AFLW – The Doc’s Grand Final Preview

Two teams remain, and we will determine who will be crowned AFLW’s premiers by the Sunday’s end.

It’s been a whirlwind finals campaign with more twists and turns than that race track in Monaco. But we’ve got ourselves a beauty of a contest in store.

The perennial powerhouse side in Brisbane is entering their fifth Grand Final since the competition began in 2017. However, with just one flag to their name, they’d love to get a second one to their name under Craig Starcevich and further solidify his status as one of the league’s greatest coaches.

They’ve had to do it somewhat the hard way this year, Losing last season’s leading goal kicker Jesse Wardlaw, a league best and fairest winner in Emily Bates, and a damaging forward player in Greta Bodey.

As late as round nine, people began writing the Lions off after a disappointing performance against St Kilda at Moorabbin. But since then, they’ve been flawless in their performances.

Up against a side entering their first Grand Final in North Melbourne, the Roos have had some ride since entering the competition in 2019. They recruited a strong foundation but have been short of making a serious splash in the competition until now.

This weekend is their first grand finale in the AFLW. And after conquering the narrative of this finals series, they can’t beat the top teams: They dismantled Melbourne in week one and then escaped with a one-point win over Adelaide at Ikon Park last week in a thrilling preliminary final.

Only one side stands in their path: the side they have yet to beat in the AFLW.

Brisbane and North Melbourne have met four times since 2019, and the Lions have won all four games: earlier this year, a two-point difference separated the two sides in Tasmania. Last year, it was seven points that separated them.

The Lions have been at the top of the mountain before, but those last two matches indicate North is not as far away as some think.

There’s a lot to unpack ahead of the biggest game of the AFLW season, so let’s break it down ahead of the Grand Final.



Last week, she suffered what looked at the time to be a severe knee injury. But the Lions cleared her of any structural damage and proved her fitness at training to be named in the side for this game.

You hope she is as close to 100 per cent as possible. In recent years, we’ve seen players who have ‘proven their fitness’ fall flat and prove to be a detriment to the side.

Make no mistake: Dakota Davidson is at the top end of the scale in terms of player importance – for both sides – in this Grand Final. She’s Brisbane’s go-to player inside 50, and more often than not, she’s lived up to her end of the bargain.

With Wardlaw moving on, she’s had to assume the mantle of the number one target up forward and take it on with aplomb. Averaging career-highs in goals – averaging nearly two goals per game – and in her marks and contested marks. In past years, Davidson has had more of a presence as a pressure forward, but that has taken a small step backward as she works on being the leading option in the forward line.

Well, it won’t be easy this week. Expect Jasmine Ferguson to get the direct matchup on Davidson in this one. Ferguson’s work in the one-on-ones has been first-class this year, and I think she’d love nothing more than to negate the most dangerous player in Brisbane’s forward half.

Of course, North’s defensive system doesn’t just revolve around Ferguson, but her influence against some of the game’s biggest names has her held in among the top key defenders in the competition this year. Ferguson has lost just five times in her 33 contested defensive one-on-ones this year.

But expect reasonable assistance from Sarah Wright, Eliza Shannon and Lulu Pullar in North’s defence. It’s been so reliable in conceding minimal scores over the season, and I think this is where North can get it done.

Take away Davidson’s scoring ability; Brisbane’s next highest goalkickers are Sophie Conway (12 goals), Taylor Smith (nine), and Orla O’Dwyer (eight). The Lions must rely on midfielders to go forward and hit the scoreboard.



There are two exciting and contrasting styles to their midfield units.

We know North Melbourne’s best on-ballers love to gather possession and have been stellar at winning the ball out of clearances. Last week against Adelaide, they dominated them around the contest and stoppages.

Between Jasmine Garner, Ash Riddell, and Mia King, the trio combined for an average of 17.8 clearances, 80 disposals, and 40 contested possessions per game.

Compared to the Brisbane trio of Ally Anderson, Belle Dawes and Cathy Svarc, they combine for an average of 54.5 disposals, 12.2 clearances and 29.1 contested possessions per game.

There are some other variables to consider in the comparison, like who else floats in through the midfield and stoppages. Brisbane, in fairness, has players like Bre Koenen, Ellie Hampson, and Courtney Hodder roll through at various points, and North Melbourne also relies on Jenna Bruton to come through as the spare midfielder.

The key here for Brisbane is to stop either (or both, if possible) Garner and Riddell from getting clearances or at least force them to make split decisions that result in potential turnovers. Brisbane has been good in terms of tackle pressure for a long time.

We saw against Melbourne earlier in the year that if you can negate Garner’s influence in the midfield, it can go a long way toward shifting the game’s momentum in their favour.

