Sophie Locke was the VFLW’s leading goalkicker after four rounds.
The former Murray Bushranger had kicked nine goals to lead the tally by a long shot. What made it even more impressive, was that Locke earned her stripes as a hard-tackling lockdown defender in the NAB League.
It only took her eight minutes in a domineering round two win over Carlton to kick her first of three goals. Locke would also register five tackles and three marks, quietly beginning to make a name for herself.
By round four, she was unstoppable.
She was kicking them from the tightest angles in the smallest of forward pockets, gathering on the crumb, and mystifying every opponent she was matched up on.
It wouldn’t be a defender that would stop Locke in her tracks, instead being hampered by a finger injury.
“Because I did it in the third quarter against Geelong and then played on in the rest of the game [I thought nothing of it],” Locke told The Inner Sanctum.
“When they [the club doctors] said ‘you’re going to need about five weeks of recovery for your finger,’ I was like… it’s just a pinky, it should be fine!
“The club took it very seriously, and I’m very grateful that they have my health in my best interest, and making sure that they’re taking the precautions for it.
“Every game I was so urgent to get back onto the field. I was like, if I can’t play, I’ve still got to be there for each game.”
Locke-d on the sidelines
The following round five clash against Essendon was one that both teams were geared up for.
Port Melbourne was coming in undefeated, while Essendon had chalked up a three game winning streak after losing to the Southern Saints in round one.
Locke was missing her first of four games, standing on the sidelines with a splint firmly strapped to her hand.
Within earshot, the commentators unanimously tipped Essendon, referencing Locke’s absence as a primary factor.
“That game [against Essendon], everyone could hear the commentary,” Locke said.
“They were saying this before the game, and all the Port girls heard it. I thought it was a bit sad that they thought I was the only one that could kick goals for them, because we have such a talented forward line.
“I think it’s probably the hardest thing for Lachie [Harris] to select on the field is our forward line, because he’s got so many smart forwards on our list.
“That game, I think nearly all the forwards had a contribution. Kate Adams kicked a goal, Em Harley kicked a goal, Cleo [Saxon-Jones], we had a massive range of goalkickers that game.
“It just proves that even if one person is missing, there’s all these other girls that will be there to step up and cover that hole I guess. I didn’t think I was that massive of a hole for the side!
“[The players] came and said ‘they shouldn’t really be saying that.’ So I said, ‘yeah, go and prove them wrong,’ and they did, so that was amazing.”
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Locke’s time off the park was made a lot easier by the form of her teammates.
Port Melbourne would win three of its next four games, entrenching itself in the top two alongside Collingwood. Sabrina Frederick was the forward stand-out, kicking seven goals in Locke’s absence.
Ultimately though, it was a whole team effort, with 10 individual goalkickers combining for 23 goals over the next month.
“The girls, they didn’t lose the winning streak when I was away,” Locke laughed.
“I’ll keep coming back if these girls keep coming back. It definitely made me more determined to work harder when I get back onto the field.”
A pre-finals blunder
In its first season, the Port Melbourne VFLW team are playing finals.
The Borough will play the Southern Saints in a third vs sixth clash this weekend, though they cost themselves a precious second chance with a loss on Sunday.
Geelong had lost its game to Collingwood, leaving the second position well and truly up for grabs.
“I think [it was a wasted opportunity], but I think it’s also another learning curve that sometimes you’ve got to experience,” Locke said.
“We know it means we’ve got a lot to work on. Coming into finals, we also need to bounce back and prepare ourselves.
“It was a bit disappointing, we should have come away with the win from that opportunity, but now we’ve just to work that extra step hard before coming into an elimination instead of an qualifying final.
“We’ve all got to have our head in the game and work all game right to the end [this weekend]. It could be our last game instead of the assurance that you’re going to have a game next week.”
Locke, however, enjoyed her best game in the red and blue since her return.
She kicked two team-lifting goals as the momentum swung back and forth, had 13 disposals and laid five tackles.
“I was more happy with my game because I did some of the roles that the coaches have given me,” Locke said.
“[I’m] working on bringing the girls into the game, and I think I did that better in this game. It was nice to get back on the scoreboard.
“I’m now playing with a playing splint in my hand, it’s getting used to playing with that on because it’s a big thing on your hand. [I’m] getting used to having that on every game, because you’ve got to take precautions and try and play your role as much as you can.
“I was happy with the game, but then again there’s more things I could have worked on as well.”
Port Melbourne will play the Southern Saints in the first weekend of finals. Dates, times and venues are yet to be confirmed by AFL Victoria.
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