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2023 NAB AFLW Season
Hawthorn v Essendon
Round 1 •
30 4.6
Full Time
49 7.7
Bombers Won By 19

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    Full R1 preview: Blockbuster opener, state rivalries reignited

    Gemma Bastiani previews what promises to be a massive opening round of the AFLW season

    Bri Davey (left) and Kate Hore. Picture: AFL Photos

    EIGHT months after Melbourne won its first AFLW premiership following seven seasons of hunting, it will open the season against Collingwood on Friday night. 

    The opening round of the 2023 NAB AFLW Season will also feature a host of new players, both to the competition and their clubs as Hawthorn prepares to unveil boom recruits Emily Bates and Greta Bodey, and the Swans unleash new captains Lucy McEvoy and Chloe Molloy. 

    Meanwhile, three different state rivalries will be reignited over the opening round, with Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales teams going head-to-head. 

    FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 1

    Melbourne v Collingwood at Ikon Park, 7.20pm AEST 

    The Demons and the Pies will meet for the first time in 916 days, having last played in round five, 2021 which saw the latter run away 35-point victors. Significant change has happened since, however, with Melbourne winning 27 of 31 games, including its last nine and the flag, while the Pies have won 17 of 29. In their five matches to date, the Demons have won three and Collingwood two. 

    Returning players will feature heavily in this one. Magpie pair Bri Davey and Brit Bonnici are on the comeback trail from respective ACL injuries, and Melbourne winger Eliza McNamara will return from a devastating back injury that saw her miss all of season seven. Davey, who is still dealing with some minor hamstring discomfort, may end up spending more time in attack than we have become accustomed to, but her impact will still be felt, while McNamara and Bonnici's running capacity will be a welcome addition for their respective sides. 

    Tip: Melbourne's winning streak will roll on. Melbourne by 15 points. 

    05:39

    SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 2

    Carlton v Gold Coast at Ikon Park, 1.05pm AEST 

    Carlton is the first – and only – inaugural side the Suns have beaten. The win, which took place in round nine last season, was a turning of the tide in the matchup, after Gold Coast lost its first two outings against the Blues by 60 and 30 points respectively. Star midfielder Charlie Rowbottom gathered 26 disposals and five clearances for the Suns, while former Blue Lucy McEvoy had 24 disposals. 

    Gold Coast, which will unveil exciting midfielder Alana Gee on Saturday, is coming off its most successful season to date in which it won five games and finished ninth on the ladder. From here, it must show improvement again, maintaining that positive trajectory and against a Blues side that is playing its first game under a new coach and leaning heavily on the talent of its youth, it is the perfect opportunity to start the season with a win. 

    Tip: Alana Gee will score a win on debut. Gold Coast by five points. 

    Alana Gee handballs during a Gold Coast training session on August 8, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

    Adelaide v Port Adelaide at Norwood Oval, 2.35pm ACST 

    When the two South Australian sides met in round six last season for the inaugural Showdown, the well-established Crows ran riot over little sibling Port Adelaide, led by captain Chelsea Randall. With 27 disposals, three goals, seven clearances and 380 metres gained, Randall was deservedly awarded the best-on-ground medal, 10 coaches votes and three AFLW best and fairest award votes. The 60-point win for Adelaide could have been even bigger had it kicked straighter, converting just eight goals from 23 scoring shots. 

    This year, however, looks a whole lot different. Port Adelaide has added to its newly fit forward line, with former Crow Ashleigh Saint (nee Woodland) making the jump across town during the off-season, ready to work alongside Gemma Houghton, Hannah Ewings, Justine Mules, and Erin Phillips. It will line up against a Crows defence that will be without three-time All-Australian Sarah Allan for the first time since round three 2017. Adelaide, as a result, has been forced to reshape its own attack, bringing in Yvonne Bonner and Jess Allan, the latter also to rotate through the ruck. Meanwhile, Danielle Ponter becomes even more important ahead of the footy.  

    Tip: The Crows will make it two from two, but not by nearly as much. Adelaide by 18 points. 

    03:00

    Geelong v Western Bulldogs at GMHBA Stadium, 5.05pm AEST 

    The Cats nabbed their first ever win over the Bulldogs in round six last season, narrowly getting over the line by a solitary point in the face of a fast-finishing Dogs. Each side had an impressive midfield performance, Geelong led by Nina Morrison (21 disposals, 10 tackles, eight clearances), the Western Bulldogs by Ellie Blackburn (25 disposals, eight clearances, 467 metres gained), while Chloe Scheer kicked two goals for the Cats. 

    Geelong is coming off its best season of AFLW to date, winning seven games and making finals, but this year it needs to show it can bring its neat, attacking ball movement consistently, and that starts in round one. It needs to methodically move the ball down the field and acknowledge chances to go quickly to isolate the Dogs' defence. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs developed a knack of surging to the finish line last season, winning eight of their 11 final quarters and keeping their opponents goalless in six of those. Fortunately for the Cats, they were one of the few sides to goal in a fourth term against the Dogs. 

