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The Roundup: AFLW Round Four

We’re officially half way through the AFLW season, and round four threw up some significant results when it comes to conferences. Oh, and Cathy Svarc played out of her skin.


Collingwood v Melbourne @ Marvel Stadium

Collingwood 0.1.1 | 2.1.13 | 3.1.19 | 4.2.26

Melbourne 2.1.13 | 4.2.26 | 6.3.39 | 7.4.46

Goals

Collingwood: Rowe (2), Lambert, Layton

Melbourne: Cunningham, Gay, Hore, Parry, Scott, Sherriff, Zanker

Injuries

Collingwood: Ash Brazill (knee), Ruby Schleicher (wrist)

Melbourne: N/A

  • Collingwood’s forward line has yet again proven to be their weakness. Three of their four goals came through free kicks or 50m penalties and outside of that, they didn’t look overly dangerous up forward all night. Their reliance on midfielders and Layton to get forward and score continues to be a problem, with too many players not having an impact. Katie Lynch was brought in to be a forward target, but she was very quiet and really didn’t present at the ball. Melbourne’s defensive structure played them expertly, setting up effectively behind the ball and ensuring they locked down on their opponents. Not to mention Meg Downie spoiling everything that came her way. Collingwood’s forward makeup will need some serious improvement if they’re to have a chance at finals now, as this result has put them behind the pace.
  • Unsurprisingly, Collingwood dominated the stoppages, but it was when it got to the outside that Melbourne pressured and won back possession. In vast contrast to last week, the Dees were able to punish the turnover by moving the ball efficiently around the ground and find targets inside 50 with their impressive 70% disposal efficiency. Melbourne took nine marks inside 50 to Collingwood’s two, and this really set up their far steadier attack on goal. Their 64% accuracy at goal is their highest of 2020, by a significant margin.
  • Melbourne’s seven individual goal kickers is another season high for them, after averaging just 2.3 across the first three rounds. Their ability to find multiple avenues to goal—including debutant Jacqui Parry, midfielder Maddy Gay and an array of forwards—made life tough for the Pies’ defenders who were simply outplayed all night. What didn’t help matters was Ash Brazill going down with what has been confirmed as an ACL injury, keeping her out for the remainder of the season. 
  • Tyla Hanks was crucial to Melbourne’s win, with her ability to minimise the impact of Collingwood star Jaimee Lambert significant, but she also gathered 15 touches along the way—her most of the season. This is another feather in her cap after an impressive round two performance on Ellie Blackburn. Hanks seems to be Mick Stinear’s go to player when coming up against a particularly prolific midfielder. AFLW fans are no doubt looking forward to next week’s battle against Dana Hooker and Emma Swanson.
  • The return of Lauren Pearce has been something Melbourne fans have been anxiously awaiting all season, and Friday proved why. Starting on the bench, Pearce spent a lot of time forward early to get into the game and as she got her touch back, moved into the ruck and really controlled the stoppages more and more as the game went on. This is an ominous sign for oppositions heading forward, with midfielder Lily Mithen also looking to make her return next week.

Richmond v Geelong @ Queen Elizabeth Oval

Richmond 1.1.7 | 3.1.19 | 7.1.43 | 7.3.45

Geelong 1.3.9 | 7.4.46 | 9.7.61 | 10.7.67

Goals

Richmond: Wakefield (3), Bernardi, Frederick, Jacques, McClelland

Geelong: Clarke (2), Cranston (2), Crockett-Grills, Darby, Garing, Higgins, Purcell, Teague

Injuries

Richmond: Katie Brennan (neck)

Geelong: Danielle Higgins (wrist)

