By Kyle Champion
Last year the 2019 NAB AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships berthed a new team called the Central Allies. This team was created to combine the greatest up and coming talent from the Northern Territory and South Australia.
In its inaugural season of 2018, eight girls from the Territory were selected for the squad while the rest was comprised of South Australians.
For the 2019 Championships, eight more Territorians were chosen; Shoneeka Abbott, Mattea Breed, Dominique Carbone, Bella Clarke, Tayla Hart-Aluni, Alysha Healy, Shantel Miskin-Ripia and Stephanie Williams.
Carbone, Clarke, Healy, and Williams were the first crop of NT talent chosen for the Central Allies in 2018. They were chosen once more in 2019 to showcase their talent for Central.
Game 1: Central Allies vs Eastern Allies
Much like the Central Allies, the Eastern Allies combines its list with the best talent from NSW and Tasmania. When the two competed last year, Eastern Allies were the victors but this time the tables had turned and Central Allies came home winners.
It was Tayla Hart-Aluni who managed to draw first blood. She had made a meal of the ball early, but a free-kick gave her the chance to kick Central's first goal of the day which went wayward. Hart-Aluni followed up her good work by out marking a defender twice her size to set up Central's next goal.
Stephanie Williams was also impressive early, her clearance work and run and carry was a real asset to the team.
In the second term, Alysha Healy started getting busy off the half-back flank. She took a punt, sneaking up forward halfway through the term, and it paid off as she kicked the Central Allies' third goal of the day.
The Eastern Allies were on the back foot and Abbott was solid in defence. Shoneeka Abbott won the MVP for Northern Territory a few weeks ago during the Central Allies selections and it showed on the day.
In the third quarter, the game was in the balance but a defensive tap by Healy set up another goal for Central.
Eastern came back hard in the final term but Central managed to withstand the assault and walk away with a four-point victory.
AFLNT Manager of Talent and Pathways, Wally Gallio was stoked with the Central Allies' first win after they toughed out a hard game.
"It's the first time we've had a win for the Central Allies," Gallio said. "It’s good to see SA and NT work together well. Definitely a tough and entertaining game."
Gallio was impressed with the efforts of Hart-Aluni and Williams but admited a few NT girls were off their game.
"Stephanie's got a good pace through the midfield and knows how to get the ball," He said. "Tayla's a great contested mark up forward that can play high or low. But the NT girls were a little behind the mark today, I think they'll get a whole lot better as time goes on. Shantel wasn't herself today, she's played better football for our VFLW side in NT Thunder and I think her best is yet to come."
CENTRAL ALLIES 1.2 3.3 5.6 5.6 (36)
EASTERN ALLIES 1.1 3.2 4.3 4.8 (32)
Central Allies: Tayla Hart-Aluni, Madisyn Freeman, Alysha Healy, Bella Smith, Jaimi Tabb
Eastern Allies: Lillian Doyle, Olivia Edwards, Jordyn Jolliffe, Tarni Evans
Central Allies: Teah Charlton, Montana McKinnon, Jaimi Tabb, Kiana Lee, Teagan Usher, Madisyn Freeman
Eastern Allies: Mia King, Emily Pease, Paris Crelley, Georgia Garnett, Abby Favell, Jessica Whelan
Game 2: Central Allies vs Western Australia
It was a horror show for Central Allies as Western Australia gave up nothing and took everything. The game was a pure mud fight due to the horrendous conditions of Southport Oval that barely saw a patch of green turf.
Despite these conditions, the Central Allies were on top early in the first quarter with WA kept scoreless. Unfortunately, WA chipped away at the margin each quarter and ran over the top of Central.
Stephanie Williams had another good game and Bella Clarke was pushed back into defence. Clarke looked like a natural defender as she used her height and speed to kill most contests.
Unfortunately, Central only kicked one goal for the game. Central had their chances in front of goal in the third term but failed to convert. In the end, Western Australia walked away with an easy win.
Central Allies Head Coach Heidi Thompson was disappointed with the ground conditions as she believes the players missed out on showing their best skills.
"They weren't good conditions," Thompson said. "There was a lot of rain the previous day and it turned the oval into an absolute bog. In those conditions, we couldn't show our pace and run and carry that suits our style. We just didn't have the opportunity to showcase our skill."
One of the few who played out the four quarters was Williams, the Territorian talent impressed once again.