    Tip: The Bulldogs haven't had the best pre-season run, with a large rehab group, and that will cause them to start the season slowly. Geelong by 13 points.

    Ellie Blackburn poses for a photo during the 2023 AFLW captains' day on August 21, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

    Hawthorn v Essendon at Kinetic Stadium, 7.15pm AEST 

    Hawthorn and Essendon made their AFLW debuts against one another in an emotion packed evening at Marvel Stadium in front of more than 12,000 people a year ago. That night midfield star Maddy Prespakis won 26 disposals and Bombers co-captain Bonnie Toogood kicked two goals to lead the side, which would go on to be the most successful of the four expansion teams. This time things look a little different. Essendon must head to the Hawks' home in Frankston, which is more susceptible to the elements, and take on an outfit that has added two former All-Australians in Emily Bates and Greta Bodey. 

    The Bombers will look to play a front-half game, winning the ball at the source and keeping pressure on the Hawks' defensive line. It will be congested as Hawthorn often gets caught flooding the zone where the footy lives, but Essendon must be wary of space opening up out the back and maintain a deeper defensive presence should the ball get in the hands of speedsters like Aileen Gilroy or Tahlia Fellows. 

    Tip: The new Hawks will put on a show, but the Bombers will ultimately win out. Essendon by 11 points. 

    Maddy Prespakis celebrates a goal with teammates during the R1 clash between Essendon and Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium on August 27, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

    SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 3

    North Melbourne v St Kilda at Blundstone Arena, 1.05pm AEST 

    The Roos and Saints have only faced each other once before, back in round two of 2021 which saw the former run out 26-point winners. On that day, St Kilda midfielder Georgia Patrikios had 27 disposals while North Melbourne star Jasmine Garner had an impressive eight clearances. 

    Coming into this season, the Roos have added even more firepower to their already impressive attack by way of the Saints' season seven best-and-fairest winner and leading goalkicker Kate Shierlaw. With so many weapons for St Kilda to defend, particularly aerial targets like Tahlia Randall and Emma King, its midfield needs to hold strong and not allow the Kangaroos' onball contingent to attack quickly out of stoppages. 

    Tip: North Melbourne's push for its maiden flag begins now. Kangaroos by 30 points. 

    North Melbourne celebrates a goal during its practice match against the Western Bulldogs on August 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

    Brisbane v Richmond at Brighton Homes Arena, 3.05pm AEST 

    Richmond got the shock win in round five last season when these two met, but Brisbane claimed victory when it counted most: in finals. Both sides have had some significant list changes in the off-season months, but the memories of those two season seven games will certainly still burn.

    On the fast deck of Brighton Homes Arena, the Lions will want to get the ball to their outside runners and move with speed, so it is imperative Richmond force a contested, messy game of footy. Belle Dawes looms as a game changer, with more responsibility in the midfield thanks to Emily Bates' departure and an exceptional record against the Tigers, averaging plus-7.9 disposals and plus-2.7 clearances against them compared to all other clubs. 

    Tip: Richmond will make life tough, but the Lions have too many weapons. Brisbane by 13 points. 

    Belle Dawes in action during Brisbane's qualifying final against Richmond in season seven, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

    Sydney v Greater Western Sydney at North Sydney Oval, 3.05pm AEST 

    In the very first Sydney derby, round three last season, the Giants posted their highest ever score and their largest ever win, debuting young forward Zarlie Goldsworthy in the process. Goldsworthy, alongside that day's leading ball-winner Alyce Parker, present as two of the most important players for the Swans to contain if they are to snag their maiden win.  

    GWS wants to play attacking footy, applying immense forward pressure to trap the ball in its front half. What Sydney needs to be hyper aware of is remaining calm and composed in defence rather than allowing that Giants pressure to force poor skills and ill-discipline. New recruit and co-captain Lucy McEvoy will be key to leading this considered approach behind play.  

    Tip: While the Swans will show immense improvement, the Giants will still prove too strong. GWS by 15 points. 

    Zarlie Goldsworthy celebrates a goal during Greater Western Sydney's practice match against Richmond on August 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

    Fremantle v West Coast at Fremantle Oval, 3.05pm AWST 

    Across AFLW history there have been five Western Derbies, all won by Fremantle, but the Eagles have never been closer to nabbing that first rivalry win. Last time they met in round five last season, West Coast got within three points despite impressive performances from Hayley Miller (26 disposals), Kiara Bowers (18 tackles) and Aine Tighe (two goals).  

    The Dockers will be aiming to bounce back from their first finals miss since 2018, while the Eagles are pushing toward a maiden finals berth. The latter now boasts a host of young guns including Ella Roberts, Lauren Wakfer, Courtney Rowley, and former Docker Amy Franklin. With both Roberts and Franklin in attack, alongside Kate Bartlett and Kellie Gibson, West Coast must engage its now stacked forward line by getting it into attack and keeping it there to put pressure on Fremantle's defence. 

