Ranges, Stingrays face off in battle of the unbeaten
THE BEST of the Metro and Country pools are set to lock horns in Round 6 of the 2022 NAB League Girls season, headlined by a top-of-the-table clash between the Dandenong Stingrays and Eastern Ranges. Second placed regions Western and Geelong also face off, as we turn the corner into the second half of the home-and-away fixtures. The finals ramifications are only getting bigger.
A match with heavy ramifications atop both the Country and Metro standings opens Round 6, as the Western Jets host Geelong Falcons in Truganina on Saturday morning. Both sides sit second in their respective pools, riding win streaks which extend back to their second outings for the season. Having played one more game, the Falcons also boast an extra win at 4-1.
All eyes have, and will continue to focus on Jets midfield pair Charlotte Baskaran and Montana Ham. With strong support, the two have been in phenomenal form thus far under the ruck craft of Krystal Russell, who faces a tough matchup in Geelong’s Keeley Hardingham this time out. The Falcons will hope Ash Van Loon gets up, to help the likes of Charlotte Simpson and Grace Purcell through the engine room.
Geelong’s twin talls up forward have also proven difficult to beat. Elizabeth Dowling has kicked the equal-most goals of anyone this season with 12 (2.4 per game), while fellow over-ager Analea McKee has eight to her name and has been a marking force. Western is not particularly tall in defence, but can rely on Laura Elliott to quell the pair’s influence with her intercepting prowess.
The Northern Knights’ quest for win number one continues on Saturday, as they travel to Yarrawonga to take on the Murray Bushrangers on Saturday afternoon. Sitting bottom at 0-5, the Metro side has been competitive for just under three quarters in each outing, and will have to bring the heat to topple Murray on the road. The Bushies are also on a losing streak, sitting at 2-3 with a couple of close calls which did not go their way.
Depending on team selection, Northern could give this one a real shake. The likes of Rylie Wilcox, Brooke Plummer, Tarrah Delgado and Phoebe Nelson were all sorely missed last week, with a heavy workload put on under-agers in midfield and a besieged defence. One mainstay has been Ava Jordan, whose sparkling form continued last week, while Ella Smallacombe got back to goalkicking form with a couple of majors last week.
She may be a newcomer to the competition, but Zarlie Goldsworthy leads the league in four key stat areas, and is dangerous to any side who gives her enough time and space. Keeley Skepper is another to watch after her 32-disposal outing last time out, and Zara Hamilton can also rack up plenty of possessions. At either end of the ground, the tall combo of Mindy Quade and Grace Hay offers the Bushies’ spine some balance and stability.
Two sides desperate for a win lock horns on Saturday afternoon, as Greater Western Victoria (GWV) hosts the Oakleigh Chargers at Ballarat’s City Oval. Reigning premier, Oakleigh sits in a precarious spot with its 2-3 record, and any more losses will just about count the Chargers out of finals contention. The Rebels have only one win under their belt, so have to get moving fast if they are any chance of matching their 2021 effort.
Oakleigh has looked a degree less potent and physical in midfield without the likes of Jasmine Fleming and Charlotte Taylor recently, and depending on team selection, that could be an area GWV exploits. The likes of Lilli Condon, Tahlia Meier and Paige Scott match up well against Oakleigh’s Lily Hart, Charlotte van der Vlies and Maggie Mahony, making the centre bounce battle all the more important.
Both sides also like to shuffle things around and have been able to blood some exciting future talent. GWV’s Paige Glover turned spearhead last week for her three goals, and usual defender Jamie-Lee Speakman even swapped ends to hit the scoreboard. Most of Oakleigh’s stability comes from its over-agers in defence, but watch for Kristen Smith and a couple of other opportunists to pop up inside attacking 50.
Two of last week’s winners come to blows on Saturday afternoon, with the Calder Cannons and Bendigo Pioneers making for an even matchup at Highgate Recreation Reserve. Both sides will be relatively comfortable at the venue, as the Pioneers have already turned out twice on Calder’s home turf. The Cannons lay claim to one more win overall (3-1), but Bendigo will be in with a real chance as the young side hits its stride.
The Pioneers’ dynamic and clever midfield group will be key to this contest. Lead by the classy Octavia Di Donato and over-ager Drew Ryan, under-agers Lila Keck and Lucia Painter have thrived this season. Both can rotate forward and hit the scoreboard, as can Scarlett Orritt. Their blend of pace and smarts promises to trouble Calder’s mix.
The Cannons are no slouches as the contest though, and continue to get the job done. With co-captain Olivia Manfre gaining VFLW experience, Reese Sutton continues to stand up and her points of difference best match Bendigo’s mids. Bottom-agers Kayley Kavanagh and Amy Gaylor are excellent on the inside, and the ruck craft of Ellie Sbeghen may also prove an important factor given her ability to hit to advantage.
The game of the round sees undefeated sides, Dandenong Stingrays and Eastern Ranges battle for supremacy in Seaford on Sunday morning. Fresh off a bye, the Stingrays have arguably been the standout team thus far, but could be caught cold given Eastern’s hot form. With their skipper recently pre-listed by Hawthorn, the Ranges are on a high and continue to quell any doubts over their credentials.
Bridget Deed, Hawthorn’s inaugural AFLW signing, has been central to Eastern’s success and depending on her availability, will face some stiff opposition this week. While Jaide Anthony was drafted into the Hawks’ VFLW side, Dandenong has the likes of Amber Clarke, Charley Ryan, Felicity Crank, and Emily Shepherd to rotate through a potent engine room. Speaking of potency, Clarke leads the league for goals, and Dandenong’s total score of 372 points is 99 more than the next best side. Talk about firepower.
On the flip-side, Eastern lays claim to arguably the best defence in the league – at least on points against (85). Part of that is down to midfield dominance with Deed and Izzy Khoury leading the way, but the Ranges may actually stretch Dandenong in another department. The Stingrays have missed Mackenzie Eardley of late, and if unavailable, watch for Eastern tall trio Mia Austin, Jess Vukic, and Jacinta Hose to have a say as impactful ruck-forwards.
The opportunity presents for the Sandringham Dragons to press its top two claims in the Metro pool, as they travel to Churchill to take on Gippsland Power on Sunday afternoon. The 2-2 Dragons have gone down to top opposition, but have enough firepower to trouble most sides. While winless, the Power are sure to make life difficult for their opposition in a fourth match on their home patch this season.
Sandringham is a side blessed with stability through its spine. Between Georgia Foran in defence and Mia Zielinski up forward, midfielders Sofia Hurley, Bridie Hipwell, Keely Coyne and Ella Sciberras can all impact in different ways through midfield. Watch for over-ager Zoe Barbakos to inject some speed in the front half, as futures like Meg Webster continue to flourish.
Much of Gippsland’s grunt comes from its midfield. Indiana Makai and Sunday Brisbane are known to give their all, complimenting the class of Yasmin Duursma at each contest. Ash Centra was a big loss last week but has proven her potency if available, while Leesa Guastella and Ella Stoddart are capable rebounders out of defence.