SANFLW Semi-Finals preview: Four remain in title hunt
AFTER 12 hard-fought rounds of action, eight South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s contenders have been halved to four, with a massive double-header of action taking place at Prospect Oval on Sunday. Minor premier North Adelaide is gunning for its second flag in three years, having missed the finals altogether last year, whilst the Roosters’ opponents Sturt is in uncharted territory, as the Double Blues play their first ever women’s final. In the earlier do-or-die game, reigning premiers Glenelg will be out to stay alive in the competition, coming up against underdog South Adelaide, who is no stranger to success, with the Panthers going back-to-back in 2018-19. There is no turning back for either side after this weekend.
Sunday, May 15 @ 12pm
First up at Prospect Oval is the no-turning-back semi-final between Glenelg and South Adelaide. Both these sides came into 2022 with very different views on what they hoped to – or believed they could – accomplish. Glenelg coach Jason Fairall was determined to get back to the top of the mountain, and not rely on past results as an indicator for future success.
“Once preseason started we actually stopped referring back to 2021 so we don’t even talk about that now,” he told Rookie Me Central in January “All our focus is on 2022 and getting better and making sure that we remain a contender for as long as we possibly can. “We don’t want to fall away. Our leadership group has been instrumental in that.”
By comparison, South Adelaide mentor Rick Watts had few expectations coming into 2022, instead describing the year as a “traditional rebuild”.
“We’ve been up the top, we’ve made finals every year, we’ve won a couple of grand finals, we’ve made another one and lost by a kick,” Watts said in January. “I think this year is probably our turn to learn and develop and grow and probably not take the wins and loss columns as a reflection of how hard we’re working. “But we’ve always focused heavily on development, so this year’s another good opportunity to do that and get some really good minutes into our young and inexperienced players.”
A week, let alone 15 is a long time in football, and it is fair to say the Panthers have achieved more than what perhaps even they thought they could. Coming into the knockout semi-final, South Adelaide will be underdogs, having a squared ledger of six wins and six losses, scraping into finals with a victory in the last round of the season of Norwood to secure fourth spot from the Redlegs on percentage.
These two sides have played twice, with Glenelg getting up by nine points in Round 3, then scraping home in a thriller in Round 11 by a solitary point. Though the Bays won nine of their 12 games, they will certainly not rest on their laurels knowing how much the Panthers have pushed them this season. Glenelg has been relatively consistent all season, dropping back-to-back games in Rounds 7-8, but won four consecutive matches either side of those defeats, and ended up percentage behind both North Adelaide and Sturt.
Glenelg will be without talented forward Chelsea Packer who was suspended after the victory over North Adelaide, with Grace Duffy also making way. They have regained young gun Sarah Goodwin who has been tentatively named on an extended bench with Laura Chigwidden and Alice Bradley, whilst Sarah Wilton have been named at half-forward.
Making the challenge of toppling the Bays even tougher, is the loss of a few key players at the selection table. Key midfielder Czenya Cavouras has work commitments after returning last round, whilst full-back Nicole Collie, and the reliable Courtney Barry are out due to injury. Getting their chance on an extended bench are Caitlin Ross, Tamara Page and Ella Radbone, whilst Chloe Jacobs has been thrown straight on-ball.
Though the Panthers will be without Cavouras, they largely reached finals without her influence. Collie will be the greater loss from a team structure perspective, because it means utility Lucy Northcott – who has been performing strongly up forward – will return to the defensive 50, and Jess Kirk – who has shown her wares on a wing – will be back at full-forward. The Panthers forwardline does look potent, with Kirk alongside two of the top five goalkickers in the competition in Shae Archbold and Jess Waterhouse, whilst rising talent Brooke Boileau, and impressive ball-winner Nari Wright are both up there.
The Glenelg defence looks significantly stronger with Goodwin in there, and hopefully the talented teenager can get up to play. Winer Ella Boag looked good off half-back in her absence last week, whilst Madisyn Freeman also provides that run. The midfield depth which includes Under 16s talent Violet Patterson and Samantha Franson is important in supporting stars Jessica Bates and Ellie Kellock, whilst Matilda Scholz will have her work cut out for her going up against the tag-team of Tiffany Copley and Jemma Ellis who nullified Norwood star Leah Cutting last week.
