Adelaide’s forward line was really, really, really good last week

It’s a bit of a cliché to rely on this early in the footballing year, but we’ve started to run out of superlatives to describe the dominance of the Crows’ all-conquering forward line. Last week, against a formidable Giants side, the Crows struggled for a quarter or so before flicking the switch to ultimate destruction.

In isolation, the performance wasn’t perhaps even the most spectacular attacking performance of the round, as Geelong’s destruction of Fremantle and Brisbane’s win over Gold Coast rate higher according to our data. However, when taking into consideration the strengths of the defences they were playing (with strength determined by their demonstrated ability last year according the HPN Defence Score), Adelaide stands alone at the head of the pack:

Round 1 ratings

Round 1 ratings note

(More information about the HPN Scores are here)

Adelaide not only put in a stellar round one performance up forward; but they did so against the second best defence from last year (GWS) who were basically unchanged from last year. Even without the presence of Taylor Walker, the Giants couldn’t stop Adelaide’s varied paths to goal, with Betts, McGovern, Jenkins, Lynch and co. finding seemingly endless ways to score. The rest of the competition should be very scared.

Elsewhere, Collingwood performed well against an extremely strong Bulldogs midfield last week – which was almost certain to regress to the mean in round two and eventually did last night. Even considering last night’s performance, it appears that Collingwood has significantly improved their ability to win territory and create scoring opportunities, with only their forward line letting them down now.

On the defensive side of the ball, Brisbane put in a heroic performance in denying the Gold Coast ability to score, and looked like a different team than the rabble that was the Lions’ back six in 2016. It’s highly unlikely that they will be able to keep this up in round two (let alone for the next 22 weeks), but signs of improvement are definitely there. Port Adelaide also showed definite signs of improvement on the defensive side of the ground, which might be more sustainable given their undeniable talent in the backline.

What this tells us

The adjusted ratings above are inherently noisy, and probably be mostly off the mark compared to when the season is done. However, they do tell us who performed above pre-existing expectations in round one, and who was slightly disappointing – and in what parts of the ground they were so.

For example, whilst they lost to Geelong, the performance by Fremantle last week was much better than most expected, especially when considering the strength of the Geelong side (especially in the midfield). And the win by the Bulldogs was probably below their performance last season.

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What does winning in round 1 mean?

HPN has previously established that the predictive powers of the preseason are minimal at best, but after yet another crazy week of football to open up the season but we thought it’d be useful to look at how telling the first round of results would be in determining the make-up of the finals.

HPN has looked at the round one results of the last decade, and compared them to the eventual finals make up. We have considered two classes of results: eventual finalists beaten in round one by teams who missed the finals, and eventual finalists beaten by other finalists who finished lower down the ladder.

For example, Melbourne beating GWS (remember that everyone?) last year was an example of a non-finals team beating a finals team, whereas North beating Adelaide last year was an example of a lower ranked finals team beating a higher ranked one.

Finals teams losing to non-finals teams

2007-2016 FinalsNonFinals

Each season there are about 4.6 matchups between finalist and non-finalist sides (either four or six each year). Of those matchups, the underdog wins one a year on average – or 23% of the time. Think of the aforementioned Melbourne win, or GWS beating Sydney in 2014.

Lower ranked finals teams beating higher ranked finals teams

2007-2016 FinalsLowerFinals

Likewise, each season in the last decade has seen between one and two matchups between eventual finalists, with the team that turned out worse (according to the full home and away season’s results) winning 41% of the time.

What does this mean?

Essentially, it means that, like all weeks of football, results differ from both expectations but also final season outcomes for all sorts of reasons. Some teams may take pre-season easier than others, and come into round one underdone. Teams who go deep into September last year have had a delayed preseason and this may cause poorer early performance. Others, such as North Melbourne last year, can peak quite early in the year before fading away. Some teams may be trialling new tactics or structures and suffer from the lack of familiarity. Injuries can take different tolls at different points in the season.

The upshot is that one week of football isn’t enough to show the relational strengths of the entire league, and predicting finalists from such a small sample is obviously fraught with risk. Instead, we’re big fans of the shifting probabilities approach by Matt Cowgill of The Arc and ESPN

Ignoring the sentence above, how can the data above potentially apply to the 2017 season?

Using our HPN ladder predictions from last week, we can have a guess to apply last week’s results to this season’s round one performance.

2017PythagLadder

The games which will turn out to have been upsets (by an eventual non-finalist or by a weaker finalist) have no immediate candidates in this view. No side from inside the HPN predicted ladder top-8 was beaten by a side outside of it. The biggest HPN win-differential upsets were Essendon (6.4 wins) over Hawthorn (9 wins), and Port Adelaide (13.7 wins) over Sydney (17.3 wins).

