Round one of the 2022 AFLW season was marred by significant injuries to star players, but also showed the power of a handful of teams.
St. Kilda v Richmond — Friday @ Frankston Oval
St. Kilda 2.1.13 | 2.3.15 | 2.5.17 | 3.5.23
Richmond 2.0.12 | 4.0.24 | 7.0.42 | 10.1.61
St. Kilda: Rosie Dillon, Jess Matin, Tarni White
Richmond: Christina Bernardi (2), Katie Brennan (2), Meagan Kiely (2), Courtney Wakefield (2), Stella Reid, Tayla Stahl
St. Kilda: N/A
Richmond: Poppy Kelly (leg), Emelia Yassir (head knock)
The midfield battle was going to be an important one, with both sides missing key on-ballers. Without Tyanna Smith and Georgia Patrikios, the Saints looked to mature defender Tilly Lucas-Rodd to join the likes of Rosie Dillon and the returning Olivia Vesely in the midfield, and it was an inspired decision. Lucas-Rodd led the Saints for touches with 20, won four clearances and registered a game-high 303 metres gained.
Meanwhile, the hype around Monique Conti’s first full AFLW preseason is real. Even when the Tigers’ midfield was battling early in the game, Conti was starring. She racked up career-best disposals (29) and clearances (9), and more importantly went at 72% disposal efficiency in the process.
For much of the first and third quarters, the Tigers dominated possession and territory, but just couldn’t make the most of their entries forward. While early Richmond’s midfielders were putting it to their forwards’ advantage, the Saints’ backline was able to equal the one-on-one (and were assisted by some Tigers who took a quarter to get their marking touch back), in the third there was more desperation to those inside 50s. Bombing the ball high and long, the Tigers were giving St. Kilda too much opportunity to split the contest in the air. For this reason, many of Richmond’s goals came through quick opportunities off stoppages and packs inside 50.
That being said, come the final term, Richmond found a slick, clever, running game which was quick enough to cut through the Saints’ defence—arguably their strongest line—and create one-out opportunities.
Amongst it all, five players made their AFLW debut. The Saints unveiled Leah Cutting in the ruck and Lucy Burke in defence, who proved her ability to read the ball and react quickly when caught one-out. Richmond had Stella Reid take her place up forward, who kicked a nice roving goal off a pack to start the third quarter, Emelia Yassir who didn’t look out of place on the ball, and mature-aged recruit Meagan Kiely who starred with two goals from 11 disposals.
North Melbourne v Geelong — Saturday @ Arden Street
North Melbourne 1.2.8 | 1.2.8 | 2.2.14 | 4.2.26
Geelong 0.0.0 | 0.2.2 | 2.4.16 | 2.6.18
North Melbourne: Kaitlyn Ashmore, Daisy Bateman, Jenna Bruton, Mia King
Geelong: Phoebe McWilliams, Julia Crockett-Grills
North Melbourne: Kaitlyn Ashmore (ankle), Kim Rennie (head knock)
Geelong: Meghan McDonald (leg), Chloe Scheer (head knock)
A big loss to North Melbourne in round one last year set Geelong up for a disappointing season, so this match was a chance for the Cats to rectify that and start their year more positively. A number of key outs for the Kangaroos—headlined by captain Emma Kearney and midfielder Ellie Gavalas—opened the door that little bit wider for the Cats.
Without Kearney and Gavalas on the ball, the Kangaroos had the luxury of rolling Jasmine Garner and Jenna Bruton into the thick of it. Both valuable midfielders in their own right, it did unfortunately limit the flexibility that North Melbourne has enjoyed in recent years. Bruton was often played on the wing in 2021 to support Kaitlyn Ashmore and Isabella Eddey on the outside, but couldn’t be used in such a way against the Cats, even when Ashmore spent some time on the bench working through an ankle injury. Structurally, this hurt the Roos more than anything.
Despite this, Ashleigh Riddell continued her consistent form from 2021, equalling the competition’s record 35 disposals, winning seven clearances and registering a match-high 478 metres gained.
