AFLW Round 6 – GWS v Brisbane: Capital Punishment

 

 

 

Greater Western Sydney v Brisbane

3.10pm, Saturday  March 6

Manuka Oval

 

 

 

Saturday afternoon. Twenty-two degrees Celsius. Clear skies. Slightest of slight breezes. A can of beer. The Brisbane Lions.

 

 

For the first time in the five and a half years I’ve been living in Canberra, I have not had to fly interstate or drive for three hours to see my team play. Today, the Lions were just down the road. It was glorious.

 

 

It mattered not that it was AFLW. Indeed, I have a growing affinity for both the Brisbane Lions team and the league as a whole. AFLW has a lot going for it, not least of which is that it is free from some of the more asinine aspects of the men’s competition, such as the needless testosterone-fuelled aggro between players or the 24/7 commentariat that seemingly has so much to say yet often manages little more than clichés and wafer-thin analysis.

 

 

As for the Lions themselves, it’s been enjoyable to have a season where the squad has not been pillaged by expansions clubs – aside from some young recruits, the core of the team had changed little since the ill-fated 2020 season. Furthermore, it is a well-balanced team, both in terms of blending youth and experience and in regards to positional strengths across the ground. The Lions’ defence, the lynchpin of its success, has remained ever-dependable; the forward line is a healthy mix of key targets and small forwards, while the midfield is as hard-working as the come.

 

 

As a testament to the team’s balance, I cannot suggest would be leading the club’s best and fairest at the moment. Players like Nat Grider and Belle Dawes have had breakout seasons, Lauren Arnell is playing her best football as a Lion and Courtney Hodder is putting together a good highlights reel in her debut season, yet there is no-one I could point to who was head and shoulders above the rest. The old guard – Zielke, Bates, Conway, Anderson, Lutkins, Campbell, Koenen – remain dependable, while the younger players step up when required. Looking through all the key statistics across the league, Lions are nowhere near the top of any key category except Dakota Davidson in goals (and contested marks). The team does not rely on several star performers to carry the team every week.

 

 

This sets the scene for Saturday’s game. Craig Starcevich named an unchanged line-up from the team that had toppled the previously undefeated Dockers in Perth. The hard-fought and rousing victory had given me confidence that we could dispense with the Giants, and do so with few dramas. Walking around the ground, I didn’t care about the growing throng of orange filing into Manuka. I knew we were going to win, and win strong.

 

 

Officials had cordoned off the sunny side of the ground, mercifully placing most of the 1,847 spectators in the shade. Canberra has a healthy number of GWS supporters, and as soon as the game started, I was very conscious of being a lone Lion among a group of Giants (or, at least, Giants-inclined patrons). As is customary for games at Manuka, there was also the usual hubbub of conversations as neutrals entertained themselves.

 

 

We had a good first quarter, a quick goal from Dakota Davidson put the Giants on the back foot early. Young gun Courtney Hodder’s sublime evasion and snap at goal was a treat, and by rights she should have sealed goal of the year with her follow-up effort. Following a holding free kick in the centre square, took the advantage and ran half the length of the ground taking three bounces before spraying the finish wide for a behind. What might have been…

 

 

A low-key highlight (if there is even such a thing) was seeing Jess Wuetschner snag a goal. In one sense, it might have been the easiest of her career – a 50 metre penalty following her mark just inside the forward 50 placed her in the goal square directly in front. On the other hand, behind that seemingly easy goal was a year’s worth of mental health struggles as she continues to cope with the aftereffects of being struck by lightning in January 2020. ‘In the first three to six months afterwards’, she recounted to the Courier-Mail, ‘I lived in a bubble of fear…I struggle still with trying to get back to who I was.’ Just getting out and playing again, much less contributing with 12 disposals, four tackles and that goal, was a feat that deserves recognition and it was great to see all the girls get around her after the goal.

 

 

At 3.3 to 0.1 going into the first break we had made a good start, but it was during the second that we really put the foot down. After Jade Ellenger’s neatly-finished goal (assisted by Wuetschner) the score was 5.4 to 0.1 and the game was becoming enjoyable. By midway through the quarter it was clear we were a class above the Giants, running harder, bringing greater numbers to contests and applying greater pressure – it was impressive to see how often we would outnumber them, particularly in our forward line, and by the end of first half we were winning the tackle count 31-21. When the Giants did get time and space to possess the ball, they were probably cleaner in their disposal than the Lions, yet they were often slow and methodical in moving the ball down the ground and, in the end, their cleanliness counted for little with ineffectual inside 50 thrusts. At half-time the score was 6.7 to 0.2 – were it not for some errant kicking and an unlucky bounce of the ball for Davidson then the margin would have been greater.

