By Daniel Viles
For the second consecutive year, University of Queensland begins a defence of the Bond University QAFLW Premiership with a new-look team and a licence to surprise.
Retirements and transfers see 23 players who represented the Red Lionesses in 2022 not wearing the maroon and light blue in 2023. This may have been a worry for coach Ross Clayfield had UQ not just won a premiership without 20 players from its previous premiership squad.
“I was cautiously optimistic twelve months ago and that’s probably how I feel right now. The Round 1 game at Brighton Homes Arena, for us, it’s super exciting that things that have happened in the past have earned us an opportunity to play on the big stage and open the season in a really significant game of footy,” Clayfield said.
Returning in 2023 for the premiers are wingers Madi Crowley-Long and Meagan Cook, midfielders Ava Seton and Lauren Middleton, defenders Jessi Henning, Charlotte Andrews and Jasmine Dekker, and forward Kadie Fletcher.
Clayfield is particularly ebullient about a suite of players returning from injury: 2021 Grand Final heroes Mia Teubler (ruck) and Jane Childes (wing), plus teenage forward Brooke Sheridan and midfielder Lara Mason.
“Teubler’s pre-season form has been incredible, and it’ll be really good to have her back. Childes is looking stronger than she was when she sadly went down; we’re hopeful of a Round 3 return for her,” he said.
“Sheridan’s rehab has gone really well. She’s going to play footy that’s beyond where she was twelve months ago and we’d like to think that will be draftable footy.
“Lara [Mason] just plays footy in that uncompromising way. She might be the one who gets a few jobs on a few people this year and give us a little bit of structure around the contest.”
Rather than chase established stars, the Red Lionesses have looked to the future by recruiting no fewer than ten current Lions Academy players. These were largely sourced from junior clubs with whom UQ has developed partnerships, especially the Taringa-based Wests Juniors AFC.
“I’m really proud of the connection we’ve made with Wests Juniors, who are such a well-run club and have been so active in the female space over the last decade, producing some great juniors. I think that Wests know that we’re not just out to grab players either. We are genuine about building that relationship and giving girls opportunities,” he said.
In the immediate term, it may be those juniors from slightly further afield who have the earliest opportunity to shine in the state league.
“We’re really excited about a couple of our Morningside girls, another great program. Laura Roy and Lucy McCormick are tough and hard and play the game the way it should be played. From Wilston Grange juniors, Ash Moyle is explosive and exciting as is Erin Gilbert. They’ve had a bit of a taste of the UQ program as our work experience kids and we’ve been waiting for the day when they can come and play some senior footy,” Clayfield said.
UQ’s desire to put together a strong playing group has been accompanied by a desire to learn from the player departures of the past two years and improve the club off the field.
“Whilst the results have been amazing the last two years, I’d be lying if I said I was completely happy with all the things that have happened off the field. So that’s been our focus. I’d like to think we’ve made some pretty big strides in terms of securing revenue streams, sponsorship, off-field support, more volunteers, which will help create a proven batch of young players who by the end of the year will hopefully be well-known. I’m really confident there are going to be another eight or ten players who step up this year,” Clayfield said.
Nickname: Red Lionesses
Coach: Ross Clayfield
Captain: Madi Crowley-Long
Home Ground: Base Architecture Meadows (formerly St Lucia No. 2)
QAFLW Premierships: 2021; 2022
2022: Premiers (12 wins, 1 draw, 3 losses; 102 goals scored, 46 goals conceded)
Georgia Beling (Sherwood, QFAW)
Rieley Bloor (Jindalee, QFAW)
Ali Dinte (Gladstone)
Jacinta Fisher (athletics, Baylor University, Texas)
Erin Gilbert (Wilston Grange juniors)
Secilia Kailea (Jindalee, QFAW)
Harriet Knijff (Victoria Point juniors)
Samantha Logovik (Sherwood, QFAW)
Lucy McCormick (Morningside juniors)
Ashleigh Moyle (Wilston Grange juniors)
Bonita Norman (Mt Gravatt, QFAW)
Abbie Pearson (Kedron, QFAW)
Ayla Plowman (Sherwood, QFAW)
Grace Pyke (North Shore, QFAW)
Ella Reddaway (Noosa juniors)
Laura Roy (Morningside juniors)
Eva Sartor (Wests Juniors)
Jaimie Bryant (Aspley)
Katie Day (Carlton, VFLW)
Ella Desrettes (Aspley)
Laura Ernst (retired)
Naomi Fitzpatrick (Maroochydore)
Silvana Goldbach-Eggert (Aspley)
Issy Hartog (Port Melbourne, VFLW)
Megan Hunt (Southport)
Zimra Hussain (Wilston Grange)
Marnie McGorm (retired)
Tarryn Meyer (Aspley)
Maria Moloney (Central Districts, SA)
Steph O’Brien (Southport)
Jacqui Russell (retired)
Jess Stallard (Aspley)
Kristen Tyquin (Carlton, VFLW)
Louise Tyson (Aspley)
THREE PLAYERS YOU SHOULD WATCH
Into her thirties but possibly still the quickest player in the Bond University QAFLW, Madi Crowley-Long returned to the state league in 2021 and hasn’t missed the Team of the Year since. Crowley-Long is usually named on the wing but can turn back the clock to her inside midfielder days with Zillmere in the 2010s and run the engine room if needed. Her toughness and character were exemplified during the Grand Final by her ferocious bump on Southport’s Hannah Davies immediately followed by helping to lift her from the mud.
Clayfield says: “Two years ago, we saw Madi kick quite a few goals. This year, we’re working on getting her to finish her work off a little bit more.”
The forW Team of the Year in 2017, but it was in 2021 thmer Dalby Swan first made the Bond University QAFLat she established herself as the premier fullback in the league. Henning’s ability to read the play accurately and clean up everything that clears the halfback line has seen her dubbed “The Janitor” by the QAFLW commentators. Her goal-saving tackle on Darcie Davies in the first quarter of the Grand Final was merely one example of her ability to not just perform under pressure, but to ignore pressure completely.
Clayfield says: “Anyone who’s seen any of Jessi’s finals footy over the past couple of seasons has walked away thinking, ‘she’s pretty special’.”
Midfielders who can win a tough ball and then dispose it with elite skill don’t come along every day, and Seton began to turn heads as soon as she debuted for UQ in 2021 while still playing for Wests Juniors. The departures of Hartog, Hunt and O’Brien will increase the responsibility on Seton in 2023, but may also fast-track her development as a midfield creator and leader. Any additional motivation gained from being both drafted and delisted by Brisbane since last year’s Grand Final may not be a bad thing either.
Clayfield says: “Ava’s going to be one of those ‘week-in, week-out’ players who gets her head over the ball, gets heaps of it, kicks goals when she needs to; her tackle and contested possession numbers will be through the roof.”
WHY YOU SHOULD GO SEE UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND PLAY:
One of the quickest teams in the Bond University QAFLW just got faster. The turnover of players means UQ’s forward line is now shorter, which will affect their contested marking ability in the front half, but the trade-off is speed. Not only will this help the Red Lionesses maintain the kind of forward 50 pressure that served both them and, at AFLW level, the Brisbane Lions so well in 2022, but this group may be even better at producing the slingshot counter-attack, so effective on the shorter field at St Lucia, than their celebrated predecessors.