The Melbourne Flames set an incredibly high standard in the debut season of the AUL, but falling short of making the 2019 final should not necessarily be viewed as a failure.
The Flames were ruthless in 2018, slashing through the regular season undefeated and claiming the final over the Sydney Suns.
It looked like the Melbourne-based powerhouse would be equally as ruthless in 2019, with two quick wins to open the season.
But a shock loss to the Adelaide Dragons (the first ever AUL win for the Dragons and the first time the Flames had ever tasted defeated) sent the defending champions into a tailspin.
Tough losses to Sydney and Brisbane – who will ultimately meet in the AUL grand final – sealed the end of Melbourne’s season although they were still in the hunt until the final round.
What went right and what went wrong for the Flames
Such is the culture at the Flames, the players and coaching staff won’t want to make excuses.
But the loss of Australian internationals Georgia Egan-Griffiths and Tom Tullett to injury before a disc was even thrown certainly played a role in Melbourne’s slip down the ladder. Although Tom Tullett was substituted for by Andrew See, a Singaporean recruit who plays for the Crackerjacks and Shiok, the Flames chose not to replace Egan-Griffiths who only played one point in the 2019 season.
Still, Melbourne punched hard to stay in the competition and there was plenty to like across the paddock.
Simar Dhaliwal was a revelation in her debut AUL season, despite battling with a leg injury, to be a formidable goal-scorer (8 goals) and defender. Cat Phillips was at her inspired best with 15 assists, four goals and two blocks for the season.
Mikhaila Dignam shouldered the goal-scoring load with 10 while Lochlan Wise and Chris Stoddard were solid at the defensive end with 11 and 8 blocks respectively, narrowly followed up Josh De Bell with 7 blocks.
Luck didn’t favour the Flames and don’t expect them to stay down for long.
What the coaches had to say
Coaches Greta Murdoch and Cheok Funn Lee praised their charges for adapting quickly to the new players in the roster and the forced changes from injury.
“Although things didn’t quite go our way in the 2019 season, we were very happy with the ability of the players on the Flames to quickly gel together with the new additions this year as well as with some late changes and injuries,” they said.
“The flexibility of our roster meant that we could run different looks on both offense and defense.”
They also added that other teams had worked harder against the Flames because they were defending champions and they would need to evolve again in 2020.
“Going into next season, we will be looking to improve our usage of space on the field which we saw some of the other teams do very effectively against us,” they said.
“We will also focus on executing the fundamentals from the start of each set and adapting to the other team quicker given the shorter format.”