AFLW Insight: The case for and against each of this year's finalists

COMING into the NAB AFLW's first full-length finals series, there's an argument to be made for all six teams to take out the flag.

After nine rounds, four of the six finalists finished on seven wins and two losses, with the last two (Fremantle and North Melbourne) recording six victories and three losses.

The volatility of the ladder saw five different teams occupy top spot: North Melbourne, Brisbane, Fremantle, Collingwood and, finally, Adelaide, which snatched the minor premiership with its first week on top.

How does each team win the premiership? What's stopping them from joining Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs in the history books? What would they have learned from the last time they met their opponent?

ADELAIDE

The case for: The two-time premiers stamped their authority on the competition with a comfortable win against top-of-the-ladder Collingwood, grabbing a top-two spot in round nine. They've got finals experience in spades and the new ruck pairing combines the smarts of Rhiannon Metcalfe and the mobility of Caitlin Gould. Chelsea Randall is a wildcard, capable of lining up on all three lines, while Erin Phillips traditionally somehow goes to another level during finals.

The case against: Adelaide's two losses have come when teams have applied the heat, leaving too much to midfielders Ebony Marinoff and Anne Hatchard. Inaccuracy in front of goal has also been an issue throughout the season, but often the sheer weight of shots against weaker sides have off-set the poor conversion. 

Record against the other five teams in 2021: Two wins (Brisbane, Collingwood), two losses (Fremantle, Melbourne)

What happened last time:
If Melbourne wins the qualifying final: The Crows were disappointed with their efforts against Melbourne in round seven, losing by 28 points at Casey Fields. Adelaide wilted under some fierce Demons pressure and won't be caught off guard again. Tyla Hanks could be in for some attention after she starred against Adelaide.

If Fremantle wins the qualifying final: The 30-point loss to Fremantle at home in round three was a wake-up call for Adelaide. Inaccuracy was a serious concern, but again, Adelaide struggled against a high-pressure game. Phillips was moved forward late and had an impact – don't be surprised if she starts in attack if the Crows play the Dockers.

Erin Phillips gives the thumbs up to the crowd after Adelaide's win over the Western Bulldogs in round eight on March 21, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

BRISBANE

The case for: Quite simply, Brisbane has the most even spread of contributors across the competition. It can be difficult to individualise and celebrate players, such is the consistency of performance. The Lions have got a strong senior defensive core with two Grand Finals under their belt, the dynamism of Courtney Hodder, Dakota Davidson and Jesse Wardlaw up forward and four NAB AFLW Rising Star nominees in Belle Dawes, Nat Grider, Hodder and Tahlia Hickie.

The case against: The current COVID-19 situation in the Lions' hometown could throw a spanner in the works, and it is unclear as to whether they'll be able to host their preliminary final. Their short-kick-and-mark game can occasionally be susceptible to pressure, but it's hard to pick holes in this current Brisbane team. 

Record against the other five teams in 2021: Three wins (Fremantle, Collingwood, North Melbourne), two losses (Adelaide, Melbourne)

What happened last time:
If Collingwood wins the qualifying final: Brisbane handled a last-minute change in location (to a ground two states away) with aplomb in the three-point win, demonstrating its anytime, anywhere mentality. The Lions were able to prevent the Magpies from forming their disposal chains off half-back and Cathy Svarc held Bri Davey to just 14 disposals.

If North Melbourne wins the qualifying final: The Lions were able to lock the ball in their attacking half against North Melbourne in the 15-point win, and while inaccuracy prevented a higher score, they also limited the Roos to just 20 points. Cathy Svarc got a hold of Jas Garner, and the Lions were able to get the win despite the Roos' midfield of Emma Kearney, Ash Riddell and Jenna Bruton finding plenty of the ball.

Speed and courage delivers an inspirational goal for the Lions

00:46 Mar 27. 2021. 4:54 PM

Courtney Hodder puts on the jets and kicks a flying goal on the run

COLLINGWOOD

The case for: Collingwood has been one of the pace-setters of the competition this year, and opponents have struggled to handle the run off half-back generated by Ruby Schleicher, Stacey Livingstone and, of late, the returning Ash Brazill. The midfield trio of Brianna Davey, Britt Bonnici and Jaimee Lambert is impossible to stop completely, and Chloe Molloy kicks goals for fun.

The case against: The Pies have looked a little shakier in the past few weeks, with the season potentially starting to catch up to the younger players. They can tie themselves in knots at times with their handball game, and there's concerns over the backline, with Lauren Butler (hamstring), Jordy Allen (foot) and Sophie Casey (concussion) sidelined.

