I watched the Tigers play Sydney in Tiger heartland: The Corner Hotel on Swan Street. I was catching up with a couple of friends…
This weekend shapes up as a massive weekend of footy, with two huge clashes of the heavyweights and an expanded Round 4 which will include four teams to play twice within a seven-day period.
The match you must not miss is the one between the Adelaide Crows and Melbourne, which shapes as a potential grand final preview with both sides showing ominous form this early in the season, while the other undefeated blockbuster pits Collingwood up against Fremantle.
Meantime, down at the other end of the scale, St Kilda and the West Coast Eagles will attempt to bank their first win for the season when they face off in the second match of a Friday double header at Frankston in Melbourne’s south-east.
Two matches have been brought forward from rounds six and ten, with Collingwood to face West Coast and the Western Bulldogs to take on Fremantle in what have been marketed as “additional fixtures”.
This has resulted in most matches this round being shuffled around, with the Pies versus Freo match being brought forward to tomorrow night, meaning a collision course with the Australian Open women’s semi-final between Ashleigh Barty and Madison Keys, which will also take place at the same time.
That match kicks off my preview of the round.
Collingwood versus Fremantle
One of two matches to feature undefeated teams so far in the competition, the Pies and Freo will be out to test each other’s flag credentials as Thursday night footy comes to Victoria Park.
After two convincing wins to start the season, the Pies were tested against the lowly Cats at Kardinia Park last round, trailing by two points at the first change as both sides laid more than 60 tackles over the course of the four quarters.
It was the efforts of Chloe Molloy that proved to be the difference as she kicked two goals to win it for the Pies, while Jaimee Lambert engaged in an entertaining duel with rising Cats star Georgie Prespakis.
Fremantle, on the other hand, continue to show why they are strong contenders for the flag as they face possibly the rest of the season locked out of their home state.
The league’s reigning best-and-fairest Kiara Bowers had a field day against the Tigers, racking up 28 disposals and 16 tackles as the Dockers turned a 10-point three-quarter-time lead into a comfortable five-goal win.
But despite the huge win, which followed on from earlier wins over the West Coast Eagles and GWS Giants, Trent Cooper’s side dropped from first to second on the ladder, due to the Adelaide Crows gaining enough percentage to overtake them.
The match against the Pies is one of two they will play in a six-day period, with their Round 10 match against the Western Bulldogs brought forward to Tuesday night in what AFL Women’s have marketed as an “additional match” rather than it belonging to its original round.
It will still count for premiership points, and when Round 10 does arrive the team will have an unofficial “bye”.
The Pies versus Freo match shapes as a genuine Thursday night blockbuster and may as well decide which team gains the upper hand in the race for this year’s flag. But despite potentially having to play the rest of the season away from home, the Dockers should still get the job done.
Prediction: Fremantle by 18 points.
GWS Giants versus Western Bulldogs
After three weeks on the road for a return of one win and two disappointing losses, the GWS Giants return to Sydney for their first home game of the season against the match-starved Western Bulldogs.
Following a standard Round 1 win against the Gold Coast Suns, the Giants failed to kick a goal in five consecutive quarters of football across their two losses to heavyweights Fremantle and North Melbourne.
However, they did manage to keep the Kangaroos scoreless in the final quarter last week but it was not enough to prevent a 27-point defeat – which has exposed the gulf between them and the more well-developed clubs in the league.
Coach Alan McConnell has addressed the inconsistency with the side’s form and this is something they will need to rectify when they face a Western Bulldogs side which has not played for over two weeks due to injuries and COVID-related issues.
Lighting the fuse for the Giants’ return home is that this match will be played at Henson Park in Marrickville, which will serve as the home ground of the Sydney Swans’ AFLW team when they enter the competition next season, rather than in Blacktown.
The Bulldogs have had matches against the Geelong Cats and Carlton postponed, before which they lost to Melbourne in the opening round and lost former draft pick Isabel Huntington for the season to yet another serious ACL injury.
Given the lack of game time, you can bet that the Daughters of the West would be itching to get back on the field, but with injuries plaguing their squad this shapes as a good opportunity for the Giants to notch up a win in their first home game for the season.
Prediction: GWS Giants by six points.
St Kilda versus West Coast Eagles
While there are two matches featuring undefeated teams to look forward to, down at the wrong end of the scale, Friday night’s match between St Kilda and the West Coast Eagles shapes as a good opportunity for either side to get on the board in 2022.
So far under new coach Nick Dal Santo the Saints have struggled to get anything going, but they did manage to stay with Melbourne for three quarters last week before conceding six final-quarter goals to go down by 41 points and remain in the lower part of the ladder.
Already Dal Santo has made a statement, dropping forward Caitlin Greiser from the side that was beaten by Collingwood, with Kate Shierlaw providing a tall target in the forward line against the Dees. However, the misfiring forward line was not a factor in the defeat.
Their best chance at a win will come against fellow strugglers the West Coast Eagles, who after two reasonably competitive losses were no match for the class of the Adelaide Crows last Saturday afternoon.
Without captain Emma Swanson in their side, the westerners could only manage one goal for the entire match – through Aimee Schmidt – in the first quarter.
If that wasn’t enough, the Eagles are also having to contend with potentially playing out the rest of the season away from home, due to Western Australia delaying its planned easing of border restrictions which was originally scheduled to occur on February 5.
Michael Prior’s side will also have to play an additional match against Collingwood at Victoria Park on Tuesday afternoon, with that match to come on the other side of a three-day break – so the westerners will be stretched.
As with the Western Bulldogs versus Fremantle match, the Pies versus Eagles match will also count for premiership points.
