AFLW Round 2 – What HPN learned (including how the Crows built their team)

First up, here’s a chart showing each team’s selections and who was named in the bests this week (according to afl.com.au):

AFLW R2.PNG

Adelaide d Western Bulldogs

Like many other observers, we underrated the Crows’ chances before the season and after their triumph over putative premiership favourites the Bulldogs on their home patch, the Crows deserve a thorough look to see what’s gone so right.

Most of us underrated the Crows due to the historical weakness of the South Australian women’s football talent pool. South Australia lost to the ACT in the Division 2 grand final of the 2013 championships and beat NSW/ACT by just 2 points in last year’s representative fixtures. The Crows have overcome that lack of talent pool admirably, with only about a third of their best side coming from the local competition.

Beyond intangibles such as effective coaching, conditioning and preparation which we assume have also worked well for the club, three other things seem to be in play:

  • That core of about half a dozen top SA players have been very effective
  • The Crows nailed their interstate and non-traditional selections
  • Northern Territory players are contributing strongly

The SAWFL contributors on the list number about 11 in total, and have been headed by a known quantity in SA captain since 2011 Courtney Cramey, and by star teenager Ebony Marinoff. Marinoff has starred for the Crows both weeks so far, getting the Rising Star nomination in round 1 and being best-on-ground for the winners in round 2. At the age of 19 she is perhaps the brightest prospect coming out of recent SA talent development, and perhaps the biggest rising star nationwide. Those two were the only former All-Star players from SA, but Deni Varnhagen, Rachael Killian and Jessica Sedunary have very effectively rounded out a core SA contingent along with Justine Mules who was named in the bests in round 1, omitted for round 2 and is currently on the extended bench in round 3.

The Northern Territory is an isolated player pool with limited representative results to analyse, and there must be questions about the representativeness of the NT’s results given the travel load for amateur players. The Crows have secured 8 players from the Top End including several strong early contributors. Chief among them were Abbey Holmes, one of the best in round 2, and  priority pick and round 2 goalkicker Angela Foley.

Finally, the Crows’ other big point of difference has been the strength of their recruiting beyond SA and NT football. While smaller in number, nearly every one of these selections has been a quality addition.

From interstate the Crows have gotten their WA marquees, Chelsea Randall and Kellie Gibson, who have been critical contributors all across the ground during the young season, with Gibson contributing a goal both weeks as well. The ACT’s Talia Radan has thus far been a minor contributor but also forms part of the interstate picture.

The Defence Force also did their bit for the Crows, with the Navy’s Rhiannon Metcalfe, formerly of Gungahlin in the ACT, relocated to Adelaide and slotting in as ruck. Metcalfe has provided a hit outs advantage both weeks. The pink-helmeted Heather Anderson has been a livewire on the outside of contests, and is a formerly Canberra-based army medic, now based in Darwin.

Also from outside the SAWFL comes Erin Phillips and Sarah Perkins, who have formed a devastating forward pairing. Phillips comes from basketball but has a strong football background as the daughter of 8-time Port Adelaide premiership player Greg Phillips. She’s also managed to draw 9 free kicks in two weeks, the most of any player in the competition. Perkins was overlooked by Victorian clubs in the draft despite her well-demonstrated goalkicking credentials. The Crows landed her as an undrafted free agent, she currently leads the competition for marks inside-50 with 5. Jenna McCormick, a South Australian who played soccer for Canberra United, also slotted straight in with a goal in round two.

In short, the Crows’ wide recruiting net has left the Pride of South Australia with a side which is mostly not South Australian, and is all the better for it.

Carlton d GWS

GWS putting up a strong fight, and leading into the late third quarter, was both a huge surprise and fantastic for the potential competitive shape of the competition. GWS’ absences are well documented and include both marquees and a priority pick and they are likely to be the wooden spooners, so their ability to produce an effort like this is welcome.

The Giants, like Adelaide, draw heavily from other states even with those absences. Victorian priority pick Jess Dal Pos led tackles and disposals and was clearly best-on-ground for GWS. Ashleigh Guest and Phoebe McWilliams from Victoria and Aimee Schmidt from WA also carry a heavy load.

Despite the reliance on a cream of imported talent, another good sign for GWS was the strong contribution of local and Canberra players. Rebecca BeesonJacinda Barclay and Maddy Collier from UNSW were among the best players and young ruck Erin McKinnon broke even in that department. Ella Ross and Britt Tully from Canberra also made decent contributions while Hannah Wallett turned one of her two touches into a quality goal.

Despite the spread of heartening local contributions and the endeavour and desperation GWS showed, the fact that Carlton still brushed them aside after being jumped should tell us plenty about the pecking order. We’d be keen to see what the Giants team could do with all their top-end talent available, but this week’s margin was probably deceptively close. At most the Giants look like they can only hope to jag an upset win at some point.

As for Carlton, they confirmed their quality by coming back after a poor and possibly complacent half and then holding the enthusiastic Giants at arms’ length. They are undefeated and have some serious star power – their marquees Brianna Davey and Darcy Vescio, their priority pick Lauren Arnell and their first draft selection Bianca Jakobsson have all been among the best in both of their games, as has soccer and Darebin Falcons “rookie” Nat Exon. Against GWS, the turning point appeared to be Kate Shierlaw‘s increasing involvement in the proceedings, opening up the Carlton forward line and giving the midfield another target than just Vescio.

