MELBOURNE snatched a thrilling win against an unlucky Greater Western Sydney with a late goal in a gripping NAB AFL Women's duel at Casey Fields on Saturday.
With three minutes left on the clock, Demons forward Richelle 'Rocky' Cranston burst through a pack of players to boot her third second-half goal to seal the six-point victory, 7.3 (45) to 6.3 (39).
The lead swapped three times and scores were level late in the final quarter as tired players threw themselves into the contest in a bid to start the season with a team-lifting triumph.
Full match details and stats
Both teams were gallant - Melbourne did it without key onballer Karen Paxman after she suffered a back injury midway through the opening quarter and the Giants, who finished bottom of the table last season, so nearly pulled off a huge upset against one of the premiership favourites.
Paxman had four touches in the opening minute and already had gathered eight possessions when she was helped from the field by club medical staff after a heavy clash on the wing.
Melbourne coach Mick Stinear said after the game Paxman had back spasms that prevented her from playing any further part in the match.
With the Demons missing such a critical playmaker, to no one's surprise it was skipper Daisy Pearce who rose to the occasion to lift her teammates over the line.
By her lofty standards Pearce's six possessions in the first half were modest, but she excelled with 13 touches after half-time, including a couple of crucial marks during the hectic final term.
"She just competes all day and she's so critical with her leadership onfield," Stinear said.
"The last quarter epitomised what we want to be about as a team, the way she started that last quarter with real intent and she inspired the rest of the girls to do what they did."
New coach Alan McConnell has the Giants playing a more attacking, direct style and last season's wooden spooners won't be any pushover this time.
The Giants always looked dangerous on the burst, with their long kicking putting pressure on Melbourne's defence, held together by the reliable Meg Downie.
A three-goal haul by Phoebe McWilliams for the Giants was particularly galling for the home team - she played for the Demons in the exhibition matches in 2016 and didn't miss a game for GWS in the inaugural AFLW season.
The Giants led by 10 points after McWilliams' second goal from a holding free kick early in the second quarter and she regained the lead with a goal on the run just before three-quarter time after Melbourne had built a nine-point buffer.
McWilliams' third goal 11 minutes into the last quarter deadlocked the scores again before Cranston used her strength and skills to edge the Demons ahead with the crucial last goal of an absorbing contest.
ON THE RISE
Standing an imposing 194 cms, no one can miss new Melbourne ruck Erin Hoare, but the tallest player in the competition also caught the eye for her skills and ruck craft in an impressive debut game.
Hoare had 20 hit-outs and most of them found a teammate to set them free from a stoppage.
"We had six debutantes today. That was great competition for Erin in the ruck today," Melbourne coach Mick Stinear said.
ONE TO WATCH
Ireland has a new cult figure in the AFL Women's competition with Giants forward Cora Staunton.
A film crew is already out here to record the code-hopping exploits of the Gaelic ace from Mayo.
The 36-year-old, who's an amazing 11-time All-Ireland selection, kicked a crucial goal to fuel the Giants' first-half challenge against the home team.
"I think she got lost a couple of times on running patterns, but it's not surprising when you're trying to learn the game in eight weeks," coach Alan McConnell said.
"She hasn't had a full pre-season, she missed the first two weeks because her team went all the way through to an All-Ireland final.
"But we're so glad we have her. She brings something to the team. When you have a list that has 14 new players on it, you need a level of maturity to bring them together and they play as a team and I'm really proud of them."
GOT THE JOB DONE
Fitter and stronger is the key note of most players in the second AFLW competition, and it certainly applies to Melbourne's power forward Richelle 'Rocky' Cranston.
She shed so much weight over the off-season that she needed nearly a new wardrobe of clothes and she has certainly hit the new season full of running.
Cranston capped off the sterling work of teammates with two last-quarter goals, the first on the run to regain the lead and then the snapshot under pressure to earn the vital premiership points.
"Thankfully, we practised last week some win-the-game and save-the-game strategies and we had a midfielder short. The players did really well under pressure and I'm so proud of the way they finished off the game." Melbourne coach Mick Stinear.
"It was a good contest, but across the board they (Demons) were probably five percent better in a range of areas. They won the contested ball and generated some fast, flow-on football a bit better than us," GWS Giants coach Alan McConnell.
Melbourne hosts reigning premier Adelaide in another twilight fixture at Casey Fields in Cranbourne next Saturday while GWS will welcome Carlton to Sydney's Drummoyne Oval for a night clash next Friday night.
MELBOURNE 1.2 1.3 4.3 7.3 (45)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 2.0 3.0 5.2 6.3 (39)
Melbourne: Cranston 3, Scott 2, Cunningham, Hore
GWS Giants: McWilliams 3, Barclay 2, Staunton
Melbourne: D.Pearce, O'Dea, Downie, Cranston, Scott, Mithen
GWS Giants: McWilliams, Farrugia, Barclay, Staunton
Melbourne: Paxman (back)
GWS Giants: TBC
Umpires: Gibson, Johansen, Curtis
Official crowd: 5100 at Casey Fields