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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 bests
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:
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:
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.