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Winners and losers from AFLW Round 2

Joel Shepherd Roar Guru

By Joel Shepherd, Joel Shepherd is a Roar Guru

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    After a week of controversy in the media, the second week of AFLW 2018 saw three teams go to a 2-0 record – and the same number to 0-2.

    Carlton Blues vs GWS Giants

    It’s hard to spend time talking about a game that was the entertainment equivalent of a slow-motion car crash, made even uglier and more depressing by a terrible knee injury to Carlton captain Bri Davey. So let’s talk about things surrounding the game rather than the game itself.

    Carlton are hideous to watch. If you’re a casual fan only, and selective about which games you’d like to see, you’d likely find anything more entertaining than watching Carlton. Cleaning that black stuff from under your fingernails, maybe. Or ironing your cat.

    There’s been talk in the media that the AFL’s controversial memo about coaching tactics was primarily aimed at Damian Keeping. That’s pretty rough, considering Carlton do no more flooding than Craig Starcevich’s Lions, but the fact remains that the Lions have so far shown themselves capable of playing entertaining football, while Carlton haven’t.

    Of course, the weekend’s weather didn’t help anyone, least of all the Giants. In fact, the total evaporation of GWS’s skills in the wet is reminiscent of what happened to Melbourne last season — they had the clearly superior midfield in this match, as Melbourne had against them in Round 5 last year, yet at some levels of the AFLW it seems that midfield skills disappear like dandelions in heavy rain.

    Alicia Eva was terrific as always, and Courtney Gum continued her strong play from round one, but speaking theoretically, good midfielders should handle wet weather better. That’s not been the story of the AFLW in season one or two. When the rain comes, physicality trumps skills, and Carlton in this game were certainly the more physical and intimidating.

    AFLW players and coaches are discovering that there’s an enormous difference between having good skills on the training track, and executing them in matches.

    Add rain and Carlton raising a middle finger to the memo by flooding half their team around the ball at stoppages, and GWS’s skills disappeared completely, and confidence with it. And then, as though the football gods were conspiring to make the game as ugly as possible, Carlton kicked 3.12 but still won.

    Carlton currently sit on top of the ladder, but that’s more misleading than a dodgy car salesman. So far they’ve beaten the worst team in the competition (Collingwood), and GWS in a downpour.

    Worse yet, their best player and captain is out for the season, and if the entertainment quality of their matches doesn’t improve, even die-hard Blues supporters might be struggling to find reasons to watch by the season’s end.

    Katie Loynes

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    Melbourne Demons vs Adelaide Crows

    I’d like to say that my criticisms of Bec Goddard’s long-bomb tactics led to Adelaide’s defeat this round, but in truth, Adelaide were far better with their disposal in this game than their loss against Brisbane.

    Sure, they continued to kick long to contests while making few attempts to maintain possession (the Crows were out-handballed 110 to 41), but for the most part those long contests were one-on-ones, which they had some theoretical chance of winning.

    But kicking to one-on-one contests is only a good idea when your players are good enough to win those contests. As I said in my pre-season predictions, Adelaide have some terrific talent in their core group, but drop off very sharply after that — an observation later backed up by Champion Data, with stats proving that Adelaide only have six players who statistically qualify as elite, with many of the rest below average.

    If injuries hit those top six, I said, Adelaide could be in real trouble… and sure enough, with Erin Phillips and Courtney Cramey out, the Crows are like a V6 with two cylinders missing.

    One positive for Adelaide could be that in the second half, Goddard took second-gamer Eloise Jones out of the forward pocket and put her onto the ball.

    She proceeded to make a bunch of mistakes, but she did get her hands on it a lot, finishing with nine possessions and five tackles after barely touching it in the first half.

    Easing talented kids into the competition slowly can be a good thing, but Adelaide clearly need better skills around the ball, and every minute of experience they can get into Jones is a good investment, either for this season or next.

    I also said pre-season that as the AFLW progresses, list depth would be just as important as top-end talent, and against Melbourne, the Crows just don’t have very many players who can win one-on-one.

    Melbourne are now the best lineup that women’s football has seen since those great Dogs-Demons exhibition games.

    They don’t just have a few stars and then a bunch of roleplayers, they’ve got real stars everywhere, from Aliesha Newman’s emergence as one of the competition’s most exciting players, to Bianca Jakobsson’s dominance across half-back alongside the very solid Meg Downey, to the one-two-three punch of Alyssa Mifsud, the increasingly scary Tegan Cunningham, and the twenty-possession Kate Hore up front… and that’s without even bothering to mention the Dees deadly midfield. And the Dees’ first draft pick, Eden Zanker, hasn’t played a game yet.

