This story was first written by Kristy Williams.
The fourth instalment of AFLW kicked off at Ikon Park in Carlton on Friday night, and the standard just gets better and better each year! It promises to be the most even season the league has seen, with a least eight sides having legitimate Premiership aspirations.
There were a couple of surprises, weather affected games and some scintillating passages of play, so what did we learn from the opening round of AFLW 2019?
1: Carlton’s future is in good hands
There’s been plenty of talk that Carlton shouldn’t have been afforded to right to open all four AFLW seasons at Ikon Park (and that may be right on the money) but finally they have a side to excite the fans that pile into the ageing stadium. Madison Prespakis, Lucy McEvoy, Grace Egan and Georgia Gee are all 20 or under, and against Richmond the quartet showed dash, grunt and poise beyond their years. Plenty to like about the way the Blues go about their footy, it’s certainly a finals-friendly style.
2: Death, taxes and the Giants playing in a torrential slog fest
Poor old GWS and poor old Blacktown International Sportspark! The Giants have hosted some of the wettest games in AFLW history, and with Sydney seeing its worst wet weather in over 20 years their match against the Suns was bound to be a war of attrition. Their previous experience wearing flippers came in handy, with Alyce Parker and Alicia Eva revelling in the horrendous conditions, while the supremely talented Bec Privitelli looked like she was playing with a different Sherrin.
3: The Dees and Kangaroos deserve their Premiership favouritism
While the other sides all showed understandable rust in their first competitive games for the year, both the Demons and Kangaroos looked cohesive and silky from start to finish. It was a very appealing game to the eye, but don’t let that hide the fact that these two sides are incredibly even, physical units that will be right there at the pointy end of the season.
4: Kate Lutkins is the game’s premier defender in the absence of Chelsea Randall
Brisbane’s general in defence was pivotal as always on Saturday afternoon, with 17 disposals and eight marks; cutting off wave after wave of Adelaide attacks. In slippery conditions, Lutkins looked like she was playing in the sunny weather Queensland is known for, and her rebound off half-back is just as important- she’s genuinely one of the best kicks in the Brisbane side. Chelsea Randall has a few extra dimensions to her game, but in her absence Lutkins is the most important, dependable and unassuming defender in the league. Do NOT kick it in her direction!
5: The expansion sides are a long way off the pace
Too much, too soon was the common consensus amongst pundits that had followed women’s footy for several years. Round one would certainly indicate that sentiment is correct, with the Tigers, Saints, Eagles and Suns all exposed their serious lack of depth outside their top marquee talents. Yes, the Suns only lost by one point, but in the torrential Sydney weather you’d be very worried if they didn’t keep the margin close. All four clubs absolutely ripped in, but sometimes sheer effort just isn’t enough.
6: The OG’s are the keys to Brisbane’s success
Emma Zielke, Emily Bates, Ally Anderson, Kate Lutkins, Jess Wuetschner, Sharni Webb, Bre Koenen and Shannon Campbell were dubbed the ‘Foundation Eight’ by their club in the preseason, and they are fantastic ambassadors for both the Lions and Queensland footy in general. Up against a decimated Adelaide side, the OG’s showed that rapport and cohesion developed over years of playing with each other is crucial to success in this league. Only fans and media members who lack experience critiquing women’s footy would underestimate Craig Starcevich and his loyal Lions.
7: This list is by FAR the best Collingwood has assembled in AFLW
It’s fair to say Collingwood’s original recruitment strategy backfired spectacularly, but after shedding some personnel off the field, the Pies are in a great position. Chloe Molloy and Brianna Davey are essentially new additions to the side this year, while the experienced Steph Chiocci and Jaimee ‘Chops’ Lambert lead the midfield with aplomb. What’s more impressive though is the depth and improvement across all three lines coming into this season, and what better way to mark that with their first ever victory in round one!
8: Build it and they will come
It’s now been three years since Ikon Park was locked out for the first ever AFLW game and the fans are more invested than ever. The numbers themselves are impressive enough, with room for improvement, but what was certainly evident was the passion and investment with which AFLW fans are now engaging with their clubs. That Tiger army was mighty impressive in Richmond’s first ever game.
9: Gemma Houghton is a fantastic role model for promising Indigenous players
Despite being some of the most skilful players in our game, Indigenous players are underrepresented in the AFL, and even more so in the AFLW. Houghton didn’t have a perfect game by any means, with the forward finishing with 1.3, 17 disposals, four marks and five tackles however she was electric every time she went near the ball. After almost getting cut from the Freo list, Houghton turned it around with a fantastic 2018 that culminated in her being named in the All-Australian side and she’s kicked it up a notch yet again. Her story of perseverance and a determination to make the most of her undoubted talent should serve as inspiration for Indigenous players of any age all over the country.
10: Fremntle have some serious X-factor
Young forward Sabreena Duffy, line-breaking midfielder Hayley Miller, gun utility Ebony Antonio and the sublimely talented Gemma Houghton are some of the most watchable players in the league. In their closely fought game against Geelong on Sunday afternoon, it was the X-factor provided by these players that was the crucial difference.
By the numbers:
42,988 people attended the seven games in round one
34 was the highest margin, in the Blues win over the Tigers
79 new AFLW debutants
33 disposals by Anne Hatchard for the Crows, breaking the AFLW record that was set by teammate Ebony Marinoff
4 goals for the round’s leading goalkicker, Fremantle’s Sabreena Duffy
Ladies Who Leap POTY voting
**The Ladies Who Leap Player of the Year award recognises players who exemplify the on-field courage, leadership and determination that is inspiring the next generation of AFLW players. It’s not always about statistics, or results, but the way you impact the game.
Richmond v Carlton
3- Madison Prespakis (Carl)
2- Breann Moody (Carl)
1- Tayla Harris (Carl)
GWS v Gold Coast
3- Alyce Parker (GWS)
2- Alicia Eva (GWS)
1- Rebecca Privitelli (GWS)
Melbourne v North Melbourne
3- Libby Birch (Melb)
2- Ash Riddell (NM)
1- Kate Hore (Melb)
Brisbane v Adelaide
3- Kate Lutkins (Bris)
2- Sophie Conway (Bris)
1- Anne Hatchard (Ade)
Collingwood v West Coast
3- Jaimee Lambert (Coll)
2- Emma Swanson (WCE)
1- Stacey Livingstone (Coll)
St. Kilda v Western Bulldogs
3- Ellie Blackburn (WB)
2- Kirsty Lamb (WB)
1- Bonnie Toogood (WB)
Fremantle v Geelong
3- Sabreena Duffy (Freo)
2- Gemma Houghton (Freo)
1- Kiara Bowers (Freo)