    Tip: It's time for an upset. West Coast by one point.

    Ella Roberts is tackled by Alana Barba during the practice match between West Coast and Essendon at Mineral Resources Park on August 20, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

    Bombers prove Toogood for plucky Hawks to get off the mark

    Essendon proved too strong for Hawthorn in the season-opener in Frankston

    Bonnie Toogood celebrates a goal with Daria Bannister during the AFLW R1 match between Essendon and Hawthorn at Kinetic Stadium on September 2, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

    ESSENDON has emerged victorious by 19 points over Hawthorn as their developing rivalry produced a physical and entertaining clash at Frankston's Kinetic Stadium on Saturday night.

    The Hawks were able to break the game open in patches, but it was Essendon which came out on top, winning the ball at the source to record a 7.7 (49) to 4.6 (30) victory.  

    HAWKS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats

    The ball lived in Essendon's forward half early as it dominated around the contest off the back of Madi Prespakis and the returning Georgia Nanscawen, but a fightback from Bec Goddard's side made for a contest-heavy armwrestle. 

    Prespakis asserted her influence when they last met (26 touches and a goal) and picked up where she left off, collecting 31 disposals and laying six tackles, while Emily Bates was equally impressive in her first game for the Hawks (19 disposals, 16 tackles).

    04:58

    Playing to their strengths, the Bombers found short targets and created space, utilising the breeze of the bay end which is a scoring hotspot at the ground.

    Six players donned the long sleeve guernseys as the frost set in, but both teams were clean with the ball early, lowering their eyes and hitting targets. 

    Essendon capitalised on its inside-50 dominance through Bonnie Toogood, Jess Wuetscher and Sophie Alexander, but in a flip of the script, the Hawks got busy with immense pressure work of their own - laying 30 tackles to 11 in the second quarter. 

    00:23

    Powerhouse Tamara Luke (10 disposals, 42 hitouts) slipped seamlessly back into the No.1 ruck position for Hawthorn while Stephanie Wales also held her own, showing great signs of development on the back of a strong season seven campaign. 

    Hawthorn's pressure would have been a familiar sight for AFL coach Sam Mitchell as he watched on, with tackling seeming to be a club-wide focus - so much so that Alexander soon shifted behind the ball to steady an under-siege Essendon side. 

    00:29

    A strong contest between Kristy Stratton and Prespakis saw the latter come off second best, leaving the ground at the beginning of the third term with a rib complaint. She did, however, return shortly after in a sigh of relief for Essendon fans. 

    The Bombers regained momentum through Toogood (two goals and 23) as they broke the deadlock to dominate the second half. Bates, however, continued to impress in a Hawks outfit that showed great resilience.

    Following an electric three-quarter-time dance display, Essendon found a groove of its own, with goals to Daria Bannister and Amelia Radford handing the Bombers a game-high 27-point lead that placed the game out of reach for a resilient Hawks outfit. 

    00:30

    One to watch
    After an ACL injury which left her out of the side for the better part of season seven, Tamara Luke re-established herself as Hawthorn's No.1 ruck option. Emerging star Lucy Wales is currently sidelined with a thigh injury, but with doubt spreading pre-game on how her role would be filled, Luke stepped up to the plate, finishing behind only Bates in Hawthorn's best and recording 42 hitouts. 

    The moment
    Essendon was vocal about its ambition to improve its defensive prowess over the pre-season. Coach Natalie Wood sent Sophie Alexander behind the ball in the second term to essentially bring the brown-and-gold tidal wave to a halt, proving that their mission had been accomplished. Despite Hawthorn dominating forward territory, Alexander - combining with her namesake Sophie Van De Heuvel - brought a level of composure that provided the Dons with newfound depth. 

    Up next
    Both teams will head to battle next Sunday - Hawthorn will travel to Ballarat to face the Western Bulldogs at Mars Stadium, while Essendon will return to Windy Hill where it will meet St Kilda. 

    ALL THE HIGHLIGHTS

    HAWTHORN      1.0       3.3        3.4        4.6 (30)
    ESSENDON       2.2       3.2        5.4        7.7 (49)

    GOALS
    Hawthorn: 
    Hipwell, McDonagh, Brown, Gilroy
    Essendon: Toogood 2Alexander, Wuetschner, Clarke, Bannister, Radford

    BEST 
    Hawthorn:
     Bates, Luke, Lucas-Rodd, Smith, Fleming
    Essendon: Toogood, Prespakis, Nanscawen, Wales, Alexander

    INJURIES 
    Hawthorn: 
    Nil
    Essendon: Prespakis (ribs)

    Reports: Tamara Smith reported for a dangerous tackle on Bonnie Toogood

    Crowd: 3778 at Kinetic Stadium

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