"Steph Williams was great," Thompson said. "She looks like the future for NT. She's a great person with great leadership qualities and has unbelievable x-factor. She's got to be a little bit cleaner, but I think she did well today considering the conditions. Steph has the ability to set the world on fire and hopefully, she shows it this Friday."
The move to push Clarke in defence paid off as the handy utility bounced back from a quiet game on Monday.
"A much better game from Bella," Thompson said. "Definitely looked more comfortable today. She reads the game well, has great skill and was a lot cleaner today than what she was on Monday. She has the ability to play anywhere back or forward. We've played her forward a few times but settling her in defence is good for her at the moment. There will always be that opportunity to chuck her forward later on."
CENTRAL ALLIES 1.1 1.2 1.4 1.4 (10)
WESTERN AUSTRALIA 0.0 3.0 4.1 5.2 (32)
Central Allies: Teah Charlton
Western Australia: Jade Briggs, Isabella Lewis, Mikayla Morrison, Mikayla Hyde
Central Allies: Teagan Usher, Jaimi Tabb, Madison Newman, Bella Smith, Amber Ward, Teah Charlton
Western Australia: Mikayla Bowen, Tanisha Anderson, Isabella Lewis, Sarah Verrier, Mikayla Hyde, Bianca Webb
Game 3: Central Allies vs Queensland
In the last game, Central Allies gritted their teeth and withstood a late comeback from Queensland, the hometown heroes, to claim victory.
It started out with a bang. Stephanie Wiliams the star once again. She kicked the first goal getting out the back as her best work was on display early.
Mattea Breed was next to stand up as Tayla Hart Aluni spotted up Breed 25 metres out from goal. She made no mistake as the tall timber proved to be a colossus up forward.
Breed stood up again in the second term with a great pack mark in the goal square that set up her second major.
The two teams were neck and neck in the third quarter, but Alysha Healy was nothing short of outstanding.
Healy was everywhere, from bursting off the wing to digging into the guts of the contest. Even her work down back saved possible game-changing goals that helped her team to win.
Queensland was desperate in attack but couldn't make the most of their opportunities. On the other side of the field, it was Williams who burst through four Queenslanders to boot her second major.
The final act saw the girls out on their feet. In a battle of attrition, players like Shoneeka Abbott and Shantel Miskin Ripia showed tremendous defensive efforts to repeal the Queensland attack.
Queensland managed to edge the margin back to five points, but the Central Allies held on to win their last match of the series.
Territorian player, Bella Clarke was ecstatic to walk away with the win as a hard-fought victory made it a dream second win for the Central Allies.
"We were really happy with the result," she said. "Couldn't really ask more from the girls, Queensland took it up to us right until the end but our girls fought it out and we're really happy with the win."
Her fellow Territorians in Breed and Williams were the spearheads up forward as they kicked four majors between them.
"They both stood up," Clarke said. "That last goal by Steph Williams where she played on and got through four opponents and kicked the goal was amazing. Mattea was playing like that VFLW forward that was demanding that front position. She took some ripping marks today and good goals."
Alysha Healy's efforts in the last half of the game was not forgotten as Clarke has nothing but respect for a girl she would normally face in the NTFL.
"She never gave up," Clarke said. "I think she was voted the most resilient player of the day. Alysha just ran as far as her legs would carry her. I've played against her in the NTFL grand final against Waratah, and she's a player that tests you to push yourself. Playing with her, she helps you grow as a player and I'll definitely take a few leaves from her book because she's such a good player."
Clarke was no stranger to the responsibilities of the Central Allies but believes she has grown as a player and leader.
"I feel like I've gained new skills like leadership and communication on the field. Having played for the Central Allies last year gave me insight into what to expect and this year felt more natural to me.
With the AFLW draft coming up in October, Clarke knows there is still much to learn but isn't counting herself out of being drafted.
"I think there is always more you can improve on but I'll put my hand up for the draft and we'll see how we go."
CENTRAL ALLIES 2.0 4.0 4.5 5.0 (30)
QUEENSLAND 1.1 3.3 3.4 4.5 (29)
Central Allies: Mattea Breed 2, Stephanie Williams 2, Kiana Lee
Queensland: Georgia Eller, Annise Bradfield, Zimmorlei Farquharson, Taylor Smith
Central Allies: Teah Charlton, Stephanie Williams, Hannah Munyard, Mattea Breed, Amber Ward, Alysha Healy
Queensland: Ellie Hampson, Kitara Whap-Farrar, Charlotte Hammans, Isabel Dawes, Lily Postlewaite, Serene Watson