Sturt remains alive after nail-biting Norwood win

THE Double Blues refuse to yield in the 2024 SANFL Women’s season, clinging onto the hope of a finals series with a remarkable two-point win over Norwood. Sturt had to fight back from a a 3-7 win-loss record to start the season, but have won three on the trot to be within a point of making the post-season series.

In what was a virtual elimination final, Sturt kept its finals dream alive with a 4.3 (27) to 3.7 (25) victory over Norwood, essentially putting control back into the hands of West Adelaide in the process. Norwood only needed one win from its final three games to secure fourth spot after being two and a half games clear of fifth, but back-to-back losses mean it will come down to the final day of the season.

In a tight encounter at Unley Oval, Sturt raced out of the blocks thanks to two quick goals to key forward Amy Brooks-Birve while keeping the Redlegs goalless. Norwood dominated possession in the opening term with Jade Halfpenny (nine disposals) ahead of the likes of Sarah Branford and Emma Clark, boasting a 64-36 disposal differential.

Despite that fact, Sturt led by 10 points, averaging a goal every 18 disposals in a remarkable quarter of football. The weight of numbers began to turn the game in Norwood’s favour through the second term, though it took a while to capitalise with several missed opportunities from the Redlegs.

Their first set shot chance came at the six and a half minute mark where Adrienne Davies went back and slotted the goal to get her side some reward for effort. In a deflating next minute however, Sturt responded immediately as Jaimee Wittervan won the centre clearance, got it forward and Edwina Thornquest was able to work it to Molly Fletcher for a goal.

The last 10 minutes of the first half was a tough one for the Redlegs as they continued to push hard, getting a number of goalscoring opportunities. A quick snap from Kiana Lee at close range under pressure hit the post, but some quick thinking from winger Coby Morgan out of a forward 50 stoppage to hit-up Lee got a much better result. After having five more inside 50s in the second term, Norwood was back to within a point at the main break.

Both sides had their chances once again through the third term with some Monique Bessen magic found Millie McCarthy on the line early in the match. Opting for the drop punt from a sharp angle, it went to the near side, which increased the lead to two. Norwood gradually worked it back to level pegging following behinds to Elle Lineage and Shai Hiscock heading into the final five minutes of the quarter.

The midfield battle of both sides had been intriguing with Alisha Gepp having a day out in the absence of India Rasheed, while Isobel Kuiper and Georgia Swan were the other Double Blues finding the ball amongst a sea of Redlegs.

Norwood continued to push and against the breeze found he answer through Charlotte Nenke who snapped truly off a Davies handball to put her side up on the eve of the final break. Norwood now had the six-point advantage and the wind in the last term.

Finals was on the line for both sides in a game with stakes as high as they could be. Sturt knew that moving the ball as fast as possible was the only way to overcome the breeze and the Norwood transition. A goal-saving tackle from Sophie Armitstead on Sturt skipper Kate Harris as she ran into goal in the opening minute was huge, with another near Sturt miss shortly after cutting the deficit to five points.

Norwood had its chances with Hiscock and Davies both unable to find enough space to get penetration. on their disposals inside 50, as the Sturt defence applied enormous pressure. As the Double Blues got it up the other end, a quick soccer off the deck from Ruby Cunningham went the wrong side of the post and the Redlegs remained in front by four.

Rolling packs were becoming frequent across the ground as the visitors continued to try and lock it up then move it when given the opportunity, while Sturt wanted to keep thrusting it forward. At the 12-minute mark, the breakthrough moment came when Gepp – who was clearly the best player on the ground, lunged at a loose ball and was met by two tacklers landing in her back.

Going back from close range on an angle, the midfielder made no mistake slotting the set shot and putting her side up by two. The belief was real and the Double Blues were up and about. But there was still around seven minutes left.

Norwood spent a great deal of time forward, and Sturt repelled time and time again. The last play of the day came when Charlotte Nenke marked in the middle and after a 25m penalty was brought to just outside 50. Unfortunately the siren sounded before she had a chance to assess options, meaning she had to launch it from about 55m.

Unfortunately – though not unexpected given the distance – for the Redlegs, the last kick of the game fell short and Sturt could finally celebrate knowing it had kept its season alive for another week. Though it still needs to win in Round 14 and hope to make up a percentage on West Adelaide – who need to beat Norwood or draw to make it possible – the dream was still there.

Gepp starred with 26 disposals, 12 tackles, 11 clearances, four inside 50s and a goal while being well supported in midfield by Kuiper (20 disposals, five tackles, five clearances and four inside 50s). In ruck, Jasmin Fejo had a field day with 46 hitouts to accompany eight disposals, while Swan and Claudia Edmonds were also among the best.

For Norwood, the experience of Halfpenny (20 disposals, six tackles, four clearances and two inside 50s) stood out, while Tahlita Buethke (18 disposals, six marks and four inside 50s) and Branford (16 disposals, five tackles and four inside 50s) were both busy. Coby Morgan and Candice Belbin also worked hard through the game.

STURT 2.0 | 3.0 | 3.1 | 4.3 (27)
NORWOOD 0.2 | 2.5 | 3.7 | 3.7 (25)

A. Brooks-Birve 2, M. Fletcher, A. Gepp
Norwood: A. Davies, K. Lee, C. Nenke

Sturt: A. Gepp, G. Swan, I. Kuiper, C. Edmonds, J. Fejo
Norwood: J. Halfpenny, T. Buethke, S. Branford, C. Morgan. C. Belbin

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