Chargers “ready to go” ahead of premiership defence

SUCCESS breeds success, and 2021 NAB League Girls premiers, Oakleigh Chargers will be out to prove exactly that. Their latest campaign, set to open on Sunday at La Trobe University, comes quickly on the back of a scintillating flag tilt which saw a handful of players drafted come last July.

Regional talent operations lead Jy Bond has overseen a slew of said success, including yet another number one pick in Charlie Rowbottom, and returns refreshed in 2022 along with an “energetic” playing group.

“It’s been a really good preseason to be honest,” Bond said. “The girls have worked really hard, they’re always super engaged and having a bit of success last year had the girls coming back excited and ready to go.

With such a short turnaround heading into season 2022, Bond has “no doubt” his Chargers will transfer a strong amount of energy generated from last year’s triumph. The confidence comes despite a turnover of key personnel, leaving a talented group of top-agers to take over leadership mantles.

“The list will be really different this year,” Bond said. “Having said that, I think we’ll still maintain probably 80 per cent of the girls that did play in that premiership team with five girls who got drafted moving on. “We’ve also been really lucky in topping up with some really talented 16 and 17-year-olds… so the core group will be very similar, but it also gives opportunity for a couple of young girls to come in.

“In terms of the list make-up we don’t seem to be a super tall team. “We’ll just play to our strengths, focus on the fundamentals and deliver the ball, win the contest and score more goals. That’s the plan.”

As is often the case with Oakleigh’s program, are a number of names at the tip of the tongue when it comes to “draftable talent”. Starting with returning 19th-year prospects, the likes of Alexandra McCulloch and Erin Woodford will again take on important roles, along with Holly Kenealy and Caitlin Matthews.

The latter of said quartet, Matthews, is also a father-daughter candidate for St Kilda as her dad Dean played a single game for the Saints. It makes her one of many famous names in the Chargers squad. Also of note is Jemma Rigoni, who will miss the season after undergoing a knee reconstruction, but is tied to Melbourne as a strong father-daughter chance.

Gabriella Rawlings, the daughter of Jade, may be spoilt for choice given her father played for three clubs – Hawthorn, Western Bulldogs, and North Melbourne. Another recognisable name, if not purely for her immense talent, is Jasmine Fleming. The prodigious athlete, whose father Damien played Test cricket for Australia, continues to juggle commitments between the two sports. She is among Oakleigh’s top-tier prospects, according to Bond.

“As you saw last year, we managed to bring her in as a bit of a secret weapon for finals,” he said. “That wasn’t really planned, that was more to do around her cricket. “She’s again managing both cricket and football but there’s no arguing the level of talent she’s got, so it’ll be up to her and what she chooses to do.”

Fleming is Oakleigh’s sole representative in this year’s AFLW Academy, but Charlotte Taylor, Lily Hart and Amelie Smith join her in the Vic Metro hub. With a few more players knocking on the door, there may even be more to come.

“We’ve got a few in the Metro hub at the moment, we’ll be looking to have a few more after the first few games,” Bond said. “Emily Tassiopoulos did really well in the yo-yo test, she’s shown she can play a bit more through the midfield. We’re looking to play Jade McCormack through the midfield as well. Sarah Cato has unfortunately hurt her shoulder so hopefully she can come back.

“The list goes on – Charlotte Van der Vlies, Jorja Jackson, Mia Clift – the more I’m looking at these names, the more excited I am for the season to come.”

The short wait until Sunday, pending any pandemic-related interruptions, promises to bring forward another competitive NAB League clash between Metro rivals, and yet another competitive Oakleigh Chargers team.

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