After being challenged early, the North Melbourne Kangaroos turned things around at half-time to beat the Port Adelaide Power by 25 points.
It was a game of two halves for North Melbourne, and its coach Darren Crocker praised the “maturity” of his team to make the changes necessary to turn the game in their favour.
“I think it’s a sense of real maturity, that we’re able to reset at half-time,” Crocker reflected post-match.
“They had 20 inside 50s to half-time, where against what I consider one of the best teams in the competition, Brisbane, last week, we kept them to only 23 inside 50s for a whole game.
“So, we were leaking badly early in the first half, but after half-time we absolutely corrected that.”
Port Adelaide’s coach Lauren Arnell was proud of her side’s opening half, but sees areas to build on as they continue to search for rewards of the premiership point kind.
“I think North Melbourne, very good side, and I think their brand of footy is actually quite similar to ours.
“We were able to really take it up to them for a half of footy, I am proud of that.
“And I think we just continue to learn.
“North Melbourne are a really good side, and they’ve obviously had a number of years longer than us together, and we were able to show what we’re capable of for the bigger chunk of the game today.”
The Power came to play in the opening quarter at Alberton Oval after a couple of disappointing showings, matching one of the form teams in the competition and taking a five point lead at the break.
While the Kangaroos kicked the first of the afternoon, a running goal from Alice O’Loughlin, it was a bomb from outside 50 off the boot of Ange Foley that got the Power players and home crowd, up and about.
Tahlia Randall hit back for the Kangaroos, showing off her aerial dominance and then slotting her first after a couple of inaccurate weeks.
Continuing Port’s exciting term, Gemma Houghton, back for Port after six weeks out of action post syndesmosis surgery, kicked a goal in the opening term. Her presence in the forward line has been sorely missed, though, as Arnell touched on post-match, there’s still continuity troubles when a player returns after missing five weeks.
“Something we need to continue to work on is how we’re more efficient inside 50. I think we generated 28 inside 50s, I just had a quick look, I think they were 35, so seven less inside 50s for a hell of a lot less shots at goal, we’ve got to get better at it.
“It is a really big part of connection; I’ve been talking about connection for a long time, and that on-field connection is still a piece that, unfortunately, at times, you can’t rush.
“Gemma (Houghton) comes back into the side and offers a bit more spark forward, but there’s still continuity in that - she hasn’t been in that forward line in five weeks - and so finding that ability to gel and a bit of continuity has been a challenge for us.”
In one of Port’s best transition plays of the day, an almost certain shot on goal for North Melbourne became a Justine Mules bouncing goal off the back of Ebony O’Dea, Abbey Dowrick and Erin Phillips’ efforts up the wing.
The biggest challenge for the Power became Jasmine Garner, who was, after 10 disposals in the opening quarter, found alone inside 50 in the opening minutes of the second quarter. She took the lead back for the Kangaroos with a set shot directly in front.
It became a little easier for the Kangaroos on transition, as they were able to get players out on the far wing, who could take the football inside 50. Ruck Emma King showed even the tallest players on the field can side step their opponent and added another major for the Kangaroos.
Late in the half, the Power reduced the margin back to three points, with 18-year-old debutant Lily Johnson lining up for her first shot and first goal.
The West Adelaide SANFLW talent was piled on in an amusing celebration of the student’s contribution.
For the increase in pressure and seemingly taking control of the match, the Kangaroos had little to show for it at the main break.
However, that all changed in the third term.
In good news for the Kangaroos, Vikki Wall started on the field in the second half, after going down in the second quarter grabbing at her neck and spending some time on the bench later in the term.
The run of Emma Kearney was on full display through the middle, after coach Darren Crocker put her on the ball to try and get first use of it.
“It’s obviously really handy having an Emma Kearney that you can just take from half-back and put her around the football,” Crocker said.
It wasn’t foreign for Kearney or the midfield, given they’ve been doing it in small doses in the last month, but Crocker’s experienced midfield certainly gave them the best chance at getting first hands on the football.
“To be able to have that luxury as a coach to be able to get Emma King into the ruck, Emma Kearney around the football with a Jaz Garner, an Ash Riddell, and still have a Jenna Bruton go out to the wing, it’s a nice luxury to have.”
After helping push the ball forward, Sophie Abbatangelo followed up with a goal, gaining breathing room back for the Kangaroos. While Wall gave the goals a couple of cracks, she could only find minor scores in a stalemate of a third term, with just the one Kangaroo’s major and a series of behinds.
The Kangaroo’s forward pressure upped again in the fourth, and it put the Power’s defence in the thick of it regularly.
It’s a very young defensive unit, with a couple of teenagers in their first season, but acts like Litonya Cockatoo-Motlap’s chase down and Ebony O’Dea’s hands getting in everything, continue to inspire this group to grow week-on-week.
O’Dea was especially prolific, sweeping across the back line against North Melbourne, throwing her body at everything, and laying tackles in the forward 50 to hold the ball in.
Speaking to the group’s continued efforts in challenging conditions, Arnell credited assistant coach, and past Port Adelaide player, Hamish Hartlett.
“Hamish Hartlett’s done a great job as assistant coach in our back line, and it is a really young core group of players, and led by Ebony O’Dea - she’s that Port Adelaide cult hero.
“She’s everything that all of the traditional and older Port Adelaide supporters want to see when they turn up to Alberton, so really proud of Ebs and her fellow defenders in how they’ve been able to execute in, at times, a pretty challenging season.”
While the Power defence tried everything, the Kangaroo’s repeat entries were eventually rewarded.
Another shot on goal for O’Loughlin saw her record a second, from the top of the goal square, an important 17 point advantage for the Kangaroos.
Garner added another one, before a rushed behind on the siren ended a 25 point win for the Kangaroos.
The win was a special occasion for number 35 Bruton, who celebrated 50 AFLW games.
Darren Crocker spoke post-match about Bruton, a quiet, but hard-working teammate.
“On Thursday night, I spoke about Jenna to the group, and from my experience and the seasons I’ve coached AFLW, just goes about her business.
“One of those players that everyone admires, because she’s pretty quiet by nature, but just gets it done.
“Trains with great intensity, probably sets the example with her actions and what she does, rather than with what she says, and all the girls just love playing with her.”
Next up, North Melbourne meets Collingwood next Saturday at Victoria Park, 1:10pm AEDT. While Port Adelaide travels to RSEA Park to meet St Kilda on Sunday, at 1:10pm AEDT.