PLAYING in defence in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) Women’s newest side has its challenges, but West Perth top-ager Jess Roper has been building quite the form of late. After three quieter games to start the season, Roper had a breakout game against East Fremantle, and has been in red-hot form since. Whilst there are still plenty of areas to iron out for the teenager, the Falcons defender has utilised her athletic weapons to become an eye-catching small defender.
Standing at 163cm, the Joondalup Kinross junior is a December birth, turning 18 at the end of the year. Though not included in the West Australian State Academy for 2022, Roper shook off some early season nerves to produce consistent football for the last placed Falcons. Recording 20-plus disposals in four of her past five games and averaging that exact number over the past five weeks, Roper is one who with a full season of recent form could be a player to watch for the future.
Players develop at different rates, and Roper has certainly been able to click in the past five weeks. Despite not racking up any wins in the WAFL Women’s, she has been a steadfast defender. She can run and gun it, take grass and look to kick long, and reads the game well. Though her execution at speed and marking are areas of improvement, there is a good foundation to springboard off in the coming seasons.
As a player Rookie Me Central has been tracking over the past month as that eye-catching defender, the Player Focus in Round 11 will look at her performance against Swan Districts. Roper picked up 22 disposals, three marks, four tackles and two inside 50s.
SEASON SO FAR
Averages: (8 games):
0.8 inside 50s
West Perth 2.3 (15) defeated by Swan Districts 10.8 (68)
Stats: 22 disposals (18 kicks, 4 handballs), 3 marks, 4 tackles, 2 inside 50s
QUARTER BY QUARTER:
Jess Roper’s game did not take long to get going with a touch in the first minute coming in her trademark run and carry. The talented teenager took a run and a bounce to kick outside the defensive 50, and though the kick itself just fell short of the target, she notched up her first rebound 50. Not long after, Roper took a good mark and played on immediately off half-back t0 kick to the wing, but soon showed she was not just capable in the air. Battling hard in a contested situation, Roper won the ball at ground level under pressure and had the smarts to guide it away from the oncoming opponent and handball into space.
At the seven-minute mark of the term, Roper took a last-touch out of bounds free kick, hitting a target neatly with a nice kick. Her decision making was generally on point in the match, including kicking from defence to half-back a little after. Though her kick itself was technically a clanger going to Jessica Cox, the pressure around Roper meant she had little alternative and had to clear the ball. She pushed up as high as the half-forward flank late in the opening quarter, applying good defensive pressure to the opposition. In the final minute the defender went in hard and won a contested ball she had no right to win, then handballed to a teammate who albeit under pressure, was another situation where she just had to get rid of it. Her subsequent attempted smother at ground level showcased her desperation.
Roper’s second term started with a bang at half-forward, appearing out of nowhere at a stoppage to cleanly pick it up off the deck, burst through a number of opponents and kick to a dangerous spot inside 50. She was playing further up the ground at that stage, even stationing on the wing opposed to Tara Stribley. At the six-minute mark, Roper read the ball perfectly one-on-one against Stribley and after being tackled by the Swan Districts winger – who was unfortunately hurt in the incident – Roper shrugged her off and quickly kicked to the wing.
Though overall her second quarter was quieter than her first, Roper did well to read the play and getting to the right spots both up the ground and deep inside defensive 50, a bit unlucky not to get her hand on a shot on goal by the Swans as she got back to the goalsquare to try and defend.
Roper started the third term but unluckily giving away a free kick, but she did so through fierce pressure. At the three and a half minute mark, the 163cm defender was not afraid to go in against the taller Tannah Lee at ground level. At the six-minute mark she was pinged for holding the ball, but could be deemed incredibly stiff given she was tackled almost immediately as she went to grab it. At the nine-minute mark, Roper was at it again with her line-breaking, taking two bounces from the last line, reaching the defensive 50 and kicking long again. Though yet again that tiredness from the sprint impacted her kick and landed in front of Cox.
In the 11th minute of the term, Roper dropped a mark she should have taken in the back pocket, but showed her composure under pressure to calmly sidestep an opponent and kick to a contest at the top of the defensive 50. a minute later she hit up a short kick to Karla Stagg from the kickout, then ran wide to pick up a cheap kick in the back pocket. Her next disposal also was able to get to a teammate, and then a few minutes later, Roper gathered the ball under pressure and was able to give it off to a teammate whilst being on the ground, making the right decision. To wrap up another productive quarter, Roper had a kick under pressure on the defensive goal line in the last few minutes, able to hit up a short kick effectively.
Roper produced a highlight-worthy smother to start the fourth term, but not only smothered the ball off the opponent, but in the same action, managed to control the ball and go for a run. Unfortunately her kick going outside defensive 50 was turned over when she finished running with a lower and flat action. In the fourth minute of the term, Roper laid a goal-saving tackle in the defensive goalsquare. She was beaten in a marking contest by Tyla Fitzgerald at the top of 50 getting caught behind, and Fitzgerald charged inside 50 with a long kick, but it did not deter her.
At the seven-minute mark, Roper read the play to perfection in the middle, going for a grab in between several opponents, but it just spilled off hands. Not long after Roper applied pressure to Fitzgerald with an attempted smother, then had a long thumping kick from the kickout to a two-on-two outside 50 for West Perth to retain possession. Though West Perth had a lot of the possession late in the game, Roper still maintained her pressure with a couple of pressure acts around defensive stoppages in the last minute.
Closing Thoughts …
Jess Roper has some exciting traits and some clear areas of improvement. Though not a member of the State Academy, her form this year has certainly warranted a potential look at that level, perhaps as an over-ager next season. She has a neat short kick, can run and carry and has a high level of defensive pressure and good one-on-one at ground level. Though she can be beaten in marking contests and has to be more consistent in her marking, she knows how to get to ball-winning positions and is not afraid to get her hands dirty. If Roper can further sharpen up her longer kicks, and compose herself when doing so, then Roper has an exciting future, whatever level that may be at.