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VFLW: Season Review

History in the making The Southern Saints made history on Saturday as they kicked off their inaugural season.

St Kilda’s journey towards fielding a team in the AFLW competition in 2020 took a significant leap this year, with the club’s new VFLW side, the Southern Saints, competing in its inaugural season.

From exciting wins to heartbreaking losses and many lessons learnt in between, the girls rode a rollercoaster of a season that highlighted a bright future ahead for the club’s women’s program.

Finishing the season with five wins, the young Saints showed there was plenty to like for a side that boasted only one current AFLW player (with Brisbane recruit Lauren Arnell joining after Round 5).

The team finished 8th out of a possible 13 teams, and plenty of Saints made a name for themselves in the state league.

Impressively, 44 players debuted for the red, white and black across the season, with seven players featuring in all 14 matches.

Tara Bohanna finished equal third in the competition’s overall goalkicking tally with 15 majors, Rhiannon Watt established herself as one of the league’s premier rucks, while Ali Drennan became one of the best contested-ball winners in the league.


Rhiannon Watt established herself as one of the league’s premier rucks

Youngsters Eleanor Brown and Georgia Ricardo showed off the great potential of the talent coming through junior pathways, while the ever-reliable Leah Olsen, Kayla Ripari and Ali Brown contributed week in, week out.

In what was one of the toughest moments of the season, Saints skipper Georgia Walker announced her retirement from football ahead of Round 15, the 19-year-old forced to hang up the boots with ongoing concussion issues.

READ: Walker calls time

Under head coach Peta Searle and supported by assistant coaches Stacey Bourke, Dale Robinson and St Kilda Hall of Fame legend Nathan Burke, history was made on Saturday 5 May when Walker led her side onto SkyBus Stadium for their first official match against Carlton in Round 1.

Saints forward Courteney Munn would also write herself into the history books with the club’s first recorded goal, though the Saints were made to wait before they could sing the team song after the Blues ran out 22-point winners.

That moment came a week later, with the Saints recording their historic first win over Williamstown in dominant fashion.

Ali Drennan stamped her name on the competition with a best-on-ground 35 disposals in the Saints’ 30-point win over the Seagulls, while Danielle Lawrence dominated down forward with four goals.

The Saints backed it up for a second week when they returned home to host the Casey Demons in Round 3.

And while it seemed the Saints were on the verge of defeat after heading into the final quarter two goals down, the girls rallied to produce a stunning comeback, upsetting the Demons by eight points.

Rhiannon Watt was superb in the ruck with 40 hit-outs, while Drennan again starred with 22 disposals and 12 tackles.


Ali Drennan was a dominant force for the Saints this year

A week later, the Saints produced a comfortable 36-point win over Essendon in Round 4 to start the season 3-1.

READ: Southern Saints down Bombers

18-year-old TAC Cup recruit Eleanor Brown showed her huge potential in her first ever VFLW match, collecting 25 disposals, seven tackles and a goal on debut for the Saints.

Round 6 saw the girls return to SkyBus Stadium to take arguably their biggest scalp of the season, outplaying the then-undefeated NT Thunder.

Clinging onto a one-point advantage at the last break, the Saints charged home with three final-quarter goals to win by 20 points.

Saints forward Tara Bohanna was the star with three goals, while Meg MacDonald led the Saints’ defence with 13 disposals and five marks.

But a tough month of football followed for the Saints.

After losses to Casey and Geelong on the road, the Saints suffered two close losses to Melbourne Uni and Hawthorn, and their next win was proving elusive.

The breakthrough came the following week in Round 13, when the Saints, underdogs against the in-form Western Bulldogs, played their best team football to end the Dogs’ six-game winning streak with a 31-point victory.

 

Bohanna finished with another three-goal haul, Watt dominated once again in the ruck, and Kayla Ripari’s ferocious attack on the football endeared her to teammates and supporters alike.

Another close loss to fifth-placed Darebin showed the Saints were not too far off the mark, but a 38-point loss to Collingwood in wet weather the following week gave the Saints plenty to think and work on.

READ: Drennan drives Southern Saints

And with the Saints hoping for one last win in the final game of the season, the Saints again fell agonisingly short in their match-up with Richmond.

The Southern Saints made huge strides in their first year together and were one of the most promising new sides in the VFLW competition.

With another season to build both form and consistency in the VFLW next year, the Saints look set to burst onto the AFLW scene in 2020.