Academies enter, Dragons and ‘Rays open Round 7

ROUND 7 of the 2022 NAB League Girls season will again bounce down under Friday night lights, as the Sandringham Dragons and Dandenong Stingrays face off in Seaford. Headlining a massive seven-game weekend is the inclusion of both Queensland academies, with the Gold Coast Suns and Brisbane Lions-aligned youngsters testing their mettle against Victorian regions.

  • Team
  • Sandringham Dragons
  • Dandenong Stingrays

The Sandringham Dragons and Dandenong Stingrays kick off Round 7 under Friday night lights, locking horns in a battle which has heavy finals ramifications. At this stage, the Stingrays are just about a lock for finals and top spot in the country pool, but the Dragons must back up their record-breaking Round 6 win to remain in the hunt for second place in the metro standings.

On that Round 6 performance, Sandringham showed all its might in a 99-point victory, with its 18.6 (114) total the highest in club history. Having previously fallen short in tests against arguably equal competition, the likes of Sofia Hurley, Bridie Hipwell and Keely Coyne should be hungry to prove their quality despite the stiff opposition. Up forward, Zoe Barbakos is in ripping form and the Dragons’ futures are coming through nicely.

Fresh off victory in a top-of-the-table clash, Dandenong will be breathing a sigh of relief that star mid-forward Amber Clarke is okay to play. Clarke included, the Stingrays’ midfield rotation including Charley Ryan, Emily Shepherd and Felicity Crank has been difficult to stop, while the return of Mackenzie Eardley has propped up the defence. As always, the ‘Rays will be very difficult to look past with their free-scoring ways.

  • Team
  • Gippsland Power
  • Eastern Ranges

Looking for a swift return to the winners list, Eastern Ranges take on the Gippsland Power on Saturday morning in another away trip for the top metro side. Despite going down last week, the Ranges lost no fans for their valiant effort, and should be made to work for further success by a relatively young, but tough Power unit in Churchill.

Bottom-ager Alyssia Pisano looms as a major loss to the visitors’ forward line, with her speed and goal sense looking particularly damaging over the last couple of weeks. Over-agers Bridget Deed and Isabelle Khoury have been consistent as ever in midfield, and a tall brigade down consisting of Mia Austin, Jess Vukic, and Ava Campbell down the spine should really stretch the Power.

Gippsland tried a couple of things last week and would have been pleased by the return of Ash Centra, who is so important to the team’s scoring efforts. Yasmin Duursma was also shifted back, leaving the experience of Indiana Makai and Macie Gilmour to shoulder plenty of ball winning responsibility. They will all have their work cut out for them again, as Eastern is not a side which lets up.

  • Team
  • Tasmania Devils
  • Calder Cannons

Fresh off a bye, the Tasmania Devils return to the fold back on their home deck as they welcome the Calder Cannons to Kingston Twin Ovals on Saturday afternoon. The Devils entered their week off with consecutive wins in tow, but have a mixed record against metro sides. With four wins on the trot, Calder is currently pressing for second spot in its pool, so needs a win to stay in touch with the likes of Eastern and Western.

The hosts will be buoyed by the return of top-ager Candice Belbin, who hasn’t played since Round 2. In a cool quirk, there are four different age groups represented in the Devils’ starting centre bounce quartet, namely Charlotte Vandenberg (2002-born), Claire Ransom (2004), Brooke Barwick (2005), and Priya Bowering (2007). They should give the Cannons a good shake and provide twin talls Georgia Clark and Bellah Parker with plenty of chances.

Having gotten the job done week after week, the Cannons look very well settled. Co-captains Reese Sutton and Olivia Manfre have been able to impact, with bottom-ager Amy Gaylor looking impactful on the inside and Ellie Sbeghen proving her work in the ruck. At either end of the ground, over-agers Kasey Lennox and Neve Crowley will be itching for big games.

  • Team
  • GWV Rebels
  • Geelong Falcons

In a Round 5 replay, the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels host Geelong Falcons on Sunday afternoon, once again in Ballarat. Last time these two teams met, the Falcons got up by a convincing 40-points, but went down by a similar margin last week. The Rebels only lost by 15 points in Round 6, but are on a five-game losing skid.

