On a day where conditions weren’t for the faint-hearted, it was the experience of Kirsty Lamb and Ellie Blackburn which shone through to help the Western Bulldogs maintain its unbeaten start to season seven.
The ability of the Bulldogs midfield brigade to drive the ball forward in slippery conditions at Box Hill City Oval proved to be the difference in the 30-point victory over Hawthorn, especially during the second and third quarters.
After a scoreless opening term, the Bulldogs began to capitalise on their territory dominance, kicking three goals to Hawthorn’s one to take a two-goal lead into half-time.
Blackburn broke the deadlock after she snuck out the back, however her opener was quickly cancelled out by a Kaitlyn Ashmore set-shot conversion. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs were quick to respond courtesy of goals from Rylee Wilcox and Gabby Newton.
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It was a similar story after the main break, with goals from youngster Heidi Woodley and 50-gamer Kirsty Lamb all but icing the game heading into the final change.
Nathan Burke’s side also profited from potent accuracy in front of goal, kicking five straight majors before registering a behind.
Speaking to the media post-game, Burke praised his team’s ability to get the game back on their terms following a scoreless first quarter.
“The way that [we] managed to adjust, change the way that we were playing, and counter the way that they [Hawthorn] were playing because they were very good in that first quarter, was really pleasing,” Burke said.
“It wasn’t just a hard contested effort. They [Western Bulldogs players] actually thought their way through the last three quarters in particular and came away winners which is great.”
Kirsty Lamb leads the way in game 50
Celebrating her 50th AFLW game against the Hawks, Lamb put on a masterclass in trying conditions, culminating in arguably a best on ground performance.
The hard-nosed midfielder thrived on the contest, amassing a team-high 25 disposals (18 kicks, 7 handballs), seven clearances and a goal to boot. Lamb was critical to the Bulldogs gaining the ascendancy through the middle of the ground, with the away-side ultimately winning contested possessions by 34 and clearances by seven.
Renowned for her uncompromising attack on the football, the heavy rain suited Lamb’s style of play, exemplifying why she is so adored by her teammates.
“I think if she put her head on the pillow a couple of nights ago and said ‘what sort of conditions would I like for my 50th game?’, she’d say I want it wet, sloggy and tough as nails, and that’s what she got,” Burke told media.
“Lamby just led the way. She put the team on her back, and they wanted to perform for her because they all love her.”
The 28-year-old was well supported by skipper Ellie Blackburn, who also stood up when it counted. Blackburn finished with 22 disposals and a goal in what was an influential display.
Together this formidable duo continues to cause opposition sides headaches. The pair loom as vital cogs in the Bulldogs’ pursuit of their first finals appearance since lifting the premiership cup in 2018.
Positive signs for developing Hawks
Despite the result and overhead weather conditions, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Hawthorn on Saturday afternoon.
The Hawks adopted a chip-mark style of game in the early stages, denying the Bulldogs their free-flowing handball chains. This approach was reflected in Hawthorn leading the mark count 17-2 at quarter-time, a key contributing factor to Bec Goddard’s side holding the Bulldogs scoreless.
Meanwhile, whilst a victory was out of reach, Hawthorn largely outplayed their more experienced opposition in the final term. Having dominated field position, the Hawks were just unable to capitalise on the scoreboard, a familiar tale thus far in season seven.
From an individual perspective, 17-year-old midfielder Jasmine Fleming produced a stellar performance in a losing cause. Fleming was the equal-leading possession winner on the ground, accumulating 25 disposals (19 kicks, 6 handballs), six clearances and three tackles.
In what shapes as a development year for this young Hawks outfit, there are likely to have been plenty of learnings arising out of Saturday’s encounter.
The Western Bulldogs will be looking to extend their unbeaten winning streak when they face North Melbourne next Friday afternoon, whilst Hawthorn are scheduled to clash with fellow expansion side Sydney later that evening.
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