  • The Cats finally got a win to reward their hard work this season, and it came alongside their most impressive performance structurally. The inclusion of Kate Darby into this side maximised Phoebe McWilliams’ output. After a brilliant performance last week pushing up the field and providing an outlet on the wing for her teammates, she was able to do that again, but more effectively thanks to Kate Darby’s strength in the forward line. Combined with Meg McDonald’s return last week, Geelong are moving the ball far more efficiently down the field and not getting trapped in their defensive 50 for nearly as long.
  • Going hand in hand with their better ball movement, Geelong recorded their highest score in the AFLW with 67. In their debut year of 2019, the Cats were the lowest scoring team in AFLW history, averaging just 22 points a game throughout the home and away season. They had eight individual goal kickers—two of which made the switch in the off season from defence to forward—and their midfield rotation through the forward 50 kept Richmond’s defence on its toes. 
  • That being said, Phoebe Monahan has been Richmond’s most consistent performer this year and has quelled many an attack on goal. It’s not just her ability one on one that has impressed, but her winning the ball and hitting targets upon rebound helps relieve pressure—even momentarily—on the Tigers’ defence. Monahan’s accurate long kicking is the ideal asset out of defence, gaining ground and putting the ball to teammates’ advantage. Of her 20 touches, 17 were kicks maximising her efficiency out of the back half.
  • Monique Conti has had a tough time early on in the season trying to recapture her form, but she really stepped up against the Geelong midfield to remind everyone why she was so sought after. Without the likes of Blackburn and Lamb by her side, Conti has had to adapt her game to combat increased attention and less support. Her 28 touches led the field and the way she broke away from stoppages was impressive. It took the Cats mids nearly the whole first quarter to respond while Conti racked up the touches and propelled the ball forward.
  • Richelle Cranston is in the top handful of performers this season, effectively playing as a utility going wherever she’s needed. Her power, speed, strength and skill is a rare combination making her super tough to match up on and extremely versatile. Coach Paul Hood has been starting her as a deep forward and then giving her bursts of midfield time when the opposition starts to gain ascendency at stoppages. The other thing about Cranston in 2020 is that she’s playing more disciplined footy, averaging just half the frees against than previous seasons. She might just be on track for an All Australian berth.

North Melbourne v Gold Coast @ Arden Street Oval

North Melbourne 1.2.8 | 4.5.29 | 5.7.37 | 6.11.47

Gold Coast 2.1.13 | 2.2.14 | 4.3.27 | 5.4.34

Goals

North Melbourne: Bateman (2), Abbatangelo, Elisha King, Emma King, Trend

Gold Coast: Howarth (2), Ahrens, Ernst, Surman

Injuries

North Melbourne: N/A

Gold Coast: N/A

  • North Melbourne, unsurprisingly, dominated the clearances all day with 27 to the Suns’ 15, but it was Gold Coast’s ability to largely lock the ball down once it got on the outside with their 61 tackles that David Lake would be pleased with. The expansion side has played a very consistent brand of footy and despite only having the one win on their record, they’ve been strong as a team in sticking to their game plan. This bodes well going forward as they’ve proven they can do the basics well and have simply been outclassed by the most skilful side in the competition.
  • Jasmine Garner continues her brilliant season as a midfielder. After gathering 30 touches (18 contested), three marks and a handful of clearances, she and Kearney took control of the midfield and really lifted the Kangaroos when the Suns were pressing. No team has found an effective way to minimise Garner’s impact as of yet, and shutting her down is mission number one for any team wanting to gain midfield control against the Roos.
  • Another Roo who broke out this week was Ellie Gavalas. With her 21 touches and nine tackles, Gavalas was involved in everything and ran hard all day. The mature-aged midfield recruit has slotted into this North Melbourne side beautifully, and has consistently impacted games with her pressure in support of the likes of Kearney, Bruton, Garner and Riddell.
  • The Suns’ defence once again impressed, forcing inaccuracy from the typically efficient Kangaroos. Their pressure made composed shots on goal hard to come by and despite the Roos’ 17 scoring shots to their own nine, Gold Coast’s defence conceded just six goals. North Melbourne’s scoring average has wavered between 60% and 85% this season, but dropped to just 35% this week thanks to the work of Ahrens, Pregelj, Hickey, Virgo and Watson.
  • After starring last week with three goals and a rising star nomination, Kalinda Howarth backed up her performance with another two goals, 12 touches and four marks. Howarth is the kind of player a coach can build a forward line around because she can really do it all. Contested marking, work out of stoppages, set shots and snaps. By her side is the still criminally underrated Kate Surman. In one passage of play, Surman stole the ball mid-stride from Jasmine Grierson, sprinted into the forward 50 and drilled a kick through the goals. If you watch the Suns carefully, you’ll notice just how involved the number 26 is both with the ball and without, as she gathered 12 touches and nine tackles throughout the day.
Kate Surman breaks away from Jasmine Grierson in AFLW round four. Image: Megan Brewer
Image: Megan Brewer

