Eagles’ Trial form “just what the doctor ordered”

FOR the first time in women’s club history, Woodville-West Torrens heads into a SANFL Women’s season off the back of two trial game wins. Though trial game form is hard to gauge when comparing it to the regular season, Eagles coach Narelle Smith said building optimism and momentum into the season was important, especially with a win over reigning premiers, Central District.

“I feel like it’s exactly what the doctor ordered,” Smith said. “Last year we didn’t win a trial match, we’ve only won one trial match previously in our five years existence … so to win two and knock off the reigning premiers and have a really solid hitout against West…. it gives the playing group a lot of confidence and that they are starting to execute exactly how we want to play.”

Smith said she expects West Adelaide will be a “sneaky improver” off a wooden spoon finish last season, and with the Bloods being the only side to finish below the Eagles in 2023, the Woodville-West Torrens coach hopes to join them in rising up the ladder.

“We thought we left a fair few games out there (last season),” Smith said. “We had a fair few in around one goal or just under, so we were happy with our improvement, but obviously can’t be happy finishing seventh out of eight.

“We had a really good look at how we play, and did a fair bit of review leading into the start of preseason so we’ve just been working on basically our offensive movement. That was what we decided to change up a bit and hopefully get the wins on the right side of the ledger.”

In helping that offensive movement, the Eagles were able to retain talls Leah Cutting and McKenzie Dowrick back from AFL Women’s level full-time, to help support top-age forward Klaudia O’Neill.

“She’s a really strong kid, we’ll continue to work with her to build her weapons so she’s got some really good rolemodels,” Smith said.

“McKenzie’s just got a really strong presence football wise, but also leadership wise. She’s quite quiet, but she certainly gets a bit of a cult following wherever she goes, so we’re really pleased to have her on the list.

“Leah Cutting is obviously a really quality leader, and things didn’t quite work out how she wanted to at Essendon, but we’re open arms having her back and she’s really driving standards. She just brings us energy on-field, off-field so she’s pretty much the complete package for us.”

Though the Eagles remain the only side yet to play finals, the club has seen previous under performers Sturt and Central District rise up and reach grand finals after not previously playing in the post-season, the past two years. Smith said she respected every club on its merits and believes the Eagles have assembled a list to push for a top four spot.

In the wake of Shineah Goody heading off to the AFL Women’s, Smith said the gameplan was based around systems rather than talent to ensure the loss or one or two players would not drastically change the week-to-week output of the side.

“I think what I’m trying to do with the program is not be super reliant on individuals, and obviously Shineah’s an extremely talented player and a pretty good human to-boot,” Smith said. “She’s very hard to replace, but it’s more about not playing a gamestyle that’s really talent heavy focused. It’s system-based and then we build the talent around the systems.”

The Eagles will also be minus Jemma Charity (North Adelaide) who joined her sister and former leadership group member Chloe at the Roosters for the 2024 season. Smith said the club had plenty of players who were continuing to impress and were ones to watch this season including an over-age onballer.

“I always talk about Marlie Fiegert, how important she is to the side,” she said. “I think she’s taken her high performance lense of football to the next level and I expect her to be… she’s already a starting mid, but I expect her to take a lot more responsibility of leadership even though she’s only 18, through that midfield group. She’s really embracing just controlling the controllables and being her own style of player. She’s really been impressive on the track.”

Marlie Fiegert is a crucial member of the Eagles’ side according to coach Narelle Smith. Image credit: On The Ball Media

Smith noted top-ager Grace Martin as having improved “like a whirlwind” over the off-season, having boosted all areas of her game from her high performance side to her strength, skills and speed to catch the eye of Eagles coaches.

“We’ve got the likes of (skipper) Annie Falkenberg, she always impresses back there,” Smith said of others to catch the eye over preseason. “We put a couple of smalls zippy really good ball users around her in Christina Leuzzi and Cher Waters.

“Cher Waters is another one you feel like the switch has finally clicked over, and she’s really taken her football really seriously. She hasn’t missed a session and you can tell by the way she’s starting to put together some really good form on the track and through those trial games.”

Woodville-West Torrens kicks off its season against Sturt down at Ottoway where the club has been training and preparing for the season ahead. Smith said she was “so excited” to see the team run out on the “quirky little ground”.

“We’re really, really fortunate to have a really great home second field and it’s got amazing facilities that have just put in nets behinds the goals which we previously hadn’t had, so rather than having to chase footy every time we’re doing any goalkicking, it’s now starting just to look like a really professional deck,” Smith said.

“It’s obviously council owned and we lease it from the council, and they’re really committed to making it a really attractive ground. Not only to SANFL and SANFLW but to the Adelaide footy league, so for our club to showcase a SANFL Round 1 game is just so exciting. We can’t put into words how excited we are to play at Ottoway.”

As for the year ahead, Smith said the time was right to start piecing together consistent four quarter efforts and the players coming into their prime to step up and ticking over the wins. If they could play the way they did in patches last season, then the results will come.

“You’ve seen glimpses of us over the last two seasons about what we can achieve when we’re at the top of our game, and it’s just a matter of the cohesiveness of the team and continuing to drive for that consistency about how we play,” Smith said.

“We believe that we’ve got a really good talented list this year to be able to execute, and all of our kids and middle-age players, your players that are 20 to 25, they’ve been in this program now for three years, and we’re really starting to see the improvement of how they execute the way we want to play.

“We’re keen to show what we’ve got on Round 1, and see if we can get some wins early in the season to build that confidence.”

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