There’s a reason I resolutely refuse to participate in fantasy football leagues anymore...
There’s a reason I resolutely refuse to participate in fantasy football leagues anymore, and the W-League’s Round 1 results reminded me why: I predicted not a single one of the outcomes correctly.
I’m always cautious to call the W-League before it kicks off, with the season so short a single off game or upset can tip a team out of the top four. But I don’t think I’d be out of line to say that the on-paper Season 6 pre-season favourites were not defending champions Sydney, but former champions Brisbane Roar.
Its signing of safe-hands superstar Nadine Angerer combined with a team comprising nigh on half of the top Matildas made most think Brisbane would recoup to its traditional grand final finish. With strong off-season recruitment of up-and-coming defender Emma Checker and in-form striker Lisa de Vanna, Melbourne looked Brisbane’s likely grand final opponent.
That’s not to discredit defending champs Sydney, just that I figured its strike-force was dissipated slightly with the departure of Kyah Simon, Heather Garriock, Alanna Kennedy, Emily van Egmond, et al. to Western Sydney. The ACL-enforced departure of Simon from Western Sydney in turn has numbed the team’s attack, at least initially.
Perth would be strong, I figured, but not as strong as last season, and Adelaide and Newcastle were destined to struggle from go to whoa. Keen to amend for an underperformed Season 5, Canberra recruited strongly in the off-season. But with stellar international signings Lori Lindsey and Stephanie Ochs only recently arrived, I assumed it would take the team a bit of time to gel. Canberra would be in the finals mix for sure, but surely no match straight up for an assured, experienced Brisbane home side.
Yeah, well, it seems it wasn’t a weekend for home-ground advantages. Or for any team I tipped to get up. Newcastle went down 2–5 to west coast visitors Perth (I expected a Perth win, but not a seven-goal match), Western Sydney and Adelaide managed a 1–1 draw, Brisbane went down 0–3 to Canberra, a shock result and goal difference surpassed only by Melbourne’s 1–5 loss to Sydney.
So what happened? I, for one, underestimated the strength of Canberra and Sydney. They’ve raised the bar in terms of structure and defence, proving solid in both for a straight 90 minutes. Neither Brisbane nor Melbourne could get in behind their respective backlines, making it all but impossible to score. Clearly Canberra and Sydney identified some areas for improvement in the off-season and hunkered down to, well, improve on them.
We’ve also seen a return of a bunch of experienced players sidelined seemingly one after the other last season in a spate of ACL injuries—Danielle Brogan, Leena Khamis, Ashley Brown, and Lydia Williams are veteran game changers and it’s inspiring to see them back.
It didn’t hurt either that two-time golden boot winner Michelle Heyman broke her goal-scoring drought, twice, and Lori Lindsey scored on debut— in the post-match interview Lindsey said the shot came off her shinnie, but she got enough on it to do the job.
Technically you could say Heyman had the assist for that, given it was her shot ricocheting off the upright that fell to Lindsey. Heyman tends to get on a goal-scoring roll (hence the two golden boots), so this might—no jinx or added pressure intended—be the first of a few goals.
This pre-season we’ve seen—more than previous ones—a significant shuffling of players we know and love to different clubs. De Vanna and Checker went to Melbourne, Kendall Fletcher to Canberra, Emma Kete and Jodie Taylor to Sydney, Hayley Raso and Larissa Crummer, having proved themselves elsewhere, secured berths in their native state Queensland.
Some of those moves are already paying dividends, with Kete, Taylor, and Checker all scoring on debut. De Vanna looked frustrated against Sydney, but ever threatening. I wouldn’t be surprised if she scored in Round 2.
Brisbane was uncharacteristically kept scoreless, both because Canberra clearly had a plan for nullifying Brisbane’s main goalscorers and because it just wasn’t, quite simply, Brisbane’s day. Emily Gielnik, for example, was a last-minute omission due to a quad injury; steadfast and normally full-90 player Brooke Spence has had a disrupted pre-season with injury and subbed on late in the match; Katrina Gorry played most of the game, but was heavily strapped and not playing her usual terrier-meets-brick-wall style.
That’s not to take anything away from Canberra—the team was absolutely outstanding—but Brisbane wasn’t on form (it’ll be interesting to see the result in Round 4 when, the two teams meet on Canberra’s home turf).
The same could be said for Melbourne, which went a goal up initially, then trailed, shellshocked, as Sam Kerr, Taylor, and co. issued wave after wave of streaming attack (Sydney will host Melbourne in Round 5, so Melbourne will have one more week than Brisbane to regroup and prepare).
I won’t be ruling either Brisbane or Melbourne out of a top-four finish, and in fact, I’ll go on record to say I think both will be markedly sharper in Round 2. But I will concede I underestimated how cohesive and well-drilled Canberra and Sydney would start. And a strong start in a short season can make all the difference.