By Ant Wingard
It was a draw, but boy was it good
The first QClash was a draw. It’s a rather anticlimactic ending to one of the games of the season thus far, but if anything, it is indicative of the football landscape for females in the state. Queensland has long been heralded as possessing one of the best talent pools of women’s footballers in the country and we certainly saw that at Metricon Stadium. From Kalinda Howarth’s talents inside 50 to the dominance of Kate Lutkins in defence for the Lions, you’d genuinely struggle to find a Queenslander that didn’t play their part. While neither side, nor the fans, would have wanted neither song to be played over the PA, the result seemed somewhat fitting. In the lead up to the game, both coaches were coy about talking up the rivalry but after the siren sounded and no one had won outright bragging rights for the year, it was abundantly evident no one could bare to wait 12 months to find out again.
A rivalry is building
Daniel Merrett gave a candid assessment following the draw and muttered a statement that will be replayed in the days following and will undoubtedly be rerun whenever these two teams face off again. “I reckon it’s got more rivalry than the men’s,” he said. “I think it’s because the girls know each other. It’s just how footy is in Queensland. You know each other so well and obviously half the team played for us last year. I think from a rivalry stakes, the girls win for sure.” And without taking anything away from the growing rivalry in the men’s space, but Merrett was right. The copious links between the two teams as well as their roots in the Queensland state league have painted the perfect backdrop for a thrilling catalogue of bouts in the years to come and a draw in the first ever meeting is sure to add something extra when they meet again.
Grider causes havoc
It was evident early in the opening term that Brisbane were ahead, and that was before Reanne Lugg provided the evidence on the scoreboard. Their early stronghold on the game came in large via the clearance work of their midfielders to win the ball out of centre and then drive it forward, but it was sustained by the consistency of their defence and the talents of one of their smartest footballers to do so. Nat Grider, whether by coach instruction or not, rolled off her opponent to create the mismatch when the Lions defenders and SUNS forward had pushed up field. In doing so, she created several two on ones in helping Kate Lutkins minimise Leah Kaslar and Cathy Svarc on Ellie Hampson. The moved worked, with Grider and co often winning the ball back and sending it back toward their forwards. Craig Starcevich earmarked Grider’s defensive move over the summer and her masterclass against Gold Coast was the clearest indication yet of her proficiency back there.
Kalinda Howarth’s moment on the AFLW stage
Howarth first entered the AFLW scene with pick 31 in the 2017 draft to Brisbane following a dominant season for Coolangatta Tweed in the QAFLW whereby she kicked the winning goal in the Grand Final. Howarth never featured for the Lions, despite her obvious mercurial talents, and was delisted before signing with Gold Coast ahead of their maiden campaign. Undoubtably the biggest x-factor on either team, Howarth hadn’t hit the scoreboard in the SUNS’ opening two games but her long road to pay dirt came in the second term to essentially keep the SUNS in the game. Howarth earned a free kick inside 50 to kick her first ever AFLW goal and then added another shortly after with a classy snap from more than 30 metres out. Howarth’s development both on and off the field has been impressive and steady and Saturday’s performance was indicative of why she belongs at AFLW level. In the fourth, she was again the SUNS’ focal point inside 50 and would go on to kick the goal which sealed the draw. “She’s the Stevie J of women’s footy,” David Lake said after the game.
The SUNS defence is legit
In some ways, it’s quite impressive that Gold Coast were able to grind out a draw. Obviously, the side had risen in the last quarter and came home with a wet sail but the early and middle portions of the game were dominated by the Lions yet that was not reflected on the scoreboard. A lot of that was thanks to the efforts of the SUNS’ defenders who were exceptional in curbing the Lions’ attacking movements. Jade Pregelj blanketed rising star nominee Jesse Wardlaw while Lauren Ahrens was superb on Dakota Davidson and provided plenty of run and carry from defence. Ahrens had 13 disposals and four marks while Pregelj had nine disposals and Jordan Hickey had 13.