Bull Sharks’ youth influx set to shine

BOND University Bull Sharks fell one win short of a 2021 Queensland Australian Football League Women’s (QAFLW) flag last season, but have plenty of optimism heading into 2022. Though the constant shifting AFL Women’s landscape, and Mother Nature continue to throw up unforeseen hurdles, senior coach Luke Mansbridge is excited about his side’s chances ahead of Round 1 on March 26.

Mansbridge said the 2022 QAFLW season was likely to contain less AFLW players based on the short turnaround to the next elite level season touted for August. To put it in perspective, the QAFLW Grand Final is set for August 7, which means the 2022 season could overlap both AFLW seasons this year.

“I suppose this year is going to be a bit different with how it’s going to be set up and it’s unlikely that the AFLW girls are going to come back,” Mansbridge said. “But each year we’ve been pretty strong before that anyway. we’ve either been on top, or the last couple of years I’ve coached we’ve definitely been on top.

“We’re expecting to be strong again. Early on we’ll have a few that we don’t expect to be available, so some of those girls may not blend into the team until Round 3/4/5 but with our Academy and younger talent and development that we’ve got there, and some of the existing that are still there, we’re still looking to finish top three would be our goal.”

Mansbridge said the club had retained its regular talent, and would be able to compete even without the AFLW ones returning.

“We’ve still got girls like Krystal Scott and these girls who have been on AFLW lists with our club, and we’re pretty big on making sure we look after all our club and culture and we drive and everyone enjoys their footy,” he said. “We’re expecting to be strong again across both grades.”

Litonya Cockatoo-Motlap (centre) and Imogen Evans (right) are among the Bond University recruits for the 2022 QAFLW season. Picture credit: Highflyer Images

Bond University has managed to go on a fairly extensive recruiting drive, bringing in some incredibly highly-talented youngsters out of the Gold Coast Suns Academy. Imogen Evans (Coolangatta Tweed) and Jasmyn Smith (Broadbeach) have both joined from their respective Queensland Football Association Women’s (QFAW) Division 1 clubs, whilst sisters Litonya Cockatoo-Motlap and Laquoiya Cockatoo-Motlap have come down from Cairns.

“Those girls show a lot and they’re still developing obviously,” Mansbridge said. But it’s funny now the young girls you do see come through are becoming more and more natural as footballers because they’re growing up with it. “Their skills are sublime in particular the Cockatoo-Motlap girls, they have some serious skills. Imogen Evans has jumped out of her skin lately, she’s played really well in the Academy games, but across the board we’ve always had a fairly strong Development underneath our senior girls.

“Each year it seems to get more and more skilful and they understand the game more and more. It’s actually a really good indication of how much development and the work that’s been done at the lower levels is starting to flow through to senior football and open age, so it’s been really strong and across all of our girls we’re actually adding a few more.”

Though Mansbridge admitted he was unsure of the availability of AFLW Suns-listed talents like Shannon Danckert, Lucy Single and Wallis Randell, the Bull Sharks had picked up a couple of impressive experienced players from both Victoria and the Northern Territory.

“We don’t think girls who will play regular AFLW football will come back and because they’re starting so early we’re unlikely to have them for finals,” Mansbridge said. “So it will fall to that next tier, but from Victoria we’ve got Cleo Faulks who’s in the VFLW with Carlton. “She’s played down there. Tahlia Tatlock who’s been a VFLW Geelong player.

Lateesha Jeffrey who’s very well-known in the Northern Territory, she’ll come down in a couple of weeks. Another girl in Georgia Johnson. “She’s playing in the NTFL Grand Final this weekend. She’s actually a Northern Rivers girl, she knows a couple of girls like Imogen Evans.”

In 2022, the Bull Sharks are looking to play a fast, attractive and attacking gamestyle, the type of football that Mansbridge said he enjoys watching and hopes those watching will too.

“We won’t change a great deal in regards to how we go about it. We’re young, fit, quick. I like to watch aggressive football, I like watching fast-paced football which so that’s why I try and get the girls to play. Because I believe if they’re playing that way they’ll be enjoying it a lot.

“So similar to what we’ve had the last couple of years where we’ll take the game on, try and score as much as we can. But it will be more an open style, get it out to space. We’re put a bit more oomph around the footy as well, so it will be win it at the contest and get it out to our outside runners and let the girls use their talent to do what they need to do.”

Bond University hosts the Wilston Grange Gorillas on Saturday, March 26.

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