After an eventful round four, the finals picture of the inaugural AFLW season is beginning to shape up. Round four saw a rematch of each pre-season match, albeit with vastly different results. Of the four preseason winners, only one walked away with the points on the weekend (Brisbane, in their demolition of GWS). This confirms HPN’s longstanding view that the pre-season doesn’t really mean much from a predictive point of view, and that we were fools in placing so much faith in it.
This week we have a look at the potential paths to the Grand Final for the six teams still in mathematical contention.
Adelaide suffered an early scare against a firing Fremantle, and for a while an upset potentially looked on the cards. But, as tends to happen in footy, elite players and a little luck intervened. The final score probably flattered the Crows a little, but they are the type of team that can run away with the score when things are going their way.
Adelaide didn’t find an answer to Donnellan’s dominance all day, but the Crows took to moving around their star players until they found a combination that worked. At this stage of the competition, no team has shown the ability to score as heavily (or quickly) as the Crows.
Adelaide face a tough run home, with games against Brisbane and Melbourne in the next two weeks, albeit both “home” games. Adelaide can likely afford to drop one, but not both, and still make the grand final (as long as they don’t lose to Collingwood in round 7).
There was some temptation to move Brisbane up a spot in the rankings after their comprehensive win over GWS, but HPN has decided to hold fire for now. Brisbane’s 34 point win of GWS might not have come as a surprise, but it didn’t make it any less inspiring to long suffering Lions fans.
Brisbane made it a point to play for percentage to prepare for the race for the final, and the big win helped them open up a gap to Melbourne and Carlton below. The Lions share responsibilities quite effectively, and when a player (like Harris) is double teamed, another (like Frederick-Traub) can step up and hurt the opposition. Brisbane have no major weaknesses apparent through four weeks, and that makes them a major threat for the first AFLW flag.
The Lions have been converting their inside 50s into goals at an extremely high rate – kicking goals on 21% of their inside 50s.
Brisbane face three tricky games on the run home: away this week against Adelaide, home against the Bulldogs and away against Carlton. On exposed form, the Lions have enough to get them through, but if they lose more than one game fate will firmly be out of their hands.
After losing a close one to Brisbane in squalid conditions, the Demons have gone from strength to strength as the season has progressed. Melbourne’s midfield has become dominant, with Daisy Pearce playing the role of the best Swiss Army knife imaginable.
But up forward it is the emergence of Alyssa Mifsud that has opened up the attack for the Demons, and turned the team from being a fringe title threat to a serious contender. Mifsud is dangerous from nearly anywhere inside the forward 30; strong above her head, on the deck and assisting her teammates.
Whilst the Dees dominated general play against the Blues, they nearly chucked the game away with inattentive defence and sloppy decision making. If not for a lapse of judgement by the Blues defence (in leaving Cranston wide open in the forward line), the Demons would have thrown a game away that was a rout for much of its time.
Melbourne’s run home sees them face the two bottom teams on the ladder (GWS and Fremantle), sandwiched with a showdown against Adelaide. To ensure a spot in the final, the Demons need to win all three games and go for a major percentage boost against the weaker sides. If the Demons fall against Adelaide, they will require other results to go their way and to improve their percentage significantly.
The other looming threat to the Demons is their ever lengthening injury list, with four very good players now sidelined for the near future (Randall, Downie, De Bortoli and Paterson). With only 16 on the field at any one time, injuries hurt more in the women’s game than the men’s.
Carlton has lost two games by a combined nine points, and now (unfortunately) sit on the precipice of elimination from finals contention. The easiest path for Carlton to make the grand final involves having Adelaide win their games against Brisbane and Melbourne, and Carlton winning all of their games, most importantly their round 7 clash against Brisbane. That outcome would likely have Brisbane, Carlton and Melbourne tied on five wins, with percentage to determine the second grand finalist.
Carlton was beaten for three quarters last week against Melbourne, but almost snatched victory with a stellar turn from young forward Bella Ayre. The two last-quarter goals from Ayre tied up the game with very little time remaining, but (as mentioned above) the undermanned Carlton defence let in a very easy goal to lose the match.
