NORTH Melbourne opened its AFLW account in fine style with a dominant 36-point win over Carlton at North Hobart Oval on Sunday afternoon.
Led superbly by midfield duo Ashleigh Riddell and Emma Kearney, the Kangaroos jumped to a 24-point lead during an impressive three-goal second quarter burst and were rarely troubled after the long break, cruising to a 7.10 (52) to 2.4 (16) victory at their southern home.
Much of the talk ahead of North Melbourne’s debut in the AFLW revolved around their high-profile recruits and it was the likes of former Magpies Emma King (two goals and seven tackles), Moana Hope (one goal) and Jessica Duffin (18 disposals and seven marks) who led the way in the first half.
North Melbourne coach Scott Gowans said he had entered the game with full faith in his playing group despite external debate as to how quickly the band of experienced stars and AFLW debutants would click on the field.
"It’s funny, you do get protective of your group and I heard a lot of people saying, ‘Are they going to jell?’ and I just knew they would," he said.
"In girls footy it’s that sense of belonging we always speak about and I knew they had that, but I wasn’t quite sure how they’d cope from a skills perspective under pressure. They did all right (but) there’s a lot of growth areas for us which is terrific.
"It’s a tight competition and it’s not just a matter of just jelling, it’s a matter of playing good footy for seven weeks."
For Carlton, Tayla Harris provided a lively target in the forward half but the Blues struggled to capitalise on forward entries, a stat they won 29-26, as the Kangaroos rebounded time and again and were able to control the game with superior foot skills and spread from the contest.
Following the defeat, Blues coach Daniel Harford was in no doubt as to the quality of opposition his side had encountered to launch their 2019 season.
"They’re pretty good. I think we’ve seen the benchmark pretty quickly in the competition," he said.
"The girls didn’t get to show what they’re capable of because the opposition was too good."
North’s first AFLW goal came courtesy of the impressive King who kicked truly from the right forward pocket in front of North Hobart Oval’s iconic Horrie Gorringe stand midway through the opening term.
Reigning AFLW best and fairest Kearney was forced to work her way into the contest having been kept very quiet by the close-marking Jess Edwards during a tight opening term, but ran the game out well to finish with an equal game-high 18 disposals and five tackles.
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King’s memorable moment
Having kicked just the one goal during her two seasons at Collingwood, North Melbourne recruit Emma King etched her name in the record books as the first Kangaroo to boot a major in the AFLW. Her first-quarter goal came courtesy of a free kick in the opening term but she followed up with a strong mark in the goalsquare to boot her second after half-time and finished with a game-high seven tackles in an impressive all-round performance.
Battle of the bulls
Carlton coach Daniel Harford sent first-gamer Jess Edwards to tag North Melbourne skipper and marquee recruit Emma Kearney at the opening bounce, dubbing it a ‘battle of the bulls’ post-match. Edwards kept Kearney to a solitary disposal in the first term and snapped a goal of her own to win the opening round, but Kearney was good enough to work her way into the game and share the honours with Edwards on the day.
The locals loved it
Just a touch under 5000 spectators turned out to see the first AFLW game in Tasmania and were rewarded by seeing the home side run away to a comfortable victory. The moment plenty had waited to see, however, came late in the final term when Brittany Gibson, a product of the Burnie Dockers before playing 16 games at Brisbane during the past two seasons, nailed a goal on the run and celebrated in style as teammates flocked around her.
The biggest difference
While the Blues were able to come away with three more forward entries than North Melbourne, they just couldn’t control the game the same way the Kangaroos did, something best evidenced in the marking discrepancy. At the final siren, North Melbourne had racked up 56 marks opposed to Carlton’s 23, their superior kicking and hard running to space proving too much for the Blues to match.
"Everything we’ve done from the way we’ve trained to how we have structured the gameplan, style of footy, the learnings, it’s all built to play in that week nine of the competition. You always try to head for excellence and if you fall just short at least you’re going to be pretty good."
- North Melbourne coach Scott Gowans
"They just lost their way a bit, the girls. Once they got the scoreboard against them a little bit and the opportunities inside our forward half disappeared they lost their confidence, lost their nerve a little bit."
- Carlton coach Daniel Harford
North Melbourne hit the road to take on Greater Western Sydney at Drummoyne Oval on Friday evening while the Blues host the Crows at Ikon Park on Sunday afternoon.
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.4 4.8 6.9 7.10 (52)
CARLTON 1.2 1.2 2.2 2.4 (16)
North Melbourne: King 2, Garner, Hope, Drennan, Riddell, Gibson
Carlton: Edwards, Davey
North Melbourne: Riddell, King, Garner, Kearney, Duffin
Carlton: Harris, Edwards, Prespakis
North Melbourne: Nil
Umpires: Annand, Heffernan, Rebeschini
Estimated crowd: 4896 at North Hobart Oval