MELBOURNE has fought off a spirited Western Bulldogs to record a 24-point win in round one to regain the Hampson-Hardeman Cup.
The Bulldogs' 6.10 (46) to 3.4 (22) loss was compounded by what appears to be a serious knee injury to star key forward Izzy Huntington.
Melbourne's experience, smarts and skills were on show as players combined beautifully, carving up VU Whitten Oval with a series of short, smart kicks and effortlessly creating a loose player forward, running at 74 per cent disposal efficiency in the first quarter.
The heavily undermanned Dogs defence – missing Katie Lynch, Ellyse Gamble, Hannah Scott and Sarah Hartwig, with Issy Grant and Richelle Cranston drafted in – struggled to stand up under the weight of entries, as the Dees' midfield (particularly Eden Zanker and Tyla Hanks) took control of the match.
Huntington brought up her team's first goal – coming in the second quarter – in fierce fashion, chasing down Karen Paxman and wrapping her in a powerful tackle, before converting the resultant free kick.
But devastation struck not two minutes later, the Bulldog falling to the ground and clutching her right knee after trying to turn around. She has previously torn the ACL in both knees.
The Dogs came out full of fire after half-time, winning it from the contest with recruit Elle Bennetts having a serious impact at stoppages, and getting the ball inside 50 quickly.
But it was big-name recruit Tayla Harris who broke the spirited Bulldog comeback, pouncing on a loose footy out the back of a pack to push the margin back out to 17 points at the tail end of the third term.
BULLDOGS v DEMONS Full match coverage and stats
The ball lived in Melbourne's forward 50 for most of the final quarter, before Kate Hore sealed the game with her second snap.
Dogs debutant Elizabeth Snell suffered a knock to her ribs, while coach Nathan Burke clarified Cranston had finished the game with cramp.
Where are the female coaches? At Whitten Oval
It's a common question, especially with all 14 of the AFLW senior coaches being male. Hawthorn has already locked in Bec Goddard as its coach for 2023, but there are three other clubs in the hunt. All three of the Dogs' assistant coaches for the game against the Dees – Natalie Wood, Mel Hickey and Kirby Bentley – were women, a first for the League. Bentley is technically a development coach, but stepped up in Dylan Roberton's absence.
Harris back in the red and the blue
Unsurprisingly, all eyes were on big recruit Tayla Harris in her first official outing as an AFLW Demon. With Katie Lynch and Ellyse Gamble sidelined, it was left to rebound defender Eleanor Brown to lock down the star forward. Harris was a good focal point for Melbourne without being overly dominant, crashing packs and later kicking a goal from a loose ball. She finished with seven touches and three marks, while Brown had six touches, five tackles and one mark.
Effect of stand rule
A more even contest than Friday night's match between Richmond and St Kilda meant it was easier to assess the impact of the stand rule in the NAB AFLW competition. For now, it appears to suit the women's game a little more than the men's, giving a few extra metres to kicks, particularly when going for goal in the 40m range. Melbourne in particular took full advantage of the 45-degree kick towards the corridor, but more experienced sides are unlikely to allow them as many free players in the centre.
"Terrible start, we just didn’t play the type of football we want to play. The good thing was, we were able to change that. I would have been really disappointed if the way we started was the way we continued, but the fact we were brave enough to say, 'nah, that's not us, let's change it', pleased me. When we play our style of football, it works." – Western Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke
"I think we're happy to be on the winning side of it. I think the girls started really well, the ability to get first use and the way they used the ball in the first quarter against the breeze, set the game up. Then it was a bit of a grind after that, it was a tough, contested game. I think potentially, round one after nine months, a bit of fatigue, so we've got a little bit to work on, but not a bad spot to be after round one, get the win on the board and still have plenty of room for improvement." – Melbourne coach Mick Stinear
Melbourne won't have far to travel, taking on Richmond at the Swinburne Centre on Friday night, while the Western Bulldogs have a journey down the highway, facing Geelong at GMHBA Stadium.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.1 1.1 3.4 3.4 (22)
MELBOURNE 3.0 4.6 5.8 6.10 (46)
Western Bulldogs: Huntington, Toogood, Blackburn
Melbourne: Hore 2, Sherriff, Gay, Zanker, Harris
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Bennetts, Fitzgerald, Lamb, Lochland
Melbourne: Zanker, Hanks, Birch, Lampard, Hore, Mithen
Western Bulldogs: Huntington (knee), Snell (ribs)
Western Bulldogs: Sarah Hartwig (AFL health and safety protocols) replaced in the selected side by Gemma Lagioia
Crowd: 2,571 at VU Whitten Oval
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