04/03/2024

The Gold Coast Suns proved too strong for expansion side Port Adelaide. (Photo: @aflwomens Twitter)

Led by its midfield brigade, it was the Gold Coast Suns who prevailed in a fiery encounter at Bond University, defeating a gallant Port Adelaide outfit by 14 points.

Central to Gold Coast’s fortunes was its engine room in the middle of the ground. Facing a Port Adelaide midfield which prides itself on its contested football, the Suns were able to gain the ascendancy, winning contested possessions by 21 and clearances by 10. 

This midfield dominance allowed the home-side to generate repeat inside 50 entries, ultimately overwhelming an under-siege Power defence. 

Charlie Rowbottom was once again the star of the show, accumulating a game-high 27 disposals and eight clearances. She was ably supported by Claudia Whitfort (17 disposals), Alison Drennan (16 disposals, 10 tackles) and Ellie Hampson (14 disposals, one goal). 

Speaking to the media post-game, Gold Coast coach Cameron Joyce was full of praise for Rowbottom post-game, whilst also recognising the efforts of the midfield as a collective. 

“I talk often about her competitiveness, but also just her want to be really good and be the best,” Joyce said.

“I think she’s getting the benefit of having some real synergy and continuity in there [the midfield], with Lauren Bella in the ruck, Claudia Whitfort, Alison Drennan and Ellie Hampson as well.”

“That group for us we think is a group that’s really going to take us forward.”

With strong winds favouring one end of the ground, the Suns best capitalised on their opportunities, overcoming a goalless opening term to break the game apart in the second and third quarters. 

Heading into three-quarter-time with a 33-point lead, Gold Coast appeared all but certain to secure back-to-back victories for the first time in season seven. However, instances of ill-discipline combined with some inspired efforts from Port Adelaide kept the away-side within touching distance. 

Nevertheless, an equal career-best three goal haul from skipper Tara Bohanna proved enough to see the Suns record their third victory for the season.

Joyce commended his side’s ability to withstand Port Adelaide’s barnstorming finish. 

“I thought our girls for three quarters in particular were outstanding. We sort of set the game up to three-quarter-time. They obviously kicked three of four in the last quarter to get reasonably close, [but] Tara [Bohanna] was able to help us steady that,” Joyce told media.

“It was really pleasing against an expansion team that’s got a fair bit of experience about them.”

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A vital cog in the Gold Coast midfield thus far in season seven has been Claudia Whitfort. Averaging 14.8 disposals and 4.2 tackles across the first five rounds, the 23-year-old has elevated her game to new heights. 

Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum post-game, Whitfort echoed her coach’s sentiments in regard to the cohesion amongst the midfield group.

“I think as a whole midfield we’ve just been working super hard, not only just at training but in the off-season and on extra days outside of training,” Whitfort told The Inner Sanctum.

“I think it’s a real group effort. It’s not just me or Charlie or Ellie, we’re working really well together, so that’s been a huge part of it.”

Reflecting on her own individual game, Whitfort has relished spending increased minutes on-ball this season, yet still enjoys utilising her speed on the outside. 

“Definitely more inside this year. I like getting in and under but then I’m also quite quick, so I do like getting it on the outside. Having that balance and being a more rounded player has been really great for me this season.”

A victory over Port Adelaide has propelled the Suns to ninth spot on the ladder, leaving them outside the top 8 only by percentage. A mouth-watering clash with seventh-placed Richmond now awaits next Saturday night. 

Whitfort says that there is plenty of belief within the playing group.

“There’s such big confidence going in halfway through the season being 3-2.”

“But we’ve got some big games to come. Richmond will be a big task next week so we’ve just got to look ahead and play it game-by-game, and then hopefully finals will come out of that.”

On the flipside, Port Adelaide left Bond University empty-handed, unable to clinch back-to-back wins.

Having lost the inside 50 count by seven, the Power were on the back foot for the majority of the day. A flurry of four goals in the final term proved to come too late, with six Gold Coast majors either side of half-time doing the damage. 

Port Adelaide coach Lauren Arnell lamented her team’s inability to produce a consistent brand of football across the entirety of the match. 

“[It’s] definitely disappointing. As you saw in that last quarter, we’re certainly capable of winning games like that. Unfortunately [we] just didn’t play four quarters of footy,” Arnell told the media post-game.

“We knew that if we won stoppage, we would more than likely win the game, and we got beaten in stoppage and we got beaten by about 20 in contested possession which has been a strength of ours, so fair to say we’re disappointed.”

Despite the result, several members of Port Adelaide’s backline stepped up under significant pressure. Youngster Alex Ballard amassed 16 disposals and a game-high 10 marks, repelling countless Gold Coast attacks. 

Meanwhile, Ange Foley and Indy Tahau each recorded 16 disposals and a goal, helping the Power mount a valiant comeback. 

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum post-game, Port Adelaide forward Jade Halfpenny was pleased with the team’s willingness to never give in. 

“I think we can be really proud of our fight till the end. We never gave up and that really shows our Port Adelaide brand of footy that we’re playing,” Halfpenny told The Inner Sanctum.

On a personal note, Halfpenny is loving the opportunity to play AFLW since earning her debut in Round 3. This has included sharing a forward-line with captain Erin Phillips. 

“I’m really enjoying it; I’m having a lot of fun. It’s obviously a step-up from playing SANFLW but I’m loving it.”

“Erin’s such a knowledgeable person and player. She directs the play really well, communicates really well on-field, so I’m able to learn a lot from her pointing me in the right direction.”

Port Adelaide’s attention now turns towards its first ever showdown clash with the Adelaide Crows. In what looms a hotly contested encounter, Halfpenny and the Power will be looking to bounce back from their defeat at the hands of the Suns. 

“I’m really keen. I think it’s going to be a really good night. Obviously, it’s a historical moment for AFLW being the first ever showdown.”

“We’re preparing well and we’re really looking forward to playing the Crows.”

Port Adelaide’s clash with Adelaide will take place next Friday night at Adelaide Oval. Meanwhile, the Gold Coast Suns will travel to the Swinburne Centre for a clash with the in-form Richmond on Saturday night.

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