 

 

The third quarter offered something closer to a stalemate. While we were able to lock the ball inside our forward 50, we were largely unable to capitalise. Still, we were firmly in command of the game and I was never worried that a Giants breakout would lead to a goal. Some wayward kicking began to creep into our game, with fatigue possibly setting in after the dominant first half. That said, the Lions’ system and their rate of effort showed results: pressure on GWS ball-carriers, for instance, was immense. When the Giants finally got a goal through Katherine Smith, I realised that their inability to convert had spared me from the post-goal celebration music (thankfully only offered to the home team), a blight on the game if ever there was one.

 

 

The tighter, contested nature of the third quarter gave me a chance to admire the work of Emily Bates, whose technique and effort around stoppages was worth the price of admission. Although already hard to miss in her bright pink boots, her expert positioning, movement and disposal stood out, particularly in that third quarter when she seemed to produce clearance after clearance. Her skill and style, while first and foremost being a credit to her own hard work, bears the hallmark of the great Brisbane men’s midfielder Simon Black, who now works as this side’s stoppage coach. Bates has clearly been paying attention to what he has been teaching. In addition to reading the ball around a stoppage, her ability to find a teammate in space with a handball while simultaneously being tackled is elite, making her both an immovable object and an unstoppable force. Her effectiveness also speaks to a well-organised midfield: Ally Anderson deserves recognition for her inside work, so often being the provider to Bates and others, while Talia Hickey in ruck has been a revelation this season.

 

 

Going into the final quarter 7.11 to 1.3, it seemed highly unlikely that the Giants were going to produce an eight-goal quarter to overturn the result. Still, our inside 50s became somewhat speculative as the Giants started to get even in the contest. It seemed that the girls were starting to tire, due no doubt to their exertions early and the lingering effects of the bruising game in Perth the previous weekend. As such, the Giants actually won the final quarter, but the contest had effectively been over since half-time. The game ended 7.13 (55) to 2.5 (17).

 

 

It was a powerful display from the Lions, who, particularly in that first half, showed how they could dominate a game through pressure and hard running. Indy Tahau’s rundown tackle with barely a minute left in the game epitomised how we had played for much of the game. It also seemed that we had won the clearance battle. While the actual number of clearances was generally even (23-24), it felt as if the Lions had dominated in that area because ours led to threatening forward fifty entries – the Giants could not be as decisive.

 

 

For their part, the Giants relied on lots of work from too few. Alicia Eva was prominent and finished the game with 22 possessions, but for all her industry, eventually she needed to dispose of the ball, and when she did, it almost always wound up back in the hands of the Lions. Often, the Lions would outnumber the Giants in the forward 50 and then, if the Giants managed to get the ball out, it would come up against a wall of Lions defenders, making it seem that Lions were everywhere and the Giants were caught in the huddled mass underneath the flight of the ball, unable to get their hands on it.

 

 

In the end it was a pleasant afternoon at the footy. Throughout the game I got to see many acts that have become trademarks of Brisbane’s 2021 season: an authoritative Davidson and a crafty Hodder in the same forward line, Cathy Svarc (usually tasked with a lock-down role) bursting through tackles with pace and going for a run, Kate Lutkins’ intercept marking and precision field kicking. There were also a host of other individual efforts that cumulatively make a solid, competitive team performance and left me still none the wiser as to who our best and fairest should be at the end of the season.

 

 

 

GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY       0.1       0.2       1.3      2.5       (17)

BRISBANE                                            3.3       6.7       7.11     7.13     (55)

 

 

GOALS

Greater Western Sydney: Smith, Bennetts

Brisbane: Davidson, Dawes 2, Hodder, Wuetschner, Ellenger

 

 

BEST

Greater Western Sydney: Eva, Parker, Beeson, Tully, Bennetts

Brisbane: Davidson, Dawes, Bates, Lutkins, Anderson

 

 

 

 

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About William Westerman

Canberra based military historian and sporting enthusiast.

Comments

  1. David Leydon says

    Great piece Will.
    The Lions Women are so damn exciting to watch.

  2. Will, I’m glad you got to see the Lions go around in Canberra for the first time (hopefully not the last!)

    I had a bit of a chuckle when I saw Soph listed as one of the ‘old guard’ at age 21! She’s been super reliable since she started though and I suppose this is her fourth season.

    You could raffle any of Davidson, Lutkins, Hodder or Bates for the B&F so far – plenty of others knocking on the door too.

  3. While waiting for my Swans to have a women’s team out on the field, I’ve been ardently barracking for the Lions since AFLW’s inception. And what a team they are! The improvement, year after year, has been noticeable, and this year, especially, they are the team to beat.

    How will I be able to barrack against them, when red and white has been added to the fold??

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