Like Jemaine Clement, we’re wearing our business socks, because… it’s business time!
AFLW finals are here and The Doc is running you through each game.
ADELAIDE V BRISBANE
Brisbane’s win against Melbourne last week completely shakes up the top four landscape, and I believe they’re as dangerous as any side heading into the next month of football.
Granted, they’ll likely have to do it without Dee Heslop for most of the way (if they lose), but the Lions have been a side that tends to replace soldiers despite copping a big hit with the expansion signings this past off-season.
But we rattle on about that too much for my liking. The Lions showed last week against the Demons that their tackle pressure is as good as anyone’s in this final eight. And the Crows learned that hard when the two sides squared off in round eight.
While only the three points split the two sides the last time they met, Brisbane had 17 scoring shots to nine out-hunted the Crows in the contest and completely smothered them with tackles 71-48. Last week against Melbourne, the Lions applied 81 tackles, and they average just under 74 per game this season.
Brisbane also prides itself on pressure across the forward half. They average over 17 tackles inside 50 per game this year, and it’s because of players like Courtney Hodder who provide such a spark when the Lions can’t get their reward for effort. Lily Postlethwaite, Charlotte Mullins, Belle Dawes and Orla O’Dwyer also average around 1.5 tackles per game, highlighting the versatility around their forward half stoppages.
Adelaide must bring it back the other way this weekend. We know they can play a possession-retention style through the defensive half before they fly through the forward half and overwhelm teams, but that means nothing if they are not allowed the time and space, and that’s what the Lions are very good at.
But the Crows have very good tacklers and need to utilise them to stifle Brisbane’s ball movement. We know Ebony Marinoff is elite at it, but in the forward 50, Teah Charlton and Rachelle Martin have been incredible in helping lock the ball in or helping cause turnovers in the forward half.
On Charlton just quickly, because it feels she does not get the recognition she deserves, she only averages 14.8 disposals per game this season. Still, her defensive work has been nothing short of outstanding. She is second at the club in pressure acts, averaging 22.2 per game and also second at the club for tackles, averaging 7.8 per game.
Another critical thing to note here from Adelaide is that they won last week’s game with several of their first-choice players rested, and I sense that they will be fired up for this game.
Zoe Prowse, Najwa Allen, Stevie-Lee Thompson, Anne Hatchard, Chelsea Randall and Kiera Mueller are all players who have played most if not all, games this year before last week. Allen will be a welcome inclusion after a three-week suspension and will stabilise their defensive unit.
I’m still bullish on Brisbane at least getting to the final four, but with the rested players coming back in and in front of what should be a packed Norwood Oval, I think the Crows have it in them to take what they learned about in round eight and utilise it to full effect.
Adelaide by seven points.
GOLD COAST V SYDNEY
This is the most exciting game in the first week of finals. Sydney enters this finals series as a Cinderella story, coming from 0-10 last year to 6-4 and on a three-game winning run.
The Suns will enter their second finals series, albeit their first time was in a compromised format due to the Covid-19 pandemic just kicking off here in 2020, which resulted in an absolute drubbing to Fremantle.
But a lot has changed for the Suns since then. They’ve established a staunch midfield unit, a solid forward line unit, and a defensive unit among the top six of the competition.
Without Charlie Rowbottom last week, who is easily the Suns’ best player, they still beat Essendon around the clearances and the contested ball and made the most of their inside 50 entries.
A crucial part is Lucy Single, whom I mentioned in Monday’s likes and dislikes column. Her roles in the midfield have been outstanding in negating the influence of some of the game’s most prominent midfielders.
There will be bigger fish if the Suns progress this week. Still, there’s a big coaching decision for Cameron Joyce to make here: do you put Single onto Laura Gardiner, who averages just a smidge under 30 disposals per game this season, or – should she play in the centre bounces – do you stick her onto Chloe Molloy, who is easily the most impactful player the Swans have?
Who can get the most out of the middle between Claudia Whitfort and Laura Gardiner? It will be interesting to watch in this game. Whitfort showed last week without Rowbottom that she’s a legit player in the competition and is so strong around the stoppages.
The ruck situation will be interesting, too. The Swans will miss Ally Morphett, which allows Lauren Bella to take advantage and give her teammates a suitable lift with her tap work.
While many of us in the media have fawned over Morphett’s improvement this year, Bella has also been a consistent contributor, averaging 21.4 hitouts and eight to advantage this year. You feel Bella Smith and Lexi Hamilton have a tough job on their hands to at least negate her ruck work in the contest and then try to exploit around the ground.
I think the Swans have shown they can be capable of running out of a game, and realistically, they should’ve put Freo to the sword had it not been for poor kicking in front of goal. But the key for them is through their co-captain, Chloe Molloy.
She’s kicked 14.12 this year, but eight have come in the final three rounds of the home and away season. I’ve been impressed with Privitelli’s season. Still, the Swans need some of their smaller players in the forward line to lift for the occasion – Cynthia Hamilton has looked dangerous without impacting the scoreboard, and Aliesha Newman can go missing a lot in big games.
Another player to watch for here is Montana Ham, who is starting to find the scoreboard more regularly. Given her height of 179cm, she poses a dangerous threat to the Suns’ defenders.
It’s a challenging game to predict, but I will go with the Suns in a very close one.
Gold Coast by three points
GEELONG V ESSENDON
I know Essendon got the win back in round six, but GMHBA Stadium is not Warrnambool, and these two sides are not the same as they were around a month ago.
