New-look Roosters remain a contender

NORTH Adelaide will be almost unrecognisable towards the back-end of the season, with half of its premiership team set to make way for new faces by the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s finals series.

Coach Krissie Steen is coming off a second flag in three seasons with the red and white, but will lead a largely different squad in 2023.

The Roosters have already lost eight premiership players over the off-season – including the likes of Hannah Ewings, Amelie Borg, Jade De Melo and Meg Ryan to AFL Women’s level – and another two will depart mid-season to test themselves in the VFL Women’s.

Add in the fact Steen is anticipating another couple of be called upon in the upcoming AFLW Overage Draft, and the reigning premiers could have less than 10 of their 2022 premiership players still in red and white when it gets to the pointy end of the season.

Despite that change, Steen is confident the squad is strong and up for the challenge, very much believing the Roosters can do what only South Adelaide has done before, and win back-to-back flags.

“I think we’ll lose a couple of players (to the AFLW Overage Draft) because we’ve had quite a bit of interest in the squad,” Steen said.

“It’s fantastic for the girls, it’s fantastic for the club but it’s also a little bit frustrating because you don’t really know what you’re going to have towards the backend of the season. But the group as a whole that we’ve managed to put together so far, I believe is a definite contender for another premiership.”

While many coaches focus on the wins that changed seasons, Steen said it was the losses that really defined the Roosters 2022 campaign. In what she describes as a “funny season”, the Roosters were decimated in Round 1 due to a COVID-19 outbreak, leaving them 16 players short across the two grades, resulting in a loss to eventual wooden spooners West Adelaide; the Bloods’ only win of the season.

After a victory in Round 2, North Adelaide kicked seven straight behinds and went down to Sturt in a one-goal armwrestle at Thebarton Oval, leaving the Roosters at 1-2 for the season.

“That was frustrating but to be honest it was probably the best start that we could have had because it really made us look at what we were doing, change a few things and put a rocket up everybody to really get moving,” Steen said. “I absolutely think those things did us a favour and then the season was pretty fun there after.”

North Adelaide would go on an eight-game winning streak up until the final round, where the Roosters would fall to Glenelg. Like the Round 3 loss to Sturt, Steen said it came at a perfect time just to remind the playing group to refocus ahead of the post-season series.

She remembers the game well as it was the one she had to test her coaching capabilities from a live stream, which inevitably ended up not being feasible.

“I think we actually had a little boost by losing to Glenelg in the last round,” Steen said. “That shook everyone up as well. I was away with Covid that weekend, so I was trying to coach over the phone with watching the live vision but my vision was delayed by about 20 seconds. It was all a bit hilarious and didn’t work. In the end I ended up hanging up and leaving them to it. That was a good boost going into finals as well.”

Steen is comfortable with the squad at her disposal, despite losing that experience. Bringing in the likes of Central District ruck Isabelle Starmer and Tasmanian Aprille Crooks among the quality inclusions, the North Adelaide mentor said the club’s recruiting team has done well to replace those outgoing players.

Though conceding that “no one” could replace AFLW Rising Star Hannah Ewings who was “on another level”, Steen said they were able to fill the holes in the lineup with exciting talents.

Over the course of the preseason, North Adelaide defeated Norwood then drew with South Adelaide, but Steen has some fairly conclusive evidence when it comes to trial match form against season form.

“The year we went undefeated we lost all of our trials,” Steen said. “I don’t really pay too much attention to trials other than the fact they’re a good way to look at players that you’re not quite sure if they’ll fit into the League team, it’s a good way to test your structures and the girls knowledge on executing different things we might have brought into play. Really it’s inconsequential the draw or the win, I think the real analysis starts from Friday night.”

Friday night sees North Adelaide head to The Parade to take on Norwood under lights for the opening match of the 2023 SANFL Women’s season. Always enjoying a trip to Coopers Stadium, Steen said it was a “great place to be” despite the oval being significantly smaller compared to others.

The Round 1 clash will be the first of many as the Roosters aim to go back-to-back in season 2023. Naturally Steen has her sights set on lifting another trophy aloft, but the focus was going to be on getting there first.

“I don’t think I ever enter a season without thinking we can win the whole thing, but that can’t ever be the focus or when you make that the focus, that’s when you probably don’t win,” Steen said. “But if we’re going to be honest about where I think we have the potential to go, I think we can win the whole damn thing.”

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