Panthers hold on in another SANFLW nail-biter

SOUTH Adelaide atoned from last year’s heartbreaking loss by holding on against a determined Norwood to win by five points at Coopers Stadium in the 2024 SANFL Women’s Grand Final.

The Panthers lead all the way since kicking the first goal of the game late in the first term, and despite the Redlegs holding them scoreless in the second half, came away with the 3.0 (18) to 2.1 (13) victory.

Despite the low-scoring slog which came as no surprise considering the Panthers and Redlegs are the two best defensive teams, there was no shortage of edge-of-your-seat action that perhaps the scores do not portray. South Adelaide midfielder Jordann Hickey was a clear best on ground in the thriller, picking up 21 disposals, 10 tackles, and seven clearances in the premiership.

The only change for either side was South Adelaide adding Charlotte Dolan for her third game of the season, returning to the side after last playing in Round 14, and getting the nod to replace Litonya Cockatoo-Motlap. Norwood went in unchanged, and having beaten South the last two times the sides played, would have taken plenty of confidence from those performances.

It was indeed Norwood that had the early ascendancy in the game with wing Tahlita Buethke finding plenty of the ball, something that South coach Rick Watts wanted to restrict, though her wing partner-in-crime Kiana Lee was kept to just two touches by bottom-ager Lily Baxter in a concerted effort between the arcs.

Through the midfield, Hickey and Tasmanian Candice Belbin were getting their hands to it, though the absolute armwrestle that was on display limited the sides from making that last kick inside 50. In the end, Melissa Anderson avoided the whole dilemma by winning it off Hickey from a turnover just outside 50 and launching from 55m to an open goalsquare that bounced home for the first goal of the day.

The siren sounded shortly after, with the breakthrough major being the only score of the day, not to forget Lee almost kicking Goal of the Year from the boundary but the shot sat up on the line and stayed in just a minute before Anderson kicked her outstanding goal.

At quarter time, Norwood had laid 30 tackles to 16, and had 12 more disposals (42-30), though South had four more inside 50s (9-5) in a game where South was able to get chances, but not a lot of time or space from the Redlegs.

The Panthers defence would be put under immense pressure in the second term as the Redlegs turned the tables on the minor premiers, recording 10 inside 50s to three. You could have been forgiven if you thought it was was the other way around however, as South booted two goals to one behind and opened up a 17-point half-time lead.

Norwood had its chances early with Lee missing a set shot that perhaps did not have the degree of difficulty of her last few goals in finals, and it stung when going straight up the other end, Shae Archbold got on the end of a nice play.

Unable to play in last year’s decider – or at any stage last season – due to tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) over the previous Summer, she was thriving in the moment when she delivered the Panthers their second major.

Archbold would provide two of the best touches in the term, with not only the goal, but then a clever snap towards the goalsquare which was plucked on the line by Lauren Clifton lunging forward. In what was a rare forward play, the work of Emma Charlton to beat multiple opponents and get it to Lucy Northcott at half-forward who put it to Archbold’s advantage inside 50 and let her do the rest.

Down but not out, Norwood trailed by 17 points and had only a solitary behind to its name to the main break despite leading the disposals (97-84), contested possessions (56-55), uncontested possessions (44-34), tackles (49-44), clearances (18-13) and inside 50s (15-12). The key difference came with the marks, as Norwood was yet to take a mark inside 50, while South had three, and two were set shot goals.

Norwood co-skipper Steph Simmonds and experienced peer Jade Halfpenny came out with some additional fire in the belly after half-time, getting to work to win the first few clearances. Eventually the fourth placed team got reward for all of its attacking, as Simmons put it to a contest inside 50, and watch as the dangerous Adrienne Davies swooped and made no mistake three and a half minutes into the quarter.

The margin was back to 11 points and it was game on at Norwood Oval, as defensively the Redlegs had done well limiting the firepower and equal competition leading goalkicker Emily Brockhurst to just a few touches, a credit to her direct opponent Sophie Arkun in the absence of the injury Emily Bartsch who had performed a similarly heroic effort last time the sides played.

Lee was starting to get off the chain for the Redlegs, and that always spells danger for the opposition, but the work of Hickey, Caitlin Couch and Nikki Nield to get back and help the defence, Soriah Moon to plug a hole in the back 50 on turnover, and the ever reliable Esther Schirmer to intercept was key in keeping the score low.

There were just nine total inside 50s for quarter three, with Norwood leading 5-4, but the Redlegs kicked the only major of the quarter though trailed 1.1 (7) to 3.0 (18). It was the likes of co-captains Simmonds and Sophie Armitstead, as well as Belbin and Halfpenny who were getting their hands on the ball, and Lee stepping up to the plate more in the premiership quarter.

Expecting a fitting finish to the game, the crowd got what it wanted with the only score coming in the 12th minute of the quarter when Lee took a mark inside 50 and was set to take her shot on goal, only for a whistle to sound. An off-the-ball infringement to Buethke in the goalsquare set the wing to a point-blank range which she did not miss, and with just over six minutes remaining, the deficit was within a kick.

Naturally to build suspense, the ball was locked inside Norwood’s 50 for a good portion of thE next six minutes, as tackle after tackle from South Adelaide players kept it locked in. No doubt considering the way last year ended for the Panthers, coach Watts would have been sweating for every tackle or hold taking place within scoring range.

There were a few shots such as Lana Schwerdt‘s flying chance from 35m that just landed on the goalline and kept in, and then in the final two minutes, the Panthers regained possession and did what they do best. Under 16s talent Taya Maxwell clunked a contested mark on the wing and knew to kill the clock, and then again a brilliant run-down tackle on Lee by none other than Hickey.

The siren sounded moments later and after the pain of 2023, South Adelaide had exorcised the demons and enjoyed the sweet relief and jubilation of winning a flag.

Nikki Nield celebrates amongst a host of Panther teammates after the final siren. Image credit: Cory Sutton/SANFL

Hickey was deservedly called out as best on ground after her herculean performance, while the likes of Schirmer (16 disposals, five marks – two contested – and three rebound 50s), Maxwell (17 disposals, 17 hitouts and five clearances) and Nield (15 disposals, three marks, 12 tackles and four clearances) were also outstanding. Layla Vizgaudis showed her class on both the outside and inside with 12 touches and seven tackles.

For Norwood, Belbin had an enormous game of 19 touches, nine tackles and six clearances, while Halfpenny was arguably best afield honours for the Redlegs with 17 disposals, seven tackles, seven clearances and four inside 50s. Armitstead (15 disposals, 12 tackles and three clearances) tried hard all day, while Arkun’s shutdown job on Brockhurst and still finding plenty of the ball herself, and the wings of Buethke and Lee were also among the better Redlegs.

SOUTH ADELAIDE 1.0 | 3.0 | 3.0 | 3.0 (18)
NORWOOD 0.0 | 0.1 | 1.1 | 2.1 (13)

South Adelaide:
M. Anderson, S. Archbold, L. Clifton
Norwood: T. Buethke, A. Davies

South Adelaide: J. Hickey, E. Schirmer, T. Maxwell, N. Nield, L. Vizgaudis
Norwood: J. Halfpenny, C. Belbin. S. Arkun, K. Lee, T. Buethke

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