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AFLW: Dogs' new game plan kicks into gear

AFLW wrap: Flag fancies injury hit Nat Edwards and Marc McGowan wrap up round two of the AFLW season
Isabel Huntington kicks the ball a few minutes before she suffered a season-ending knee injury - AFLW
Isabel Huntington kicks the ball a few minutes before she suffered a season-ending knee injury

DURING the build-up to the second NAB AFL Women's season, Western Bulldogs coach Paul Groves warned that his team was going to change its approach.

And after two rounds, he's been true to his word.

"Last year we over-handballed, probably to the frustration of people, but [we're] going to kick it a lot more [and] try to maintain possession," Groves said ahead of round one.  

The Bulldogs are one of three undefeated teams, with a nine-point win against the Brisbane Lions on Sunday following their 26-point thumping of Fremantle in round one. 

The Lions had not lost a home and away match prior to the weekend.

Groves has put his faith in an attacking transition game plan, with the Dogs using the ball by foot to manoeuvre quickly through opposition zones. 

From a small sample size, the numbers are striking, and a radical shift away from what the Dogs delivered in the inaugural AFLW season. 

The Bulldogs rank first for kicks (147 per game) and have the second-highest kick-to-handball ratio (2.67). They were last in both categories in 2017.

They're also averaging almost three times as many marks per game (66 compared to 24 last season) to rank first in the competition and nine per game more than the next highest (Collingwood with 57). 

Against the Dockers, the Dogs dominated uncontested possession (126-58) and marks (70-17), while recording a kick-to-handball ratio of 2.94, the highest mark of round one. 

They followed up on the weekend with similar intent, winning the uncontested ball count against the Lions and taking nearly twice as many marks (62-34).

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Groves flipped the game plan after one season because the handball-centric approach didn't work, resulting in only two wins and a bottom-four finish. 

The Dogs won their opening fixture against the Dockers last year but the loss of captain and star forward Katie Brennan after round two stunted any momentum the team had.

"We did handball games all the time [at training last year] and that's the way we played ... I probably over-coached," Groves said after the round one win.

"Every bit of info and feedback from last year [that] we've acted on seems to be ... the way the game's being played.

"The girls have done so much work on the fundamentals of footy. The confidence from the group to kick the ball [has been] really good."

With the highest disposal efficiency in the competition (64.4 per cent), the Dogs aren't shy about using their feet to find open targets, making it difficult for the opposition to halt their ball movement in transition. 

Four minutes into the second quarter on the weekend, before either team had converted, Bonnie Toogood intercepted a rebound 50 from Brisbane's Emily Bates. She pinpointed Emma Kearney with a 15-metre kick, with Kearney booting the ball deep inside 50 to the lead of Jenna Bruton.

From the boundary, Bruton's set shot fell to the top of the goal square, where No.1 draft pick Isabel Huntington took a contested mark and followed with the opening goal. 

One minute later, the Dogs wanted to move the ball with pace again. After Aisling Utri received a free kick 60 metres from goal, she turned to find Emma Kearney inside 50, with Kearney playing on and delivering to the long-reaching Huntington in the goal square. Two goals in two minutes. 

Some teams lack the confidence in their disposal to use a similar style of play, unable to execute consistently by foot and instead find it easier to gain ground, set up for a stoppage and repeat until close enough to goal.

The winless Greater Western Sydney ranks first for clearances and second for contested possessions, yet averages the second-fewest inside 50s per game (22) and rates second-worst for disposal efficiency (52.5 per cent). 

The Dogs, though, are confident with the ball.

The return of Brennan, who's taken 13 marks in the opening two rounds, has provided a focal point, while Huntington's two successive goals showed the value of quick ball movement. 

Unfortunately, Huntington ruptured her ACL in the second quarter while attempting to shepherd teammate Brooke Lochland, and will miss the remainder of the season. 

Groves believed the win against the Lions was testament to his team's buy-in to the new style of play.

"[The win] means a mountain for our girls and belief that what we're doing is the right [thing], because [the Lions] are a bloody good team," he said. 

"[We'll] try and ride this momentum."