Meanwhile, on debut for the Cats, Georgie Prespakis reminded the footy world why she went at number two in the draft. Immediately making her presence known, Prespakis’ ability to win the ball, then evade the congestion was on show. Ending the game with 20 disposals, six tackles, seven clearances and 402 metres gained she was arguably one of Geelong’s best.
The concern for Geelong in 2021 was an inability to transition out of defence and meaningfully move the ball past the centre circle. Desperate kicks out of defence directly to a well set up opposition was all too common, and the hope coming into this season was that this would be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, the Cats reverted to this game style through the second quarter, effectively handing the ball to the experienced Jess Duffin more than once. Positively, however, this was rectified in the second half, and as Geelong found some possession and control in their forward half, meaning Phoebe McWilliams could lead to the ball inside 50, their attack became more dangerous.
Western Bulldogs v Melbourne — Saturday @ Whitten Oval
Western Bulldogs 0.1.1 | 1.1.7 | 3.4.22 | 3.4.22
Melbourne 3.0.18 | 4.6.30 | 5.8.38 | 6.10.46
Western Bulldogs: Ellie Blackburn, Isabel Huntington, Bonnie Toogood
Melbourne: Kate Hore (2), Madison Gay, Tayla Harris, Casey Sherriff, Eden Zanker
Western Bulldogs: Isabel Huntington (knee), Elizabeth Snell (ribs)
The Dogs have had a less than ideal start to their 2022 season, through very little fault of their own. With important defenders Ellyse Gamble, Katie Lynch and Sarah Hartwig unavailable, a stacked Melbourne forward line was always going to be a significant challenge. Eleanor Brown was tasked with new Demon Tayla Harris, while Isabella Grant was in line to provide support in the air.
It was higher up the field where Melbourne established early control, winning possession from stoppages and looking to the corridor whenever possible, they employed a clean, short kicking game to isolate their forwards inside 50.
The second half of Eden Zanker’s 2021 season gave us a glimpse of what she could do when playing on the ball, and she has picked up right where she left off this year. Winning an equal-game high four clearances, Zanker covered the ground impressively and was willing to do the hard stuff in the process. More importantly, however, was her improved ball use. In the corresponding fixture last year, Zanker went at 44% disposal efficiency and kicked three behinds playing forward. This year, she used her 20 disposals at 70% efficiency, kicked a goal and was involved in five other scores.
While much of the talk around Melbourne has been about the recruitment of Tayla Harris, it was three other new faces that showed there was a lot to like about the club’s list build. Rookie recruit Eliza West was tenacious, applying pressure and repeat efforts through the middle of the ground. Maggie Caris provided important support to ruck Lauren Pearce, and defender Alison Brown helped to solidify the Demons’ defensive structure alongside Brenna Tarrant and Libby Birch.
As the Bulldogs found their groove in the third quarter, winning more of the ball out of the middle and catching their forwards one-out, the tides seemed to shift. Isabel Huntington caught Karen Paxman holding the ball at the top of the Dogs’ attacking 50 and slotted her side’s first goal, but in the most devastating moment of the round, barely two minutes later Huntington was felled and with a knowing look on her face, was helped from the ground with a knee injury.
Fremantle v West Coast — Saturday @ Fremantle Oval
Fremantle 1.1.7 | 3.1.19 | 3.2.20 | 6.7.43
West Coast 0.2.2 | 0.2.2 | 2.3.15 | 2.3.15
Fremantle: Ebony Antonio (3), Hayley Miller (2), Gabby O’Sullivan
West Coast: Aimee Schmidt, Emma Swanson
West Coast: N/A
This was a game that paralleled Fremantle’s round one showing in 2019. A host of draftees, Ebony Antonio starring up forward, and a late surge to come away with the win. Antonio’s heroics in attack propped the Dockers up, contributing half of her side’s goals when the going was tough. Creating opportunities from nothing, Antonio simply took her chances with a level of confidence only her experience could provide. Not to mention, a goal of the year contender.