West Coast v Western Bulldogs @ Leederville Oval

West Coast 1.3.9 | 1.4.10 | 3.6.24 | 4.6.30

Western Bulldogs 0.2.2 | 2.3.15 | 2.5.17 | 3.8.26

Goals

West Coast: Atkins, Bullas, G Kelly, Swanson

Western Bulldogs: Huntington, Marshall, Rennie

Injuries

West Coast: N/A

Western Bulldogs: Bonnie Toogood (knee)

  • The Eagles came out as a far more attacking side than we’ve seen previously, and caught the Dogs off guard. West Coast almost immediately got the ball forward, challenging the defensive structures the Dogs had in place and save for some inaccuracy, could have been four goals up at the first break. This style of play was the result of incremental improvements week by week, including their improved pressure. As was evident last week, the Eagles’ tackling game was key to their focus of back to the basics of footy and certainly served them well.
  • With Emily McGuire’s inclusion, one would have been right to assume she would be their key target up forward—something the Eagles have been sorely lacking so far in 2020— but it was in fact Grace Kelly who proved their dominant forward for the evening. Her strength was something the Dogs’ defenders struggled with and, while still needing to cover McGuire, they weren’t able to contain her. Her 14 touches and four marks provided them with some composure in the forward 50, relieving some pressure and allowing West Coast to even up some numbers to really make the most of their forays forward.
  • Bonnie Toogood has been the Western Bulldogs’ most damaging forward of 2020, so when she left the field with a suspected knee injury they were crying out for someone to step up in their attacking zone. Kirsten McLeod was that player. Known for being small, speedy and nimble, McLeod was effectively playing as a lead up, contested marking forward in the final quarter and almost dragged the Dogs over the line. Her performance in the last quarter, outside of her three behinds, was actually quite brilliant and the Eagles’ defence really struggled to contain her due to her speed and strength.
  • Another move made in the dying stages in an effort to rein in the Eagles’ lead was Huntington forward, which yet again raises the question of where she best serves the team. Finding a balance between Huntington’s ability and team structure is a delicate one, but with Nell Morris-Dalton waiting in the wings, her inclusion could settle this team down and Huntington can play out the season in defence.
  • West Coast seem to have finally found the balance between inside and outside ball, after losing the clearances for the first time this season, but finding their first win. We’ve seen a lot from Swanson, Hooker and Cameron on the inside this year, but once the ball gets on the outside the Eagles all too often turned it over because all their elite players were involved in the clearance itself. Finding that balance meant that while on the stat sheet they lost the clearances, they were actually able to do more with the clearances they did win. This, combined with their increased tackle pressure allowed West Coast to control much of the play and, eventually, get the win.

Related—The Roundup: Round Three

Adelaide v Carlton @ Hisense Stadium

Adelaide 1.2.8 | 3.2.20 | 4.3.27 | 4.4.28

Carlton 0.2.2 | 2.3.15 | 4.5.29 | 5.6.36

Goals

Adelaide: Considine, Hatchard, Jones, Metcalfe

Carlton: Harris (2), Prespakis, Stevens, Vescio

Injuries

Adelaide: Jess Foley (ankle)

