Panthers “driven” to go one better in 2024

AFTER falling 30 seconds short of a record third flag in the SANFL Women’s competition, South Adelaide coach Rick Watts said his side has never been hungrier to go one better in 2024. Though the loss to Central District in the last minute after leading throughout the whole game was heartbreaking, the coaching group had taken plenty from the game.

“We normally come into this point in the season working on developing with such a young list and a massive turnover but the core group of girls that have stuck with us that have been there for three or four years are so driven and hunger and have that desire to go one better which is fantastic,” Watts said.

On the grand final, Watts described it as a game where they did mostly everything right, but lapses hurt the Panthers at critical moments in the match.

“We thought we had done enough to be successful in that game, and just some critical errors in last the minute of the second, third and obviously the last quarter,” Watts said.

“As a coaching group we went away and reviewed the play especially in that last two minutes and the last actions, there’s a heap of stuff that we’ve learned from that. And the really positive is that as a playing group group I’ve never seen us more hungrier.”

That hunger is squarely focused on returning to the final match of the year once again. While Watts said internally the club rarely ever spoke with such lofty aspirations, this time it was player-driven to get back to the pinnacle of the competition.

“Last year was a bit of a surprise for us to finish where we did from where we started the season,” Watts said. “We felt we had a good team, but didn’t think we were a grand finalist or 30 seconds off winning one. This year we feel like again we’re a team that can really push for top four again and hopefully make another grand final and hopefully go one better.

“We normally wouldn’t normally be talking about that at this stage of the year, but the girls are so driven that they’re talking about going one better this year, so that is definitely a focus for us.”

South Adelaide has certainly stocked up on experienced talent over the off-season, bringing back Nikki Nield, as well as gaining the full-time services of twins, Litonya and Laquoiya Cockatoo-Motlap. Watts said while the loss of four players to the AFL Women’s competition – Brooke Boileau, Alissa Brook, Holly Ifould and Elise Barwick – would hurt the top-end talent, he believed the side was “four or five players better than where we were last year.”

Along with the AFL Women’s talents returning, the Panthers have also secured the services of running utility Morgan Johnston out of Norwood, and defensive midfielder Chelsea Farr from North Adelaide. Watts also highlighted a cross-code player in Bonnie Dodds who has been named in the Round 1 team.

“Comes from a soccer background,” Watts said. “A soccer goalkeeping background. So she’s really composed and again, adds another layer to our defence.”

After a nice haul of three top-age players being drafted last season, the Panthers have three more inside this year’s State Academy in Esther Schirmer, Shae Archbold – who is returning from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury last season – and Carly Milsom. From a future perspective though a trio of 2008-born players set to get a taste of their first League action have been earmarked as ones to watch.

Watts named Layla Vizgaudis at half-forward in his Round 1 team, with the talent playing as a bottom-ager in the AFLW Under 16 Championships. Alongside her achieving the latter feat was Emma Charlton – the sister of Crow Teah – and Taya Maxwell. Charlton is tipped to return via the development league once she overcomes some shin splits, while Maxwell – a 15-year-old 185cm competitor – will follow suit a little later.

Tonight the new campaign kicks off for South Adelaide, with a battle against the Panthers’ west counterparts.

“Westies are always hard to match up against especially early in the season,” Watts said. “Even last year coming into Round 3 they were two and zip and flying before they got injuries. They’ve always got the Lauren Young factor and some really talented players.”

However Watts believed the depth of his side would stand the test against a highly rated opponent.

“Their top five or six players would be the strongest five or six in the competition, so for us it’s about team offence and team defence against them,” Watts said. “I think our depth will challenge them, but if we allow their top players to dominate the game, they’ll be competitive and they’ll probably beat us. We’ve got to stop Lauren Young getting the footy, stop Zoe Venning getting the footy, and then from there just allow our depth to take over hopefully.”

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