Winners and losers from AFLW Round 3

Joel Shepherd Roar Guru

By Joel Shepherd, Joel Shepherd is a Roar Guru


19 Have your say

    Round 3 of 2018 AFLW season was full of classic, close matches, and might be the best week of AFLW we’ve seen so far.

    Adelaide vs Western Bulldogs

    Talent matters. There’s a lot of talk in sports about teamwork, coaching tactics and other collective things, but underneath it all, who wins and who loses has mostly to do with the talent on the field.

    Australian Rules Football stands alone among team sports as being the most difficult for any single athlete to dominate, because there are so many players on the field, and so many options for coaches to use to shut down the game’s stars.

    But sometimes you get talent that is so superior that they can single-handedly win even AFL or AFLW games off their own boot.

    Today, Erin Phillips is the best natural footballer in the AFLW. Trying to stop her, as Paul Groves was tasked with, you can throw all kinds of opponents and tactics out there, but if Phillips is on her game, nothing’s going to work.

    Libby Birch is a very good defender, but she just doesn’t have the strength, balance, skill or speed for that matchup… and there’s no shame in that, because in this league, when Phillips plays like that, no one does.

    Against the Dogs she kicked four goals two, two-thirds of Adelaide’s score, after being plonked at full forward when Bec Goddard judged her bad leg wouldn’t let her play in the middle.

    Phillips is a strong-bodied midfielder in the Patrick Dangerfield mold, but thrown into full-foward, she played that position better than any star forward has ever played in the AFLW so far. Think about that.

    The other example of where talent matters is Chelsea Randall. Randall is nearly as much better than everyone else out there as Phillips is.

    Whether she’s running free across halfback, or smothering Katie Brennan in the second-half, Randall is just faster, harder and more talented than anyone a coach can play against her, and caused havoc for the Bulldogs every time they went forward.

    These two players, more than any others, are the reason Adelaide won the premiership last season, and they’re the reason Adelaide still has a chance this season.

    Yes, the Crows still lack depth, but when Phillips and Randall are firing, the impact on the team is huge, and all of their teammates lift.

    Better yet, the Crows lowered their eyes a little in this game, kicking long when they needed to, but short as well, hitting targets and keeping possession instead of always bombing.

    Against Brisbane in round one the Crows were outmarked 33 to 54; against Melbourne it was 21 to 47; but against the Dogs the difference was only 31 to 38, and that against a gameplan designed specifically around short-kicking and marking.

    Just as tellingly, the Crows were even in handballs, 63 to 63, as opposed to the wildly lopsided tallies in previous games —41 to 110 against Melbourne, and 45 to 78 against Brisbane.

    The Crows’ gamestyle has changed — whether permanently or not we’ll have to wait until Round 4 to see. But for now, it seems Bec Goddard has put away her bomb-sight.

    The next thing the Crows did was play short in defence, and refused to allow the Dogs their short lead-up options and easy marks. Those 38 marks taken by the Bulldogs pales in comparison to 64 marks taken in round two against Brisbane, and 70 against Fremantle in round one.

    There’s so much long kicking in the AFLW these days that teams are holding defenders back to guard against it. The Dogs exploited that tactic in the first two rounds by going short. Now perhaps, after the Crows have shown how to stop it, that won’t be so easy.

    With their favorite trick taken away, the Dogs midfield began to look at odds and ends, banging it long to ill-defined targets that their small forward line (with Huntington injured) isn’t really set up for.

    The Dogs are a fast running team, not a great contested marking team. A team with real confidence in their short kicks might have tried to kick laterally instead, and spread the ball wide rather than insisting on going straight up the ground, but that option appears to be dead and buried in the AFLW for now, where coaches live in terror of turnovers in the corridor.

    And despite their midfield depth, the Dogs are nowhere near as good a handballing team as Melbourne are. The Dees can pick their way through congestion with handballs, while in this game, the Dogs looked very uncomfortable trying to do the same.

    There were still good things for the Bulldogs — Aisling Utri had some strong moments up forward where the Dogs are going to need more contributors, and kicked a goal; Hannah Scott displayed why she’s one of their very best; and Monique Conti continued her steady improvement with each game this season.

    But the Blackburn/Kearney combination, though accumulating many possessions and other stats, wasn’t quite the game-changer that it has been in previous contests, mostly because their short targets were taken away.