We recognise that we’re probably differing from the prevailing consensus here in rating Hawthorn lower and Port Adelaide higher, and it’s perfectly possible these will still look like big upsets in four months’ time.

It is the Port Adelaide win that looks most to us like an upset between two finals-bound teams, along with the Adelaide (17.2 wins) victory over GWS (17.4 wins) which was surprising only in its nature and margin.

If our preseason projections above turn out to be accurate, then this season has had a pretty typical round one as far as results go. The Dogs, Melbourne, West Coast and Geelong would all turn out to have beaten future non-finalists, with no upsets. Hawthorn and Essendon would eventuate as a matchup of non-finalists. With GWS and Sydney being upset by Adelaide and Port respectively, both match-ups of predicted finals sides would turn out to have been upsets.

If Hawthorn or St Kilda (for instance) make the finals or Port Adelaide or Melbourne don’t, then in hindsight we’ll have had more upsets. If Essendon make the finals or Sydney don’t, then we’ve instead had a taste of things to come for those teams.

We’ll see in several months if this stupid prediction will work out.

These Are The Last Days – an article about an article about a podcast

There was a ripple in the online footy world when a hot take appeared on the Herald Sun website about Erin Phillips and her ability to play in the AFL men’s competition. Whilst that may have captured most of the attention, we reckon it’s a fairly mundane point. Unlike other athletes such as Lindsey Vonn or Annika Sorenstam, Phillips has expressed no desire to compete in a men’s competition, nor is there any immediate need to. The mere existence of women’s football at the highest level means that she no longer has to consider that option if she wants to play football at the highest level. It is a completely asinine argument, a #hotake for the purposes of drumming up comments (up to 150 on the Herald Sun, and much more on other forms of social media). Normally we’d ignore writing about something like this like the plague; lest it give the original article any more attention.

However, what captured our focus instead was the garbage fire of an article that this #hottake was contained within. Let’s take this insightful quote:

“In a Round 1 to remember, Huddo, Mick and Loz put together a bumper SuperFooty Podcast, touching on subjects including:”

HUDDO, MICK AND LOZ BUMPERING UP THE SUPERFOOTY PODDY, AW YIS!

This is the week that HPN that the Herald Sun seem to have an employee whose job is to report on the goings-on of their own podcast, while not actually appearing on it. Let’s take another snippet from the piece, reading out a text message which we assumed originated from Bigfooty:

Mick read out a text message from a Carlton supporter, who might have been employing just a touch of irony.

“It was a tough start for Carlton, but there were many positives…

“Eddie Betts was on fire, Zach Touhy was almost best on ground, Jeff Garlett kicked three, Mitch Robinson smashed rivals, Lachy Henderson was a pillar in defence, Sam Jacobs dominated in the ruck and Josh Kennedy kicked seven.

“So lots of upside. Only Waite’s kicking let us down.”

Poor Blues supporters. Better times are ahead.

CAUTION: POTENTIAL POSSIBLE IRONY CONTAINED ABOVE, ALTHOUGH WE’RE NOT SURE BECAUSE NO-ONE HAS APPARENTLY LISTENED TO THE BUMPER PODDY YET.

Side note: Carlton’s successful former players are really a decent if dated observation, and would have made a much better subject for an podcast/article if spun out into one focused on, say, Tuohy’s first game at Geelong.

The journalist in question seems to be frequently on the News Ltd podcast beat, with such memorable pieces as:

All these articles mix self-promotion and sensationalism with ease, combining to form the Holy Grail of footy clickbait. They all largely follow the same form: Initial hot take and then a list of the talking points from the episode.

Last year the articles all referred to the “Supercoach Podcast boys”, but now refer to the participants by name now that there is one female voice involved.

There is nothing wrong with the occasional piece of self-promotion, especially where there’s value in the secondary reference. However, the near-constant stream of articles that do nothing than attempt to bump up the listenership of a podcast being produced by one of, if not, the biggest media company in Australia screams of desperation.

If there’s something newsworthy to take from an interview on a podcast – regardless of source – then report on that. But the lack of secondary media sources reporting on these issues suggest that the probative value of these articles is non-existent, and they merely exist as promotional opportunities to further promote the opinions of those who already have a prominent platform.

More importantly, it takes away time from a journo from potentially developing and chasing their own stories, which would almost certainly have been more valuable to everyone involved.

HPN’s AFLW Grand Final Preview

The first AFLW Grand Final participants have been decided, after a weekend of relatively wacky results. As we outlined last week, Melbourne needed a record-setting win to maximise their chances of making the big game. Whilst the Dees managed the record-breaking 70 points, and a big 54-point win, it wasn’t quite enough to make Adelaide worry about the margin of their win. The Dogs summarily took care of the Giants in Canberra to ensure GWS would take the wooden spoon, which set up Sunday for a frantic finish to the season.