Carlton: N/A

  • Carlton were up against the spirit of Adelaide with the return of Rhiannon Metcalfe and Erin Phillips, but their ability to control the play with an uncontested marking game was crucial to this win. Registering 100 marks for the game and 71 more uncontested possessions than the Crows, Carlton were able to just relieve the pressure and use the ball more effectively. 
  • The Tayla Harris v Sarah Allan match up was always going to be a fascinating one, and it’s fair to say that while they battled closely early, Harris came away with the win. A confidence player, Harris’ movement up the field to break away from Allan at times helped her maintain that attack at the ball and belief that she could impact the game. Similarly to her round one performance, the star dominated everywhere except when aimed at goal, kicking 2.3. If Harris can clean up her kicking this season, Carlton will be close to unstoppable.
  • Yet again, Darcy Vescio showed the world why she’s labelled as a star of the competition. The highlight obviously her match-sealing major running into goal, but what won’t be as discussed was her work to get to that point. It’s her mature decisions when up at the ball, and having the awareness to get forward at the right times.
  • While singing the praises of the likes of Vescio and Harris, it would be easy to credit the win to them, but another key part of this performance was Vaomua Laloifi sitting in the backline. Often one-out—and against Erin Phillips—Laloifi kept her cool and was able to either win the ball and repel it, or hold the contest up until support arrived. Had it not been for Laloifi’s performance, Carlton would not have won this game. Alongside her in the backline was co-captain Kerryn Harrington who took a record 13 marks and was often the support that arrived to help Laloifi out.
  • Last week Anne Hatchard was prolific, but much of her work was in and under at contests, and largely handballs to her outside runners. This week, however, Hatchard was prolific with 27 touches, seven marks, four tackles and a goal. Her game was more balanced and she really led Adelaide’s midfield group. 

St Kilda v Fremantle @ RSEA Park

St Kilda 0.1.1 | 1.1.7 | 2.4.16 | 3.5.23

Fremantle 0.2.2 | 1.3.9 | 1.3.9 | 3.6.24

Goals

St Kilda: Greiser, McDonald, Vesely

Fremantle: Bowers, Flood, Stewart

Injuries

St Kilda: Kate McCarthy (knee), Tarni White (knee)

Fremantle: N/A

  • Rosie Dillon has been one of the most consistent performers for the Saints so far this year, but this week she went to another level and was particularly important late when the game was in the balance. Dillon is one of the Hawthorn VFLW group—including coach Patrick Hill—that Peta Searle brought in and her maturity under pressure has been significant. Running both ways, gathering 18 touches and laying seven tackles, Dillon was a strong body amidst a number of smaller, nimble Saints like Patrikios and McDonald creating a good connection when moving the ball away from stoppages.
  • The Saints did to Fremantle what they did to Melbourne the week before. By suffocating their opponents with a defensive press, speed and a smart combination of corralling and tackling opponents, St Kilda rarely allow their opponents to have a clean possession, particularly in the forward half. It’s a fascinating game style that no doubt requires elite fitness from players and constant awareness, but one that Peta Searle has expertly crafted to make best use of the players at her disposal in what is a tough year. Their agility on the inside of the contest, then the speed on the outside has allowed the Saints to capitalise on their punishing pressure, and in doing so have scared a couple of top teams and beaten one.
  • In addition to this, St Kilda’s defensive line has been particularly underrated. Tilly Lucas-Rodd’s maturity, Alison Drennan’s intercept ability and Clara Fitzpatrick’s repeat efforts and speed all contributed to Fremantle’s inaccuracy in this game. It’s almost like the Saints have conceded that teams will score against them, but if they force inaccuracy they’ll still be in with a shot, and to this point it’s been reasonably effective.
  • Similarly to Tayla Harris, Gemma Houghton had a game that paralleled her round one performance. Explosive, agile, quick, and inaccurate. In a game where the smallest of things made a big difference though, she really did pull Fremantle across the line. Every time she is near the ball, Houghton makes something happen and she has an uncanny knack of bringing teammates into the game.
  • St Kilda were unfortunately hurt by injury in this one, with knee injuries to both Tarni White and Kate McCarthy. These are no small losses and while the severity is yet to be confirmed, the loss of one or both of these players would be significant to the Saints. McCarthy’s outside speed and forward thinking has done wonders for Searle’s game style and her disposal of the ball heading forward has been a crucial aspect of the way they play their footy, and Tarni White is one of the most promising young players in the competition. Her chemistry with other young stars Georgia Patrikios and Molly McDonald has been a key to the team’s structure.

