AFTER a dominant 2020 South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s season, reigning premiers North Adelaide Women’s had to watch the finals from the sidelines in 2021, missing out on defending their crown in the post-season series. Now the determined Roosters are “ready to play” in 2022 according to premiership coach Krissie Steen.
“We’ve come a long way from last year which is the most positive thing to be honest,” Steen said. “The girls have really clicked together, we’ve been doing some really exciting cultural stuff. I think that has had the biggest impact on us.
“As a coach when you get to almost Round 1 and you get a feeling like you know when you’re ready to play, before you can push through to the next level, my girls are at that level now, they’ve got to play, then we can start working on things that start coming up through gameplay. “That’s a really good place to be.”
ROUND 1 VS WEST ADELAIDE
The Roosters first opponent is West Adelaide, a formidable opponent who took North Adelaide’s spot in last year’s finals series. The Bloods stole the Roosters spot with a 20-point win in Round 10, before a nail-biting one-point win over South Adelaide in the final round solidified the spot. Just percentage separated the sides then, and Steen expects another fascinating contest this weekend.
“Last year they kicked long and played a very contested style of football with their small midfielders running in and putting defence under a lot of pressure and they had a lot of speed around the ball,” Steen said. “They also had some sort of scoring midfielders so they capitalised on that.”
Though Round 1 is always unknown, Steen admitted the eight sides were in the same boat of “going in blind” and not really knowing what to expect from their first round opponent. The 2020 premiership coach believed if opposite coach Mark Moody adopted the same style as last year, her troops could match his, but she was also confident the Roosters could adapt on game day if need be.
“We’re going in backing ourselves in and we’ll just adjust on the day,” Steen said. “We’ve just got to do what we do very, very well and it won’t matter what they do. “Any small adjustments we can make on the day, but I’m really looking forward to it, the players are really excited and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can do under real competition.”
In the lead-up to Round 1, North Adelaide played back-to-back games against Central District. Steen said she enjoyed playing the Bulldogs for the intensity they brought around the football, and provided a fierce hitout in preparation for the season proper.
“They’re always a great club to play against because they’ve got a massive ground and they’re really contested and they’re just generally a nice team to play against,” she said. “I was happy with the way we played and I think that’s what you’ve got to look at in the trial. The movement, how they wanted to play, their decisions, their skills under pressure, I was happy with it, we’ve got (loads) to fix but that will continue right up and through finals. “You don’t ever stop, as far as what I saw in the trial I was happy.”
Though the Roosters have lost some key players to retirement in bookends Kelly Barltrop and Talia Radan, and experienced leader Lauren Daniel to maternity leave, Steen was thrilled with what the recruiting team had been able to achieve over the off-season. The Roosters “scoured far and wide” and managed to unearth what Steen describes as “amazing” talents. One in particular is ex-Fremantle Docker Jade De Melo, who Steen describes as “on another level”.
“I would be very surprised if she isn’t playing at an AFL club next year,” Steen said. “She’s unbelievable. “She’s a forward and will go up forward, which kind of fills a hole for us.”
The importance of De Melo cannot be understated, with Steen conceding that the Roosters missed star forward Ashleigh Woodland for the majority of the 2021 SANFL Women’s season after the goalkicking machine – who is now leading the elite level for majors – was drafted to the Crows.
“In 2021 we didn’t manage to replace that kind of forward, where Jade comes in and .. you cant’ replace Ash Woodland because they’re all different, but she’s coming in and playing more of that role. That’s really positive for us,” Steen said.
HANNAH EWINGS’ RETURN
Highly-touted AFLW Draft prospect Hannah Ewings is effectively a new recruit, having gone down with an ankle injury early in the season. The star teenager is among the best talents in the country, and Steen was quick to heap praise on her young midfielder, describing her return as “huge”. Even in her return from injury, it was evident very early on that Ewings had not missed a beat, and was “all class”.
“Her skills are classy, her football brain, her ability to make decisions under pressure, she operates at a different level,” Steen said. “When she gets the football it’s like time and space stops, so I think she’s going to have a great season and she’s working really hard and that’s a great thing for us and a great thing for her and she wants to put in a good year at SANFL before she trots off to the AFL.”
The other top-age AFLW Draft prospect at the Roosters is versatile tall, Amelie Borg. The key defender – who has also spent time pinch-hitting in the ruck and is capable of going forward – will be a crucial player in the North Adelaide back five. Learning off players such as Kristi Harvey, Erin Sundstrom and the returning Jessica Edwards (from Carlton AFLW), Steen said she was getting some great direction and training from those experienced heads, to fast-track her development. The North Adelaide coach also let slip a secret.
“Her nickname is The Borgenator,” Steen said. “Borgie’s going to play back, she’s kind of slotted in now and found her place in the backline, I think she’s quite comfortable behind the ball and reading the flight coming in. “She’s going to be a stronger player this year than last year and she flourished really quickly last year so it will be a good season for her too.”
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
Steen said there were a variety of both mature-age and young stars to keep an eye on this season, with a number of them likely to put their hands up to be drafted.
“Erin Sundstrom, she will get drafted at the end of this year,” Steen said. “She’s stepped in as the co-captain this year and that’s due to her work ethic and how much she’s developed over the last two years. “She’s part of the Crows train-on squad and narrowly missed on getting picked up so she’ll be really important for us this year.
The North Adelaide mentor said another young star was Laela Ebert, who unfortunately tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the preseason, making it two consecutive tears at just 15-years-old, describing the moment as “one of the most disappointing setbacks we’ve had”. In more positive news, Steen said a Northern Territory talent and a couple of established Roosters were others to keep in mind for the 2022 season.
“We’ve picked up Doreena Hansen who’s an NT Pinktail. I think she’s about 21 and she’s magic. She’s got some magic about her,” Steen said. “Our wings, we’ve got some incredible wings in Julia Clark and Erica Greet. “They’re both incredibly strong, great skills, tough, fast, fit, they’re perfection so we’ve got those two as well.”
DEVELOPMENT LEAGUE & TRAINING
The SANFL Women’s has introduced a host of new rules, but a major addition in 2022 is that of a reserves competition, known as the Development League. Steen said though the high-volume increase in players had the potential to be a “headache logistically”, she was excited for the possibilities.
“Our women’s program runs completely independently of the men’s in regards to personnel, so we’re really lucky in the way that we set up our women’s program and we have a heap of support from the club,” Steen said. “So for us it wasn’t so bad in that sense. “One of the biggest problems here is oval space, there’s just not enough oval space. So that was the biggest thing that we had to overcome, but once we get over those very minor hurdles. “It’s been excellent.”
Steen admitted there were challenges in training up to 70 players a night, but everyone adapted, she felt the additional players benefited the existing talents. The additional numbers would allow those new faces to “nip at the heels” of the League players, lifting the latter’s intensity in order to maintain their senior spots.
“We’ve seen a real commitment to the intensity and training and also the extra running and our high performance program has been gruelling this year,” Steen said. “I felt like we were underdone last year and I felt like I kind of gave the team a bit of a disservice because I didn’t push them enough, so this year we pushed them to the brink and I think having those reserves helped to shed that out of them.”
Now Steen is just looking forward to Round 1, with the Roosters set to kick off their 2022 campaign against West Adelaide on Saturday afternoon at Hisense Stadium.