Does Starcevich opt to start Svarc on Garner? We know that Svarc’s had the run-with roles over the years, but this doesn’t necessarily need one. Just body-on-body around the stoppages and make sure the contested ball she gets is about as pressured as it comes.

Tackle pressure is Brisbane’s game.



So, let’s break this one open. Brisbane has been staunch in the pressure game; North Melbourne’s tackle pressure and work rate also go pretty hard.

Against Melbourne a few weeks ago, North recorded 104 tackles and effectively suffocated their ability to search for the outside run. Against Adelaide last week, they had 53 tackles, but you could still sense their pressure affected Adelaide’s ability to have clean disposal and effectively hit their targets.

One of the things I tend to look for most is pressure acts. If you can’t get your hands on the ball or don’t have the ball, you have to work hard at the coal face by any means necessary to get the turnover and give yourself the best chance to score.

Four of the top five players out of these two sides who average the most pressure acts are North Melbourne players: Mia King leads the way – averaging 22.6 per game, as well as just under nine tackles per gamer – followed by Jenna Bruton (19.3 per game), Ash Riddell and Jasmine Garner (both average 19.1).

But the thing with Brisbane is that they rely on locking it down inside their forward half.

Courtney Hodder hasn’t had the goalscoring output she probably would’ve liked this year, but she still offers pressure, and forward half pressure, in particular, gives sides the best chance to put goals on the board. Hodder averages 18.4 pressure acts and 7.5 tackles per game – 3.2 tackles are inside 50.

Also, on Brisbane’s side for the Grand Final, Ruby Svarc averages two tackles inside 50 per game, albeit she’s only played five games this year. Charlotte Mullins also averages 1.5 tackles inside 50 per game, has kicked seven goals, and has played every game for the Lions this year, and Orla O’Dwyer averages 1.4 tackles inside 50 per game.

Brisbane has the tacklers as well that get it done around the ground. As well as Hodder, Cathy Svarc (averaging 8.5 per game), and Belle Dawes (7.3), the Lions have players who bring the heat.

I expect this game will be similar to last year’s Grand Final, where stoppages will be frequent, and tackles will count up to 44.



Shannon Campbell – Last year’s Grand Final best and fairest winner has been an important role player this year in terms of being able to play her usual role in defence but also floating forward in essential moments. She kicked the goal to put the Lions ahead in the last term against Geelong and has come through on multiple occasions this year.

I expect she’ll get thrust forward throughout this match to help Dakota Davidson and help stretch North’s defence. Still, North’s tall forward trio of Tahlia Randall, Emma King and Kate Shierlaw will be a handful for Poppy Boltz and Jennifer Dunne.


Taylah Gatt – The 19-year-old has not missed a game since coming into the North Melbourne line-up and has found some excellent form around the right time of the year. She’s got great speed and has excelled in providing a link-up option.

Her game against Melbourne in the qualifying final showcased that she can work hard and be a negating type. Against players like Orla O’Dwyer and Sophie Conway, she’ll have a lot on her plate to make sure she can contribute offensively, and the opposition doesn’t let it out easy.


Jade Ellenger – since being dropped for disciplinary reasons following the round five win against Hawthorn, Jade Ellenger’s been on a mission to prove her worth in this Brisbane line-up. She can run with the ball and provide a tackling presence when the opportunity presents itself. She can play wing and half back, and expect her to rotate through the middle at times in this game.

But when the ball has been in her hands for the past month, she tends to do good things with it, whether gaining territory or setting up the following link in the play. She’s an important enough player for the Lions to be here this week. Brilliant gut-runner and a fair user by foot, too.


Bella Eddey/Alice O’Loughlin – I’m lumping the two of them together because while we talk about North’s tall unit a lot, little attention goes towards their smaller players capable of hitting the big sticks. Between the two of them, they’ve kicked 14 goals in 2023.

Both can play higher up the ground, but they’re also required players in the forward 50 when the talls can’t kick a winning score. Eddey had a string of form between rounds two to six where she hit the scoreboard every week. Since round seven, she has only kicked two goals, both of which came against Melbourne in the final. O’Loughlin has kicked just one goal since round eight.



While my heart wants to see North Melbourne get up for their first premiership, my head believes Brisbane will win. Whenever you think Brisbane will get knocked down, they take it as a personal challenge and stick it to the competition by playing exhilarating football.

It’s interesting because North Melbourne has players who’ve played in Grand Finals in past years: Emma Kearney, Kim Rennie, Jenna Bruton, and Tahlia Randall – Lulu Pullar was in the Grand Final environment at Brisbane last year.

It’s a game that can go either way, and even then, I don’t feel all that confident tipping a winner because who knows what this game will bring come first bounce. It should be a bloody awesome game to cap off what’s been a fantastic finals series in front of a sold-out crowd at Ikon Park.

Brisbane by three points


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