TWO FOURTH-QUARTER goals from inspirational skipper Ellie Blackburn has seen the Western Bulldogs knock off Carlton by six points.
Blues Maddy Prespakis, Georgia Gee and Tayla Harris all blew opportunities in front of goal in the fourth term, with the Dogs holding strong in the face of a few nervy moments in the 6.6 (42) to 5.6 (36) win.
BULLDOGS v BLUES Full match coverage and stats
It leaves the early premiership fancies in Carlton at zero wins and two losses, a far from ideal start after qualifying for a preliminary final in last year's cancelled season.
Blackburn's (22 disposals, five marks) first effort was a roost from just inside the centre square, while she capitalised on a loose ball inside the goalsquare only four minutes later to take the lead.
With the hint of a rainbow peeking through the heavy cloud over VU Whitten Oval, recruit Elise O'Dea got the Blues off to a perfect start in the first game of the AFLW's inaugural Pride Round.
But the Bulldogs dominated play from that point, locking the ball inside 50 with some ferocious tackling and a disciplined defensive structure. The sticking point for the Dogs was their conversion, managing just three points in the first.
Kirsten McLeod's spray from the goalsquare the most egregious miss, but she made up for it just 22 seconds into the third term with a stunning running goal from the boundary. Her early rustiness could be excused, with coach Nathan Burke revealing post-match it was her first match since suffering a concussion a month ago.
Harris (2.2) did her best to get the Blues out to a winning lead in the third, while Prespakis (24 and six tackles) shone around the stoppages.
New face Mimi Hill (17 touches), in her second game, was a shining light on the wing, looking busy and assured at the top level after the Blues selected her with a first-round pick.
The Blues tried to address the Bulldogs' frenetic forward pressure by attempting to run the ball out of defence by hand in the second quarter – rather than panicked kicks to the Dogs' defence – but struggled with composure and holding their forward structure.
Izzy Huntington was involved in an intriguing battle with fellow young gun Charlotte Wilson, and after missing her first tough shot on the quarter-time siren, broke the Dogs' duck in the second, greeted with much delight (and red and blue fireworks) by the raucous home crowd.
Dogs midfielder Bailey Hunt's night was done in the first few minutes with a left calf injury, leading Brooke Lochland to spend the majority of the game on the wing.
Welcome to the AFLW, Jess Fitzgerald
In a hard-running passage of play that would have made coaches around the country beam, the No.2 draft pick Jess Fitzgerald kicked her first goal in style. She started the passage of play in the middle of the ground, kicking long to about 20m out, and continued sprinting to cause an intercept when the Blues tried to rebound. The star junior then had the composure to convert on the run, booting the Dogs' second.
It's the Moody twins' favourite match of the year. Breann, ruck for Carlton, and Celine, the Dogs' version, faced off for the first centre bounce of the match. Celine got early bragging rights with the first hitout and then eventually, the win. With both teams playing second rucks in Al Downie and Kim Rennie, Breann recorded 13 hitouts, 13 disposals and four marks, while Celine finished with 12 hitouts and three disposals.
Carlton was missing six first-choice players from last year's strong squad: Lucy McEvoy (cheekbone), Mua Laloifi (concussion), Gab Pound (hand), Brooke Walker (foot), Chloe Dalton (Olympics) and Sarah Hosking (now at Richmond). McEvoy, Laloifi and Pound are looking likely to return next week, adding composure and run to the backline, and in the case of McEvoy, a bigger body around the stoppages.
"Just a gutsy win. I said to them at three-quarter time, trust that you've done the work over pre-season to run this game out, and keep that pressure on. It's do or die, there's no easy way to play this game, you can't take it easy, you have to push and put your body on the line, and we did it." - Western Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke
"Unfortunately, we went through this 0-2 thing a few years ago, and we rebounded really strongly and made the Grand Final. We've proven we're capable of rebounding, but what we saw tonight was awful. We were awful tonight, and not to take anything from the Doggies, it was nothing like what we are as a team." - Carlton coach Daniel Harford
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.3 2.4 3.6 6.6 (42)
CARLTON 1.0 3.3 5.4 5.6 (36)
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn 2, McLeod 2, Huntington, Fitzgerald
Carlton: Harris 2, O'Dea, Loynes, Gee
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Fitzgerald, Lamb, Newton, McLeod
Carlton: Prespakis, Gee, Hill, Harris, Hosking
Western Bulldogs: Hunt (left calf)
Crowd: 3479 at VU Whitten Oval
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