Carlton have survived a huge late scare to open their first AFLW season under new coach Mathew Buck with a tense two-point win over Gold Coast.
The Blues, fired by three goals from experienced forward Darcy Vescio, led by 23 points early in the last quarter.
But they conceded the final six scores of the game before hanging on for a 5.4 (34) to 4.8 (32) victory at Ikon Park on Saturday.
The Suns posted 3.3 in the latter stages, falling narrowly short of pulling off what would have been a stunning comeback.
“The way they just kept coming was pretty tough and it was a bit stressful at the end there,” Carlton star Vescio told Fox Footy.
“We just tried to stay calm. Buck was talking about managing our emotions all game, so I’m glad we were able to do that.”
Buck was appointed on a full-time basis in April and took over from long-time coach Daniel Harford, who departed in January after a review of Carlton’s women’s football program.
Vescio said it was “really special” to begin the new era with a win.
“Leading into this week there was a real sense of calm and excitement too, and I feel like we won’t be the same team in round three or four,” they said.
“It’s a really nice feeling to know that we’re going to grow from that.
“Whenever you get a win it just feels like all your hard work is worth it.”
Jessica Dal Pos (19 disposals), Amelia Velardo (17), Abbie McKay (16) and Keeley Sherar (16, 12 tackles) were among the Blues’ best contributors.
Gold Coast were well served by young star Charlie Rowbottom, who finished with game-high tallies of 25 disposals, 12 tackles and nine clearances.
She also kicked the Suns’ only goal of the first half.
Claudia Whitfort (23 disposals) and Alison Drennan (18) were also busy for the visitors.
Carlton broke a tight contest open during the third quarter and looked home when Vescio’s third major – kicked out of mid-air on the goal-line – gave them a 23-point buffer.
But Gold Coast replies through Jordan Membrey, Tara Bohanna and Jamie Stanton cut the deficit to just two points with plenty of time left for the Suns to pinch the game.
The Blues’ defence held firm in the desperate final minutes as both sides threw everything at the contest.
Gold Coast won the inside-50 count 36-25 and had three extra scoring shots but couldn’t make the most of their chances in attack.
“We created opportunities, we just didn’t take them … hence we lose by a couple of points,” Suns coach Cameron Joyce said.
Adelaide have kicked off their AFLW premiership push in fine style with a 30-point thumping of arch-rivals Port Adelaide.
The Crows kicked six consecutive goals out of halftime to run away with the convincing 8.10 (58) to 4.4 (28) victory at Norwood Oval on Saturday.
Niamh Kelly (28 disposals, six clearances, one goal) and Ebony Marinoff (31, seven, one) were outstanding for Adelaide, with prolific ball-winner Anne Hatchard (29 touches) also prominent.
Yvonne Bonner and Port’s Ashleigh Saint were the game’s only multiple goal-kickers with two each.
The Power booted three unanswered goals in the second quarter and looked capable of causing an upset when they led by three points at the main break.
But the Crows finished full of running and proved far too strong when the game was there to be won.
Making matters worse for Port, Hannah Ewings will come under scrutiny for a sling tackle on Kiera Mueller during the final quarter.
Adelaide belted the Power 63-3 in their only previous AFLW meeting last year and looked on track for another big win over their cross-town rivals early.
Irish pair Kelly and Bonner kicked the only two goals of the first term, putting Adelaide up 2.3 to 0.0 at quarter-time.
But Gemma Houghton put Port on the board in the second term and two goals from Saint gave the underdogs a narrow advantage at halftime.
The Crows kicked 3.3 to 0.1 in the third quarter and pulled 36 points clear in the last before Ewings’ long bomb from almost 50m found the target in the dying stages.
Moving on from a heartbreaking two-point finals-series loss in season seven, Geelong have begun the new campaign in style with a 48-point win over injury-ridden Western Bulldogs.
The Cats dominated the Bulldogs on Saturday, running out 10.5 (65) to 2.5 (17) victors at GHMBA Stadium in front of 4404 fans.
Georgie Prespakis (34 disposals, 10 clearances, 12 tackles) and Amy McDonald (28, nine, 12) were crucial in the midfield, helping the Cats to 35 inside-50s to the Bulldogs’ 27.