    The next big question for Paul Groves could be when to bite the bullet and put Conti directly on the ball. Maybe she’s on the half-forward flank because she’s still got lots to learn, or maybe because she doesn’t yet have the endurance to play a whole game in the middle… whatever the reason, she had fifteen possessions in her third AFLW game ever, showed that she can get out of even the Crows’ stifling pressure with a well-placed sidestep, and provided a run-and-carry option when the Crows had shut down all other targets.

    If she’d started on the ball, provided her fitness was up to it, she could have had 20 plus, and taken pressure off Blackburn and Kearney — Kristy Lamb by comparison started on the ball but only had 12 and not much impact.

    Yes Conti’s useful in the forward line, but she’s showing signs of developing into one of the game’s dominant midfielders, and no matter how inexperienced, coaches win games by putting their best players where they do the most damage. Talent matters.

    Next round the Crows get the Giants; with both teams confident coming off wins, it should be fun. The Dogs get Carlton, which will be made much harder by the fact that Katie Brennan’s ankles are evidently made of glass. But their midfield remains dominant, and Carlton will struggle.

    Erin Phillips

    (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

    Carlton vs Brisbane

    I did say last week that the Blues were hideous to watch. These are the two most flooding teams in the league, and like I also said last week, it was likely to be ugly, and it was.

    But Brisbane at least appear to have a few extra dimensions that allow them to escape from their own backline and advance the ball up the field. With Carlton, it’s hard to know what the coaches are thinking.

    They play so many players behind the ball that those defenders, when trapped in their defensive fifty, have no one to kick to further up the ground.

    In this game, Brisbane established their wall beyond the fifty-meter arc, and Carlton rarely advanced the ball further than that.

    To break that kind of wall, you generally need either a) some big-marking forwards to come down and give your defenders some targets, b) some elite, short-passing midfielders who can pick their way through the wall with accurate short passes and fast running, or c) to get the ball out on one side, then switch play to the other side once Brisbane set up all their defence on that side of the ground.

    For option A, Carlton have Tayla Harris, who is indeed one of the best contested marks in the competition… but against Brisbane, she had possibly the best one-on-one defender in the country in Leah Kaslar sitting on her shoulder most of the night, which made that option unreliable.

    For option B, well, Carlton just don’t have any elite, short-passing midfielders, and were out-handballed 47 to 76, indicating they prefered to kick long than handball. It’s a nice idea, but generally more effective when there’s someone up the ground to kick to.

    Option C, they actually tried several times for some success, but again, getting into open space and running is an option best exploited by teams with fast running players, and Brisbane have more of those than Carlton does.

    The result of all of these non-options in the present gameplan is a team that can’t score. Two goals this game, and three each in the previous two in games they won, things could get really ugly for Carlton as they come up against the better offensive teams in the competition, many of whom play defence just as hard as they do, but can also score going the other way.

    Yes Brianna Davey would have helped, but in the matches she did play in, even her effectiveness was limited (as we’re seeing in Nicola Stevens now) by the enormous congestion Carlton are creating in their own backline. Both Davey and Stevens like to run, and in the current system they can’t.

    And worse, it’s wasting Darcy Vescio, who’s having a very quiet season with just two goals so far. The gameplan was to get the ball to her quickly before Brisbane’s defenders could get back, but Carlton needed to get the ball past Brisbane’s wall first, and lacked the personnel do so.

    Brisbane are similar to Carlton in the way they concentrate defensive numbers about the ball, but they have far more high-skill midfielders and ballwinners.

    Brisbane had more disposals by 217 to 173, but that doesn’t tell the full story — Carlton didn’t have a single player with more than 13 posessions for the game, while Brisbane had five, those being Bates (20), Webb (14), Lutkins (18), Stanton (18) and Anderson (16).

    Carlton turned this game (and every game) into a grind, but when you grind, the ball has to pass through many pairs of hands to get the ball forward, so talent depth becomes the most important factor.

    Brisbane has far more of that, while Carlton (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) traded most of their depth away in the off-season.

    It was a bad idea before Davey’s injury, and a catastrophic one after it, because Carlton had left themselves relying on so few star players, a single big injury was always going to kill their season.

    Carlton get the Dogs next weekend. Brennan won’t be there, but the Dogs are fast and will exploit all that open space behind Carlton’s flood far better than the Lions did.

    Brisbane get the Dockers in Brisbane, which given the Dockers’ recent burst of form could be a cracker.