    Adelaide, and indeed most teams in the AFLW, can’t expect to go one-on-one against Melbourne and expect anything other than a thrashing, because even with Phillips and Cramey back, their talent simply isn’t up to it.

    The Dees talent also lets them play a different style of game. While Adelaide only go long, Melbourne pass both long and short (138 kicks to 128), aggressive and conservative, depending on the situation.

    They’re flexible, while Adelaide isn’t, and they have playing talent that Mick Stinear can trust to read the game and make their own decisions, usually without screwing up.

    The Dees even managed one more tackle than the Crows (63 to 62) despite the Crows chasing a lot more tail from not having as much of the ball, which indicates that the Crows’ much vaunted speed and work-rate advantage from season one is over.

    Melbourne are good for the competition, because they demonstrate the level at which women’s football can be played, and give the other teams something to aspire to. They get their first nationally televised game in two weeks time, against Collingwood. It could be a slaughter.

    Aliesha Newman

    (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    Fremantle Dockers vs Collingwood Magpies

    Collingwood aren’t very good. It’s not the most sophisticated analysis, but it explains a lot.

    Their athleticism is top notch, their players run all day, get to lots of contests, and once again, as they did against Carlton, received more total possessions in this match (222 to 193).

    But for large stretches of the game, their skills were simply attrocious. Worse, poor skills are infectious, as seeing your teammates drop simple marks, grass handballs and take five seconds to pick up a rolling ball saps everyone’s confidence.

    Do you really want to kick it to someone when you’ve just seen her drop a chest mark? Why bother running forward of play to give your midfielder a forward option from a contest when you’re pretty sure she won’t gather the ball cleanly, nor hit you with the pass even if she does?

    The Pies’ one defence is that they were very unlucky that second-round pick Darcy Guttridge broke her collarbone in a practise match.

    Not only did that deprive them of a potential star halfback, but it denied them the chance to put Chloe Molloy up forward — the Pies first-round pick continued her great play in this game, with 15 possessions, six marks and four tackles down back, and relatively clean hands.

    Molloy would have made an even bigger difference up forward, and taken some pressure of Jasmine Garner… but with the Pies’ midfield comfortably the worst in the competition, its unlikely even that could have moved them off the bottom of the ladder.

    Fremantle’s skills weren’t wonderful either – in fact, both teams are really quite similar — lots of great athletes without a lot of ballhandling ability.

    They were clearly the better team against Collingwood, comfortably won clearances (21 to 12) and inside 50s (36 to 22), led by Dana Hooker with 20 possessions and two goals.

    But unless there’s a large change of emphasis toward skills in the Dockers, the Dockers are no chance at the top-four, this year or next.

    They play Melbourne next round, and assuming the Dees bring their A-game across the Nullarbor with them, it could be a blowout.

    Fremantle Dockers

    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    Western Bulldogs vs Brisbane Lions

    This would have been a great game if it weren’t so depressing to see Izzy Huntington go down. For me, the primary excitement about the AFLW is watching the young players coming through and transforming women’s football in the process.

    With two fast goals in the second quarter, Huntington finally showed everyone how much fun the next generation of women’s footballers are going to be… and then did her other knee, not the one she’d just recovered from.

    It’s going to be the single most grim feature of women’s football — the rate of female knee injuries being that much higher than men’s, and it only makes you admire the bravery of these players even more, knowing that it’s almost certainly going to happen once, if not repeatedly, across a long career.

    But even without Huntington, and with Katie Brennan goalless, the Dogs remained the superior team, even in weather that should logically favour Brisbane.

    We all know that Brisbane’s defence is phenomenal, but it takes more than preventing goals to win games — at some point you have to kick them yourself.

    As the number of AFLW teams that can kick good scores against even Brisbane’s defence increases, Brisbane are going to have to figure ways to score more themselves, instead of just presuming they can win with defence alone.

    Here perhaps we see the next evolution of the women’s game. Last season teams could go a long way on exploiting the relative lack of skills in the competition’s first season — Adelaide with long bombs and hard running, and Brisbane with smothering defence breaking up any skill-oriented gameplan.

    But so far Melbourne have shown themselves immune to those tactics, and now the Dogs are too, outworking the Lions in the first half to finish with 24 more total disposals, including 44 more kicks.

    Defence alone can only shut down a team like the Dogs if the Dogs’ disposal is vulnerable, but this team simply doesn’t miss very many kicks, irrespective of pressure, and their midfield depth put lots of pressure on Brisbane going the other way.

