WHY IS Adelaide the AFL Women's premiership favourite before even qualifying for a preliminary final?
The Crows are first in Conference A, on the same points as second-placed North Melbourne and Fremantle (third), but with a far superior percentage of 184.3 (40 per cent higher than the Kangaroos).
An Adelaide win against Melbourne on Saturday would all but guarantee first spot on the ladder and hosting rights for a preliminary final against the second-placed team in Conference B.
Matthew Clarke's team has dropped only one game for the year, a one-point loss in round one to the Western Bulldogs when they kicked 1.11.
The Crows are the highest scoring team in the competition, averaging 55 points a game. This comes on the back of a round one score of 17, which brought the average down considerably.
Adelaide has played with a vastly different forward line in 2019.
Young star Chloe Scheer has effectively taken the spot of Sarah Perkins, who has spent the past three weeks playing for SANFLW side Woodville-West Torrens.
Scheer is averaging 11 disposals and a goal a match in her five games and is pushing further up the ground than Perkins had in the past (Perkins' stints in the centre square aside).
Moving Stevie-Lee Thompson from half-back to half-forward has been an inspired change.
Although it might have been a switch out of necessity, after Ruth Wallace was unavailable this year for personal reasons, Thompson is the competition's leading goalkicker with 12 majors.
But it's not just Thompson teams have to contend with. The Crows' multi-pronged forward line has tripped up more than a few teams this year.
Erin Phillips (nine goals) is back to her best – more on her later – while 19-year-olds Eloise Jones (seven) and Danielle Ponter (six) have also been dangerous.
The forward line has also been helped out enormously by improvement further up the ground.
The Crows have increased their average inside 50s from 25.6 in 2018 (fifth of eight sides) to an incredible 39.2 (best in the competition).
They are also averaging 9.3 marks inside 50 per game (No.1), up from a competition-low 3.4 marks in 2018.
AN IMPROVING CORE
Adelaide has an incredible record of retaining players in comparison to other AFLW teams.
The club did very well out of the first AFLW Draft at the end of 2016 and has lost only Kellie Gibson and Talia Radan to other sides.
The Crows still have 16 players from the 2016 draft on their list, the most of any club.
Number of players drafted in 2016
Greater Western Sydney
Not only have the Crows retained players (assisted in part by being in a one-team state) but they've seen considerable improvement from the vast majority of the core of 16.
Slightly more than half the current squad has now had three pre-seasons in an elite environment, which is showing on the field. The Crows have a decreasing reliance on stars including Phillips, Ebony Marinoff and Chelsea Randall.
The build-up of fitness is also backed up in the Crows’ fourth-quarter efforts – they’re averaging 20.3 points in final terms.
Sarah Allan has evolved into one of the most reliable full-backs in the competition at just 21. She finished third in the club's best and fairest award last year and would be on track for another top-five finish this season.
Justine Mules is pulling her weight in the midfield (averaging 12 disposals this year, up from seven in 2017), as is Deni Varnhagen (also picking up 12 touches a match, an increase from 2017's nine).
The biggest improver is Anne Hatchard, who has evolved from a defender who could play forward and in the ruck when needed to a ball-winning midfielder, averaging 20 disposals a game.
Along with Phillips and Marinoff, that trio is now part of a formidable onball line-up, with the Crows averaging the most clearances (26.7) in the competition.
They are being well-fed by makeshift ruck Jess Foley, who was thrust into primary role on the eve of the season.
The former Australian Opals basketballer became the Crows' go-to ruck after Rhiannon Metcalfe tore her right ACL and Jasmyn Hewett suffered a medium-term ankle injury in what appeared to be a disastrous practice match against Fremantle in Darwin in mid-January.
But Foley, who was named ruck in the 2018 SANFLW team of the year after her first season of footy, has thrived, averaging 20 hitouts and 13.8 disposals a match.
THE SUPERSTAR IS BACK
Having a fully fit Phillips has been the icing on the cake for the Crows.
The 33-year-old missed two games last year with a quad injury and was often restricted to the goal-square when she did play.
She is averaging 22 disposals a match (at 65 per cent efficiency) and has kicked 9.7 this year.
The ex-basketballer is capable of breaking a game open and a noted big-game player. No one has been able to stop Phillips this year. Doing so would go some way to halting the Crows.
HELPING HANDS AT THE BLUES
Carlton has landed some big-name recruits over the past few years, including Tayla Harris (from Brisbane) and Nicola Stevens (Collingwood), but it's been the improvement shown by three rookies that has them in line for a preliminary final spot.
Kerryn Harrington was signed as a rookie midway through 2017 but was elevated to the main list before the 2018 season. The former basketballer has been playing with increased confidence this year, patrolling Carlton's half-back line and accumulating 18 votes in the AFLCA AFLW Champion Player of the Year award.
Last week, it was Brooke Walker's turn.
Carlton signed both Walker and former rugby sevens' teammate Chloe Dalton last August, having allowed the duo to get a VFLW season under their belts before their first tastes of AFLW action.
Dalton has regularly shown pace through the midfield (and averaging 10 disposals), Walker has been a little slower to find her feet up forward. That changed on the weekend against Brisbane with the Blue showing composure and kicking two goals in a few minutes to break the game open. She was also recognised in the coaches' votes with four.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS FROM THE ROUND
- Fremantle has been one of the most impressive sides of the year but a close look at its numbers provides an interesting anomaly. Fellow top sides North Melbourne and Adelaide have excellent ball control and average the most marks in the competition (55.8 and 44.7 respectively). By contrast, the Dockers have much more of a "run-and-gun" game, averaging just 24.8 marks a match, the fewest of any side.
- With the Dockers' win over Geelong in the bag well before the final siren, eyes moved to midfielder Kiara Bowers and her tackling tally. She was on track to break Crow Ebony Marinoff's record of 21, but fell two short in recording 19.
- Not only was Collingwood midfielder Britt Bonnici one of the best players on the ground against North Melbourne (shutting down the dangerous Emma Kearney) she was also rewarded for her efforts with six free kicks.
Brisbane speedster Kate McCarthy threw out the idea of an AFLW Grand Final sprint on Twitter, posting a video of Melbourne's speedy forward Aliesha Newman kicking a goal.
Who could represent your club in a hypothetical race? How about these speedsters:
Adelaide: Stevie-Lee Thompson
Brisbane: Kate McCarthy
Carlton: Chloe Dalton
Collingwood: Sarah Rowe
Fremantle: Ash Sharp
Geelong: Richelle Cranston
GreaterWesternSydney: Nicola Barr
Melbourne: Aliesha Newman
NorthMelbourne: Kaitlyn Ashmore
WesternBulldogs: Brooke Lochland