South Adelaide is undoubtedly up against it in this one, and though the Panthers season has been one to look back on fondly given the age profile and relative inexperience of their list, the Glenelg side looks a touch too strong, even without Packer inside 50. Though South is yet to be blown away in a game this season – and expect the semi-final to be no different – the Bays should stay alive and move through to the preliminary final in a thriller.
Sunday, May 15 @ 2:10pm
Though there might be a second chance for the loser, a 2022 SANFL Women’s Grand Final spot sounds a better proposition, with that exact carrot dangled for the winner. Both North Adelaide and Sturt have proven to be capable of winning in low-scoring nail-biters, but are also able to put big scores on the board, which has been the key to Sturt’s success this year, adding offensive flair to its always-strong staunch defence.
“We’ve taken big strides in terms of the processes and getting better each year, but we haven’t been able to put that on the board in terms of wins and losses,” Sturt coach Michael O’Connor said in the preseason. “Certainly excited that this year is hopefully the one we start putting wins on the board. The goal is to challenge for finals, being one of the sides that hasn’t made finals yet.”
North Adelaide is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2021 to win its second flag in three seasons, with coach Krissie Steen telling Rookie Me Central in the preseason how the team seemed to go to that extra level compared to 12 months earlier.
“We’ve seen a real commitment to the intensity and training and also the extra running and our high performance program has been gruelling this year,” Steen said. “I felt like we were underdone last year and I felt like I kind of gave the team a bit of a disservice because I didn’t push them enough, so this year we pushed them to the brink and I think having those reserves helped to shed that out of them.”
North Adelaide suffered its first defeat since Round 3 of the SANFL Women’s season on the weekend, after claiming eight straight losses. That Round 3 defeat was at the hands of the Double Blues in the lowest scoring game of the season, where a last quarter major to the Double Blues was all that separated the sides. The sides have not played since that 1.4 (10) to 0.7 (7) result.
The Roosters have made just the one change for the match, with talented small forward Doreena Hansen making her way back into the side after representing the Under 23s team against the AFLW Academy in Melbourne last weekend. The Northern Territory excitement machine returns to the 21 at the expense of Sky Jensen.
Sturt has been fortunate enough to not make any forced changes to its lineup, with State Academy forward Tahlia Walker, and Olivia McEvoy added to an extended bench. The Double Blues have extra motivation to get over the line, with young leader and defender Hannah Prenzler playing her 50th game – just one week after captain Maya Rigter became the first Sturt player to achieve the feat – at the ripe old age of 19. The 171cm defender has been a consistent force in the back half of the ground this year for the Double Blues.
Prior to 2022, Sturt had never beaten North Adelaide, which made the Round 3 victory all the more special for the Double Blues. The defensive setup of the second placed side has alway been key, with the half-back line of Kiera Mueller, Alex Ballard and Jaimee Wittervan vital to the team’s success. They come up against a potent North Adelaide attack, with the likes of teenagers Hannah Ewings and Elaine Grigg and the dynamic Jade De Melo in there.
Like Sturt, North Adelaide has an outstanding defence, lead by co-captain Kristi Harvey. Though fellow co-captain Erin Sundstrom went down with a season-ending injury midseason, the Roosters still have a reliable defence, which features Amelie Borg, Jamie Parish and Ella Metcalfe. Having crossed from the Eagles, Parish is preparing for her first final. Most of Sturt’s list is heading into its first final, and the skilled attack of Amy Brooks-Birve, Abbey Rigter and India Rasheed is in great form.
After sustaining an injury in the final couple of minutes of Sturt’s Round 12 win over Central District, inside midfielder and reigning best and fairest winner Isobel Kuiper has been named on the extended bench, and if right to play, would be a good head-to-head matchup with Jessica Edwards, whilst Alisha Gepp and Kate Harris are in good form for the Double Blues. North Adelaide’s Jaimi Tabb and Erica Greet – who will celebrate her 50th North Adelaide match – are among the other gamechangers for the Roosters.
The game itself is hard to predict, with both teams having terrific defences, hence why the Round 3 match saw just one goal kicked. At home, and with far greater finals experience, North Adelaide would be the tip, though Sturt has proven time and time again it is up for the fight, so expect the Double Blues to not leave caution to the wind.