The season kicked off with a bang in the Women’s NPL with two winners coming from behind and strikers in form early in their new colours, Round 1 certainly paved the way for an exciting season ahead.
Tuggeranong United started it all with a surprise success over the West Canberra Wanderers at Melrose Synthetic on Friday night. Winning the season-opener is a first for the Tuggies since 2017, the icing on the cake to celebrate Sarah Daisley’s 100th WNPL appearance.
Early on, the impact of their new offensive trio, Rainey Niles, Sarah Matthews, and Abbey Hurman was undeniable. Yet, West Canberra slowly absorbed the press and intensity brought by Paolo Romero’s team and ended the goalless first half with arguably the better opportunities, thanks to the hard-running prowess of Alyse Jensen and Nikita Perry.
Tuggeranong went into the second half with their best foot forward and were rewarded within eight minutes of the restart. Wanderers’ keeper Emily Pearce, otherwise impeccable, fumbled a cross from Charli Gregson, a gift too good to pass for Matthews, who tapped it in.
The lead was short lived though, with Jensen launching Perry behind the defence three minutes later and Perry’s superb shot across goal proved impossible to stop for Sammy Emms.
Unfortunately for the Wanderers, Tuggeranong was determined to make a point, and take three at the same time. After another Gregson show, Pearce’s reaction save saw the ball landing straight to US import Niles, and the Lady Statesman secured the victory with a rocket from point blank range.
The three other encounters were played on Sunday, started with the highly anticipated clash between Canberra Croatia and Canberra Olympic at Woden Park. The experience of Canberra Croatia spoke first, and rapidly, with Isabella Barac scoring a scrappy goal inside ten minutes, despite two saves on her line by Olympic stopper Janet King.
The hosts on their unusual ‘home’ ground were dominating, but a ball fumbled by goalkeeper Maddy Angel offered Tia Burridge her first goal of the day on a silver platter eight minutes later as Olympic drew level. Angel and King displayed their talent during that first half, keeping the firepower of two teams that will surely be in contention for the title, at bay.
Zoran Glavinic’s team came out of the locker room with the same attacking intentions but were surprised within six minutes by another Olivia Gurney cross. Once again it was former Blue Devil Burridge on the receiving end, with enough pace and precision to glance her attempt out of Angel’s reach.
The hosts’ several attempts at equalising were all seen off by King and her solid defence which included player/coach Nicole Begg, who finished the game as an outfield player, leading her team to a first regular season win against Canberra Croatia since 2018.
The action continued at Hawker Football Centre, where ANU WFC hosted Canberra United Academy. The latest “Blues” to enter the competition struck first, 20 minutes in, after a corner kick, the Academy had struggled to clear out. Roxie Swart left Eliza Evans no chance from up close, rewarding a solid performance from the players coached by Rob Illingworth.
Canberra United managed to go back to the locker room level however, thanks to Latisha Babic and her tenacity in front of goal, the Academy player following up on her initial shot that cannoned back off the post, to equalise.
The Academy took the lead three minutes after the break when Alexandra Nealand, unattended in the middle of four ANU WFC defenders, lodged a shot from outside the box in the bottom left corner.
Swart and her teammates looked a well-oiled machine though, and pushed to equalise, but were eventually punished by a lightning quick counter-attack from the visitors with three minutes to go in regular time. Within three passes, the Academy had travelled the whole pitch, and a lucky deflection from Babic offered the ball to Elisha Wild, who wrong-footed Clare Joseph from close range to secure the three points for her team.
A new era in the Women’s NPL comes with new prospects, and Bessie Riethmuller certainly found a way to make a name for herself with her new club. The Belconnen United striker scored a hat-trick on debut against Gungahlin United at Gungahlin Enclosed.
The Gunners did more than resist for most of the game but conceded the first goal from a corner kick in the 25th minute. Pearl Tein’s effort found Keira Bobbin, whose volley proved too strong for Kailey Tonini.
The Riethmuller show started just under ten minutes later, with an opportunistic header at the end of a corner kick taken by another former Academy player, Isabella Hindmarsh. The Gunners would suffer from another delivery from Hindmarsh seconds later, when she found Bobbin behind the defence. With her usual technique and pace, the winger sped around Tonini to tap the ball in the empty net.
The Blue Devils’ comfortable half time lead was increased just before the hour mark. Their press paid off when captain Talia Backhouse stole a ball in the midfield, only to offer it to Riethmuller for a close finish in the six-yard box.
Gungahlin’s answer came three minutes later when Ella-Rose Brown was at the receiving end of Ginger Oliver’s corner kick. The experienced striker’s half volley found its way through a forest of legs and into the back of the net.
The final blow was delivered by Riethmuller and came in the 77th minute, when Lisa Cary’s effort was parried by Tonini, only to land on the head of the advancing Riethmuller who collected her treble.
Friday 31 March
West Canberra Wanderers 1 (Perry 62’) Tuggeranong United 2 (Matthews 54’, Niles 67’)
Sunday 2 April
Canberra Croatia 1 (Barac 8’) Canberra Olympic 2 (Burridge 17’, 50’)
ANU WFC 1 (Swart 20’) Canberra United Academy 3 (L. Babic 44’, Nealand 48’, Wild 86’)
Gungahlin United 1 (E. Brown 60’) Belconnen United 5 (Riethmuller 34’, 56’, 77’, Bobbin 26’, 35’)
|2||Canberra United Academy||1||1||0||0||3||1||+2||3|
|6||West Canberra Wanderers||1||0||0||1||1||2||-1||0|
3 Bessie RIETHMULLER (Belconnen United)
2 Kiera BOBBIN (Belconnen United), Tia BURRIDGE (Canberra Olympic)
1 Latisha BABIC (Canberra United Academy), Isabella BARAC (Canberra Croatia), Ella-Rose BROWN (Gungahlin United) Sarah MATTHEWS (Tuggeranong United), Alexandra NEALAND (Canberra United Academy), Rainey NILES (Tuggeranong United), Nikita PERRY (West Canberra Wanderers), Roxie SWART (ANU WFC), Elisha WILD (Canberra United Academy)
WORDS: Jeremy Magan