Right up to the last quarter Collingwood looked like they would win the game – that is until Phillips, Perkins and co. took the game away from the Pies. With their four goal win, the Crows cemented their place in the last week, and killed off the chances of Melbourne, Collingwood and Carlton. Finally, although they were eliminated from finals contention, Carlton turned up to play, ending Brisbane’s winning streak at 6.

HPN’s AFLW Team Ratings

Last year HPN developed a team rating method for the AFLM competition. We thought we’d have a look at how they would stack up for the first AFLW season:

AFLWRatings

As an explanation, the different scores are based on:

  • OffScore: Points per inside-50.
  • DefScore: Points conceded per inside-50 conceded.
  • MidScore: Inside-50 per inside-50 conceded.

Each rating tells a slightly different story. The MidScore broadly describes how effective a team is at creating scoring opportunities for their side, and denying those of their opponent – a ball movement index in essence. The OffScore describes how efficient a team is once the ball is pushed up forward, whilst the DefScore explains how good a team is at stopping their opposition from scoring. All three measures are presented relative to league average, of 100, so a score of 105 is above average, and a score of 95 is below average.

As you can see, the ratings largely match the final overall places of the ladder. While the margins are slim, Adelaide and Brisbane rate as the two highest rated teams overall, slightly ahead of Melbourne (who were relatively unlucky to miss the GF). The Bulldogs were probably a bit better on paper than their final win-loss record suggested, while the Blues (led by Darcy Vescio) were the most potent team up forward by a considerable margin.

Breaking down the Grand Final

Quick hat tip – there has been some really solid AFLW work undertaken by FMI, PlusSixOne, Footy Gospel, Girls Play Footy and probably a bunch of others we are forgetting here. If you are as excited for this weekend’s showdown as we are, take some time to click a few of those links.

The Crows-Lions match-up not only presents the two strongest teams of AFLW playing off against each other, but also two teams with considerably different styles. As demonstrated above, the Crows have been, by a very long way, the best MidScore side in the competition. They have not only got the ball inside 50 at a prodigious rate, but denied their opponents from doing so. For the Crows, Erin Phillips, Ebony Marinoff and Chelsea Randell have led from the front, all sitting in the top 6 for inside 50s competition wide.

Brisbane, by contrast, has been phenomenal at defensively soaking up opposition attack after attack. We don’t have an inside-30 stat, which would possibly be more relevant to the AFLW’s usual scoring range, but anecdotally we’d suggest the Lions also keep the ball out of that tighter arc extremely well, with a lot of inside-50s being shallow entries.

Whilst the Lions’ defenders were not highly credentialed coming into the competition, Kaslar, Virgo and co. have established themselves as the form unit of the entire competition. When the pressure becomes overwhelming, the Lions have a tendency to throw Harris or Frederick-Traub down back to limit the option of the high bomb, forcing their opposition to find another way to goal.

This dichotomy of strengths is similar to last year’s AFL Grand Final, which pitted the defensively outstanding Swans against the ever-swarming Bulldogs midfield. For that game HPN suggested that:

“HPN usually refrains from picking outright results in games (as not to look like pontificating fools), but instead tries to pick the paths to victory where possible. For the Bulldogs to win, they must dominate the territory battle between the arcs, deny the Swans chances to get the ball forward, and to wear down the Swans defenders with repeat entries.

For the Swans, they must aim to turn a likely superior ruck performance into an increased number of inside-50s (as compared to last week against the Cats). The Swans must exploit their apparent advantages up forward, and trust that their defence will hold up to repeated (but not constant) attacks down back.

It should be a fascinating game to watch, given the differing strengths of each team.”

We suggest that a similar story might emerge from the game on the weekend, with different names involved.

For the Crows to win, the weight of inside-50 entries will have to be immense to breakdown the Lions’ defensive wall. Adelaide will also have to rely on multiple paths to goal, both small and tall, to counter Brisbane’s multifaceted defensive approach.

For Brisbane, the key will be slowing down Phillips, Marinoff and Randall, a feat easier said than done. If they are unable to do that, the game becomes tough for the Lions – but not impossible. The Lions would then have to rely on their aforementioned defensive prowess, but perhaps more importantly maximise on their few entries forward to score.

The last time these two sides played, in early March, the Lions took a slim three point win against the odds and away from home. The Crows massively won the inside 50 count (36-18), but were utterly unable to turn the repeated pressure into scoring opportunities. Adelaide was only able to secure four marks inside 50 from their plethora of entries – with Brisbane getting the same from half the number of forays.