The loss of Davey and Last was readily apparent, with the Blues defence directionless at times, and unable to launch counter-attacks. Until Davey gets back, Carlton will have to back their offensive firepower overcoming their defensive deficiencies, or perhaps to shift one of their star forwards (such as Vescio) down back to cover the breech.
Carlton faces off against the Dogs this week, a side that has also been strong but unlucky so far. With Brennan finally due to come back for the Bulldogs, the Blues will have their hands full down back.
To make the final, Carlton will need to win their last three games and rely on a little luck. The easiest realistic path involves Brisbane losing to Adelaide, Melbourne losing to Adelaide and the percentage gods falling the Blues way.
The Bulldogs lost their second in a row last week, and now their path to the finals appears all bar extinguished. Without the forward line focal point of Katie Brennan, the Dogs have struggled to convert their entries into the forward line into goals. Last week the Dogs had 10 scoring shots to the Pies 8, and won the inside 50s 23-21. Additionally, the Dogs are currently last in the comp for marks inside 50, with less than half that of Carlton and Adelaide.
Blackburn and Kearney continue to dominate through the middle for the Bulldogs, but often it has led to no movement on the scoreboard. Kearney leads the league in inside 50s (with 5.5 per game), but often she doesn’t have a strong target to kick to.
The Bulldogs game style also differs from many of the other AFLW teams, with a extremely heavy reliance on the handball over the kick. Whilst this paid dividends early on, other sides might be starting to work out the strategy.
The path for the Bulldogs involves winning out (and gaining a lot of percentage), Brisbane losing the rest of their games and Melbourne losing at least two of their last three. This scenario would have between two and four teams tied on four wins (Lions, Bulldogs, Demons and Carlton), with percentage deciding the remaining grand finalist.
Whilst this scenario is possible, it is fairly unlikely.
HPN was tempted to bump Collingwood above the Dogs, but in the end felt the head to head result wasn’t quite enough to outweigh the performances of the rest of the season. Thankfully, some of the data heavy analysis seems to back this opinion up (courtesy of PlusSixOne).
The Pies are certainly on the upward swing, losing to the Lions by just four points two weeks ago and getting up last week. A more direct approach to the forward line has paid off at this stage, and the second and third forward line options have more than stepped up where Hope has been double teamed. And, although HPN may say this on a weekly basis, their marquee Emma King has been a great get for the Pies and has absolutely dominated in the middle of the ground.
The Pies face a similarly convoluted path to the grand final as the Bulldogs above, albeit involving an Adelaide collapse instead of Brisbane. Collingwood would need Adelaide to lose their remaining three games, Melbourne to lose to GWS and Fremantle, Carlton to lose two of its last three and the Dogs to lose to at least Brisbane.
What we are trying to say is that finals are unlikely for Collingwood.
Fremantle put in their finest half of football last week, running away with the game against the ladder leading Crows. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to sustain their early success and fell away badly towards the end. The Dockers have struggled mightily in the ruck this season, averaging ten less than the league average. Whilst their midfield has been able to get the ball inside 50 at about the league average rate (4th in AFLW) they haven’t been able to convert this into goals, with the Dockers 13 goals equal last in the competition.
The Dockers have been hit by injury harder than any other team in the competition, with key players dropping left and right. Kara Donnellan has been an absolute force so far, but the Dockers are starting to just run out of fit bodies. More importantly, the class of the Dockers often shows through for one to two quarters each week, but struggles to hang around for much longer.
Last week saw GWS take a couple of backwards steps as the Lions dominated every facet of play. GWS have also been hit hard by injuries, and whether the depth is there in the NSW/ACT local football scene remains to be seen. This week they face a tough task in the surging Melbourne, whose midfield threatens to run the Giants ragged.
GWS should be focusing all their attention to trying to knock off Collingwood at home in round 6 and scoring a famous first win.