Regional rivals play off for NAB League Girls Grand Final glory
FINALS time has arrived on the back of an enthralling NAB League Girls home-and-away season which went down to the wire. Now, two sides from each conference – Country and Metro – will play off to decide who will qualify for this year’s Grand Final. We preview both games, set to go down on Friday night and Saturday afternoon as repechage fixtures are played out around them.
The Western Jets and Eastern Ranges are set to throw down for the second week running, as they clash at La Trobe University on Friday night. Last time out, the Jets snatched top spot from Eastern with a 27-point win on the road, cementing their spot as favourite for this semi final on the back of a region-best eight game winning streak. With plenty of Vic Metro teammates among both squads, they should be very familiar with one another.
While their possession numbers have been virtually identical throughout 2022, one key stat tells these sides apart. Eastern averages 42 marks to Western’s 27, with the way in which they move the ball proving slightly different. The Jets usually dominate the midfield battle and move the ball forward in quick combinations, while Eastern can possess the ball around the ground and have tall timber to kick to inside attacking 50.
As has been the case all year, Western’s ball winning duo of Charlotte Baskaran and Montana Ham have key roles to play. They were nothing short of dominant last week, both having at least 10 more disposals than any other player afield. With captain Bridget Deed out, the Ranges struggled to match the balance of stoppage smarts, size and speed the Jets pair produced.
Much will fall on the shoulders of over-agers Isabelle Khoury and Ruby O’Dwyer in the engine room, and the Ranges will hope their ruck pairing of Jacinta Hose and Jess Vukic can not just equalise, but beat the connection Krystal Russell has with her Western mids. The latter pair may also have a part to play up forward, with Mia Austin remaining out of action.
Depth is key to any good side and that is a factor which has been tested for Eastern with each passing round. The Ranges have a strong number of experienced players across the park, as does Western, but turning around last week’s deficit will be a heck of a task. Luckily for them, the scoreboard starts level and they have a great chance to hit right back at the perfect time.
The undefeated Dandenong Stingrays are out to create their own bit of NAB League Girls history, but will have to get past a plucky Geelong Falcons outfit first, when the two regions meet at Skybus Stadium on Saturday morning. As the clear dominant team of this year’s competition, the Stingrays have produced the most wins and representative players of any side, but cannot look past this persistent Falcons side.
A Round 1 battle between these teams saw Dandenong get up by a comfortable 49 points, with Amber Clarke producing a scarily good 23-disposal and five-goal game to start the season in style. After a recent injury scare, the midfielder-forward is getting back to her best form and will be a player whose feats stick in the mind of every Falcon afield that day.
Clarke is one of many potential game winners for the Stingrays. Emily Shepherd is coming off her own five-goal haul, and Olivia Robinson is a goalkicking midfielder who should enjoy some greater responsibility with Charley Ryan currently injured. Flying winger Taylah Gatt is another to watch, with her outside proficiency balanced by the tough inside game of Felicity Crank. Across half-back, tall Mackenzie Eardley is near-impossible to pass.
The Falcons’ side has developed as the year has gone on, with a balance of reliable experienced heads and exciting youngsters contributing. The combination of Elizabeth Dowling and Analea McKee should provide key scoring output in a tight game, while the hardened midfield duo of Charlotte Simpson and Ash Van Loon will look to impose itself at the contest. On the outer, watch for Sara Howley to break the lines with speed.
Overall, there is some quality missing from both sides compared to their Round 1 battle, but the core remains of what promises to be an intriguing semi final. While challenged at times, the Stingrays have hardly looked like losing this year and always seem to find a way after half time, so the Falcons will need to have their foot to the floor for four quarters.