A new coaching team, half a new squad and even a redesigned jersey are the signs of a new era at Bond University which sees them begin a season in the Bond University QAFLW as outsiders for the first time since their debut in 2018.
The Bull Sharks have ruled recent home-and-away seasons with 42 wins and two draws from 52 matches in their last four years. However, just two wins in eight finals matches, including losses in the 2019 and 2021 Grand Finals, means the silverware has never arrived at The Canal.
New head coach Andy Lovell, who played eleven seasons in the VFL and AFL and has now been coaching for 25 years, takes over a Bond playing group that was rejuvenated as quickly as it was decimated.
“We’ve had some senior girls seek opportunities with the VFLW; other girls went to other clubs or shifted through work commitments. There was probably a fifty percent turnover in the squad, so we were uncertain about how it might shape up, but we’ve had a really good pre-season. We’re a bit younger than we’ve been the last few years, but we’ve got some good talent.”
Coaches across the football codes usually lean towards one of two tactical methodologies: teaching a more structured game plan; or teaching to improvise according to how a game develops. Lovell is one who prefers the jazz approach.
“We’ve worked really hard over the summer for our players to be really adaptable position-wise; so we’ve thrown them around multiple positions to give them experience in different spots on the ground, and that builds their capacity to be able to, under pressure, make different decisions. We’re educating our players to read the situation and what’s going on around them and make the appropriate decision.”
The changes in personnel and tactical focus may be most obvious in the forward line which was overflowing with ‘pocket rockets’ in 2022 but could be outmuscled in wet or boggy conditions. Lovell is happy that this issue has been addressed in part.
“We’ve been able to recruit Paige Price. She’s a basketballer and had a really good pre-season; she gives us some genuine height. Izzy Lowe is another young, tall forward that’s just developing really well. We’re not flush with tall contested-marking forwards like a couple of the other clubs but we’re moving in the right direction to address it.”
Lowe’s arrival is a product of the relationship Bond University has built with Burleigh juniors. In 2022, this led to senior debuts for Kiara Bischa, Josie McCabe, Sienna McMullen, Lexi Samuels and Jasmine Single; in 2023, those travelling with Lowe across Lake Heron include Nyalli Milne, Evy Reeves and the highly regarded Havana Harris.
Not all the recruits, however, are new to senior football. Grace Moodie and Charlotte Taylor have come from Yeronga having previously starred for Coolangatta and Wilston Grange. In addition, Moodie’s Coolangatta connections have returned a genuine QAFLW legend to the Gold Coast: 2016 Best and Fairest, and the first woman to captain both the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns, Leah Kaslar. Lovell has recognised this opportunity to be both master and apprentice.
“Leah is just completing her Level 3 Coaching course. I’m really looking forward to working closely with her to help build her coaching knowledge and to learn off her more about women’s footy because I’ve still got heaps to learn in that space. Just to be able to pick her brain about her experiences in women’s footy is going to be really exciting for me too.”
The sheer number of changes at Bond have largely hosed down premiership expectations in 2023, but while Lovell is too canny to talk about flags in April, he uses one word repeatedly to describe his most desired quality for his team: confidence.
“The girls are confident, and I think that’s really important. All summer, we talked about building confidence through executing our style of play and also the work that we put in at training. We’re confident that we can beat anyone on any given day, but there are some very good teams out there. We’re teaching our young girls in particular that you’ve got to respect the opposition. You’ve got to prepare for their best and think, ‘okay, this is going to be a really tough battle today’”.
Nickname: Bull Sharks
Coach: Andy Lovell
Captain: Paris Lightfoot
Home Ground: Bond University Oval
QAFLW Premierships: nil
2022: Preliminary Finalists (9 wins, 2 draws, 5 losses; 81 goals scored, 59 goals conceded)
Jemma Blair (Old Scotch, Tas)
Bella Davies (Broadbeach, QFAW)
Mackenzie Farmer (Broadbeach, QFAW)
Havana Harris (Burleigh juniors)
Sarah Heptinstall (Southern Power, NSW)
Tara Hetherington (Broadbeach juniors)
Caoimhe Holly (Coolangatta, QFAW)
Leah Kaslar (Woodville-West Torrens, SA)
Nyalli Milne (Burleigh juniors)
Paige Price (Southport)
Evy Reeves (Burleigh juniors)
Ava Usher (Burleigh juniors)
Aleria Usher (Burleigh juniors)
Grace Bradley (Broadbeach, QFAW)
Laquioiya Cockatoo-Motlap (South Adelaide, SA)
Ahlani Eddy (Port Melbourne, QFAW)
Imogen Evans (Collingwood, VFLW/AFLW)
Jordann Hickey (South Adelaide, SA)
Lateesha Jeffrey (Southport)
Jess Maher (Southport)
Annie Muir (Box Hill, VFLW)
Emily Otto (retired)
Molly Ritson (Broadbeach, QFAW)
Krystal Scott (retired)
Teagan Tatlock (Geelong, VFLW)
Ellie Taylor (Broadbeach, QFAW)
Caity Thorne (Box Hill, VFLW)
THREE PLAYERS YOU SHOULD WATCH
Davidson spent her first two Bond University QAFLW seasons as a ruck who rotated forward. In 2022, she became a tall inside midfielder as well and got the hang of it very quickly. Davidson regularly gets the better of opposition rucks late in games, suggesting not only excellent stamina, but an ability to perform even when the tank is nearly empty. No second ruck was named in the 2022 Team of the Year; Davidson cannot have been far away.
Lovell says: “Jas could be anything, really. She just brings so much athleticism and ability to be able to run in space. I love her ability to impact the game with her run.”
The last three premierships won by Bond University’s women are the QFAW Division 1 title in 2017 and the Reserve Grade flags in 2019 and 2021. Paris Lightfoot played in all of them; she clearly likes winning things in odd-numbered years. Both a running halfback flanker and a steadying central halfback with an accurate kick, Lightfoot couldn’t break into the AFLW-heavy defensive line in 2021, so she did the next best thing and captained that Reserves premiership team. In 2022, she took over as first grade captain, played her 100th game for Bond, and was given Life Membership of the club. There’s only one way 2023 could be bigger.
Lovell says: “Fierce competitor. Super fit and tough, but inspirational leader by her actions.”
Sexton became the lynchpin of Bond’s inside midfield in 2022. From the moment she moved from Surfers Paradise to the Bull Sharks in 2021, she showed that she could win the ball repeatedly by arriving first or reefing it from the arms of opponents. Last year, she grew into a midfield general who could direct the play from behind the contest but without losing her taste for the scrap when needed. With some taller targets in the forwards this year, Sexton’s inside-50 entries could become very dangerous indeed.
Lovell says: “Courtney is one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever coached. She brings that contested and defensive pressure to our side that is really infectious.”
WHY YOU SHOULD GO SEE BOND UNIVERSITY PLAY:
The Bull Sharks have long sought to run opponents off their feet and use the full width of the field. Sit in either grandstand at Bond University Oval and you’ll see plenty of close-up action as they stretch opposition defensive structures and run through the holes. However, Bond Uni’s key to success in 2023 might be that their more improvisational approach uncovers new ways of beating a defence. If the young side becomes fluent in attacking with an expanded range, it’s just possible that the chant of “Yellow and Blue” is heard on the last Sunday in August.