The news of co-captain Steph Cain being ruled out for the remainder of the season with a hamstring injury will set the Bombers back.
Last week was very disappointing from a Bombers standpoint, and it highlights their flaw in the game plan, as they rely on Maddy Prespakis way too often. The only other player who stood up around the contest for them last week was Georgia Nanscawen.
And as good as she is, I don’t think she can take all of Georgie Prespakis, Amy McDonald and Nina Morrison around the centre bounces and stoppages.
They need to find players to build around them both, and I’m not sure where that comes from. Daria Bannister looked a likely type before she was felled with a knee injury.
Is Jacqui Vogt the answer? She’s only just back into the side after an injury spell, but eight disposals last week don’t fill me with confidence. Paige Scott could be the sort of person utilised to help bully the Cats and turn it into a scrap, although that does rob them of a goalscoring target going forward.
And last week showed that if you can keep Bonnie Toogood away from scoring, then the Bombers don’t have many options in the forward line. Essendon’s top five goalkickers this year are Bonnie Toogood (16 goals), Amber Clarke (six), Sophie Alexander (five), Amelia Radford (four) and Jacqui Vogt (four).
Out of all the eight sides competing in the finals this year, Essendon have statistically the worst forward line in the competition, averaging 37 points per game. In comparison to Geelong, they’ve got Chloe Scheer (18 goals), Jackie Parry (12), Nina Morrison (six), Aishling Moloney (six) and Kate Surman (four).
Geelong can be a bit Scheer-dependent at times, and that’s shown this year that if Scheer can get shut out of the game, then the Cats don’t win. But at least they’ve got more of a spread of targets to kick to. If Shelley Scott comes back in, too, that adds another issue for the Essendon defence.
Not that there is already an issue. Scheer kicked two goals last time and scored 3.4 in their meeting at Warrnambool last year. I don’t know if anyone in that Essendon backline can reel her in.
Ellyse Gamble will likely get the job on Parry, and that will be a good match-up. At the same time, I’ve been super impressed with the development of Moloney this year as a third-string key tall.
At the other end, Claudia Gunjaca is in All-Australian form; she’s a quintessential defender, able to play the lockdown jobs, but can also peel off and impact as the third tall up in the contest. The Cats have thrived on defensive footy, and they’ve got the players down there that can stifle Toogood and the rest of the forwards.
I don’t think Essendon just yet have the troops capable of taking out the best teams in the competition, and while I think the Cats have been a bit sketchy at times this season, they should have the firepower to right the wrongs of their last encounter.
Geelong by 22 points
MELBOURNE V NORTH MELBOURNE
I know North Melbourne is a top-four side and is likely to make the final four, but this is as big of a game as it gets in the history of this football club.
A few weeks ago, they were embarrassed by Melbourne’s system as they struggled severely after quarter time. Many key players didn’t stand up and deliver when the chips were down; sooner or later, the notion that they cannot beat sides like Melbourne, Adelaide or Brisbane will weigh down heavily.
They have beaten Adelaide and Melbourne once each – Melbourne in 2019 and Adelaide in 2020 – and are yet to beat Brisbane in four outings. That is not normal of a side striving to be one of the best sides in the competition.
There wasn’t much to take out of North’s last game against the Western Bulldogs, but one thing that worries me is their efficiency in front of goal. It cost them a Grand Final berth last year, and it could likely do them in again if it doesn’t tidy up from here on out.
Against the Bulldogs, they had 41 inside 50 entries for 7.13 – that level of accuracy won’t fly against a side like Melbourne, which has the firepower and the connection between forward and midfield to put the score on the board in a hurry.
I’m also wary of the Jasmine Garner/Shelley Heath match-up. Heath did an excellent job keeping Garner to just 21 touches and four clearances in their last meeting; I don’t doubt that we will see it again. Ash Riddell had 31 touches the last time they met but was also very limited around the stoppages.
That’s the blueprint for Melbourne: stop their midfielders with their first use out of the middle, and you win the game. Tyla Hanks thrived around the clearances last time, and you suspect she’ll be there again in this contest.
For North Melbourne, it’s up to the returning Mia King to come in and play the game of her life. She was a late withdrawal last week, but her form up to this point has been nothing short of sensational, averaging career-high numbers in almost every contested metric: Disposals, contested possessions, tackles, clearances and score involvements – all are up.
It will be an interesting subplot as far as the Melbourne forwards go. Eden Zanker and Kate Hore have kicked 40 goals between them, and both of them have the league’s leading goal-kicker award sewn up.
However, the North Melbourne backline only allowed them to kick just one goal each last time they played, and Alyssa Bannan was kept to just four touches. It’s common knowledge that North Melbourne is the best defensive side in the competition.
Jasmine Ferguson and Sarah Wright take on the best forwards week in and week out and get it done more often than not. But that’s where the Roos need to do it all over the ground, minimise the spaces around Ikon Park, and play the contest to the strength of the inside midfielders.
On the other end, defensively, Tahlia Gillard is a player continuing to fly under the radar given the stars around her, but she has had 30 defensive one-on-one contests this year and has not lost one yet.
She may get the match-up on Tahlia Randall, which would be a big game, considering Randall was only kept to two touches in their last encounter.
The inclusions of Maddi Gay and Paxy Paxman will also swing things in Melbourne’s favour if they haven’t already. Both of them have been rock solid throughout the last couple of years, and I don’t doubt they will significantly impact this game.
I think Melbourne get up in this game, and the Roos will be left lamenting their opportunities again to put away one of the best teams in the competition.
Melbourne by 12 points
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