KATIE Brennan and Ellie Blackburn have spearheaded the Western Bulldogs to a comprehensive 26-point victory over Fremantle at Whitten Oval on Sunday, underlining their side's NAB AFLW premiership credentials in the process.
Despite finishing sixth in last year's inaugural AFLW season, many pundits had tipped the Bulldogs to challenge for this year's flag based on the quality of the team's top-end talent and the return of Brennan, who managed just two matches last year due to a quad injury.
Brennan's dominant display – she booted three goals all in the first half – and Blackburn's ball-winning ability (23 disposals and one goal) emphasised the legitimacy of those predictions.
The Bulldogs' defence also held strong, not allowing the Dockers to hit the scoreboard until just over three minutes into the third term, running out 7.7 (49) to 3.5 (23) winners.
Fremantle kicked all three of its goals in the third quarter, which included two to Amy Lavell, to cut the margin to just 15 points at three-quarter time.
But the Bulldogs steadied in the final quarter and sent an ominous warning to the competition that they will be one of the teams to beat in this year's AFLW season.
Brennan's absence from all but two games last season, due to a quad injury, robbed the Bulldogs of a go-to player in the forward line and they suffered because of it. However, the star of the new NAB advertisement, alongside Daisy Pearce and Darcy Vescio, sent an ominous warning to the rest of the competition on Sunday. Her goals – a set-shot from 40m out, another set-shot from tight on the boundary and a spinning pirouette and snap – emphasised what the Bulldogs lacked last season.
One to watch
Bulldogs forward Isabel Huntington was selected with pick No.1 in last year's NAB AFLW Draft and there were a few things she did on Sunday to suggest that she will live up to that mantle. Starting up forward alongside Brennan, Huntington finished the game with six disposals and four marks. Her agility in traffic was noticeable, as was her courage with a number of them coming with pressure bearing down on her.
Huntington (right) and Brennan will form a dangerous partnership. Picture: AFL Photos
Work in progress
Fremantle's forward line did not manage to kick a goal until three minutes into the third term and it appeared to lack cohesion. The Dockers took just three marks inside 50 for the match and a lack of a distinct target inside forward 50, with both Kiara Bowers (knee) and Kellie Gibson (hip) sidelined. Dockers coach Michelle Cowan said she would not be afraid to make changes with a number of players putting their hands up for selection.
A knee injury to forward Daria Bannister was the one sour point on a sweet afternoon for the Bulldogs at Whitten Oval. The Tasmanian was stretchered off the field in the last quarter and taken into the rooms. Bannister was in a knee brace after the game and scans this week will determine the severity of her injury.
"Every bit of feedback and information we've acted on seems to be the way the game's been played. The girls have done so much work on the basic fundamentals of footy." – Western Bulldogs coach Paul Groves
"It was really disappointing with the slow start that we did have, but none of the girls never dropped their heads at any stage which was fantastic and they certainly fought back which was good." – Fremantle coach Michelle Cowan
The Dockers will be looking to bounce back against Collingwood in next Saturday's showpiece AFLW game at Optus Stadium in front of an expected crowd in excess of 40,000. The Bulldogs travel to Brisbane to play against the Lions at South Pine Sports Complex next Sunday.
Bonnie Toogood celebrates her last-quarter goal. Picture: AFL Photos
WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.2 5.4 5.6 7.7 (49)
FREMANTLE 0.0 0.0 3.3 3.5 (23)
Western Bulldogs: Brennan 3, Blackburn, Lochland, Toogood, O'Connor
Fremantle: Lavell 2, Sharp
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Brennan, Kearney, Lochland, Lamb, Utri
Fremantle: Donnellan, Hooker, Lavell, Miller
Western Bulldogs: Callinan (back), Bannister (knee)
Fremantle: Antonio (head knock)
Umpires: Guy, Young, Burns
Official crowd: 8,500 at Whitten Oval