At home, the Saints should bank the points and notch their first win of the season.
Prediction: St Kilda by eight points.
Adelaide Crows versus Melbourne
We could see a potential grand final preview this Saturday, when the undefeated Adelaide Crows and Melbourne face off in the City of Churches at Norwood Oval.
Traditional heavyweights the Crows continue to be up there among the flag contenders, with its old brigade led by Ebony Marinoff, Chelsea Randall and Erin Phillips again running the show as they ran riot against the West Coast Eagles in Melbourne last week.
Marinoff last week registered her 900th career possession, becoming the AFLW’s all-time leading possession getter in the competition’s short history in the process, while Ashleigh Woodland chipped in with another two majors.
The win was, however, blighted by a foot injury to Anne Hatchard for which she will be monitored ahead of the heavyweight clash against Melbourne this weekend.
The Dees were kept on a leash by struggling St Kilda for three quarters last week, with the scores being tied on 3.5 (23) at the final change, before the Dees ran riot in the final quarter kicking six goals to nothing to register its third straight win to start the season.
Tyla Hanks, Karen Paxman and Tayla Harris, who kicked three goals, were among their best players.
After three weeks at home, this will be the Dees’ first road trip of the new season, and the trip to Adelaide will provide a very good test of where their premiership credentials are at.
However, at home, the Crows’ class should prove the difference here.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by six points.
Brisbane Lions versus Geelong Cats
After a tough start to its premiership defence which included a heavy loss to the Adelaide Crows in Round 1 and a week off due to COVID implications, the Brisbane Lions will be raring to go when they welcome the Geelong Cats to town on Saturday afternoon.
Injuries have hit the premiers hard, losing two players to long-term injuries while several other players were forced into isolation which meant its originally-fixtured Round 2 match against Carlton was postponed, and was played at Metricon Stadium last night.
The Lions won that match strongly, with Jess Wardlaw kicking two majors, to get their title defence up and running.
But while Craig Starcevich’s side will have only four full days to recover from that match, they will start hot favourites to hand the Cats a fourth straight loss in Maroochydore this Saturday.
The Cats fly north on the back of three encouraging performances against North Melbourne, Carlton and Collingwood, and while coach Daniel Lowther has said that the effort is there, he would like to see his side take the next step up.
Against the Pies last Friday night, they racked up more than 60 tackles as a team, while Georgie Prespakis engaged in an exciting individual duel with the Pies’ Jaimee Lambert.
What better than for the Cats to possibly produce a breakthrough performance against the reigning premiers on their home soil?
However, back at home and playing footy again, the Brisbane Lions should end up taking the chocolates.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 20 points.
Carlton versus North Melbourne
Last week, the Blues were originally fixtured to face the Western Bulldogs but another fixture reshuffle saw them face the Brisbane Lions on the Gold Coast instead.
In the face of such adversity, Maddy Prespakis (27 disposals) and Courtney Jones (three goals) were among their best players in a disappointing night for the club on the holiday strip as they crashed to their second loss of the season.
North, meanwhile, put in a strong performance against the GWS Giants last Sunday, keeping their opponents scoreless up to halftime while kicking 5.5 (35) themselves, at which point they were able to slow down the pace at which they were playing knowing they couldn’t be beaten.
Ashleigh Riddell, Emma Kearney and Daria Bannister were among their best players on a dominant afternoon for the Kangaroos, but despite the nature of their victory coach Darren Crocker would still be demanding consistency from his players, highlighting in particular the scoreless final quarter.
They also could’ve won by a bigger margin if it wasn’t for their inaccuracy in the third quarter, in which they booted two goals from nine scoring shots.
One major highlight of the match came before the first bounce, with former coach Danielle Laidley making a rare appearance to toss the coin between the two captains.
Proud to have club great Danielle Laidley toss the coin ahead of today's Pride Round clash. ????️????????️⚧️ pic.twitter.com/Tttw66ndOb
— North Melbourne AFLW (@NorthAFLW) January 23, 2022
In what shapes as in intriguing match at Princes Park, I think the Kangaroos can continue on their good form as they continue staking their claim for the club’s first piece of silverware this century.
Prediction: North Melbourne by 10 points.
Gold Coast Suns vs Richmond
The final official match of Round 3 takes us to the holiday strip where the Gold Coast Suns and Richmond will both be seeking a second win of the season at Metricon Stadium.
Widely tipped to again struggle this year, the Suns go into this match off the back of an unofficial bye due to its QClash being postponed; they will instead face the Western Bulldogs at a time and date to be determined.
Beforehand, they split their opening two matches, losing to the GWS Giants at home before ending a near-two year barren run with a come-from-behind victory against the West Coast Eagles in Melbourne.
Richmond, meanwhile, enjoyed a strong win against St Kilda in the opening match of the season in Round 1 but have since dropped their last two matches, albeit against strong opposition in Melbourne and Fremantle, both at their spiritual home Punt Road Oval.
Despite the best efforts of Monique Conti, who collected 22 disposals and laid four tackles, the Tigers crashed to their second straight loss, going down by five goals after trailing by just ten points at the last change of ends.
She was also best on ground in the corresponding match last year, when she collected 25 disposals on her return from a hamstring injury, so the Tigers will be relying on another big-numbers performance from her if they are to collect their second win of the season.
After two losses, expect the Tigers to hit back against a match-starved Suns side on the Gold Coast.
Prediction: Richmond by 11 points.
Tuesday, February 1, 5:10pm, Victoria Park
Collingwood vs West Coast Eagles
Tuesday, February 1, 7:10pm, Whitten Oval
Western Bulldogs vs Fremantle