NORTH Melbourne has emerged as the team to beat in this year's AFLW season, extending its unbeaten start to the campaign with an emphatic 31-point victory over reigning premiers the Western Bulldogs in Launceston on Friday night.
A second-quarter blitz set up the victory for the Kangaroos, who cruised home to hand the Bulldogs their first defeat for the year in a 8.5 (53) to 3.4 (22) win.
A dream debut for Courteney Munn helped inspire the victory, as the forward kicked four clever goals, while captain Emma Kearney starred against her former side with 17 disposals.
Munn's impact early was pivotal, with the youngster helping to ease the tension of a rather cagey match with a couple of important moments throughout the first half.
It took until the fourth minute of the second term before she kicked the first goal of the game, before adding a second to her tally from a strong mark just moments later.
It kickstarted a run of five unanswered goals in the quarter for the Kangaroos, blowing the Bulldogs away to open up a significant 30-point lead at the main change.
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The Bulldogs started the second half with far more intent, eventually kicking their first goal of the night through Ash Utri more than four minutes into the third quarter.
But while they kept North Melbourne scoreless for the term, the damage had been done.
Two more late goals from Munn, including one dribbled home from the boundary, put the icing on the cake as the Kangaroos' dream start to their maiden AFLW season continued.
It was over when…
It might have taken until the fourth minute of the second quarter for the game's first goal to be kicked, but it started a run where North Melbourne opened up an unassailable lead. Five Kangaroos goals in just 12 minutes virtually ended the match as a contest before half-time.
Even the AFLW diehards might not have known who Courteney Munn was prior to Friday night's clash. They certainly do now. With four goals on her debut, the North Melbourne youngster ensured she's one to watch going forward. Munn kicked two goals in the second term, before adding another two late to prove she can become a valuable asset in a star-studded Kangaroos side as they chase a premiership in their maiden season.
North Melbourne might have had the game on its terms, but the Western Bulldogs were making a brave comeback in the third quarter when Belinda Smith was running into an open goal to reduce the margin further. Enter Brittany Gibson. Her chasedown tackle was superb, saving a certain goal and helping to seal North Melbourne's victory.
The first sign of North Melbourne's premiership intent came when it signed the reigning AFLW best and fairest Emma Kearney from the reigning premiers. And she produced another telling display against her former side on Friday night. Kearney finished with 17 disposals and five tackles, even dishing out some friendly and cheeky 'advice' for her former teammates as the Kangaroos surged clear late in the game.
"We talked about the style of (football) the Bulldogs like to play, getting numbers to the ball … similar to last week, we're very comfortable with teams doing that to us. We think we can own the outside, because our game is based around trying to move the ball and score. I thought once that happened, the players knew exactly what to do." - North Melbourne coach Scott Gowans
"It probably was a six- or seven-minute period that they got on top. That was really an avalanche of goals that we couldn't stop where they put our defenders under pressure with good entries. We're bitterly disappointed, but we're certainly not shattered." - Western Bulldogs coach Paul Groves
North Melbourne heads to Victoria for the first time this season to take on Melbourne on Sunday afternoon, while the Western Bulldogs will look to rebound when they host Brisbane in the primetime slot on Saturday night.
NORTH MELBOURNE 0.2 5.3 5.3 8.5 (53)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.1 0.3 1.4 3.4 (22)
North Melbourne: Munn 4, Duffin, Ashmore, Garner, Hope
Western Bulldogs: Utri, Brennan, Mackie
North Melbourne: Munn, Bruton, Kearney, Ashmore, Gillespie-Jones, Stanton
Western Bulldogs: Conti, Lamb, Brennan, Blackburn
North Melbourne: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Umpires: Burns, Rebeschini, Heffernan
Official crowd: 3123 at the University of Tasmania Stadium