The 2020 AFLW season, individually, has belonged to Collingwood ball magnet Jaimee Lambert.
If for just one day, or probably only a half, another Magpie stole the show.
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Lambert still dominated – gathering 24 disposals and shaking off a big first-half hit – but it was Chloe Molloy's heroics in attack that ignited Collingwood at Morwell Recreation Reserve.
The Pies' finals hopes largely depended on them winning, and winning well, over the Western Bulldogs, which Steve Symonds' side did.
They had first use of the breeze and piled on three goals to none by quarter-time – two to Molloy – and were 30 points clear midway through the third term en route to a 8.5 (53) to 3.3 (21) victory.
Collingwood has three victories through five rounds and will be no more than a game outside the top three in conference B, but Nathan Burke's Dogs are as good as out of contention.
Symonds swung Molloy forward in Sunday's game and the move paid almost immediate dividends, as the 21-year-old read the bouncing ball better than everyone to explode inside 50.
Her multiple-bounce effort almost came unstuck but she shook Bulldogs defender Naomi Ferres and defied losing her boot to give the Magpies the perfect start.
Molloy proved a menacing figure and had four of her six marks in the first quarter, leading Burke to replace Izzy Huntington with Eleanor Brown.
She had no shortage of supply, with Lambert and fellow Collingwood star Brianna Davey (30 possessions) – who was best afield with her clearance skills – continually pumping their team inside 50.
Brown did an admirable job on Molloy in the final three quarters, although the Pie could have done more scoreboard damage if she had kicked straighter.
As impressive was Collingwood's defensive press, which suffocated the Bulldogs, particularly in the first half.
The Dogs briefly threatened to stage an unlikely comeback when Kirsten McLeod produced some solo brilliance, tapping the ball clear then running onto it to slot her second goal.
That slashed the difference to 19 points but Molloy rose again to snap her third major and seal the deal for her Magpies.
Magpie Chloe Molloy was involved in almost everything Collingwood did in the first half. Her highlight-reel worthy goal on the run to start the game was, perhaps, outdone by her skilful mark while on the ground in the second quarter. Teammate Steph Chiocci's kick and hope from outside 50 went in Molloy's direction but she and opponent Eleanor Brown were grounded. No matter – Molloy's eyes never left the Sherrin and she wonderfully protected the drop of the ball to haul in one of her six marks. She unfortunately missed her shot at goal but her full array of skills was on display.
Brittany Bonnici had extra reason to celebrate Collingwood's win on Sunday. AFLW's No.1 tagger amassed 18 possessions and laid four tackles on her 23rd birthday to play a pivotal role in the Magpies keeping in touch with the top three teams in conference B. So is there anything better than a win on your birthday? "Nah not at all – actually my brother came home from London to surprise me for my birthday dinner but this is equal," Bonnici told Fox Footy post-match.
Goal drought ends
Kirsty Lamb was one of the Western Bulldogs' better contributors on the day and mercifully kicked her team's first goal a couple of minutes into the third term. Ellie Blackburn was typically involved in the build-up but Lamb made no mistake on the run with an expert finish into the wind. The Dogs showed good resistance in the second half but the damage was done by then.
"We needed some X-factor down there and that's what I thought I could bring. There was a discussion during the week that I could go forward … and it's working really well at the moment … Stopping goals is pretty awesome – backlines win you premierships – but you get all the photos down forward." – Collingwood's Chloe Molloy at half-time
"Chloe's one of those players who can play anywhere on the field and at the moment we've got a need up forward for her." – Magpies coach Steve Symonds on Molloy
Collingwood will continue its push to the top three with a tough match against Brisbane at Hickey Park on Saturday, while the Western Bulldogs host Fremantle at Victoria University Whitten Oval on Sunday.
COLLINGWOOD 3.0 4.2 6.3 8.5 (53)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.1 0.2 2.3 3.3 (21)
Collingwood: Molloy 3, Alexander 2, Rowe 2, Membrey
Western Bulldogs: McLeod 2, Lamb
Collingwood: Davey, Lambert, Molloy, Rowe, Bonnici, D'Arcy, Layton
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Lamb, Hunt, McLeod, Huntington, Lochland
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Crowd: TBC at Morwell Recreation Reserve