Midfielder Maddy Prespakis has inspired Essendon to a 19-point AFLW win over Hawthorn despite an injury scare threatening to take her out of the game.
Getting the better of a fellow expansion club, the Bombers began their second AFLW season with a 7.7 (49) to 4.6 (30) victory at Kinetic Stadium on Saturday night in front of 3722 fans.
Prespakis was crucial for Essendon, delivering a masterclass performance which included 31 disposals, seven clearances and 20 handballs.
The midfield star looked certain to be ruled out of the game after sustaining a heavy hit to her ribs while contesting a groundball in the third quarter but returned to the fray six minutes later.
"We were quickly developing some 'Plan B' options but she's such a tough competitor," Essendon coach Natalie Wood said.
"She would normally bounce back up so you know she's pretty sore when she stays down."
Hawthorn failed to take advantage of their one-point lead at halftime, despite completing a game-high 101 tackles compared to the Bombers' 56
Essendon's co-captain Bonnie Toogood (two goals, 23 disposals) and Amber Clarke (one, 12) converted the hard-earned ball to break away when the Hawks looked capable of taking the win in the third quarter.
Former Hockeyroo Georgia Nanscawen (21 disposals, 13 handballs, six clearances) dominated at stoppages in her club debut, marking a successful return from the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury that prevented her from playing in the Bombers' inaugural season.
Work at stoppages was an area of concern for Essendon last season, with the Bombers one of only two teams to average fewer than 22 clearances per game.
Also returning from an ACL injury, Tamara Luke starred for the Hawks with a game-high 42 hitouts.
Hawthorn were unable to capitalise on Luke's hard work, with only four of those 42 proving advantageous to the hosts.
Hawks recruit Emily Bates led the way in the midfield with 19 disposals and 16 tackles but the Brisbane premiership player was unable to turn the tide.
Her former Lions teammate Greta Bodey also struggled to have an impact, with only seven disposals and zero clearances.
A goal by Daria Bannister followed by another from Amelia Radford in the final quarter sealed the win for the Bombers.
Aileen Gilroy kicked the Hawks' final consolation goal, with two behinds by Sarah Perkins closing the margin to 19 points.
"We had some glimpses and that was probably the story of the game," Hawks coach Bec Goddard said.
"We got to play our way in parts of each quarter but never got a full quarter together."
With only three wins in their AFLW existence, Hawthorn will search for their fourth when they face the Western Bulldogs next weekend, while Essendon will take on St Kilda at Windy Hill.