    Jess Wuetschner

    (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

    Collingwood vs GWS

    It was touch and go there for a moment, but finally GWS decided there was no way they were going to be the worst team in the competition two years in a row.

    To judge from how they ran away with the game in the final quarter, it probably shouldn’t have been that close in the first place.

    GWS haven’t been firing on all cylinders since they lost their opening round thriller to Melbourne.

    Renee Forth remains relegated to a forward pocket — I’ve heard no word on whether she’s still recovering from her knee injury, or if she simply hasn’t been able to do a full preseason because of it, but with only four possessions in this game, and 6.3 for the season so far, she’s far below her best.

    Eleven and twelve possessions for Dal Pos and Swanson is also on the low side for them, once again leaving the bulk of the work to be done by Alicia Eva (23) and Courtney Gum (15 and 2 goals).

    Cora Staunton must be cursing the shape of the Australian ball and having oval-shaped nightmares after kicking three behinds that could easily have been goals.

    If those had gone through, the game wouldn’t have been very close at all — all the game stats were relatively even save for inside-50s, which GWS dominated 37 to 18.

    For Collingwood, once again, it comes down to skills — they couldn’t pick their way through the Giants’ forward press, leading to repeat entry after repeat entry to the Giants’ forwards. Collingwood just can’t string together enough clean possession in the middle of the ground to guarantee enough inside-50s to give their forwards a chance and win the game.

    They win the ball well enough, Bonnici getting 18 and Lambert (the one exception to their talent problems) getting 19, but then they lose it again for no result.

    As such, I’m very reluctant to criticise any of the Pies’ forwards, and I think everyone should ease the hell up on Moana Hope, and not just because she kicked two goals in this game.

    The Pies are only averaging 23 inside-50s a game, while on the other end of the scale, Melbourne are averaging 32. Needless to say, the quality of Melbourne’s 32 has been far higher as well.

    Criticising any of the Collingwood forwards at this point is like a gardener criticising his plants for not growing when he doesn’t water them.

    The Pies’ midfield are athletic, but they just don’t have the talent to be competitive in this competition, because they can’t give their forwards a fair supply of the ball.

    Next weekend, Collingwood get Melbourne (good luck), and GWS get the Crows in Blacktown. The Crows are much better with Phillips, but the Giants may still have the most upside left in the competition. But they’ll still be praying that a freak Sydney tornado blows Erin off the field.

    McWilliams Hetherington

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    Melbourne vs Fremantle

    It was a bit like a zombie movie for the Dees — they thought they’d slain that old monster of inaccurate goalkicking last season, but here it came again, rising from the dead to torment them.

    Most of those missed goals were in the first quarter, where Melbourne kicked one goal five to nothing, and from there the Dockers, who ought to have been demoralised at twenty plus points down, took advantage of the breeze and came roaring back.

    Inaccurate goalkicking famously cost Melbourne a place in last season’s grand final, when they kicked one goal nine against GWS in Round 5.

    Granted that was a wet game, and the Dockers this year are much better than GWS were last year, but still the tale echoes.

    But after that first quarter, the Dockers were all over Melbourne, and though the match remained close, the Dees showed some previously unseen vulnerabilities that will have their coaching staff worried.

    Firstly, they got smashed in the clearances, 28 to 11. Melbourne have one of the best rucks in the league in Erin Hoare, a great backup in Lauren Pearce, and that famous midfield, so this is inexplicable… save to give full credit to the Dockers, who charged in like teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert.

    Which raises the question — does Melbourne really have a great inside mid to go headfirst into the pack and dig out the ball? The Dockers have Kara Donnellan and Lara Filocamo, but Daisy Pearce and Karen Paxman, for all their excellence, are better outside runners than inside scrappers.

    Mel Hickey had another quiet midfield game by Melbourne standards with 13 touches, to average 11.6 for the season.

    Lily Mithen, on the other hand, has been demoted from the midfield this season, as well as being demoted from all the commentators’ roundups when talking of Melbourne’s superb mids.

    Everyone seems to have forgotten that toward the end of last season, Mithen was getting as many possessions in the midfield as Pearce and Paxman.

    This season, in the forward pocket (a position where she’d usually expect to get less possessions), she’s averaging 14.6, three more than Hickey gets on the ball.

    Mithen may be tiny, but being tiny makes her close to the ground, and not every stoppage winner in men’s or women’s competition has been built like a bulldozer.

