Following a 32-point loss to the Fremantle Dockers on Sunday at VU Whitten Oval, it’s back to the drawing board for the GWS Giants and captain Alicia Eva.
Round 2 of the AFL Women’s season is upon us, and it’s a strange sight to see reigning premiers Brisbane Lions sitting in last place on the ladder.
A loss of experience was put down to their heavy loss to the Adelaide Crows, who by virtue of their strong performance have shown that they are right up there among the contenders for this year’s flag.
There were also exceptional performances by Richmond, led by best-on-ground Monique Conti, as well as from Melbourne and Fremantle.
Sadly, the opening round also saw three players suffer season-ending ACL injuries, with Kate Lutkins (Brisbane Lions), Isabel Huntington (Western Bulldogs) and Brianna Davey (Collingwood) out for the rest of the year.
Due to WA’s hard border closures both the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle will begin life on the road for the next few weeks, each playing their respective ‘home’ games against the Gold Coast Suns and GWS Giants in Victoria this Sunday.
What promises to be a cracker on Friday night between Richmond and Melbourne kicks off my preview of the round.
Two of the most impressive winners from the opening round come face to face to kick off Round 2 at Punt Road Oval this Friday night.
After struggling in their first two years in the competition, we might be about to see the best of what Richmond can offer, with a best-on-ground performance from Monique Conti steering them to a 38-point thrashing of St Kilda in the opening match.
A tight first quarter was then followed by a Richmond onslaught, and they didn’t concede another goal until the death, booting eight majors.
Conti’s performance caught the attention of Patrick Dangerfield, who suggested on Twitter that she could win the league’s best-and-fairest award should the Tigers win enough games in 2020.
If Richmond win enough games Conti may just win the league B&F ⭐️ #AFLWSaintsTigers
— Patrick Dangerfield (@dangerfield35) January 7, 2022
Meantime, Tayla Harris starred in her first game for Melbourne as the Dees cruised to a 24-point win over the Western Bulldogs at Whitten Oval.
She was a focal point in a forward line that feasted on a Bulldogs defence weakened by injury, booting seven goals against just three.
Given the impressive performances of both the Tigers and Dees in the opening round, it is barely surprising that Friday night’s clash at Punt Road Oval has sold out, with no more general public tickets available for sale.
It is also possible that one or both of these teams could feature in the finals this year, and should either side go all the way, it would come hot off the heels of their men’s side recently winning a flag – in Richmond’s case in 2017, 2019 and 2020, and in Melbourne’s case last year.
The question remains: which side will be able to back up their strong Round 1 performance?
Prediction: Richmond by 12 points.
Just how Collingwood adapt to life without its co-captain Brianna Davey will remain to be seen when they take on St Kilda at Victoria Park in the first match of the Saturday triple-header.
Their 19-point win against Carlton at Ikon Park was soured by the news that Davey had ruptured her right ACL for the second time after also suffering the same injury while at the Blues in 2018.
On that occasion the Blues had won their first two matches and were sitting on top of the ladder before dropping their final five matches to end the season as wooden spooners.
Pies fans will be hoping that their side avoids the same fate this year, but nonetheless they will start favourites to beat St Kilda this Saturday afternoon.
After a tight first quarter in which Tarni White kicked the opening goal of the season, the Saints struggled for the remainder of the match, kicking only one goal in the final quarter and conceding eight to a more superior Richmond side.
It wasn’t an ideal start for new coach Nick Dal Santo, who has unfortunately been ruled out due to being deemed a close COVID-19 contact, meaning he must isolate for at least seven days.
Paddy Hill will assume coaching duties in his absence and will have a tough task trying to lead the side to their first win of the season against a side missing inspirational captain Brianna Davey.
Prediction: Collingwood by ten points.
Both last-start losers, the onus will be on both Brisbane and Carlton to hit back when they face off in Maroochydore on Saturday night.
The Lions’ premiership defence got off to a rough start last Sunday, beaten by the Adelaide Crows by five goals and failing to kick a goal in the first three quarters in a rematch of last year’s decider at Flinders University Stadium.
The loss was also soured by the news that forward Dakota Davidson would miss up to five weeks with a foot injury, while the worst was confirmed for Kate Lutkins, best on ground in last year’s decide, who has ruptured her ACL and will not play again this year.
It marked the first time Craig Starcevich’s team had lost in the opening round of a season and many have put it down to the loss of experienced players, including Emma Zielke, who is now on the coaching staff, as well as Lauren Arnell.
Meantime, the Blues started well in its match against the Pies but were left to rue some ill-discipline in defence after they conceded three goals via 50-metre penalties, two of them in the shadow of halftime.
This is something they will want to clean up when they face the Lions, whom they beat in what turned out to be a meaningless qualifying final in 2020, on Saturday night.
Despite the loss of two key players to serious injuries, the home-ground advantage should get the Lions home in this one.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 16 points.
In the evening the Geelong Cats return home to GMHBA Stadium for a Saturday night clash against the Western Bulldogs in which both sides will be looking to put contrasting opening-round losses behind them.
