The opening round of the 2018 AFL Women’s season was always going to be eye-opening given how hard it is to predict how the game is going to progress in its early years, but there were many key takeaways from the round that need to be discussed. If you’re looking for a serious discussion about the competition, this is the article for you.
1. Collingwood’s struggles aren’t over
Collingwood looked a headless team on Friday night. While they led most of the major statistical categories, they had no ability to turn that into any scoreboard pressure. They had 46 more disposals than Carlton, seven more inside 50’s and six more clearances, but only had four scoring shots for the game. This is a massive issue given their forward line was supposed to be their strength this season.
Chloe Molloy seemed the silver lining, leading the game with 20 disposals, but when you draft a player who tied Katie Brennan for leading goal kicker in the VFLW competition and play her in defence while only managing two goals for the game yourself, the coaching staff has to be questioned.
2. Carlton’s midfield worries will haunt them
As mentioned above, Collingwood had 46 more disposals than Carlton, but the main worry will be that 43 of that differential came in the uncontested possession category. The Blues looked dangerous whenever they moved the ball cleanly, but they simply couldn’t win any easy ball. Carlton also only managed 27 marks for the game, highlighting their inability to slow the game down and get the ball moving forward. Leaving out pure midfielders Tilly Lucas-Rodd and Maddy Keryk was a mistake given their lack of quality rotations through the middle.
They got the win and that’s all that really matters, but as predicted pre-season, good luck beating anyone other than Collingwood with that sort of midfield effort.
3. Melbourne is the team to beat
Many predicted it, but round one confirmed the Demons are the standard-bearer this year. There simply isn’t a hole in their line-up and even with Karen Paxman going down, they still managed to hold their own against a team with an elite midfield. Their top-tier players got the job done as you’d expect, with Daisy Pearce’s second half in particular being an exhibition in how to lead a team, but it was the likes of Richelle Cranston kicking three goals, Erin Hoare dominating in the ruck, Kate Hore having four shots on goal and Meg Downie getting a lot of ball in defence that should really scare opposition teams. We know about Melbourne’s best players, but if they’re getting rapid improvements out of the players beneath them this season, look out.
4. GWS is a Grand Final threat
Melbourne aside, their opponents were the most impressive team in round one. Many just brushed the Giants aside without really looking at their squad, but they’ve put together a midfield capable of dominating any team and have brought in experienced heads down back like Tanya Hetherington and Rebecca Privitelli to help solidify a defence that has markedly improved under new coach Alan McConnell. The biggest question was whether they could turn their midfield ascendancy into scoreboard pressure given this team only managed 23 goals last year and didn’t really make significant personnel changes in that area of the ground. However, Phoebe McWilliams looks like a new player, Jacinda Barclay continues to look threatening and the addition of Irish livewire Cora Staunton gives them an x-factor many teams don’t have. Don’t be surprised if that round one encounter was a Grand Final preview.
5. How do the Crows fight back from here?
The question marks over Adelaide in the preseason revolved around where the improvement was going to come from and whether the next tier under Erin Phillips was ready to carry more of the load. While they’ve found a few players in Ruth Wallace, Rheanne Lugg and Eloise Jones, the jury is out on whether other teams have simply gone passed them improvement wise.
Getting Phillips back next week is key as they now travel to Victoria to face the Demons and the reigning premiers do not want to start 0-2, especially when they have GWS away in round four and really could be 1-3. It’s a seven week competition and with All-Australian defender Courtney Cramey hurt as well, we now get to see what this team is made of and whether they can fight from underneath.
6. Brisbane will continue to fly under the radar
There probably wasn’t a single expert that predicted the Lions would make the Grand Final this year and we’re talking about a team that went through the regular season undefeated last season. Yes, they’ve lost two All-Australians in Tayla Harris and Sam Virgo, but Sabrina Frederick-Traub looks ready to become one of the best players in the competition and on top of that, this has never been a team reliant on name power. Brisbane was so good in 2017 because their coaching staff created a structure that made it almost impossible for teams to get the ball out of their defensive half and that hasn’t changed.
They just beat the reigning premiers on their turf and still nobody is talking about them. So until we’re ready to give them the respect they deserve, they’ll continue to shush the doubters.
7. The Bulldogs have the best top-tier players in the competition
The combination of Ellie Blackburn, Emma Kearney and a healthy Katie Brennan is the best ‘trio’ in the competition and boy did Fremantle learn that the hard way on Sunday. Brennan’s first half showed she’s unquestionably the most dangerous forward in the competition, Kearney continues to get plenty of the ball and break lines and Blackburn is converting a few more shots at goal away from being the best midfielder in the game.
The question is whether the Dogs can translate this terrific trio into success in 2018. It will all come down to the performances of the players underneath them. Isabel Huntington had a quiet first game but did a few nice things, Monique Conti got plenty of the footy and Aasta O’Connor looks a revitalised player. Don’t sleep on these girls just yet. We’ll see what they’re made of next week playing Brisbane in Queensland.
8. Fremantle’s performance is a massive concern for the competition
Fremantle was already a team tipped to finish in the bottom two this year and that was before injuries to key players Kiara Bowers and Kellie Gibson. They made the Bulldogs look like the Harlem Globetrotters in the first half and got smashed in all statistical measures. It’s hard to see where the improvement comes from either. Only two players gathered more than 10 disposals and no one took more than two marks.
Now they get ready to play in front of 45,000 people at Optus Stadium against a Collingwood team they should really be beating in Perth. If they don’t, the alarm bells have to start ringing and coach Michelle Cowan will be called into question.