Depth and youth the feature of SA squad

PRODUCING its strongest squad to-date, South Australia is set to make waves at the 2022 AFLW Under 18 Championships. The Croweaters have a rising group of Under 16s talents, as well as a flexible, deep core that allows the coaching staff to throw players into different positions. SANFL’s Talent Manager of Female Programs Robbie Neill said he was looking ready to blood some fresh faces, with only two players returning from last year’s squad.

Of the side, there are seven Under 16s players, though a maximum of three are allowed per match, something that Neill said the side would work around on a case-by-case basis.

“That was pretty tough because essentially I think most could probably be in our best 24, so it was a case of just working out who we play and for the types of players and who we need, and then from each game you’re not sure either what the injury status would be after each match as well, which would give you the opportunity to make forced changes,” he said. “It was pretty difficult, you’ll probably find that there would be more Under 16s in our best 24 and it’s just the rules and regulations and we just roll with it, and we plan for it.”

After successive ankle injuries and a COVID-19 pandemic, top talent and AFLW Academy member Hannah Ewings will finally get her chance to run out for her state at an Under 18s level, something Neill said has been a long time coming.

“She hasn’t played for South Australia since 2018 when she was an Under 14 in our Under 16 team,” he said. Played Vic Metro in Horsham. It’s going to be great for Hannah and for everyone to see what sort of a talent she is if you haven’t watched any SANFLW footy. “She’s absolutely wonderful, and she’ll be right on Port Adelaide’s radar you’d imagine in terms of forming their inaugural list. “From Whyalla originally, can play mid, go forward, impact the game, so she’s an absolute rare talent and yeah really looking forward to seeing how she goes on the weekend with a number of her talented teammates.”

The two players who did run out for South Australia last year are Keeley Kustermann and Amelie Borg, who will lineup beside red-hot Glenelg runner Sarah Goodwin in an incredibly stacked half-back line.

“Amelie Borg is an absolutely fantastic lockdown defender and she loves the contest against the best forward. She loves that, that’s her game,” Neill said. “The midfield depth is really important. Sarah Goodwin can go to half-back, she can go onball, she can go forward, she’s very flexible, got a great running capacity, very good athlete, has been in wonderful form for Glenelg. “She seems to be getting better each week, she seems to be hitting high 20s/30s now in terms of possessions and using the ball terrifically well.”

Goodwin is just one of a number of talented, and versatile players who can roll through the midfield. Neill said he was looking forward to the likes of Sachi Syme, Cher Waters, and bottom-agers Piper Window and Shineah Goody rotating through there and showcasing their skills.

“We’ve got some really good running power, contested ball is going to be a real feature for this group. they love hunting the ball and making contact with the opposition in order to win it, and they’ve got some good outside players who can work the ball between the arcs really well and give our forwards a good look at it,” he said.

“I think what you do is go by a game-by-game basis and there will be a situation where you feel that you’ll play someone more predominantly in a certain area, and the rotations too. “You’ll find players will go through three or four spots anyway. They get a really good look at going forward, playing onball, maybe even going into defence.”

Last year the Croweaters struggled for ruck options, with Zoe Prowse being the only designated ruck in the squad, with Borg and tall forward-midfielder Jade Halfpenny the backups. That is not the case in 2022, with 187cm Matilda Scholz and South Adelaide’s Jemma Ellis who have held down first choice ruck spots at the Bays and Panthers respectively after various factors saw them given extended opportunities.

“Absolutely (we have more depth) and you’ve got Millie McCarthy as well,” Neill said. “Millie’s at Sturt and she’s played Development League footy this year. She played a SANFLW game last year, but she had some injuries over the Summer, but she’s okay now. She’s the other one, she can really catch it, she can play as a key defender, but she’s also tall enough to play as a ruck. We’ve got her and Timeka Cox another one who’s a bottom-ager from North Adelaide who will miss Sunday she will be an emergency, mainly because she’s the next tall in mind.”

Neill said the team would not spend too much time worrying about the opposition sides, and instead “work with waht we’ve got” to expose as many players to state representative football.

“Yeah you work with what you’ve got and that’s pretty much state footy in that you’re trying to make sure as we talked about before, we’ve got so many players we want to make sure that they get the best opportunity of exposing their talents, especially the draft-eligible players,” Neill said. “We’ve got two overage players in Ella Little and Kiera Mueller as well, so it’s really important that they get their opportunity, so you’re pretty much focused on yourselves and exposing those players as opposed to locking down on opposition.”

Of those over-age players, Neill said both were stories of perserverance, with Little missing out on state selection back in the Under 16s, and Mueller overcoming injury to string together fantastic form the last couple of SANFLW seasons.

lla has been in the Crows NGA program before and she’s originally from the South East so she was in Glenelg’s program and I watched her a lot leading into Under 16s in 2019. She missed selection in our State Squad that year, but I always kept an eye on her.

“She was more of a key forward then, but she’s reinvented herself as a big inside mid at the Eagles, and Narelle Smith is coaching at the Eagles now but she was at Glenelg so she knew about Ella as an underage player and got her to the Eagles where she’s really blossomed as a mid, but can play forward as well, so you can actually use her in a rotation if you can get mismatch forward because she’s a really good marking player given she spent most of the time as a key forward as a youngster,” Neill said.

“Kiera played in our State 16s as a bottom-ager a few years ago. She’s just really blossomed over the last 18 months and those players because they haven’t been in our State setup before, they’re the players we’d like to give the opportunity to, not someone who’s perhaps already been in our system, and that’s across the states, that’s usually their rule of thumb as well in terms of who they bring in as an overager.

“Also Port Adelaide and Adelaide were really supportive in actually ‘we’d like to see them against the best players of their age group across the nation as opposed to playing against senior talent in SANFLW.”

South Australia will take on Western Australia at Thebarton Oval tomorrow morning to kickoff their AFLW Under 18 Championships campaign.

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