Record against the other five teams in 2021: Two wins (North Melbourne, Melbourne), two losses (Brisbane, Adelaide)

What happened last time: 
Collingwood comprehensively outplayed North Melbourne at its own game, dominating the outside play and winning plenty of the footy in the 20-point win in round four. The Pies held the Roos to just eight points, although some of that was the opposition's own doing, kicking eight behinds. The Pies will be without defenders Lauren Butler (hamstring), Jordy Allen (foot) and Sophie Casey (concussion) from that win.

Finals preview: Dees' Daisy dilemma, how Pies bounce back

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Sarah Black and Nat Edwards wrap up the final round of the NAB AFLW home and away season and preview week one of the finals

MELBOURNE

The case for: Melbourne arguably comes in as the form side of the competition, having knocked off Adelaide, Fremantle and Brisbane in a giant-killing spree, the latter two in clutch performances. When the Dees' forward line is up and about, it can be too tall for opponents to handle, and there's an experienced head in the middle in Karen Paxman supporting the younger Lily Mithen, Tyla Hanks and Eden Zanker.

The case against: Can the Dees win without talismanic captain Daisy Pearce? She'd be a shock inclusion after damaging her MCL, and her move to the forward line correlated with the Demons' late-season charge. It's a big ask for Niamh McEvoy to fill Pearce's shoes. Melbourne is also prone to horrible lapses in front of goal, but seems to have shaken the yips in recent weeks.

Record against the other five teams in 2021: Four wins (North Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle, Brisbane), one loss (Collingwood)

What happened last time: 
Melbourne has to cast its mind back just two weeks ago to the last time it played a fast-finishing Fremantle, triumphing by five points. The Dees will be wary of the Dockers' endurance and belief in their ability to fight back and will have a close eye on Roxy Roux, who got under the skin of defender Libby Birch.

Karen Paxman and Lily Mithen celebrate Melbourne's win over Brisbane in round nine on March 27, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

FREMANTLE

The case for: Fremantle has been one of the most powerful teams in the competition over the past three years. The Dockers have an incredibly dynamic forward line (Gemma Houghton, Roxy Roux, Sabreena Duffy, Gabby O'Sullivan) that can score quickly and the competition's best player this season in Kiara Bowers. The backline has gelled nicely as the season has progressed, with Janelle Cuthbertson one of the leading intercept players in the AFLW.

The case against: Slow starts have plagued Fremantle this year, kicking 3.12 across its nine first quarters. They’ve got the endurance to run home late, but it's a tough task to do week after week with their high-pressure style, and the Dockers have now dropped two close games in successive rounds. They won't have a home game this finals series either, unless the fifth seed manages to draw the sixth-ranked North Melbourne in the Grand Final.

Record against the other five teams in 2021: One win (Adelaide), three losses (Brisbane, Melbourne, North Melbourne)

What happened last time: 
Fremantle only played Melbourne two weeks ago, and once again a slow start cost the Dockers, conceding four goals to their own six points at half-time. Mim Strom battled against Lauren Pearce in the ruck, and Kiara Bowers was (comparatively) well-held by a team defence, recording 14 touches.

AFLW Match Highlights: Fremantle v Melbourne

03:53 Mar 21. 2021. 8:30 PM

The Dockers and Demons clash in round eight of the NAB AFL Women's competition

NORTH MELBOURNE

The case for: North Melbourne has the deepest midfield in the competition, with Emma Kearney, Jas Garner, Jenna Bruton, Ash Riddell and Ellie Gavalas regularly recording 20+ touches. Emma King can be a match-winner pushing forward from the ruck, Jess Duffin's influence is rising by the week in her return from pregnancy, while the Roos will have some belief after knocking off Fremantle to qualify for finals.

The case against: The Roos have arguably been the flakiest of the six finals teams, with a big difference between their best and worst footy in 2021. Like some of the other finalists, they're susceptible to high pressure and denying them space to move the footy, their biggest strength. The backline can also be caught out for pace at times.

Record against the other five teams in 2021: One win (Fremantle), three losses (Melbourne, Collingwood, Brisbane)

What happened last time: 
While North Melbourne would prefer to scrub the memory of its last game to Collingwood out of its mind, the Roos will have to study the tapes for what went wrong in the 20-point loss in round four. Collingwood dominated the outside ball and forced North wide for their scoring shots, resulting in eight straight behinds and no goals. Duffin will be a big inclusion this time around.

Emma Kearney and Jaimee Lambert fight it out the last time North Melbourne and Collingwood met in round four, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

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