball at 75%, and Hannah Button had a game—and career—best 13 tackles. Oh, and Erin Phillips kicked two goals, took two contested marks and had five inside 50s. As mentioned on The Play On Preview, these players are important to Adelaide’s aerial game and, therefore, their ability to control the ball. Every Crow, except for the aforementioned Button, took at least one mark, and Adelaide had a huge nine marks inside 50 compared to the Eagles’ two.
- On the topic of Erin Phillips, it’s a joy to watch her once again. With her two goals on the weekend, she now has a career total of 30 to once again lead the competition. That being said, with Phillips still the lifeblood of this team, will their trajectory continue to simply track with Phillips’ form?
Geelong v North Melbourne – Sunday @ GMHBA Stadium
Geelong 0.0.0 | 0.0.0 | 0.0.0 | 1.3.9
North Melbourne 3.0.18 | 5.2.32 | 8.4.52 | 11.5.71
Geelong: Aasta O’Connor
North Melbourne: Ellie Gavalas (3), Emma King (3), Jasmine Garner (2), Sophie Abbatangelo, Kaitlyn Ashmore, Isabella Eddey
North Melbourne: N/A
- Emma King’s performance in the ruck is one of the most dominant we’ve seen in the AFLW. Last year we saw her play out of the goal square and Vivien Saad take on that number one ruck role, but it seemed that the Roos went into this game with the intention of running Aasta O’Connor off her feet. Starting in the centre circle and then pushing to the forward line, King immediately exposed Geelong’s talls, becoming the second ever player to kick the first three goals of an AFLW game.
- Continuing her starring role from last year, Jasmine Garner yet again had an impact both in the midfield and up forward. With 18 disposals, three marks, six tackles and two goals, Garner really can do it all, and she must be a joy to coach.
- The Cats’ forward efficiency was a huge issue all game. With just two fewer inside 50s than North, they registered fourteen fewer scoring shots. Geelong’s decision making going forward was poor, attempting to hit up the perpetually outnumbered Phoebe McWilliams and rarely putting it to her advantage. It was surprising not to see Olivia Barber make her debut in that forward line, rather Rene Caris was selected as an extra tall, but was unfortunately unable to make much of an impact.
- Daria Bannister hasn’t had much luck through her AFLW career, with injuries halting any sort of momentum, but in this game her ability was well and truly on display. Her repeat efforts in the forward line set a high standard, and her willingness to set teammates up for shots on goal proved how much of a team player she is. Somehow the Roos’ forward line has become even stronger.
- The much-lauded North Melbourne midfield put on a show, forcing panic from the Geelong midfield and, in turn, stunting any sort of positive play for the Cats out of the middle. Combine this with Emma King’s ruck dominance (30 hit outs, 11 to advantage), it was an uphill battle for Geelong.
Richmond v Brisbane – Sunday @ Swinburne Centre
Richmond 0.2.2 | 1.4.10 | 1.6.12 | 1.6.12
Brisbane 2.3.15 | 2.4.16 | 4.8.32 | 5.11.41
Richmond: Courtney Wakefield
Brisbane: Greta Bodey (2), Dakota Davidson, Tahlia Hickie, Courtney Hodder
- We finally got a look at what Richmond’s new recruits could bring to the side, and there was plenty to like. Standing tallest was Harriet Cordner in defence, taking seven marks and had ten intercepts. Crucially, Cordner’s reliability allowed Phoebe Monahan to play more freely as an attacking defender.
- At the other end of the ground, we saw captain Katie Brennan spend more time up forward. While it didn’t quite come off this time around—Brennan kicked three behinds—her presence changed how that forward 50 operated. With two contested marks inside 50, Brennan reminded everyone of the powerhouse she can be, and will hopefully find that finish in the coming weeks.
- In the past we’ve seen Cathy Svarc effectively minimise the impact of elite midfielders, and this game was yet another example of that. Facing off against star Monique Conti, Svarc gave her absolutely no space. Conti had just 12 disposals—well below her 2020 average of 19.83, and fewest since round one of 2019—and one clearance, after averaging 3.67 last year. Without their most senior midfielder—a statement absurd in itself given Conti is just 21 years of age—able to impact the game as they required, Richmond really did struggle at the contest.
- This bled into the clearance battle, which the Tigers lost 9-21. They simply couldn’t get their hands on the ball, and while Gabby Seymour had arguably her best game, it wasn’t enough.
- The young Lions coming through were really on display in this game. Isabel Dawes was arguably best on ground with a game high seven clearances, career high 21 disposals and five marks, really taking charge in the middle. Taylor Smith proved to be a strong tall presence around the ground, while Courtney Hodder provided ground level pressure and kicked a goal. Possibly the most impressive, however, was Dakota Davidson who has broadened her game greatly compared to what we saw of her last year. Doing the little things right, she worked to get her teammates into the game while also kicking a goal.
Fremantle v GWS Giants – Sunday @ Fremantle Oval
Fremantle 1.2.8 | 2.3.15 | 5.8.38 | 8.10.58
GWS Giants 0.3.3 | 1.4.10 | 2.4.16 | 4.4.28
Fremantle: Sabreena Duffy (3), Gemma Houghton (3), Kara Antonio, Mikayla Hyde
GWS Giants: Rebecca Beeson, Elle Bennetts, Taylah Davies, Aimee Schmidt
GWS Giants: Annalyse Lister (concussion)
- Some positional changes for Fremantle showed how prepared they are for anything, with captain Kara Antonio spending much of the game forward, and excitingly, youngster Jasmin Stewart proved her importance in the midfield all game. Stewart found a way to move the ball into attack quite efficiently, adding that extra dimension to an already powerful midfield.
- For the Giants, Alyce Parker held down the midfield and performed at the high standard we’ve come to expect of her. With 29 disposals, 18 contested possessions, seven clearances and a huge 409 metres gained, Parker did everything she could to minimise Fremantle’s stranglehold on the game.
- In the first half, the Giants really did go with the Dockers, but a concussion to defender Annalyse Lister ruled her out of the second half and from there the Giants’ defence had their hands full. In the first half the visitors conceded just five scoring shorts, but after that the flood gates opened and Fremantle registered 13 scoring shots in the second half.
- The importance of Erin McKinnon is apparent when the Giants are at full strength, let alone when both Jess Allan and Louise Stephenson are unavailable for selection. As their main tall on the ground, McKinnon battled through an ankle injury to remain a presence, and won 27 hitouts along the way.
- Gemma Houghton warned the competition during the preseason when she claimed to be the fittest she’s ever been, and we absolutely should have taken that seriously. Exposing the Giants on the turnover, her game was the definition of run and carry—and bounce. Kicking three goals, delivering the ball inside 50 four times and taking nine marks, Houghton was everywhere. Most remarkable was her ten—yes ten—running bounces, doubling the previous record of five.
- Western Bulldogs v Carlton @ VU Whitten Oval, Friday February 5, 7:45pm AEDT
- Collingwood v Gold Coast @ Victoria Park, Saturday February 6, 3:10pm AEDT
- Melbourne v Richmond @ Casey Fields, Saturday February 6, 5:10pm AEDT
- North Melbourne v St Kilda @ Arden Street Oval, Sunday February 7, 1:10pm AEDT
- Brisbane v Geelong @ Hickey Park, Sunday February 7, 2:10pm AEST