Just four teams remain as we look to crown a new champion in the AFLW.
Two big games with plenty of subplots that remain unfulfilled. Who will march on to that one day in December next week?
BRISBANE v GEELONG
It’s been some ride so far for Geelong, who’ve steamrolled past Essendon and had to withstand a late surge from last year’s premiers to get to this position.
As thrilled as I am to see the Cats in this position, and as much as I’d love to see someone new in the hunt for the Grand Final, one has to wonder whether or not they’ve spent all of their petrol tickets in the last two weeks.
I hope not; plenty of match-ups here on paper will make a great contest. The midfield battle could play in the favour of the visiting Cats. The combination of Georgie Prespakis, Amy McDonald and Nina Morrison all average over 20 disposals per game. Whereas Brisbane has one player.
But that doesn’t mean Geelong will win it if they get enough of the ball; they’ve got to hurt them with their possessions, and they’ve got to absorb as much of Brisbane’s pressure as they can.
It could be a drag-em-out scrap in this game; both sides average over 70 tackles per game and have players who can pressure and force turnovers.
I know I’ve rattled on about the tacklers a fair bit this season, and players like Courtney Hodder (averaging 7.5 per game), Georgie Prespakis (7.4) and Amy McDonald (7.2) are players who are often relied on to apply the pressure.
But one player who flies under the radar defensively is Renee Garing. She has never been a high-possession getter or has never been a superstar player, but this year, in particular, she’s always brought effort and intensity to the contest.
She’s been one of their more handy role players over the years, and her ability to come right back into this Geelong team after recently giving birth is a testament to her hard work. This might be her last game, but I think she’s a player they will miss over the short term.
She averages 6.7 tackles per game – 2.2 of those are inside Geelong’s 50 – furthermore, she averages just under 20 pressure acts per game. The only players who average more at the Cats are Prespakis and Nina Morrison.
The Cats had a great spread of goalkickers last week against the Demons but are buoyed with a shock return of their star goal kicker in Chloe Scheer, who many of us thought was finished for the year when she injured her shoulder in the week one finals win over Essendon.
She’ll be a tremendous addition; she kicked three goals for the Cats the last time they played Brisbane.
But it goes with a word of caution to temper expectations on her impact in the forward line. Aishling Moloney is in red-hot form right now, and Jackie Parry is in the form of her career, too.
Let’s talk about Parry for a bit here because she has flown under the radar in a career-best season in a side that boasts star power, such as Scheer, Prespakis, McDonald and Morrison.
She’s getting hands to the ball more, she’s clunking grabs more than ever, and most importantly, hitting the scoreboard more consistently.
Her scoring has shot up from 0.3 goals and 2.6 score involvements per game for the Cats last year to 1.2 goals and 4.2 score involvements this year. She looks fitter, more robust and a fraction quicker off the mark.
She and Moloney hold the keys up forward for the Cats if they’re to win this game. If McDonald can kick another one or two goals from forward 50 stoppages, that helps, too.
From the Brisbane angle, I look at their outside runners. Orla O’Dwyer has clocked in another fantastic season for the Lions, Jade Ellenger had a sensational performance in week one, and Sophie Conway is in career-best form.
And the on-ball unit of Ally Anderson, Cathy Svarc and Belle Dawes are as rugged and as elite in their work-rate as they come, and I’d back them to win the match-up nine times out of 10 against any other midfield in the competition.
Between the three, they combine for an average of over 916 metres gained per game. Conway has been more of the scoring threat, O’Dwyer is more offensively-minded, and Ellenger is perhaps more well-rounded than anything else.
Geelong has some good runners in Zali Friswell, Mikayla Bowen, and Becky Webster, who are coming off the half-back line in recent weeks. How they can generate the run in a pressure-cooker environment will be enjoyable.
But the key for the Lions is who gets the matchup on Dakota Davidson. She has a great season, averaging two contested marks per game, and has kicked 19.8 in 10 games this year.
Could it be Claudia Gunjaca who gets the matchup?
Last week, Gunjaca held Eden Zanker to zero goals for three quarters before she went off with a three-goal final term to nearly haul the Demons over the line. However, out of all key defenders in the top 10 for engaging in one-on-one contests, she has the worst percentage, with a defensive contest loss percentage of 37.5 per cent.
Compared to teammate and Cats captain Meg McDonald, she has a percentage of 30 per cent, which is marginally better, but she’s been in two fewer defensive one-on-ones than Gunjaca.
