AFLW: Smooth sailing through injury waves

Greater Western Sydney kept their season's hopes alive with their first win last week. (Photo: AFLW Facebook)

Former AFLW number one draft pick Isabel Huntington looks set to finally make a return to competitive action this week as injury returns occupy the headlines ahead of Round 5 of the 2019 AFLW season.

Huntington, who turned 19 earlier this week, looks likely to pull the boots on for just her third AFLW game after undergoing a knee reconstruction last February, then suffering a further setback in December spraining the same knee.

But while her inclusion will be vital to a Dogs side shellshocked by two heavy defeats, Collingwood and Brisbane have plenty to gain with returning stars, and as the Magpies prepare to do battle with the old enemy at IKON Park on Saturday night the only winless side in the competition will need Ash Brazill’s backline influence now more than ever.

Hatch‘s Jesse Robertson previews a weekend that again sees the top two teams collide, featuring the return of a four-goal hero, while the opening clash of the round has major implications for both conferences:

Saturday, March 2, 4:45pm: Brisbane vs Geelong, Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex

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The signs are better for Brisbane after ending a two-game losing streak in emphatic fashion as they steamrolled the Bulldogs at Whitten Oval last Saturday.

Alexandra Anderson was her prolific self with a game-high 20 touches (15 effective) and five tackles, but the six different goalkickers of the Lions’ seven majors emphasised the balanced team effort that enabled them to register their second win of the season. To make matters better, captain Leah Kaslar is named to return to the centre of defence from a leg injury as their sole inclusion this week.

Geelong’s season has statistically followed the same path as their interstate opponents (W-L-L-W) but has at times lacked the same real X factor that the 2017 and 2018 runners-up have displayed. The Cats have been on the winning end of two low-scoring, gritty results but have been heavily outmatched in between, and while this may be owing to factors such as the premature loss of top draft pick Nina Morrison to injury, elite individual contributors have been lacking throughout the campaign.

A pair of suspensions will hurt the Cats further this week but the spirit of Rochelle Cranston (nine tackles with four inside-50’s last week) continues to spark life in the engine room.

Hatch predicts: Brisbane by 25 points. Last week perhaps represented the start of a real push for a Conference A placing, and in easily seeing off the Bulldogs, Brisbane are well placed to gather more momentum.

Saturday, March 2, 7:10pm: Carlton vs Collingwood, IKON Park

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The Blues were undone by their own accuracy around the big sticks away to Geelong last week, including a shocking howler from Tayla Harris striking the post unopposed in the third term. Maddy Prespakis made more impression with her team-high 19 disposals, with four inside-50’s and defender Kerryn Harrington was kept busy at the other end registering seven rebound-50s to go with her mostly effective 18 touches. Darcy Vescio and recent debutant Abbie McKay will need to improve on quiet performances, however.

To paraphrase the combat sports adage, someone’s O had to go in Morwell last week and unfortunately for the Pies, it was GWS who chalked up their first four premiership points in a tight contest. Spirits were lifted, though, on the performance of Sarah Dargan with her 16 touches (12 effective) as well as four tackles and an important goal earning her an AFLW Rising Star nomination. Ash Brazill is included after recovering from concussion, and her performances in defence might shut the wayward Carlton forward line out.

Hatch predicts: Collingwood by 12 points. Carlton’s incredibly shaky efforts around the goals are nothing new and this could be the Pies’ best, or last, remaining chance to kick-start their campaign.

Sunday, March 3, 2:05pm: GWS vs Melbourne, Blacktown International Sportspark

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Greater Western Sydney are finally off the mark in season 2019, and the midfield trio of Rebecca Beeson, Alicia Eva and Courtney Gum were crucial in establishing control in the centre. Combining for almost one-third of the Giants’ total disposals and inside50’s, the three Giants were instrumental in running the show as their side got their first victory in the Latrobe Valley. The core of the group will be further bolstered ahead of Sunday with ruck Erin McKinnon, averaging 29 hitouts per game and leading the league despite missing last week’s win, named in an extended lineup.

The Demons went down in a thriller to the undefeated Kangaroos at Casey Fields last Sunday, and their usual stars had no trouble getting in on the action as Melbourne took the victors as close as any side has done this year. Karen Paxman fought tirelessly and amassed 25 disposals for her trouble, supplemented by the likes of Katie Hore (18 touches, 11 contested possessions) and fellow rover Lily Mithen (22 touches, five marks, four tackles) and all will be relied upon to combat the midfield power mentioned above. Brooke Patterson should be Melbourne’s only inclusion this week in replacing Ashleigh Woodland.

Hatch predicts: Melbourne by 17 points. The Demons’ scoring average stands up and on their trip to New South Wales this week, can be expected to outgun the Giants inside 50.

Sunday, March 3, 4:05pm: North Melbourne vs Adelaide, Avalon Airport Oval

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North Melbourne were taken to their limit by Melbourne in Cranbourne but escaped with their superb unbeaten record intact. They’ll be in for perhaps an even sterner challenge in Werribee as the second-placed Crows come to town.

Emma King was a standout in the ruck as they withstood the Demons, not only with her 18 hitouts but chipping in with three vital goals up forward. Jamie Stanton continued her push towards the top of AFLW’s possession charts by racking up 21 more, Emma Kearney was pinpoint with her 15 disposals but the talls are the story at Arden Street this week with round three Rising Star nominee Courteney Munn named for her second game after a calf complaint.

The Crows not only overtook Fremantle on the table with a 42-point smashing of the Dockers last Saturday, but also became the highest-scoring side in the league. The fab four of Ebony Marinoff, Anne Hatchard, Erin Phillips and skipper Chelsea Randall topped Adelaide’s disposal charts with the former sitting atop the competition whilst Phillips got in on the goalscoring fun with two of her own. Stevie-Lee Thompson receives more assistance in the key forward department this week with Chloe Scheer returning from suspension.

Hatch predicts: Adelaide by 7 points. It’s nigh on impossible to truly bet against the Roos but Adelaide’s red-hot last three weeks place them as more likely to knock off North than any other current side.

Sunday, March 3, 6:05pm: Fremantle vs Western Bulldogs, Fremantle Oval

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With the winner of the Brisbane-Geelong clash joining Fremantle on 12 points, the Dockers will be desperate to kick on and retain a place in Conference A following a humbling result at the hands of Adelaide last week. Dana Hooker and Kiara Bowers were among the most prolific ball-getters but both registered below 50% effectiveness on those touches to add to a forgettable night for the purple and white, as they crashed to earth hard with their first defeat of the year. Alicia Janz is likely to be named in the final team for Sunday to complement Parris Laurie in the ruck after a PCL disruption.

The Bulldogs are also looking to rebound immediately but from not one, but two massive bumps in the road to defend their crown. Now possessing the second-worst percentage in the league, the Dogs produced a shocking display of inefficiency especially by foot, highlighted by top ball winner Monique Conti’s woeful 42 per cent from her 19 touches, of which 15 were kicks. However, the returns of Isabel Huntington and 2018 AFLW leading goalkicker Brooke Lochland may provide the turning tide needed to resurrect their top four hopes.

Hatch predicts: Fremantle by 14 points. Neither side were competitive in their recent fixtures but the Dogs’ returning stars will need more time to gain match sharpness.