After two years on Fremantle’s list, Aine Tighe and Ann McMahon finally got their shot. Both have worked through frustrating and difficult injuries throughout the past two seasons to earn a debut, and both were worth the wait. McMahon stepped up through the middle of the ground, laying seven tackles and reading the ball well as West Coast looked to exit defence. Meanwhile, Tighe came to the fore in the final quarter, showcasing her quick hands and game awareness to set teammates up for scores on more than one occasion.
Stepping into the captaincy late last year, inaugural Docker Hayley Miller played arguably her best game of AFLW. Leading the field for clearances with seven, she also laid nine tackles and kicked multiple goals for the first time in her career. Captaincy suits her.
For all the off season improvement from the Eagles, their connection between midfield and forward line was tested by a strong, well-organised Fremantle backline. Their entries were shallow, and didn’t quite give the strong Andrea Gilmore best chance at attacking the ball. Their goals came through a quick-thinking Emma Swanson getting in space out the back, and a clever Aimee Schmidt ground ball gather, and while these are important goals to kick, finding more composed shots throughout games will serve them well.
Amongst all this, Eagles captain Emma Swanson did her best to bring the heat and aggression to the rivalry to get her side up and about. Leading by example, Swanson won a team-high 23 disposals, six clearances, 489 metres gained and laid six tackles.
Adelaide v Brisbane — Sunday @ Hickenbotham Oval
Adelaide 1.0.6 | 2.1.13 | 3.1.19 | 6.3.39
Brisbane 0.2.2 | 0.2.2 | 0.3.3 | 1.3.9
Adelaide: Ashleigh Woodland (4), Caitlin Gould, Rachelle Martin
Brisbane: Greta Bodey
Brisbane: Dakota Davidson (ankle), Kate Lutkins (knee)
From the first bounce, the tone of this game was different to that of the grand final that ended the 2021 season. Adelaide suffocated their Brisbane counterparts, allowing no space, no time, no room to breathe. The pressure was at an all time high, which forced the Lions into poor ball use inside 50 despite dominating the territory for large periods of the game.
The Crows, on the other hand, were able to use their speed, run and clean disposal on the turnover to put a usually well-organised Brisbane defence under pressure, creating repeat opportunities for their dangerous forward line to get to work. Ashleigh Woodland lapped it up, showcasing her classy snap and goal sense, bagging a career-high four goals.
Brisbane’s defence had an excuse for being unsettled, however, with Kate Lutkins going down with a knee injury early. Lutkins has never missed a game in her six-year career, and organises the backline so expertly that it took the group some time to find its balance again. Not long after, exciting forward Dakota Davidson tweaked her ankle when running back off the mark after taking a strong contested mark, and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Missing a key tall at each end of the ground made the Crows a mountain too high to climb for the Lions.
Added into the Adelaide backline for her third AFLW game, Montana McKinnon played an important role, closing off leading lanes with her positioning and proving hard to beat in the air. Her young ruck partner Caitlin Gould also stamped her presence on the game early, covering the ground beautifully, taking important marks and moving forward to create further options in the Crows’ chain of possession. Her first quarter goal was the result of this work rate.
In what was a tough day for the reigning premiers, Greta Bodey was able to keep one streak alive. Since joining the competition in 2019, Bodey has kicked the Lions’ first goal of the season each year. Unfortunately this year’s didn’t come until the final quarter of the game, after Brisbane was held goalless to three-quarter-time for the first time in its history.
Carlton v Collingwood — Sunday @ Princes Park
Carlton 1.0.6 | 1.2.8 | 3.4.22 | 3.7.25
Collingwood 0.4.4 | 3.6.24 | 4.7.31 | 6.8.44
Carlton: Courtney Jones, Lucy McEvoy, Abbie McKay
Collingwood: Sophie Alexander, Jordyn Allen, Alison Downie, Sarah Rowe, Ruby Schleicher, Aishling Sheridan
Carlton: Grace Egan (back)
Collingwood: Brianna Davey (knee)
This one was hot early on, although we should expect no less from a Carlton v Collingwood game. With every hard hit the crowd erupted as they rode every moment, small or big. Carlton took it to their highly fancied rivals, and save for some poor discipline, were right in the game.
