IT'S NOW or never for Greater Western Sydney's AFLW team.
Last season, the Giants won four games in a row to rocket up the ladder and were in contention for a Grand Final berth in the final round of the season.
But this year, they are winless after three games. Due to the quirks of the fixture and the new conference system, the Giants are only one game (and 25 per cent) off top spot.
A game against fellow cellar dweller Collingwood on Sunday in Morwell (in Victoria's east) awaits the Giants. Four wins from here would likely see them qualify for a preliminary final (the top two from each conference will go through).
Speaking after the team's disappointing 29-point loss to Carlton, coach Alan McConnell was holding out hope.
"It'd be a fairytale to get to a finals berth from this position, but fairytales happen," McConnell said with a smile.
"There are some things we need to manage to make sure it's not a fairytale."
Is personnel an issue?
A look at the Giants' final team of 2018 compared to last week's side shows just four alterations.
Out: Nicola Barr, Phoebe McWilliams, Britt Tully, Emma Swanson
In: Louise Stephenson, Yvonne Bonner, Christina Bernardi, Alyce Parker
Classy defenders Swanson (left shoulder) and Barr (suspension) were missing in Saturday's loss to Carlton.
Forward Aimee Schmidt kicked three goals in a mid-January practice match against Brisbane but dislocated her elbow in the first quarter of the season-opener (also against the Lions) and has not played since.
Inside midfielder Britt Tully, who finished third in the best and fairest in 2017, has taken the season off for personal reasons.
The loss of two-time club leading goalkicker Phoebe McWilliams was most significant.
The veteran Victorian moved to Geelong, as did Maddie Boyd, who played just two games for the Giants in 2018 due to left hamstring tendinitis.
The loss of McWilliams has been offset somewhat by the acquisition of All Australian forward Christina Bernardi, who is averaging 7.7 disposals, two marks, four tackles and a goal a match.
Renee Forth moved to Adelaide in the trade period. She played five games in the midfield for the Giants in 2018, averaging six touches.
So there hasn't been a huge turnover in the list that has caused major issues.
Get ball. Keep ball. Kick goals
McConnell identified several issues in his post-match press conference last weekend.
"If you're coaching effort, you're in trouble, and I've not had to coach effort. But our execution is a bit off, and again, that's my responsibility to fix," he said.
McConnell mentioned turnovers and kicking efficiency being issues in all three losses. He also said the Giants need a more even contribution.
The Giants' numbers make for interesting reading:
Average per game
Marks inside 50
Disposals are up, but marks are down. Some of that can be attributed to more free-flowing play across the competition, but it might also indicate the Giants don't have as much control over the ball as they did in 2018.
The Giants' average marks per match is a concerning 14 below the competition average (37). Although clearances are up, the Giants aren't taking care of the ball enough. They're winning it, but not controlling it.
"I'm interested in seeing what's going to happen, rather than what's happened," McConnell said.
"There was a lot of expectation and hype around the team (pre-season). We're not where we would like to be … but state of mind is something each individual is responsible for."
Alicia Eva's numbers are down (she averaged 18 disposals in 2018, down to 14 this season), as are captain Amanda Farrugia's (13 to five, although she appears to be playing more of a lockdown defensive role this year) and defensive general Pepa Randall's (seven to three).
Courtney Gum was last year's AFLPA AFLW MVP. While her raw numbers have remained steady (15 to 14), her midfield dominance has waned.
On the positive side, Cora Staunton (up from eight to 12) and Rebecca Beeson (11 to 18) have increased their output significantly, but it hasn't been enough to offset the others.
Now or never
Sunday's match against Collingwood looms as a tipping point in the season. The Giants have the firepower to overcome the undermanned Magpies. With their season on the line, we'll find out if there is to be a fairytale in 2019.
Other observations from the round:
- Five of the top eight cumulative scores have been recorded this season, including last week's Adelaide-Geelong match (103 points) and the GWS-Carlton game (101 points). The highest all-time combined score is 116 points, when Adelaide and Collingwood met in round seven of the 2017 season.
- Melbourne defender Meg Downie was a key part of restricting Brisbane to just 21 points but was equally handy rebounding out of defence. She had eight disposals at 100 per cent efficiency.
- Kangaroo Courteney Munn's four-goal haul against the Western Bulldogs was the equal-highest in an AFLW debut. Carlton's Darcy Vescio was the first player to do it, in the first AFLW game, against Collingwood in 2017.
- Geelong's forward line was incredibly efficient with limited opportunities. The Cats kicked 6.1 from just 16 inside 50s. By contrast, opponents Adelaide had 41 inside 50s for a return of 10.6.
A long time between drinks:
Adelaide's Sally Riley was a late inclusion for Hannah Martin on Sunday and might have enjoyed the 29-point win over Geelong more than her teammates.
It was the first time the 28-year-old had played in a Crows' win since the 2017 Grand Final almost two years ago.
Riley fell out of favour somewhat last year, playing just two games after featuring in all eight in 2017.