A THIRD-TERM masterclass from Melbourne has seen the reigning premier sail away to a 42-point win over Collingwood at Ikon Park to open the 2023 NAB AFLW season.
The Demons had started the night unfurling the premiership flag with retired skipper Daisy Pearce watching on, but it was the Pies who got the first proper break, leading by 14 points halfway through the second quarter before the Dees made their charge.
Collingwood skipper Bri Davey made a sparkling return to football after rupturing her ACL in January last year, picking up 11 disposals and three clearances in the first quarter alone, but she needed more help as the Demons pulled clear to win 10.13 (73) to 4.7 (31).
Her clearance work and drive into attack – coupled with the hard running of fellow ACL returnee Brit Bonnici – gave fresh life to a Pies side which made a semi-final last year.
The Dees had the best defence in the competition last year, but the Pies were able to catch them with a shaky structure on a few occasions in the first quarter, creating plenty of space for Tarni Brown, who took an excellent mark with the flight and ran on to convert.
DEMONS v MAGPIES Full match coverage and stats
Eden Zanker cut the margin to just one point in the opening minute of the second half with a high floating snap over her head, and she kicked 2.3 for the night.
Zanker's first was quickly followed by arguably the best passage of play for the night, the Dees' sharp overlap run coming to the fore for Shelley Heath's first to take back the lead.
The Pies were without two star defenders in Ruby Schleicher and Lauren Butler (both foot injuries), and their absence was exposed in the third term as the Dees put the foot to the pedal, piling on 5.4 as the longer quarters in 2023 kicked in properly for the first time.
After shaking off some rust, Melbourne's stingy defence held Collingwood to just three behinds for the second half.
Collingwood sharpshooter Eliza James played one quarter before a foot injury ended her night early, while Ash Brazill copped a whack across the nose in the last.
Dazzling Davey stars on return
The Pies had three players coming back from a torn ACL – Davey, Bonnici and recruit Grace Campbell – and it was the captain Davey who was simply superb. Melbourne's midfield is talented, but Tyla Hanks, Liv Purcell and Lily Mithen are on the shorter side, and Davey used her power to her advantage. She finished with 35 disposals, 11 clearances and a goal for the match and surely the three best and fairest votes from the umpire.
Fresh Pies forward line
After significant change over the off-season – including losing the likes of Chloe Molloy, Jaimee Lambert and Steph Chiocci to other teams – Collingwood rejigged its attack for 2023. Ex-Dog Nell Morris-Dalton was a strong presence at centre-half forward in the first half, with the versatile Ash Brazill staying close to goal. Draftee Eleri Morris was a constant target (but would have liked her marks to have been 5m closer to goal) while former small defender Alana Porter created plenty of pressure inside 50.
Melbourne has its first road trip for the season, travelling to Canberra to face Greater Western Sydney. Round two will see Collingwood host its first game for 2023, coming against Fremantle at Victoria Park.
MELBOURNE 1.4 2.7 7.11 10.13 (73)
COLLINGWOOD 2.0 4.3 4.4 4.7 (31)
Melbourne: Bannan 3, Heath 2, Zanker 2, Campbell, Hore, Harris
Collingwood: Cann, Brown, Morris-Dalton, Davey
Melbourne: Hanks, Mithen, Bannan, Purcell, Zanker, Heath, Hore
Collingwood: Davey, Bonnici, Rowe, Cann, Morris-Dalton, Brazill
Collingwood: James (foot), Brazill (nose)
Crowd: 8,412 at Ikon Park