AFLW U18s Player Focus: Montana Ham (Vic Metro)
WESTERN Jets star Montana Ham has produced a remarkable end to her top-age campaign, culminating in a fairy tale NAB League Girls premiership and Vic Metro MVP honours. In the feature game of Friday’s AFLW Under 18 National Championship triple-header, she stepped up in a big way but could not quite will her Metro side over the line against South Australia.
A particularly inspired final term saw her shift forward after imposing herself on the midfield battle, as a slew of stars gave an exciting glimpse into generation next. Her best afield effort in a three-point loss made for captivating viewing in our latest Player Focus instalment.
2022 Averages: 24.1 disposals, 3.4 marks, 5.2 tackles, 6.0 inside 50s, 1.2 rebound 50s
Ham’s 10-game NAB League Girls campaign started with an absolute outlier effort of 11 disposals in Western’s only loss for the season, but the 17-year-old ended up producing competition-best form by season’s end. A veteran as far as junior pathway players go, Ham only wavered below 20 disposals in that aforementioned outing, and stepped up on the big stage with team-lifting performances come finals time. Her all-round influence included dominance at the contest, marking prowess around the ground, and plenty of penetration on the attack.
2022 AFLW UNDER 18 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
Vic Metro 4.6 (30) def. by South Australia 5.3 (33)
Stats: 22 disposals (9 kicks, 13 handballs), 18 contested possessions, 7 marks (3 contested), 7 tackles, 2 clearances, 3 inside 50s, 1 goal
Ham bookended her game brilliantly on Friday, rising to the grand occasion from the get-go. Starting among a star-studded Metro on-ball unit, the powerful midfielder got her hands on everything in the opening minutes and showed a clean pair of hands when the footy was at its hottest.
Winning the inside ball, tackling, and bringing her teammates into the play with sound distribution, she was incredibly neat by hand. That extended to her marking game, which included a lovely clunk overhead from a Metro kick-in to half-back.
Arguably the only thing which was missing from Ham’s game was a touch of polish on her kicking. The 17-year-old has potential for good penetration by foot but doesn’t always get the right connection. She was elite otherwise, notching two kicks, three handballs and a couple of marks in a solid start.
It was more of the same for Ham in term two, as her size and stoppage nous proved difficult for South Australia’s ball winners to combat. Although, her efforts were fought out in vein in a team sense, as Metro failed to add a major score across the 20 minutes.
She notched up another two kicks but lifted with five handballs this time, contributing plenty more work on the inside and being made to earn clearance breaks for her side as South Australia tuned the screws.
Ham’s most eye-catching play for the quarter came at a forward 50 stoppage, where she burst out of the pack with players hanging off her and got a kick away towards goal. It missed, but the passage gave a glimpse into Ham’s ability to make things happen through a mix of willpower and unmatched physicality.
It was all South Australia in the third quarter as the Croweaters kicked away with three goals to one, and Metro struggled for any fluency in the forward half. It came as little surprise that Ham’s least productive term was this one, adding just one kick and two handballs across a tough 20 minutes.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying though, with the explosive Western Jets star attempting to repeat her bursting feats from the first half. She was uncharacteristically caught holding the ball twice, but it took two of the opposition’s strongest players to do so – Hannah Ewings and Matilda Scholz.
The Ewings tackle at a forward 50 stoppage was nothing short of seismic, and a rare occasion where Ham could not overpower her opponent with ball in hand. Elsewhere, she had a terrific overhead mark go unrewarded, as she continued to plug away against the run of play.
Ham’s final quarter was truly spectacular. In an irresistible patch of play, she showcased just why she has risen to become arguably the best prospect in Victoria, and comfortably among the top five nationwide.
Shifting forward, she brought an enormous presence to Metro’s attacking arc with her ability to present with authority on the lead, and provide an ominous marking target. She clunked four grabs in an inspired quarter, and nearly dragged her side over the line.
Reward for effort also came in the form of scoring, with Ham converting a 50-metre penalty chance which brought her to the goalsquare, but missing a later set shot from 25 out. Both attempts were earned via the aerial route, with Ham intercepting twice inside 50 amid her dominance.
Much like in the first term, she was supremely clean in her handling of a hot footy and stepped up when the game was there to be won. Metro, admittedly, had no right to snatch it either. Ham didn’t read that script and with a brilliant display of leadership through action, cemented her status as Metro’s championship MVP.
Ham is currently participating in AFLW Academy duties ahead of a showcase game with the national group, before looking towards the draft. With enormous upside, versatility, and physical gifts, she will be one of the most sought-after talents for expansion clubs as a marquee player to build around for the future.