If there is a silver lining from that game for Adelaide, it is that they had more scoring shots but lost; a sign that they were able to at least get the ball into position to score. The Crows will likely win the battle at ground level, and if they can do slightly better in the air they should be able to take the premiership.

For the Lions, their biggest positive sign is that they were able to win without a single goal from the two marquee forwards (Harris and Frederick-Traub). Both players had an impact on the game, but they were able to still score in other ways, such as through the severely underrated Kate McCarthy and Emily Bates.

With all said and done, the AFLW Grand Final shapes as a fascinating battle between two well-matched teams.

Best player leaderboards and a look at potential All-Australians

The following table shows the number of games played and the number of times named in the AFL.com.au bests for every player in the league. While the bests lists are seldom perfect, the repeated emergence of the same names should tell us who are some of the best players most likely to be fancied for MVP and AA honours.

r7 final bests

The notably hard-done-by players tend to be those with less fashionable roles such as rucking and defending. Leah Kaslar at Brisbane (zero nominations) may have been in the best couple of defenders in the league, while the two premiere rucks in the league, Emma King at Collingwood (two) nominations) and rising star Erin McKinnon (zero) were also overlooked a few times.

We’re left with a “leaderboard” on this count that looks like this:

bests leaderboard

The goalless Darcy Vescio probably had her first real down game even as Carlton almost rolled the rampant Lions. The other players with perfect records maintained them, and any of Phillips, Pearce, Blackburn or Kearney would be a worthy MVP. Emma Swanson, notably, also has been among the Giants’ best in all five of her outings with them.

HPN’s Statistical 2017 AFL Ladder Prediction

This is HPN’s third year of providing predictions on the ladder for the upcoming AFL season. Some things have changed with our methods, but most haven’t. As we explained last year:

Like last season’s prediction, this projection shouldn’t be used as exact gospel on how a team should perform in 2016, but more of a general indicator on whether they should improve or decline compared with last season. The method deliberately constrains itself to a few measurable thing and, most notably, entirely omits new recruits and departures from consideration.”

That holds true for this year as well. As does this:

“The method relies more on the simple than the statistically complex, however it did a reasonable job at predicting the movement of teams last season (with a few notable exceptions). After last year’s results, we’ve made a few tweaks to the formula that we hope will increase the accuracy.”

In 2017, we are adding a second measure of team strength – but I’ll get to that more later.

Like last year, both methods are reliant on three key elements:

  • Strength of team
  • Strength of schedule
  • Relative age effect

HPN has already had a look at the predicted strength of schedule for the 2017 season here, but here’s our final findings from that article if you want to save a click:

sos4

The relative age effect was described last year here, but in short HPN projects an output curve to all players on each list with 15 career games under their belt and who were at the club last year, to measure the expected improvement from a pure “cohort ageing effect” in their continuing players. Below is a chart of that age effect in relative terms, for each team in the league:

agecohort

The season age effect is calculated in this manner:

Season Age Effect = (Number of players on senior list ^ (1 + Relative Age Effect)) – Number of players on senior list 

While this may not be the most accurate calculation, or one that accounts for each player’s particular career arcs, it did a pretty good job last year and has merit on face value. As indicated above, Brisbane, Melbourne, St Kilda and Collingwood have the most rapidly maturing lists, and all are generally thought to be on the path up the ladder in 2017. At the other side of the equation, West Coast moved firmly into win-now mode, and Hawthorn undertook a list regeneration over the offseason. Both moves hurt the age profile of their experienced players.

Also of note is the number of players that each side has gained or lost with at least 15 games of experience (however this does not feed into the formula):

15 games

You can see that Essendon, for the second year running, have had the biggest turn-over of players with more than 15 games played (for well stated reasons). Fremantle and North both lost nine experienced players.

It is the final measure of the three above that has undergone the most significant change in 2017.

Strength of team

In the past we have used the Pythagorean Expectation to calculate a team’s true strength, as we have outlined before. The Pythagorean Expectation looks at how a team “should have” performed in a season, by using points for-against to project wins. This should, in a perfect world, account for a team’s luck in close games, which we have theorised previously is basically random. This method is the basis of the previous “solid results”.

This year we have decided to measure team strength in a second way, by using the team strength measures developed last year by HPN. We outline the three measures here, but basically the measure we are using is overall team strength. We are entirely unsure how this will go; but we thought we’d throw caution to the wind and give it a look anyway. HPN has also included the bookies markets for wins over/under as a benchmark of public opinion, and a rough % of the likelihood of making finals (calculated via a normal distribution).

Pythagorean Expectation Method

2017PythagLadder

This method sees Hawthorn sliding massively, due to a list aging in the wrong way, a slightly harder than average draw and a lot of luck in 2016. Hawthorn won all of their six games decided by less than two goals; something the Pythagorean Expectation doesn’t take kindly too. Whilst they won 17 games last year, they played more like a 11 win team – something potentially explaining their swift exit from the finals.