Former Melbourne player Jacqueline Parry kicked the opening two majors for Geelong, with Gaelic football convert Aishling Moloney scoring a goal on her AFLW debut.
Club debutant Kate Surman also grabbed two majors, with McDonald, Nina Morrison, Chloe Scheer and Darcy Moloney booting one each.
“It’s been absolutely amazing. I don’t know if I’ve settled in … you have to be patient with this game,” Aishling Moloney told Fox Footy post-match.
“It’s a game of chaos as I’m told, so you just need to embrace the chaos.
“This game is just unbelievable … I know my parents are watching back home. To have them sitting back and watching me, that’s what dreams are made of.”
The Bulldogs went goalless in the first half, unable to answer five majors from the Cats despite an immense effort by All-Australian ruck Alice Edmonds (32 hitouts).
Skipper Ellie Blackburn (27 disposals, five clearances) and Kirsty Lamb (14 disposals, two clearances) were prolific for the Bulldogs but unable to quell the midfield threat posed by the surging Prespakis and McDonald.
The Bulldogs’ midfield faced a further setback in the second quarter with Dominique Carruthers (eight disposals) subbed off injured.
Defender Elle Bennetts is another injury worry for the Bulldogs, having spent considerable time on the ground with suspected anterior cruciate ligament damage after a mid-air clash with Parry.
Sarah Hartwig kicked the Bulldogs’ only goals, putting her side on the board in the last five minutes of the third quarter before being subbed off in the final quarter with a potential corked thigh.
Geelong’s 65 points on Saturday is the highest they have recorded in five meetings with the Bulldogs, surpassing their previous best of 37 from last season.
Midfielder Maddy Prespakis has inspired Essendon to victory despite an injury scare threatening to take her out of the game.
Getting the better of fellow expansion club Hawthorn, the Bombers began their second AFLW season with a 7.7 (49) to 4.6 (30) victory at Kinetic Stadium on Saturday night.
Prespakis was crucial for Essendon, delivering a masterclass performance which included 31 disposals, seven clearances and 20 handballs.
The midfield star looked certain to be ruled out of the game after sustaining a heavy hit to her ribs while contesting a groundball in the third quarter but returned to the fray six minutes later.
“I definitely feel a little bit winded,” Prespakis told Fox Footy post-match.
“As my parents say, ‘You just got to get up and keep going’.
“I love being out there. I was always going to come back out.”
Hawthorn failed to take advantage of their one-point lead at halftime, despite completing a game-high 101 tackles compared to the Bombers’ 56
Essendon’s co-captain Bonnie Toogood (two goals, 23 disposals) and Amber Clarke (one, 12) converted the hard-earned Sherrin to break away when the Hawks looked capable of taking the win in the third quarter.
Former Hockeyroo Georgia Nanscawen (21 disposals, 13 handballs, six clearances) dominated at stoppages in her club debut, marking a successful return from the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury that prevented her from playing in the Bombers’ inaugural season.
Work at stoppages was an area of concern for Essendon last season, with the Bombers one of only two teams to average fewer than 22 clearances per game.
“(Nanscawen) has just taken the reins a little bit and it’s freed me up,” Prespakis said.
“We’ve hit the ground running this pre-season and it showed tonight.”
Also returning from an ACL injury, Tamara Luke starred for the Hawks with a game-high 42 hitouts.
Hawthorn were unable to capitalise on Luke’s hard work, with only four of those 42 proving advantageous to the hosts.
New recruit and former Brisbane Lions premiership player Emily Bates led the way in the midfield for the Hawks with 19 disposals and 16 tackles but was unable to turn the tide.
Her former Brisbane teammate Greta Bodey also struggled to have an impact, with only seven disposals and zero clearances.
A goal by Daria Bannister followed by another from Amelia Radford in the final quarter sealed the win for the Bombers.
Aileen Gilroy kicked the Hawks’ final consolation goal, with two behinds by Sarah Perkins closing the margin to 19 points.
With only three wins in their AFLW existence, Hawthorn will search for their fourth when they face the Western Bulldogs next weekend, while Essendon will take on St Kilda at Windy Hill.