If that sort of top end output keeps up, they should expect to outclass most opponents. GWS showed the silky Blues might be vulnerable to harassment and pressure, at least for a time. But still, in the first two weeks the Blues have had more of the ball than anyone, scored the equal-most goals, and easily the most contested marks in the league.

Melbourne d Collingwood

Again, HPN isn’t in the business of repeatedly pointing out its failings, but we might have jumped the gun on rating Collingwood so highly based on a well-credentialed spine. Their biggest strength is also their biggest problem: Moana Hope and how to use her.

Hope got off to a promising start, getting a couple of early marks and even a goal. She was able to do this, largely, because she was given space to operate by the Melbourne backline who stuck in single coverage at the start. Once Melbourne dropped an extra back to look after Hope and/or the space she was working in, her influence on the game waned. After this happened, it became apparent, like the practice game against the Dogs and last week against Carlton, that the Pies didn’t really have a solid plan B.

Melbourne had forward problems of their own. For the first two quarters of last week’s game, they looked absolutely unable to land an attacking blow. This wasn’t for lack of trying – Melbourne seemed to rotate a large number of players up forward in a variety of combinations but with little to no success. Stephanie Chiocci seemed to be in everything for Collingwood early, and it was looking like she was the pillar for an impenetrable Pies wall. When the floodgates did open, it wasn’t due to a dominant forward presence, but more similar to the men’s team attacking resurgence.

Yes, they started to walk it in.

Melbourne’s strength is in its star smaller players’ ability to bullock the ball forward, and to eventually capitalise through weight of disposal and superior run. It might not always be the prettiest thing to watch, but when it comes off it looks pretty good. They don’t take a lot of marks around the ground or inside 50 (8th for both measures), so the running game has to be the plan for them. This run also nullified the enormous advantage Collingwood gained through the ruck (44-16 in Hitouts) led by Emma King.

Unfortunately, both sides look unlikely to contend for the final in AFLW 1. The Dees lost their second highly-regarded player to a season ending injury in Meg Downie, and the Pies with roadtrips and strong opponents ahead look out of chances already to climb into the top 2.

Brisbane d Fremantle

Speaking of forward line plan-B’s, no side has a better one right now than Brisbane. Sabrina Fredrick-Traub and Tayla Harris probably shade Phillips and Perkins at Adelaide as the best forward pairing in the league, and it’s a great spectacle to watch. Fremantle won the battle in the middle for the majority of the game, but it was the efficiency of the Brisbane forward line that won it. Also key was Harris’s ability to move around the ground in the last quarter to secure the win with key marks at both ends and then a goal. Harris has taken 8 contested marks this season, with the next best being 3 by Jakobsson and Vescio at Carlton.

In the end, the scoreline probably flattered Fremantle given that two of their three goals came from 50-metre penalties.

For the second week Fremantle get to console themselves by having played good footy for the most part, yet losing due to offensive impotence. Compared to last week when they were beaten in the measure by a ratio of 2:1, the Dockers at least got their share of inside-50 entries (22-26) but most were fairly comfortably repelled by the Lions.

It appears that the exodus of WA players may have taken its toll on the Dockers’ elite stocks, with five of ten WA players who have played for other clubs having been named in their respective bests in round 1 or round 2. Whilst there is a chance they can make the Grand Final, the Dockers like Collingwood now nearly have to win out to do so.

Brisbane, on the other hand, has looked impressive and may be this week’s HPN favourite for the competition. They have a settled line-up composed almost entirely of their first 22 draftees, they have an experienced coach, and seem to be adept at combining to defend or move the ball.

The less said about the previous two HPN competition favourites (Collingwood and the Dogs) the better.

Round 3 teams

AFLW R3 teams.PNG

GWS look set to gain marquee Emma Swanson for the first time this year pending fitness, along with mid-range draft pick Kate Stanton who was a late withdrawal last week, replaced with the now-omitted Hannah Wallett. The omission of defender Alexandra Saundry seems a little harsh on the face of it. Their opponents Fremantle have had two changes forced with long term injuries, but Ebony Antonio returns from suspension while they’ll be looking to proven goalkicker Kira Phillips to boost their ailing attack.

Brisbane again go in unchanged, a continued sign of their settled lineup. Their opponents Collingwood have dropped former retiree tall Lou Wotton, while bringing in a top-up, Georgia Walker.

In perhaps the biggest news of the round, the Bulldogs lose superstar Kate Brennan to a minor ankle injury. At least they regain top draft pick Jaimee Lambert from injury, as well as Kirsty Lamb from suspension. Laura Bailey is a forced change due to suspension. Melbourne replace the injured Downie and the omitted Jolly with gridiron crossover Richelle Cranston (back from suspension) and Aliesha Newman who also played but was basically unsighted in round 1.

Carlton bring in 18-year old key forward Isabella Ayre for her debut in their game against Adelaide. The Crows have lost Sophie Armistead for the season to injury and could bring back either Mules or Hollick after omitting them in round 2. Mules was among the best players in round 1.

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