Three 50m penalties given away in the forward half during the second and third quarters put Collingwood in the box seat. Ruby Schleicher was moved to the goal square after the stand rule caught Darcy Vescio out on the mark as the Pie lined up for a set shot from 40m out. Less than a minute later, Elise O’Dea failed to return the ball to former teammate Alison Downie on the full, leading the new Magpie to kick her tenth straight goal—and the 250th AFLW goal at Princes Park. O’Dea was once again the culprit in the third quarter, seeing Aishling Sheridan move to the goal square to kick the simplest of goals. In a game where the Blues lost by 19 points, three goals conceded directly from 50m penalties is less than ideal.
For Carlton, despite the loss, there were two moments of pure joy to be had. After being on the Blues’ list for two years, Courtney Jones made her debut and presented strongly. Kicking her first ever AFLW goal to get the third quarter off to a strong start, Jones got her team and the crowd up and about. A few minutes later, midfielder Abbie McKay kicked her first AFLW goal in her 14th game to maintain a 10 point margin and keep Carlton within touch.
What felt like the death knell for the Blues, however, was early in the final quarter where some messy disposals across the defensive 50 in an effort to switch saw the ball sail out on the full. Jordyn Allen was handed the ball deep in the pocket, and coolly slotted a goal from the most difficult of angles.
In an unfortunate turn of events, Brianna Davey went down with a knee injury late in the game, when the Pies had it won. The third knee injury to a star player across the round was a hard pill to swallow for all members of the AFLW community.
Gold Coast v GWS Giants — Sunday @ Great Barrier Reef Arena
Gold Coast 2.3.15 | 3.3.21 | 3.3.21 | 3.3.21
GWS Giants 1.0.6 | 3.2.20 | 4.3.27 | 5.6.36
Gold Coast: Tara Bohanna, Kalinda Howarth, Sarah Perkins
GWS Giants: Cora Staunton (2), Rebecca Beeson, Rebecca Privitelli, Katherine Smith
Gold Coast: N/A
GWS Giants: Chloe Dalton (shoulder)
Gold Coast unveiled four debutants and two experienced recruits in their first game of 2022, and the updated lineup did give them a boost early in the game. The pressure they applied around the ball allowed them to dominate territory for much of the first quarter, but they didn’t create much of a gap between themselves and the Giants, taking a nine point lead into the break.
After this, however, the Giants got some really clean ball movement going, playing some possession football to combat the Suns’ pressure. This is a style of play we’ve rarely seen from the Giants in the past, and an increased skill level seems apparent. It was a considered approach when entering the forward 50 where this was most evident, with a neat Katherine Smith kick to set up Rebecca Privitelli for her first goal of the season just one example of this.
Ally Morphett’s work in the ruck and as a tall option down the line proved why she was valued so highly by the Giants. Providing support to Erin McKinnon, Morphett won 15 hitouts and took some important, relieving marks around the ground. But it was an experienced recruit that brought both joy and pain. Chloe Dalton’s run on the outside and her positioning to support a strong midfield showed why she is so important to this new look Giants, but failed to play the second half of the game due to a shoulder injury incurred in the second quarter.
While Kalinda Howarth was slated to play in defence during the preseason, she was at home in the forward line and presented as dangerous early. Ending the game with one goal and one behind, Howarth’s impact in the forward half extended further than scores off her own boot. Her attack at the ball both in the air and on the ground is a spark in a forward line that at times can seem stagnant.
Breaking the record for oldest player to run out for an AFLW match at 40 years and 27 days, Cora Staunton didn’t look like slowing down even slightly. She kicked two goals in the second half as the Giants worked to create some space between them and the Suns.