By Daniel Viles
Southport will begin its second season in the Bond University QAFLW with a playing group enhanced by star recruits and the unique motivation that can only come from losing a Grand Final.
Despite the defeat in extra time, Southport’s debut season can only be described as a success, finishing the year with the competition’s best attacking record and claiming a Reserve Grade premiership.
The relative stability of the Sharks during the most chaotic off-season in QAFLW history has seen several coaches and commentators install them as premiership favourites. However, new coach Peter Doherty, who served as an assistant to Ryan Davis in 2022, isn’t having a bar of it.
“That’s certainly not our perspective stepping in thinking that we’re favourites. We’re stepping into this competition under no illusions that it’s going to be difficult to secure a finals berth, and then once we complete that mission, we can think about the next steps.”
Away from Fankhauser Reserve, the chatter about Southport intensified when news broke that they had been joined by two players who broke their hearts in the 2022 decider: Bond University QAFLW MVP and Grand Final Best on Ground, Steph O’Brien; and the player previously regarded as the heart and soul of St Lucia, Megan Hunt. They were closely followed by silky left-footer Jess Maher signing from cross-town rivals, Bond University.
This was in addition to the Sharks retaining high-quality players like captain Jess Malouf, Zielke Medallist Selina Priest, ruck Lilly Pearce, the elite midfield combination of Poppy Boltz, Georgia Breward and Maddy Watt, and every player in Queensland surnamed “Davies”.
While Hunt’s season has been heartbreakingly ended by an ACL injury during the Northern Territory Grand Final in March, ‘Doc’ Doherty is particularly effusive about O’Brien’s arrival.
“It’s a great privilege to have a player of Steph’s calibre want to join us. We thought she was the difference in the Grand Final last year and we’re really excited about adding her skills, her leadership, her contested ball-winning ability. Steph’s really set for another big year.”
The style of the players arriving at Southport means that their signature quick ball movement and stretching of the opposition defence will continue to be seen under Doherty.
“We’re going to build on what we’ve done previously. We think we can move the ball with a little bit of speed, we think we’ll be really competitive at stoppages and, with our backline, I think we can create enough turnovers. The challenge always is creating scoring opportunities and making them count, and that’ll be a constant focus throughout the year.”
Indeed, the forward line will need reorganisation following the losses of Britt Perry and Bree McFarlane interstate. Doherty remains confident that the talent to join Hannah Davies and Darcie Davies up front is already at the club.
“Faith Alchin has a bit of X-factor that’s going to help us create some opportunities forward. Tayla Gregory played a little bit of senior football last year; she’s presented in our practice matches as someone who gives us a key target to try and kick to. We’ll look to utilise her and her work rate.”
The only downside of Southport’s success is that they will see very little of Brisbane Lions recruits Jade Pregelj and Poppy Boltz, and possibly none of GWS draftees Annise Bradfield and Caitlin Miller.
Coach: Peter Doherty
Captain: Jess Malouf
Home Ground: Fankhauser Reserve
QAFLW Premierships: nil
2022: Grand Finalists (11 wins, 1 draw, 5 losses; 117 goals scored, 51 goals conceded)
Faith Alchin (Coolangatta, QFAW)
Kialla-Skye Bailey (Southport juniors)
Maddy Baldwin (St Mary’s Salesian, Vic)
Lillian Behan (Bond University)
Emma Clifton (Nightcliff, NT)
Georja Davies (Southport juniors)
Maddie Gault (Broadbeach, QFAW)
Megan Hunt (University of Queensland)
Matisse Hunter (PINT, NT)
Sarah Ingram (PINT, NT)
Lateesha Jeffrey (Bond University)
Jess Maher (Bond University)
Ruby Mitchell (Ulverstone, Tas)
Steph O’Brien (University of Queensland)
Jade Pregelj (Gold Coast Suns, AFLW)
Carly Remmos (Geelong, VFLW/AFLW)
Kayla Stavreski (Laverton, Vic)
Lillian Street (Eastern Devils, Vic)
Annise Bradfield (GWS, AFLW)
Ashlee Flick (retired)
Haze-Lee Leefe Martin
Bree McFarlane (Western Bulldogs, VFLW)
Caitlin Miller (GWS, AFLW)
Britt Perry (North Adelaide, SA)
Akayla Peterson (Box Hill, VFLW)
Paige Price (Bond University)
Brooke Randall (North Melbourne, VFLW)
Emmii-Lee Zanker Close
THREE PLAYERS YOU SHOULD WATCH
If you want to beat Southport, you have to get the ball. The problem is usually that Georgia Breward gets it first. This could be because she read the play and got into position earliest, or because she was strong enough to wrestle back possession, or because she was more prepared than everyone else to put her body on the line. However she does it, Breward wins a lot of the football and gets it away cleanly before her opponents realise she had it in the first place.
Doherty says: “We love Georgia’s contested work and she’s got excellent skills exiting from stoppages. Quiet achiever who just gets the job done.”
Jess Malouf’s skills as a leader and organiser are at such a high level that it’s easy to overlook how well she plays the actual game. Thirteen years in the state leagues of Queensland and Victoria and Malouf is still as physically strong and ferocious in the contest as ever, only now she’s better able to protect her body and often negate the need for a contest through skilful gathering and disposing of the ball. Malouf will one day win a QAFLW Premiership as a coach. Someone had to say it.
Doherty says: “Jess has had a strong pre-season; good, strong body work on the field. Great leader. She cares about her team; she cares about her players.”
The most played video on the QAFL/W social media pages over the off-season was Maddy Watt’s Tackle of the Year in which she took down Coorparoo’s Jo Miller like a cheetah hunting a zebra. What was overlooked is that this kind of tackle is almost a weekly occurrence for Watt. No-one else in the competition tackles with her combination of technique and power. Add to that her mastery of disputed ball situations and you have the prototype of a coach’s dream player.
Doherty says: “She’s amazing. Maddy’s contested work and ability to win one-on-ones never ceases to amaze us.”
WHY YOU SHOULD GO SEE SOUTHPORT PLAY:
No team in the Bond University QAFLW provides as many options for a teammate with the ball as Southport does. Consequently, not only are their counter-attacks breathtaking, but they create scoring opportunities even when the opposition has stacked its defence. While impressive to watch from the comfort of a grandstand, take the opportunity to get closer to the boundary so you can hear how Selina Priest and Jess Malouf direct the play in front of them. It will be like peeking behind the curtain at a magic show.