    While only the Dogs’ star midfielders had big games in round one, against the Lions their depth became clear, with Kristi Lamb and Jenna Bruton accumulating 20 and 15 possessions respectively.

    Monique Conti hasn’t yet found her feet, but has still averaged 13 possessions across her first two games — a number that will increase dramatically when she finds her groove.

    For now, Conti has a habit of hovering around stoppages, caught halfway between hoping the ball comes her way, and going and getting it herself. When she figures out her role, look out.

    If the Lions want to win a premiership, they’ll have to find ways to beat this style of high-skill possession footy.

    Their pressure might be enough to beat most teams, but to win the championship they’ll need to beat all the teams, and it’s clear they’ll be struggling to beat either Melbourne or the Bulldogs playing this way.

    That’s going to involve better skills and ball movement than they’re currently displaying, and perhaps a shift of mindset as well.

    One start might be putting Ally Anderson onto the ball — she’s had two huge games in a row now starting as a back pocket, 16 possessions and six tackles in this game, 14 and 12 in the first, and joins Jamie Stanton as perhaps the Lions’ most improved from last year.

    Together with Bates and Zielke, these four make Brisbane’s most prolific ball-winners this season. It’s a good start, but the Lions haven’t yet shown they have the personnel to play that next-generation football.

    Next weekend the Lions face Carlton — the League’s two toughest defensive teams in a matchup that promises to be low-scoring and ugly.

    Naturally Channel Seven are covering it, no doubt to be followed by many complaints about how bad women’s football is.

    Meanwhile the Dogs will play the Crows in Adelaide, which promises to be fast and lively, particularly if Phillips and Cramey are back. Naturally no national audience will see it.

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • February 14th 2018 @ 11:01am
      Maggie said | February 14th 2018 @ 11:01am | ! Report

      Wow Joel, you seem to have been in a grumpy mood when you wrote a lot if this. Did you get soaked in the rain at Drummoyne like me? You certainly haven’t pulled back on your criticisms of Carlton and Collingwood in particular.

      But I totally agree with you that “Melbourne are good for the competition, because they demonstrate the level at which women’s football can be played, and give the other teams something to aspire to.” The Dees were a joy to watch last weekend. They and the Bulldogs look to be the standout superior teams this season.

      • February 14th 2018 @ 3:12pm
        Joel Shepherd said | February 14th 2018 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

        I try to hold back on criticisms of individual players, because these guys aren’t getting paid $400,000 a season, are working other jobs and deserve a break. But teams collectively are fair game, and I think the environment some sports reporters try to create around the AFLW, of refusing to be critical at all, only hurts the women’s game in the long run.

        • February 14th 2018 @ 5:15pm
          Maggie said | February 14th 2018 @ 5:15pm | ! Report

          That’s a fair and appropriate comment.

          The more I think about this the more concerned I am about the (premature) expansion of the competition by the addition of two teams next year and then another four in 2020. I can understand the logic of the inclusion of Geelong and North Melbourne to provide further regional coverage but the next four in 2020 seems far too early. I would much prefer to see the standard of the existing teams continue to improve (which I am confident will happen) rather than the talent pool be spread too thinly.

          • February 14th 2018 @ 5:33pm
            Joel Shepherd said | February 14th 2018 @ 5:33pm | ! Report

            My concern too… and here’s where the memo annoyed me. The AFL had a choice to either develop the competition’s standard, or to increase the number of teams. There are good arguments for either — keeping 8 teams would increase the standard of play and create a competitive TV product faster, while expanding rapidly would increase grassroots development of the game, and thus junior participation, through the efforts of the new clubs. But you can’t do both, because obviously, rapid expansion will hurt the quality of the games. The memo suggests that the AFL wants both, and doesn’t understand that it can’t have both. They picked one, they should suck it up and deal with it.

            • February 14th 2018 @ 8:59pm
              Maggie said | February 14th 2018 @ 8:59pm | ! Report

              That’s a very succinct way of explaining the choice, thanks.

        • Roar Guru

          February 14th 2018 @ 5:29pm
          Cat said | February 14th 2018 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

          Is it really surprising that people push back considering the poor attitudes shown by many a poster on this website towards women?

    • Roar Guru

      February 15th 2018 @ 2:41am
      Gordon P Smith said | February 15th 2018 @ 2:41am | ! Report

      Two great articles of analyses in two weeks, Joel. Concise, correct, to the point. And as you said in an earlier comment, it’s less appropriate to criticize individual players in a penny-ante paypool league, although the teams as a whole are a fairer target. Thanks for adding your strong writing to the team.

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