AFLW Insight: The games that could shape the final six

COMPETITION for finals positions is heating up with just three rounds remaining in the NAB AFLW season.

The 2021 season will see six teams qualify for finals, with a single ladder incorporated for the first time and 14 clubs in the running.

Despite the multitude of fixtures over the past few weeks, as state borders change with COVID-19 restrictions, the final three rounds follow the integrity guidelines set by the AFL when conferences were scrapped.

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Last year's conference ladders were combined and divided into bands of top four, middle six and bottom four.

- Clubs play a minimum of two and maximum of three teams from the top four and bottom four based off 2020 ladder.
- Clubs play a minimum of three and maximum of five teams from middle six based off 2020 ladder.

It's led to a frantic finish to the season, with eight teams having realistic chances of making finals.

The winner of this round's St Kilda and GWS clash will remain in mathematical calculation, but both sides have been off the pace in 2021.

St Kilda's Kate McCarthy leaves the field after her side's round six NAB AFLW loss to Melbourne in 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

So what are the matches which could shape the finals?

Round seven

This weekend's matches will separate the top eight sides somewhat, regardless of the results, with each team playing another in the top half of the ladder.

The Western Bulldogs are already out of the top six on percentage, and will fall to 4-3 if they lose to North Melbourne at North Hobart Oval. The Roos are also on the same win-loss ratio as the Dogs, but with a far superior percentage.

Melbourne has an incredibly tough road ahead with games against Fremantle and Brisbane, and will be desperate for a win against Adelaide at Casey Fields.

Fremantle has been just as isolated as the Victorian sides this year, and will leave Western Australia for just the second time to take on Carlton.

Collingwood is a game clear in first place, but will slip back into the pack if it loses to a red-hot Brisbane.

Dakota Davidson celebrates a goal with her teammates against GWS in round six, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Round eight

Next week is a bit of a mixed bag, but three games immediately jump out as ones to watch.

Melbourne's trial by fire continues with Fremantle on its home deck in WA, a match which could well end the Demons' finals aspirations should they have already recorded a loss to the Crows.

By the same token, if the Bulldogs lose to North Melbourne in round seven, another loss in round eight against Adelaide at Norwood Oval could make for a tense final round.

After playing Collingwood, Brisbane has another tough battle, taking on North Melbourne in a game which could go some way to eliminating one of the pair from top-two contention.

North Melbourne's Kaitlyn Ashmore fends off a Richmond opponent in round six, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Round nine

If the Western Bulldogs are still in the hunt by the final week of the season, the team will be licking their lips at the prospect of Richmond, vastly improved but still a bottom-four team.

In what could be a finals preview, North Melbourne will host Fremantle at Arden Street, while Brisbane will travel south to Casey Fields to play Melbourne there for the first time since 2018.

Oddly enough, Adelaide and Collingwood have already been involved in a couple of finals-deciding matches in the last round of the season in 2017 and 2018, and this game could decide who finishes in the top two and automatically qualifies for a preliminary final.

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