    Either way, she’s clearly a better natural ball winner than Hickey, and maybe it’s time Melbourne realised what they’ve got before she disappears next season to her native Geelong, who will doubtless appreciate her more.

    Also, the Demons avoided playing the corridor as though it might give them an infection. Time after time Melbourne attacked through the teeth of the Dockers’ concentrated defence along the wing, despite having the best disposal efficiency in the league, and being one of the few teams that can reliably switch play without turning it over.

    From that entry-point, particularly kicking with the wind, the ball ended up in the same far pocket beside the behind post so many times it became monotonous.

    This left poor Tegan Cunningham trying to outmark the same five Fremantle defenders each time, who had made camp in that pocket, lit a camp fire, and were having a cup of tea waiting for the ball to come back, which it invariably did.

    Switching play and using the corridor would have changed the entry point to the forward fifty and forced those defenders to shift camp, but Melbourne refused — perhaps a sign of being too risk-averse, and perhaps of not taking the Dockers seriously enough.

    And lastly, Mick Stinear opted to leave Alyssa Mifsud out in favour of Jasmine Grierson, who isn’t the same contested mark that Mifsud is, and even were she playing outside the forward line would only free up some other player who also isn’t as good a contested mark as Mifsud.

    Playing against the wind, the Dockers at some points had nearly their entire team in their defensive fifty, and the Dees’ only serious contested marking threat was Cunningham.

    She could have used Mifsud to take the pressure off, so one has to wonder what the coaches were thinking — it’s not like they couldn’t have forseen enormous congestion being used to stop the best offensive team in the competition. Contested marking in this competition is gold.

    As for Fremantle, they can take heart not only from having played their best game of the season against the best team in the league, but from the fact that just perhaps, some of Melbourne’s reluctance to use the corridor was from the knowledge that the Dockers are fast, and could punish them on the rebound.

    Just possibly, Melbourne were trying to avoid playing that fast end-to-end footy that Fremantle’s runners are just made for, which might indicate that even the best teams have noticed Fremantle’s strengths, and are wary.

    The Dockers also showed the best disposal of their club’s history, and a work rate that was exemplary. Their backline is ferocious, and if they could just find another defender who could do Ebony Antonio’s job on the best tall forward (Cunningham, in this case) then Antonio could become anything — in this game she started on the ball, drifted forward, kicked a goal, then went back when Cunningham threatened.

    The basketball convert’s skills are improving year by year, and there’s no reason she couldn’t become the league’s tallest midfielder — the female Nat Fyfe, if you will, or Marcus Bontempeli.

    A final note on Emily McGuire — I’d seen her play in some junior matches for WA, and thought that she’d be a walk-on for any Fremantle team this season.

    If she wasn’t injured, and was just left out of the first two games by Fremantle’s coaching staff, that was a major oversight, because McGuire is a serious talent and doesn’t need many chances to make a big impact.

    I doubt they’ll make the same mistake again.

    Fremantle Dockers AFLW

    (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

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    The Crowd Says (19)

    • February 21st 2018 @ 10:51am
      Maggie said | February 21st 2018 @ 10:51am | ! Report

      Thanks Joel, once again a great wrap-up of the round. I really enjoy your weekly summaries.

    • February 21st 2018 @ 12:16pm
      I ate pies said | February 21st 2018 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

      A round full of classic matches? The only thing this round will be remembered for is elbows to the face and punches to the guts. This is after the kick to the groin. If this was the AFL we’d be carrying on about wiping out the thuggery.

      Oops, I forgot to mention the punches to the back of the head in packs…

      • Roar Pro

        February 21st 2018 @ 1:42pm
        anon said | February 21st 2018 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

        Violence and thuggishness seems to get a free pass in AFLW.

        It’s almost celebrated as an example of equality. People seem to admire stereotypically male traits in women.

        We should be calling it as it is. Nasty cheap shots.

        • Roar Guru

          February 21st 2018 @ 4:01pm
          Dalgety Carrington said | February 21st 2018 @ 4:01pm | ! Report

          Where would you guys be if you didn’t have something to dislike? It’s more than a little embarrassing.