The Dogs were also very lucky in close games, and face one of the three hardest draws in 2017. West Coast suffers from all three of the aforementioned factors: four wins from five close games, a big hit from the age effect, and a tougher than normal draw. Finally, the Saints face the equal toughest 2017 slate, and take a hit from the Pythagorean Expectation.

On the flip side, Port Adelaide (HPN’s perennial prediction bogey side) have a list that is slowly coming into its prime, a somewhat soft draw and horrendous luck in close games last year. In short, they should improve on their showing last year, especially with Ryder and Monfries coming in – but this is the third straight year we have said this. Melbourne, Gold Coast, Collingwood and Brisbane’s improvement is nearly entirely explained by the maturation of its list, whilst Essendon’s gains are largely from the Pythagorean Expectation refusing to believe that they are really that bad.

North Melbourne stays relatively stable due to its cakewalk fixture – the method doesn’t know about the exodus of experienced players.

HPN Ratings Method

2017HPNRatingsLadder

The HPN Ratings is another (attempted) measure of actual strength, and one that differs somewhat from the Pythagorean Expectation strength as above. We applied the same age and draw effects to the strength, so that there is continuity for those elements.

Port Adelaide narrowly drops out of the predicted finals at the expense of Hawthorn – but the differences between the middle six teams is quite small. The HPN Ratings method suggests that there is a massive gap between the middle and lower tiers of the ladder – something that is unlikely to happen in real life.

The HPN Ratings are ignorant of the return of the suspended Essendon players, and suggests that they will struggle in 2017. Carlton sees a massive dip, as a side both aging and rebuilding at the same time. The HPN Ratings are bullish that the top five teams will pull away from the pack, and that Adelaide will negotiate a season that will likely be more injury interrupted than the past few. Hawthorn still struggles here, but less than with the PE, and almost in line with the bookie predictions.

Which Method Is Better?

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you’d want to know which method we think will perform better. At this stage, we have no idea – but the Pythagorean Expectation should be more predictive in nature. HPN expects the Ratings to do pretty well, but there’s is no way to tell until the games are actually played. One thing that both methods suggest is that the race for the finals, and the top four, is wide open going into the season.

AFLW Round 7 Preview and Power Rankings

To start off this week’s column, HPN thought we’d get to the nitty-gritty and step through the scenarios each team has before them to make the grand final:

tomake

Effectively, it’s all in Adelaide’s hands unless Melbourne do something unprecedented to Fremantle.

With that behind us, let’s get to the week’s power rankings:

1. Brisbane

The Lions enter the last week of the regular season undefeated and as the presumptive favourites for the flag. Brisbane have shown an uncanny knack of holding onto slim leads late, with constant opposition attacks being repelled. With two marquee tall forwards (Harris and Frederick-Traub), the Lions have the ability to switch one down back late to plug any holes.

Frederick-Traub in particular has been an ironwoman so far – spending just 0.8% of the total Lions game time off the ground. Harris and Kaslar are also in the top 10 in this category – the only club to play three players that heavily. Harris and Frederick-Traub are also the only two players in the competition with more than 10 contested marks – the two have more than the Bulldogs and Giants have as teams so far.

This week they don’t have to worry too much about the result, however they can end Carlton’s season by either winning or keeping the game close.

2. Adelaide

The HPN panel agonised about whether to drop Adelaide below the Dees, but in the end stuck with the ladder. Despite their loss to Melbourne last week, the Crows are still in the box seat to make the grand final. With Perkins missing parts of the game last week with injury, it demonstrated a potential weakness in the Crows forward line – a lack of depth up forward which threatens the clean, open forward-line structure favoured by Bec Goddard.

The scenarios for Adelaide to make the grand final are laid out above, but it’s pretty simple – win and they’re (more or less) in. Adelaide will know if they need to worry about winning margin by the time they play, because Melbourne play Fremantle the day before.

3. Melbourne

With a win over Adelaide, Melbourne strengthened their final credentials, but it may be a case of too little, too late. The Demons rely on the top end of their list to a very high degree. Paxman, Pearce and O’Dea are three of the top four disposal winners in the entire AFLW to date, with the Dockers the only other club to have three players in the top 10 for disposals.

While one may be tempted to suggest that they rise and fall on the play of these three (and the prolific Mithen and Hickey as well), in reality it is the lesser lights of the Demons squad is often the difference. If Mifsud fires, or Kemp jags a few marks, the Demons turn from being a good side to a deadly one.

Melbourne are in with a win and an Adelaide loss, but they’d need to break margin records against Fremantle to give themselves a chance of qualifying against a victorious Crows.

