Contributions by Matt Marsden
The best of the best will take to Etihad Stadium on Saturday night for the AFLW State of Origin match in what is shaping up to be an epic clash.
While the Victorian roster is a veritable treasure trove of talent, featuring the likes of cult hero Sarah Perkins and All-Australians Nicola Stevens, Karen Paxman, Daisy Pearce and Kara Donnellan, the Allies are equally well stocked with firepower, boasting premiership winning Crows Chelsea Randall and Ebony Marinoff, alongside Sabrina Frederick-Traub, Kate McCarthy, Tayla Harris, Emma King and Ebony Antonio.
While Victoria may have long been a women’s football stronghold, this year’s AFLW season, with Brisbane and Adelaide facing off in the Grand Final, proved resoundingly that the talent interstate is significant and impressive.
What the respective coaches, Debbie Lee and Bec Goddard, build from their star-studded lists is bound to be exciting, and we’ve put together a few subplots to the big story that will be interesting to watch.
Karen Paxman vs Elise O’Dea
Would you believe that this is only the second time ever that Paxman and O’Dea will be on opposite sides? The first was in March of 2016 when two teams of Victorian players representing Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs played in warm weather and gusty conditions, and it was Paxman’s first match after a year off from football.
In the major Dees-Dogs clashes since the first in 2013, Paxman and O’Dea have always found themselves on the same side. The duo teamed up for the Bulldogs in 2013 and 2014, then after Paxman’s 2015 hiatus, the pair was reunited in Melbourne colours for the televised All-Stars game in 2016. And obviously, “Pax” and “Junior” have been winning flags at Darebin since O’Dea came down from the ACT, and both earned All-Australian honours for Melbourne in the AFLW this year.
While we may not see a direct match-up featuring the two, it will be intriguing to see how each can influence the contest, having teamed up to become such a formidable half-back duo in the AFLW. But on the odd chance that coaches Bec Goddard and Debbie Lee read this, please do us all a favour!
Stopping Emma Kearney and Ellie Blackburn
The Western Bulldogs might not have had the best of AFLW seasons, but it is in no part due to the efforts of midfield duo of Emma Kearney and Ellie Blackburn.
Kearney (21.4) and Blackburn (19.4) were third and fifth respectively for average disposals in the AFLW, and their combined average clearances of 8.5 per game was far better than any other midfield duo in the competition. Blackburn also displayed her attacking capabilities with six goals.
It goes without saying that they need to be stopped in their tracks, and the Allies have the perfect two players to get the job done. Adelaide’s Ebony Marinoff thrived under coach Bec Goddard to become a tackling machine in a defensive midfield role, and Brisbane captain Emma Zielke is a respected midfield general who can do a job on any player in the comp.
Katie Brennan vs Melissa Hickey
If ever Katie Brennan had a point to prove, it’s now. The Bulldogs key forward missed the majority of the inaugural AFLW season after succumbing to injury in round two, but has recaptured her best form in the VFLW as of late.
Brennan has kicked 32 goals in 10 games thus far, including 20 in her last three outings. She is primed for a big outing on Saturday night, but there is one roadblock standing in her way; a multi-premiership teammate at Darebin, but an old foe: Melissa Hickey.
Only two players have managed to successfully curb Brennan’s influence on the big stage, and one of them (Ebony Antonio) is on her side. That leaves Hickey as the only player with a positive track record, but recent history shows Brennan taking the points in their last two one-on-one meetings. Hickey has played less time in key defensive roles in the past 12 months, but she is the perfect player to step up for the Vics and deny one of the Allies’ prime forward targets.
Brianna Davey – defender or midfielder?
Carlton’s Brianna Davey had a standout season in 2017. Averaging 19 disposals (at a remarkable 67.5% disposal efficiency), 3.8 marks and 2.8 tackles a game, she was a pillar of strength in the backline for the Blues. Her average of 3.8 rebounds per game were unmatched in the AFLW competition, so it was unsurprising to see Davey take out Carlton’s inaugural best and fairest and earn a spot in the 2017 AFLW All-Australian team.
But while her defensive credentials are without question, the former goalkeeper for the Matildas also plays in the centre for the St Kilda Sharks in the VFLW competition, and is probably the best player in her position. So, the question for Victorian Coach Debbie Lee is where exactly to play the versatile Blue.
Down back, the Vics are tasked with covering the likes of Katie Brennan, Tayla Harris, Sabrina Frederick-Traub and Jessica Wuetschner, so it’s likely she may continue her AFLW role. However, if she were to join Victorian teammates Daisy Pearce, Emma Kearney and Kara Donnellan at the vital centre bounces, the Vics might not have to worry about defending so much.
For all the positivity surrounding the AFLW, Moana Hope was the one player who had to bear the brunt of criticism. Coming off a remarkable 106-goal VFLW season in 2016, Hope was often double and triple-teamed in the inaugural AFLW season, all while battling through a knee injury.
After missing the first half of the 2017 VFLW season through injury, Hope has returned to action with new team Melbourne Uni to kick 14 goals in six appearances, and is recapturing some of the form that made her an overnight superstar last year. Her efforts have also earned her a call-up for this match – having originally been left out – as Carlton forward Darcy Vescio looks to recover from injury.
It seems almost poetic that Hope’s chance to prove that she is worth the hype comes one year after she kicked six goals in the 2016 All-Stars match between the Melbourne Demons and Western Bulldogs. With a cast of the women’s game’s best converging on Etihad Stadium and a big crowd expected, the stage is set for Mo’s redemption.