        • Roar Guru

          February 21st 2018 @ 5:15pm
          Paul Dawson said | February 21st 2018 @ 5:15pm | ! Report

          when I see your posts I always think of you two wearing wife beater singlets in an empty pub, surrounded by stale beer and faded memories, complaining about “wimmin” and snowflakes and how life isn’t as good anymore

          • February 22nd 2018 @ 5:27pm
            Oingo Boingo said | February 22nd 2018 @ 5:27pm | ! Report

            Ahhh the grubby little lefty knight in recycled shining armour , coming to the rescue of the down trodden.
            I admire your ability to portray yourself as an honourable person.
            By the way Paul ( and I know what the D stands for ) , where do I purchase one of these ” wife beater ” singlets you’ve mentioned?

            • Roar Guru

              February 22nd 2018 @ 5:31pm
              Paul Dawson said | February 22nd 2018 @ 5:31pm | ! Report

              Hey oingo you reactionary old duffer, it’s strictly a libertarian argument for me – women contribute tremendously to the AFL’s money pot through paying for foxtel subscriptions, memberships, tv deals, online passes, driving their kids to sport etc

              Denying them the chance to have their own competition using a tiny fraction of the AFL earnings that they contributed to for me makes no sense at all and is a disgraceful position to take from a common decency point of view

              I’m gay, I have zero interest in white knighting to burnish my credentials with women. This is about principles.

              • Roar Pro

                February 22nd 2018 @ 8:27pm
                anon said | February 22nd 2018 @ 8:27pm | ! Report

                No-one cares about your sexuality, mate. It’s not in any way relevant to what oingo boingo was saying.

                It’s a choice, not an accomplishment or achievement.

              • February 22nd 2018 @ 9:23pm
                Oingo Boingo said | February 22nd 2018 @ 9:23pm | ! Report

                But you still didn’t answer my question?

              • Roar Guru

                February 23rd 2018 @ 12:05am
                Paul Dawson said | February 23rd 2018 @ 12:05am | ! Report

                They’re singlets Oingo, Kmart I guess

                I agree it’s a crass term – it probably devalues the argument by using it. Shrug. But these two did the same shtick last year, and I said much the same stuff – this is an internet forum, the whole point is to write responses and drive views. I’ve got enough bile to sit here and play written whack-a-mole with pies rubbish, what’s it to you? I’m here for my own enjoyment and nothing else

                Send me a message on facebook if you know who I am. I’m sure you’ve already facestalked me anyway. You’ll be one of many men who have

              • February 23rd 2018 @ 12:55am
                Oingo Boingo said | February 23rd 2018 @ 12:55am | ! Report

                Hmmmm ….I must admit that I was unaware that there was a particular uniform that ” wife beaters” wore .
                I mean to say , the next time I see a guy in a singlet , does that mean he’s a wife beater, or is there a particular style of singlet I should be on the lookout for ?

    • Roar Pro

      February 21st 2018 @ 1:01pm
      anon said | February 21st 2018 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

      What jumped out to me was the drop in attendance for Fremantle.

      From 40-odd thousand attendance to 3k in the space of a week.

      Do only 3k people care about the team?

      • February 21st 2018 @ 7:49pm
        Martin said | February 21st 2018 @ 7:49pm | ! Report

        The location of Fremantle Oval is difficult to get to. It’s not central and being on the coast you’ve got a 180 degree catchment. There’s only the one railway track out of Fremantle which goes to Perth central.

        If Domain Stadium had been used I expect the number of spectators would have been triple what they got on Sunday. And even more at Optus Stadium.

        • Roar Pro

          February 22nd 2018 @ 10:34pm
          anon said | February 22nd 2018 @ 10:34pm | ! Report

          If the men’s team played an official game at Fremantle Oval it would sell out two times over.

      • February 21st 2018 @ 8:00pm
        Aligee said | February 21st 2018 @ 8:00pm | ! Report

        Seriously !!

        Thats even cheap for you

    • Roar Guru

      February 21st 2018 @ 4:06pm
      Dalgety Carrington said | February 21st 2018 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

      Great descriptive write up Joel, very enjoyable. It’s great to see the way Freo are going about it as a team, it has a real air of irrepressibility about it.

      • February 21st 2018 @ 4:17pm
        Joel Shepherd said | February 21st 2018 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

        They’ve had a lot of injuries too. If their skills keep sharpening up, and they can get one or two of those injured players back, it could get real interesting. And even more so next season — there’s a bunch of kids coming through, led by McKenzie Dowrick, who could make a real impact.

    • Roar Guru

      February 22nd 2018 @ 4:21pm
      DingoGray said | February 22nd 2018 @ 4:21pm | ! Report

      Lions the real winners of this round with the fact Freo have knocked over the Dees.

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