4. Collingwood

The Pies have gone from being also-rans to being nearly the form side of the competition, with their third win on the trot coming against GWS last week. Six weeks in, the Pies seem to have sorted their forwardline issues, and Hutchins has been a stabilising force down back. But, of any player in the league, Emma King might be the biggest lock for All-Australian selection, dominating in the ruck (and last week up forward) week after week.

It’s bordering on impossible for the Pies to make the grand final, but merely being mathematical shots after being winless halfway through the competition is a fantastic achievement.

5. Carlton

Last week’s loss against cellar-dwellers Fremantle has likely cruelled the Blues chance of making the grand final; as Melboune’s loss the week before to GWS did. At one point of the season the Blues were likely the best side going, up until 10 minutes left in the Adelaide game. Had they won that game, they would likely be eyeing off a spot in the grand final. Unfortunately, injuries and slight form issues hurt Carlton, as did a few close results going against them.

As indicated above, the Blues can still make the top 2; but it’s a hard task from here.

6. Western Bulldogs

In another universe the Bulldogs may be in contention for the grand final – with three losses of less than 10 points and another of 14 on their resume. The Dogs are a good side, but have sorely missed their marquee forward (Brennan) for most of it. Brennan is still second in the AFLW for most goals per game – the issue being that she has only played three games.

The Dogs play GWS this week in Canberra with the Wooden Spoon on offer – something both sides are presumably desperate to avoid, with not even a decent draft boon available from finishing last.

7. Fremantle

After a long difficult slog, with several stars on the sidelines, the Dockers finally recorded their first win. Kara Donnellan led from the front, and has likely cemented her spot in the AFLW Team of the Year.

The Dockers have a chance to spoil the Demons’ final hopes this weekend if they can manage a second win on the run. If they are badly beaten by the Dees, and the Bulldogs win a close one, the Wooden Spoon could also still be theirs.

8. GWS

Of all the teams in season one of the AFLW, the Giants may be the most unpredictable. When they are switched on, GWS can eke out a solid performance, as they did against the Blues, Dockers and Demons. When they aren’t, blowouts like last week’s or the matches against the Crows and Lions tend to happen . Next season should be better for the Giants, as they should have a second marquee ready to go from the start, and can hope for better luck on the health side of things.

Team depth and team bestsr6bests

Round 6 was another week where most of the marquees dominated, and Emma King finally got a nod of recognition from whoever writes the bests lists at afl.com.au.

Carlton again had their elite four players among their bests, but those players were still mostly less impactful than in other weeks given the loss to Fremantle. We’ve noted the concentration of workload in the Blues top end, and the potential drawbacks from that. Fremantle showed them up this week with a wide spread of contributors and plenty of pressure. 74 tackles is the league’s third highest total this season, and was met with just 37 by Carlton. Six Dockers also got into double-digits, while only two Blues did.

Vescio hit her average of seven touches and kicked her 3 goals. Davey’s 14 was well down on her usual 20 while Arnell (8) and Jakobsson (6) did not reach their usual high quality 11 and 10 disposal average. In the end, Carlton couldn’t find other support when their best players were mostly only good, not great.

For Fremantle, a side still hurt by injuries, a big bright spot was their top-up in Alicia Janz being named in the bests. The netball convert Janz is the first top-up to be so named so across the competition. In her second game she showcased her strength and aggression with some of her 8 tackles being huge and impactful ones laid at key moments.

Now let’s look to the team-by-team season tallies:

bestscountr6

We’re down to five players who have featured among their team’s best players every week, and four of them are among the biggest stars identified at the start of the season, VWFL marquees for the Victorian sides.

The fifth player to be recognise among the bests every week is a bolter – Erin Phillips in her first season of competitive adult footy. She was picked up as a rookie convert by Adelaide and we’ve written before about the serendipitous and clever Adelaide recruiting. Phillips’ versatility and impact has been immense. She’s averaging 18 disposals, has kicked 5 goals, has laid 3.3 tackles per game. Perhaps an under-noted feature of her game is the sheer volume of free kicks she continues to receive, with her 18 frees (3-a-game) well in front of Sarah D’Arcy’s 11 in second place. While as an accomplished basketballer Phillips has probably successfully “simulated” a few (especially in round one against GWS), the bulk have come from the panicky infringements she induces in defenders during the 1-on-1 contests Adelaide have consistently set up for her.

Who might win the MVP

If we’re looking for a likely league MVP (we’re assuming a 3-2-1 system for this analysis by the way), we can look to the most frequently named players in the bests:

mostbests

From this group, the Bulldogs’ Blackburn and Kearney seem less likely to take the award, having each other as competition for votes and playing at a Bulldogs side which unexpectedly sits at the bottom of the ladder. The same may be true of the well-balanced Lions, where in different games one would expect Harris, Frederick-Traub, Bates, Zielke or Ashmore to potentially take the maximum votes.