Either way, Davidson’s impact in front of the big sticks is crucial in the context of this contest.
Having said that, as much as I want to believe in the Cats, I think the Lions have more winners around the ground and on that, I have them advancing into the Grand Final.
Brisbane by seven points
NORTH MELBOURNE v ADELAIDE
It has all the makings to be one of the greatest preliminary finals in the competition’s history, just in terms of what’s at stake… both in a Grand Final spot and what it would mean for both clubs to get there.
For Adelaide, it’s as clear as another Grand Final to cement further what legacy they’ve already had since the competition’s inception: A win here would propel them into a fifth Grand Final in eight seasons. Of course, they won the premiership in 2017 and 2019 and won season six last year.
A win here puts them one step closer to securing a fourth flag in eight years, and that’s wild thinking about what a dynasty club Adelaide are.
Meanwhile, for North Melbourne, years of reaching finals and underachieving in the post-season can culminate with a massive win in front of a home crowd. Last year, they couldn’t jump the all-important hurdle of a preliminary final, falling short at the penultimate week last season.
In season six, they finished top four in a final six, to be knocked out to Fremantle in the opening week.
They were again bundled out in the first week to Collingwood in season five, only falling a goal off the mark.
And in 2020, in the last we ever saw of the conference system, they were at the top of their group and looked to be the only ones capable of challenging the unbeaten Fremantle for the premiership before the season was called off.
The Kangaroos have been renowned as the best defensive side in the competition all year and will have to pull out all the stops to ensure the Crows don’t kick a winning score. To hold last year’s premiers to just nine points in week one is a phenomenal achievement, regardless of the form of the Demons.
But Adelaide is in much better form than them, and the area of the ground that will decide who wins this game is in North Melbourne’s defensive half. Jasmine Ferguson has had an elite year as a key forward-stopper and has stopped some of the better players this competition offers.
She spent a fair bit on Chelsea Randall last time they met, but this week, the job has to be Caitlin Gould. This year showed how good she can be in the forward 50 full-time, having kicked a very tidy 19.5 this year.
Randall has kicked 4.7 but has been no slouch by any means; she’s provided a steady target to kick to in the forward half time and time again and has provided some excellent pressure on all three lines this season.
Looking at the rest of North Melbourne’s defensive unit, Emma Kearney has found good form at the right time of the year, providing both incredible drives out of halfback and a steady hand in the intercept game – averaging over seven per game this season.
Sarah Wright has been a fantastic contributor this season, playing both as an undersized one-on-one defender and as the interceptor, and will no doubt be counted on to make sure the Roos are steadfast in keeping the Crows forwards quiet.
However, Erika O’Shea and Eliza Shannon are critical pieces to this team. It’s been an excellent second season for O’Shea, who is second at the club for intercept possessions, averaging 5.6 per game. Shannon has been consistent in the backline in her first year as a Roo.
Of course, we need to talk about the midfield battle because it will be another KPI where this game’s momentum drives towards.
North has been elite at the clearances this season: Between Jasmine Garner, Mia King and Ash Riddell, the three average over 18 clearances between them.
But if Adelaide can force it in close, then the tackling powers of Adelaide can alter the game. Although it must be said North Melbourne laid 104 tackles against Melbourne in the qualifying final, it’s not like they’re strangers to the pressure game.
Ebony Marinoff averages 10.3 tackles per game in 2023. Still, Mia King (nine tackles per game), Jasmine Garner (7.5) and Jenna Bruton (7.1) are all players who can bring the heat of their own around the contest and certainly in stoppage play.
I expect a tight tussle, and you think North Melbourne would’ve learned a lot from their last meeting, which saw them cough a goal up in the closing minutes of the last term to see Adelaide win a thriller.
Can the Roos manage a winning score from their forwards in tight games? Tahlia Randall has been outstanding this year, just in terms of hitting the scoreboard, kicking 19.14 this year, but players like Kate Shierlaw (10.10 in 2023), Bella Eddey (8.3) and Alice O’Loughlin (6.6) need to come to the fore on Sunday.
It will be a challenging game, and I’d love to see North Melbourne get in for their first Grand Final in the club’s history. I’m going to back them in at home.
But it goes with saying I wouldn’t be surprised if the Crows did get up because I thought last week’s performance against the Swans was a genuine clinical and professional dismantling job of a side that proved they could be a top-eight side in the years to come.
North Melbourne by three points
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