05/03/2024

Tahlia Randall's aerial prowess was key to breaking down Collingwood's staunch defence. (Photo: AFL)

Collingwood had never had six goals kicked against it in the first half of an AFLW game. That was until Saturday afternoon, when North Melbourne created new history.

After a tense first quarter, the Roos came flying out of the gates in the second. They kicked five goals against a Magpies defence that had barely given up a handful of goals across multiple games prior.

It was a far cry from the two teams the competition had come to know previously. The Kangaroos had always struggled to get scores on the board, relying on their midfield and backline to keep contests tight.

They’ve now scored over 50 points three times in season seven. This week’s showing was far and away the most impressive.

Led by Jasmine Garner (five inside 50s, four clearances), Mia King (six clearances), Jenna Bruton (five inside 50s, two clearances) and Vikki Wall (four clearances), their high-scoring playstyle has proved even too much for the stingiest defence in the league.

With a perfect balance between creating scoring opportunities out of clearance and locking the ball inside 50, the Kangaroos fired on all cylinders.

“I just spoke to the players about the belief they should really gain in our style of football that we’re playing at the moment,” coach Darren Crocker said post-game.

“We had 42 forward half tackles post-clearance, which is enormous in regards to where we want to be in that space.

“I thought it was a collective [effort]. The mids being able to get forward to outnumber at stoppage, the forwards being able to bring the ball to ground and give us another opportunity to get after them.

“That’s the best footy I think we’ve played since at least I’ve been in the program. We’ve seen what a damaging team we can be when we bring our identity.”

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Collingwood has not been a high clearance team in season seven, instead relying on the defence setting up after repeat stoppages to kill scoring opportunities before they can happen.

But the second quarter showed how teams can get around this game-plan, if they are brave enough.

North Melbourne trusted in its experienced midfielders to clear the ball as far and as quickly as they could out of stoppage, particularly out of centre bounce.

It helps when one of those players is Garner, who averages the second-most metres gained in the league. She is one of few players capable of penetrating deep inside 50 straight out of the initial contest.

This style of play was strikingly similar to how Collingwood itself used 2021 league best and fairest Bri Davey across that season. Garner, just like Davey, is also top five in the AFLW for score involvements.

Everything worked exactly to plan. It certainly helped that Tahlia Randall was taking every ball that floated in her direction.

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While the Pies boast a brilliant backline aerially, they don’t have a true athletic key defender that can go up with a player like Randall.

Lauren Butler and Sophie Casey don’t have the height for the match-up, while Stacey Livingstone was caught out with the quick ball movement that the Roos entered their forward line with.

Livingstone is a brilliant reader of the ball, and often relies on her strength to outbody her opponent. But if a player gets a run and jump at the footy, she can be exposed.

The other stage of North Melbourne’s forward-thinking game-plan was based around pressure. Wall, along with Amy Smith (nine tackles) and Tess Craven (four tackles) were locking the ball in the forward line when the talls weren’t taking marks directly from clearance.

It’s certainly the right time for the club to be hitting its best form.

The Kangaroos will close out their season against the Tigers, in a match would could decide anything between who hosts an elimination final, and who breaks into the top four.

“We spoke about that a few weeks ago, that our destiny is really in our own hands,” Crocker said.

“The Tiges next week, they’re going really well. They’re a team that plays a pretty strong system, they’ve got some pretty talented players.

“I just want our players to come away from this game knowing that it doesn’t matter what the opposition throws at us. If we can play our brand of football, and play to our identity, that we’re a bloody hard team to beat.”

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