Having struggled their way to only one win last season, the Cats took it right up to North Melbourne in Hobart last Saturday afternoon, going down by only eight points after having lost the corresponding match last year by a massive 62 points.
They may have failed to kick a goal in the first half, but they did keep the Kangaroos scoreless for a quarter and a half after quarter-time and led by two points at three-quarter-time before failing to boot a major in the final quarter.
New Cats coach Daniel Lowther acknowledged the improved performance but was still disappointed that his side was unable to get the job done from such a winnable position.
He’ll be looking to break his coaching duck when the Cats face a Western Bulldogs side that has copped a massive blow, with two key players to miss the trip down the highway.
Not only did Isabel Huntington rupture her ACL for the third time – and second since being drafted into the AFL Women’s league in 2017 – but captain Ellie Blackburn will also miss the match under the AFL’s health and safety protocols, having been deemed a close COVID-19 contact.
It’s the last thing Nathan Burke would want as he tries to instil some confidence into a side that copped a 24-point hiding by Melbourne at Whitten Oval last Saturday night.
Their weakened defence was badly exposed by a Melbourne forward line that booted seven goals, one of them to marquee forward Tayla Harris.
Given the Bulldogs’ injury toll, there is reason for the Geelong Cats and their supporters to believe that they can crack it for a win on their home deck this Saturday night.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by six points.
Road life begins for the West Coast Eagles this Sunday with their home match against the Gold Coast Suns to be played at Whitten Oval in Melbourne.
Kicking off their third season in the competition, the Eagles took it right up to intrastate rivals Fremantle in the Western Derby, being within five points at three-quarter-time before falling away in the final quarter, when they failed to score even a point.
Their only two goals for the match came from ex-GWS players Emma Swanson and Aimee Schmidt, who joined the club in 2020 and this season respectively.
On neutral ground they will fancy their chances of a win against the Gold Coast Suns, but it won’t come easily if the Suns’ improved form in Round 1 is anything to go by.
Last year’s wooden spooners, who failed to win a game all season, produced a strong first half and led by 15 points at quarter-time and by a point at the long break but failed to score at all in the second half.
Kalinda Howarth was their best player, with 13 disposals and a goal, and Charlie Rowbottom performed reasonably in her AFLW debut, tallying 11 touches.
It wasn’t enough to prevent an 11th consecutive defeat dating back to 21 March 2020, but they do come up against the very side that they beat for their most recent win in the competition, which was the Eagles (Round 6, 2020).
It might be a hard match to tip with any real confidence, but I’m going with the Eagles in this one.
Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 14 points.
A potential finals preview comes to the City of Churches when heavyweights Adelaide and North Melbourne clash at Norwood Oval in the second match of the Sunday triple-header.
The Crows, beaten in last year’s grand final by the Brisbane Lions, continue to show why they are a dominant force in this competition, exacting revenge on the Lions with a strong 30-point win at home last Sunday.
While they kicked six goals themselves, the Crows defence held out strong against the Lions, not conceding a goal to three-quarter-time and allowing in only one for the match, when it was all but over.
Ashleigh Woodland booted four goals, while Ebony Marinoff and Anne Hatchard racked up nearly 50 disposals between them and Chelsea Randall made her return to the side after missing last year’s decider due to concussion.
Meanwhile, North Melbourne survived a determined challenge from the Geelong Cats, who won only one game last year (in the final round), winning by eight points.
In a rematch of their Round 1 encounter from last season – in which the Roos kicked 11 goals and won by 62 points – Darren Crocker’s side managed seven fewer goals but still won by eight points in a rather unconvincing display of their title credentials.
They will get back Emma Kearney after she missed last week’s win due to COVID-19 protocols, and her leadership and experience will be crucial if the Roos are to cause an upset on the road, which I cannot see happening against a very strong Adelaide Crows side.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 20 points.
The final match of the round pits together two last-start winners in Fremantle and GWS in the second match of the Whitten Oval double-header on Sunday.
After being held on a leash by the Eagles in the opening three quarters, the Dockers were able to break free near the end, keeping their neighbours scoreless in the final quarter as they motored to a 28-point win, reinforcing themselves as the top AFLW team in the west.
In fact the Dockers were able to use the wind to their advantage in the second and fourth quarters, keeping clean sheets in both, as seven of the game’s eight goals went to one end of the ground.
Ebony Antonio (three goals) and Kiara Bowers (24 disposals and 14 tackles) shared the best-on-ground honours; for the latter it was the fourth time in as many western derbies that she was adjudged to be the best player on the field.
They’ll start favourites in their relocated home game against GWS Giants, who shook off a determined challenge from the Gold Coast Suns to win by 15 points and get their season off to a winning start.
Alyce Parker and Alicia Eva provided great service in the midfield, while Cora Staunton (two goals) continues to show brilliant endurance, having turned 40 just before Christmas.
It is the second in a string of three straight away games for Alan McConnell’s side to start the season, and having banked an early win against the Suns they will be put to the test in consecutive matches against flag fancies Freo followed by North Melbourne at Arden Street next week.
Compete they may, but the Dockers’ firepower should prove too strong here.
Prediction: Fremantle by 15 points.