MORE THAN bragging rights will be the prize in the duel of two of the NAB AFL Women's competition's most potent midfields at Casey Fields in Melbourne's outer south-east on Saturday afternoon.
Fourth-placed Melbourne is seeking victory in the last home and away round in a desperate lunge at a top-two place in Conference A, while Adelaide attempts to preserve its top-of-ladder status and the right to host a preliminary final.
The midfield battles between the Demons, led by Karen Paxman and Elise O'Dea, and the Crows' group, spearheaded by Erin Phillips and Ebony Marinoff, will play a pivotal role in the result that has so many implications for the entire season.
"It's a must-win game and that drives more motivation. I enjoy a challenge and that's our mindset," Paxman said.
"Certainly, they (the Crows) have a pretty classy midfield. So, that will be a challenge. But you look at our girls and the midfield depth and that brings a degree of confidence that we can handle it. We respect where they're at and how hard they've been working. It will be a good battle to watch."
So, will there be any psychological warfare too as these clearance experts crash into the centre square and stoppage contests to get first hands on the ball?
"'Noffy' (Marinoff) played (with Paxman) for Darebin in the VFL a couple of years ago, so there might be a few cheeky little words. But otherwise it be just a physical game and any verbal banter will be laid to rest and we'll just let the footy do the talking," Paxman said.
"We haven't spoken specifically about what would get us in (to the finals). We know we have to win and, unfortunately, it comes down to other results over the weekend. What we can control is the win and, like we did in season one and two, we have to wait on other results."
Paxman earned maximum votes from both coaches after the impressive contribution of 24 disposals (two above her season average), eight clearances, seven tackles and a goal in the one-point win against the Western Bulldogs last round.
A measure of her consistency was selection in the AFLW Team of the Week for the fourth time this season.
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Along with the in-form Paxman, the Demons are banking on an edge from consistent ruck Lauren Pearce to win the crucial takeaway count.
"She has been unbelievable … she's quite underrated. She's an amazing ruck, but also plays like another midfielder. She will hit the contest and then follow up like a midfielder. She's handy to have out there," the Demons mid said.
Already established as one of the AFLW's elite midfielders, Paxman bypassed the VFLW season last winter to spend three sessions a week working with Melbourne coaches at AAMI Park.
"I wanted to improve in specific areas. One thing I've been working with the coaches is my attacking game. In years gone by, I was more of a defensive 'mid' with a defensive mindset, whereas this year I wanted to go forward," she said.
"Ideally, as a midfielder, you want to be able to hit the scoreboard. That's part of my game I've been working on and trying to improve, going forward rather than dropping back defensively. Our defenders can handle that.
"It involved getting in the gym and getting stronger. Also getting fitter, condition-wise. When you're playing, it's hard to improve in those areas."
Paxman is in the third year of a social work degree and a part-time member of the Victoria Police Association wellbeing team. Consequently, she generally trained alone last winter as her male clubmates had finished their daily duties by the time she arrived at the Demons' headquarters.
"The main part of it was on my own, which I don't mind. But it was nice when the girls started coming in after the end of VFLW (season)," she said.
"I hadn't been one to embrace the gym, but I've come to realise over the last couple of seasons that you have to invest in the gym to become a better runner and a better player."