The hosts will no doubt miss Paige Scott‘s presence up forward, after she was crunched late in last week’s outing. They can rely on skipper Lilli Condon in midfield though, and Molly Walton has done a great job supporting her through there. Olivia Leonard may be another who runs on-ball, while Jessica Rentsch has shown nice signs on the outside.

Jamie-Lee Speakman looms as another huge loss with the Falcons’ key forward threat of Analea McKee and Elizabeth Dowling. The pair have kicked 22 goals between them and are unstoppable in the air. The Falcons may be missing some star power as well, after Grace Purcell‘s day ended early last week, but ruck Keeley Hardingham has been in ripping form, while Johanna Sunderland and Sara Howley are futures to watch in defence.

  • Team
  • Bendigo Pioneers
  • Murray Bushrangers

In another replay of sorts, the Bendigo Pioneers and Murray Bushrangers thrown down for a second time in 2022, as they meet at Epsom Huntly Reserve on Sunday afternoon. The country regions clashed in an entertaining Round 1 battle, which saw the Bushies win by 37 points. Things have changed since then, but both sides sit at 2-4 – not reflective of their form – and will be desperate for a win.

A leader among Bendigo’s group is Octavia Di Donato, and she has been a consistent midfield figure all season. Tegan Williams‘ three goals last week were handy, and she may find herself matched by Grace Hay this time out, while under-age mid-forwards Lucia Painter and Lila Keck look to continue their remarkable runs of form.

Bushrangers star Zarlie Goldsworthy was in the wars last week but could not be faulted for effort. She will need all the support she can get from usual suspects Keeley Skepper and Zara Hamilton, but the Bushrangers may miss a certain spark up forward with Olivia Cicolini likely to miss after suffering what looked like a knee injury in Round 6.

  • Team
  • Western Jets
  • Lions Academy

The Western Jets welcome the first of two Queensland academies on Sunday afternoon, as they host the Brisbane Lions at The Hangar in Tullamarine. With four-straight wins under their belt, the Jets will be full of confidence and eager to cement their spot in the top two of the metro pool. With no ladder implications in mind, the Lions can play spoiler as a relative unknown to their Victorian adversaries.

Jets midfield pair Charlotte Baskaran and Montana Ham have been a joy to watch thus far, and are central to much of Western’s play. They’ll have apt support in Stephanie Asciak and Trinity Skenderis, with Paige Ryan and Kiera Whiley also pulling their weight on the outside. All six players have, and will continue to benefit from the hitout dominance of ruck Krystal Russell.

The Brisbane Lions Academy midfield is what will be the area to watch from the visitors, with the likes of Ella Smith and Ava Seton among the biggest contested ball-winners going around. Charlotte Mullins will also play through the midfield but can slot in anywhere, whilst up forward, Kadie Fletcher looms as an exciting talent who can hit the scoreboard from limited chances.

  • Team
  • Oakleigh Chargers
  • SUNS Academy

Reigning premiers, Oakleigh Chargers round out proceedings on Sunday afternoon as they host the Gold Coast Suns Academy at Highgate Recreation Reserve. The Chargers have been up and down in 2022, but nabbed a win last time out and can climb the metro pool if results go their way. On the other hand, the Suns will simply be out to shine and show their quality against different opposition to usual.

Last week’s returns proved crucial for Oakleigh, with Jasmine Fleming turning in a player of the week performance and Charlotte Taylor adding strength to the engine room. They should be in for an exciting midfield battle, while the Chargers’ over-age midfield brigade of Erin Woodford, Alexandra McCulloch and Caitlin Matthews should be kept busy once again.

Gold Coast has a stacked midfield lead by top Queensland prospect and AFLW Academy member Alana Gee. The athletic, skilful midfielder will be alongside the likes of Imogen Evans and Jasmyn Smith, roving to another AFLW Academy member in Fleur Davies, who given the Chargers’ struggles in the ruck, should simply dominate at the stoppages. Ella Calleja, Litonya Cockatoo-Motlap and Josie McCabe are among the exciting forwards, capable of pushing further afield too.

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