Within the struggler division, Donnellan should nearly monopolise the Dockers’ votes and Dal Pos and Swanson should do the same at GWS. Nobody at these sides is likely to take enough off winning sides to come close to the top. Collingwood haven’t had a consistent standoud all year, with Eva or King probably closest to favourite to top their vote total.

Vescio exploded onto the scene in round one and has continued to be the most prolific and dangerous goalkicker in the league, but goals aside, Davey has been much more involved in general play and they will probably play spoiler to each other. Phillips, a clearly dominant player in one of the best sides, must also be favoured to win a lot of votes at the Crows, particularly early. Marinoff, Randall and Perkins would be the competition there.

Our favourite for the unnamed inaugural AFLW best and fairest award, however, is Daisy Pearce. Pearce is such a class above her teammates (and, really, nearly everyone else), that she could plausibly poll in every Melbourne win, including multiple 3-vote games, as well as jagging a vote or two in their narrow losses to Brisbane and GWS.

AFLW Recap and Round 6 Power Rankings

Regardless of ability, gender, geographical location or audience, the country might have witnessed one of the most compelling weekends of football all year, if not for the past few. All four AFLW games last weekend were decided by a score or less, and most were in the balance up until the final few seconds. Intriguingly, all four were slightly different in make-up, despite the shared closeness. In the GWS-Melbourne game, the undermanned underdogs got a lead and held it against a stronger opposition, who just couldn’t convert in front of goals.

The Blues-Dogs game saw Carlton pull away decisively in the third and early fourth quarters, before the Dogs mounted a historic comeback which ultimately fell just short. Fremantle dominated the general play against Collingwood, but were battling from behind for most of the day, whilst Collingwood were able to protect a narrow lead in the last quarter. And the Lions-Crows match was a superb display of football, with acts of excellence from stars on either side changing the momentum of the game several times. In the end, the Lions were able to hold on, and take the front running for the first flag.

Power Rankings

1. Brisbane (up 1)

If you beat the king, you take the throne. Brisbane had half the number of inside 50s that Adelaide did, but as they have done throughout the season their forward efficiency shone through. Brisbane seems to be able to bend and not break, soaking up forward entry after forward entry without much damage to the scoreboard. Brisbane have won the inside 50 count just twice in their five wins, but via smart use of their forwards are able to kick winning scores from both general play from players like McCarthy, and strong marking from the twin towers in Frederick-Traub and Harris.

Brisbane face a relatively challenging finish to the season, hosting the eliminated but competitive Bulldogs and then travelling to face Carlton. Brisbane will finish first with a win in both games, and with an Adelaide loss would still finish top with one win. If the Lions lose both, they could be in a spot of bother as their percentage drops, but that is unlikely.

2. Adelaide (down 1)

Adelaide suffered their first loss of the season after surviving a couple of scares previously. The Crows won many of the battles around the ground, but lost the war (so to speak). Indiscriminate kicking inside the forward 50/30 hurt the Crows, and allowed the Lions to soak up attack after attack. If these two sides end up facing off in the Grand Final, the Crows will have to think about alternate paths to goal, including perhaps throwing Phillips up forward for an extended stint (like she was utilised in early games).

The game also showed the fragility of the Crows back 6, especially when confronted with multiple talls. This was also where they struggled against Carlton, albeit in a low scoring game.

To ensure that they make the Grand Final, Adelaide needs to win both games. If they lose this week to Melbourne, they still have breathing room with percentage (unless it’s a 5-goal loss or more). A big loss to the Dees would leave Adelaide needing a win, and possibly set up a final round percentage race between the Crows (vs Collingwood) and the Dees (vs Fremantle). Two losses, and the Crows probably do not make the Grand Final.

3. Carlton (up 1)

After losing two games by less than a goal, the Blues turned it around against the Dogs and won a hard-fought battle. It will be concerning to Damien Keeping and his staff that Carlton allowed such a big comeback, but in the end everything worked out for the Blues.

Brianna Davey’s impact on the Blues side can’t be understated. Amongst the top 20 for disposals per game, Davey has the highest effective disposal percentage, and also leads the league in Rebound 50s per game.

DaveyDispPer

Carlton need to win their last two games, and hope that either Adelaide or Brisbane lose both of their remaining games, or that Adelaide have their percentage wrecked in a bad loss to Melbourne, with the Dees then going on to lose against Fremantle. Other scenarios exist, but rather than going through each one it’s better to say that their chances of finals are only a little more than purely mathematical.