Brisbane v GWS Giants @ Hickey Park

Brisbane 2.5.17 | 4.5.29 | 7.7.49 | 7.9.51

GWS Giants 1.0.6 | 2.5.17 | 2.5.17 | 3.5.23

Goals

Brisbane: Svarc (2), Wardlaw (2), Bates, Lutkins, Postlethwaite

GWS Giants: Bonner, Privitelli, Schmidt

Injuries

Brisbane: N/A

GWS Giants: N/A

  • Heading into season 2020, Catherine Svarc was amongst the top young players in the competition thanks to her preseason performance. She has been a key contributor to Brisbane’s success so far this year, but against the Giants she well and truly came of age. Her stats alone tell the story, with 23 disposals, 11 tackles and two goals, but more significantly she worked at shutting down important Giants midfielder Alyce Parker while racking up those stats. In one of the most complete games you’ll see in this year’s AFLW season, there’s no reason Svarc can’t continue this damaging form and even make the All Australian squad come awards season.
  • The Giants are consistently putting themselves under pressure with poor decision making—similar to Richmond early in the season—and then simply don’t have the skill to recover once those poor choices are made. Brisbane absolutely punished these errors with little mercy and the gap between these two teams became more and more obvious as the game went on.
  • Cora Staunton’s return from a significant leg break has been miraculous, but it’s unfortunately meant she’s lost that step which allowed her to break away from opponents in earlier seasons of AFLW. Due to that, she has been unable to really fire a shot this year and one wonders if it weren’t Staunton, would another player be retaining their spot in the side off the back of these performances. The forward needs to be more proactive with her disposal, taking on tacklers less and looking to get the ball to a teammate in a better position if she’s to really help the Giants get back on the winner’s list.
  • It’s common knowledge that Brisbane mids Emily Bates and Ally Anderson are prolific and have been really consistent leaders amongst a huge upheaval in their list. Quite often the work of these two—Bates in particular—can go unnoticed in the context of a game thanks to their in-and-under work that is largely out of view, but the stats sheet will show them leading the disposal count. Against the Giants, however, their efforts amplified one-another’s and it was readily apparent to the naked eye just how important they are.
  • Yet again the Lions have proved that they can score without Jess Wuetschner kicking any goals. Her return this week was certainly welcomed, but it wasn’t something that the team was desperate for as they’ve unearthed a number of other reliable avenues to goal. Jesse Tawhiao-Wardlaw is the obvious example, but midfielders like Bates, Svarc and Postlethwaite floated forward to score, and even defender Kate Lutkins kicked her first of the season. The thing this really shows is Brisbane’s team-wide contribution. Interestingly, it’s the two teams—Brisbane and Fremantle—that were decimated by expansion throughout the off season that have really put out even performances across their complete 21 each and every week, and in the process found success, sitting at the top of their respective conferences.

Gold Coast Suns v Geelong Cats @ Great Barrier Reef Arena, Friday March 6th 6:10pm AEST (7:10pm AEDT)
North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos v Adelaide Crows @ North Hobart Oval, Saturday March 7th 3:10pm AEDT
GWS Giants v Richmond Tigers @ Robertson Oval, Saturday March 7th 5:10pm AEDT
Carlton Blues v St Kilda Saints @ Ikon Park, Saturday March 7th 7:10pm AEDT
Collingwood Magpies v Western Bulldogs @ Morwell Recreation Reserve, Sunday March 8th 1:10pm AEDT
Melbourne Demons v West Coast Eagles @ Casey Fields, Sunday March 8th 3:10pm AEDT
Fremantle Dockers v Brisbane Lions @ Fremantle Oval, Sunday March 8th 2:10pm AWST (5:10pm AEDT)

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