19/05/2024

Collingwood AFLW players celebrate their Round 1 victory. (Photo: AFL)

Adapting to a new look gameplan without their star midfielders, Collingwood made new facets of its squad its strength in its Thursday night season opening victory.

The Pies had been a contested ball heavy side in previous season – winning the ball from the coalface and relying on score launches from captain Bri Davey. When things went the other way, the strong defensive structure held up like a brick wall.

But against Carlton, players young and old stepped up in a gameplan where they broke even out of the middle, but utilised running, spread, and locking the ball inside 50 to navigate to victory.

The Pies absolutely blitzed inside 50s 38-17, keeping the Blues defenders accountable and constantly forcing turnovers through the hands of Eloise Chaston, Tarni Brown, and Eliza James.

James was the standout, with a monstrous 10 tackles, four more than her previous career-best.

Spreading and launching from half back through Ruby Schleicher, Jordyn Allen and Lauren Butler was equally important. The three combined for 14 marks.

“It was something we reviewed a bit last year, we felt that we turning the ball over a bit in our back half,” coach Steve Symonds told reporters post-game.

“We’ve made a real conscious effort in the pre-season to focus on trapping it in the front half a bit more. Tonight, we were able to do that.

“We would have liked a bit more score on the board to get a bit more out of that… but the effort showed up, which was great.

“Eliza’s coming along really, really well. Her workrate’s great, and it’s coming along into her games. She’s still learning what she do… but we’re expecting great growth out of her.”

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Coach Daniel Harford bemoaned his players’ response to the Collingwood pressure, generating just four shots at goal across the entire match. This included six inside 50s in the whole first half.

“In the end, their pressure was probably the difference in the game,” he said.

“They were able to surge and get the space they wanted on the open side a fair few times. We couldn’t shut it down because we were stuck at the contest.

“I think that summed up my view of the last three quarters, really.”

Both sides came into the match with a very different looking midfield group to how they lined up last season, due to injuries and losses to other clubs.

Carlton primarily relied on Mimi Hill – who copped a corky in her quad pre-game – Abbie McKay, Jess Dal Pos and Maddy Guerin as their primary ball winners.

Collingwood, meanwhile, had Jaimee Lambert, Schleicher, Chloe Molloy, debutant Imogen Evans and Brown rotating on ball.

“I thought our method was a bit off,” Harford said of the Blues’ group.

“We got really close, we got really tight. The ball was turned over, they were able to get advantage with territory, and we weren’t able to do that because we were so stuck in.”

Symonds spoke on the move of his star defender and forward into the contest.

“We make no bones – you’ve got two of the best midfielders in the competition out of your team,” he said.

“We made a bit more depth, we had a number of players go through there tonight. Rubes and Molloy were in there at times, but we also put them in different areas of the ground.

“Your Tarni Browns and Evans’ types had a bit of a run through as well. One of strengths has got to be having to depth in there.

“[Evans] has a crack doesn’t she? She’s really adjusted to our club really well, and trained really well.”

Fairytale return

Part of the rejuvenated attacking group was forgotten forward Jordan Membrey, who was playing her first game in over 500 days.

She tore her ACL early in the 2021 season, and missed the entirety of season six because of it.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum post-game, she described the feeling of being back out on the ground and getting a win.

“Honestly, it was so good,” Membrey said.

“It’s been a long time and I’ve worked so hard, so it was so nice to be out there and play the game that we love.”

She didn’t have to wait long to complete the fairytale, kicking a goal after 10 minutes in the first quarter.

Watching the players get around her meant the world.

“That’s what I love about this team, we’ve got such a family vibe,” Membrey said.

“To have the support of them the whole through my rehab was unreal. To be able to show that on the field was awesome.

“[The rehab] was long, had a few mishaps, and had to have a second operation. There were a few niggles here and there, and COVID hit, so that was quite mentally draining.

“I was super grateful for the support of the Pies, and MFP, which is my exercise physio. They were so good with the process coming back, and making sure I was consistent.”

Rotating across the forward line and midfields, Membrey shares a special connection with debutant Imogen Evans.

Also a Queenslander, the two played together in the QAFLW before Evans was drafted.

“Honestly, she is an absolute beast, and she was unleashed tonight, which was awesome,” Membrey said.

“It’s really awesome to see some Queensland talent get down there and play like that. As an 18-year-old, her coming through the contest, her body and strength, she’s been awesome coming through the contest.

“Love seeing her come through and kicking to us forwards.”

Collingwood will look to keep the wins coming at Victoria Park after a 10-day break, while Carlton next faces expansion team Essendon at North Port Oval.

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