4. Melbourne (down 1)

It appears that either water or northern state teams are kryptonite for the Demons, with narrow losses to the Giants and Lions in heavy rain now on the ledger. Without taking too much away from the Giants in their breakthrough win, the Demons should have won, and dominated play as the game wore on. Like earlier in the season, the better paths to goal dried up for the Demons. The Demons had ten scoring shots to the Giants five, but were only able to score one goal – an unlikely outcome from the dominant forward line of the last two weeks. The last quarter, in particular, was played almost entirely in the Dees’ forward zone and they managed five behinds.

The Dees can still taste finals action if things fall their way. They are a game and percentage behind and will need a heavy win over the Crows as an absolute prerequisite. They still would then likely need another big win against Fremantle to make sure, because the Crows would still have a shot at rebuilding building percentage against Collingwood. Although the FMI data disagrees with our assessment by a margin of 6% to 4% chances, HPN feels that the Dees have a slightly better chance to make the finals than the Blues, due to the mix of opponents remaining. But like FMI, we feel that both teams are very outside shots.

5. Collingwood (up 1)

With their narrow win against Fremantle, the Pies finals hopes stay mathematically alive. The Pies have to hope that Adelaide loses heavily to the Dees, that Fremantle beats Melbourne by a few goals and that Carlton loses to the Lions by a bit. Oh, and the Pies will have to secure hefty wins against both GWS and Adelaide.

In the past few weeks the Pies have learnt to more effectively spread the load across their team, all across the ground. They have also begun to attack the corridor with more intensity, which has led to significantly better options inside 30. If Collingwood had started their season like this, they may have been still be in real contention for the finals.

6. Bulldogs (down 1)

The Bulldogs again struggled up forward with Katie Brennan, with Kearney and Blackburn forced to carry heavy burdens across the ground. The comeback against Carlton was fantastic to watch as neutral fans, but they played better footy for a fair chunk of the game before conceding a number of cheap goals.

The Dogs are now out of the race for the final, but they can certainly shape its makeup against Brisbane this week.

7. GWS (up 1)

What a great win for a team expected to struggle significantly in their first year. Friday night demonstrated the grit of the Sydneysiders. Interestingly, the Giants had 27 less disposals, but had seven more kicks than the Demons – a demonstration of their commitment to the boot over the hand. All of this combined meant that GWS more than deserved to move up a spot in the Power Rankings, and were perhaps unlucky not to move up another rung. The return of Emma Swanson has opened up the options for the Giants around the ground; with her elite ball use being a critical outlet missing from the first few weeks.

Unlike the Bulldogs, the Giants can’t really shape the finals race, as they play the Bulldogs and Collingwood. The do, however, have shots at further wins.

8. Fremantle (down 1)

Fremantle have been extremely unlucky so far, both in close games and with injuries. As noted earlier, the Dockers are the only club so far who have had to call on a third top-up player, and there’s still two weeks left in their season.

There’s a decent argument that if last week’s game went five minutes longer they would have pulled out the win. Consistency remains the biggest issue for Freo, with their best football being world’s away from their worst. Even more importantly, both are often on show each week.

It would be a great result for the competition if they can record their maiden win in the last two weeks, but they are starting to run out of healthy bodies to do so with.

State of the lists, who’s in the bests

The table below shows who played, and who was among the best players, for each team in round 5.

r5

We can see at most clubs the cream is really rising to the top, with most clubs enjoying really strong output from their top players. Even the much maligned Moana Hope has joined the party. While not named in the bests yet this season, Emma King has done a power of work in the ruck for Collingwood and deserves recognition for that.

GWS this week finally had all their top players firing, with their early picks all featuring strongly for them in their dogged triumph over the Dees. Priority pick Louise Stephenson also finally debuted for the Giants this week, and the Giants will hope she can grow into a big role at the club as they chase a second win.

Fremantle had to plat a third top-up where only Carlton among other clubs had to use even one this week. Fremantle are hit hard by injury and this must be factored into assessment of their results.

The table below shows the cumulative games and “best” namings for each club:

bestsbyteam

Brisbane and Adelaide, perhaps not coincidentally, have had a great deal of continuity from their first selections, both in terms of game time and in terms of output. Brisbane’s first 20 selections have played virtually every game, with Randall missing one and Law two. Adelaide have enjoyed similar continuity. Both teams have also had a spread of contributors as identified by “best”namings.

Carlton’s concentration of “Bests”among their top four players has abated slightly, but is still a marked feature of their output. Vescio, Arnell, Davey and Jakobsson (and Exon) have been superb, but perhaps the Blues need a wider spread of contributors to reduce their vulnerability to pressure.

Finally, if we’re looking for a league MVP, the following list of players who have featured in team bests lists every week would be a good place to start:

bestseveryweek