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.
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.
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.
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:
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: