THE MORE things change, the more they stay the same.
After 12 months of unknowns and uncertainties, heartbreak and elation, Adelaide and Brisbane have again proven themselves the cream of the AFLW crop. Just like they did from the very beginning.
Four years after these two sides contested the first ever AFLW Grand Final, they will meet again. But this time, one year after their respective seasons ended in front of no fans, they will battle for the 2021 premiership in front of thousands of adoring supporters.
GRAND FINAL PREDICTIONS Winner, BOG, most disposals, more
A lot has changed in the space of the last year. Just a tick over 12 months ago, Brisbane's season ended at the hands of a rampant Carlton. Even if the Lions had won that semi-final, their season would have ended that night.
Adelaide's 2020 campaign had concluded well before the global COVID-19 pandemic and the total shutdown it caused forced the cancellation of the finals series, leaving Carlton, Fremantle, North Melbourne and Melbourne wondering 'what could have been'.
A record of just 2-4 on the season saw the Crows – the benchmark of women's football for so long and the only team to win multiple premierships – bow out of the competition before the finals started.
AFLW GRAND FINAL PREVIEW Adelaide v Brisbane
But how the likes of coach Matthew Clarke, captain Chelsea Randall and superstar talent in the form of Erin Phillips, Ebony Marinoff and Anne Hatchard have managed to turn the club's fortunes around.
Randall has led from the front, her courage and toughness epitomised by a heavy collision in last week's preliminary final win over Melbourne that will unfortunately rule her out of Saturday's showpiece event through concussion.
But while she is one of the heartbreak stories of this week, Phillips is one of the feel-good tales. Having missed the majority of the side's 2020 campaign recovering from an ACL injury, the 35-year-old has kicked 14 goals this year to reclaim her mantle as one of the game's best.
Marinoff has gone from the League's Rising Star in season one, to just a genuine star by season five. Together with Hatchard, the pair will drive everything on Saturday from Adelaide's midfield.
But while the Crows are one of the League's biggest successes, remarkably aiming for a third AFLW premiership out of four, the Lions are comfortably one of the competition's biggest hard-luck stories.
Runners-up in seasons one and two, Brisbane is still searching for its maiden AFLW flag. It fell just six points short of Adelaide in 2017 in a game infamously moved from its home at the Gabba to Gold Coast's Metricon Stadium, landing six points in arrears again – this time against the Western Bulldogs – in the 2018 decider.
Lions coach Craig Starcevich and captain Emma Zielke, the two leaders throughout the AFLW side's five years in the competition, are still at the helm from that first devastating Grand Final defeat at Metricon Stadium.
Kate Lutkins is still the rock down back, Ally Anderson is still the midfield force she has always been, but fresh vigour and verve has been injected into the side in the form of goalkicking star Dakota Davidson and the classy Sophie Conway.
Neither of those two were on the club's list four years ago when it fell to Adelaide. But both are bound to know the history, and the growing rivalry, that these two sides share ahead of Saturday's clash.
The culmination of everything will undoubtedly lead to a mouth-watering finale. Will the Crows surge further clear of the pack and confirm a dynasty five years in the making? Or will the Lions make history and become the League's third premiership side?
Both are bound to put on a show as they attempt to make history. After everything footy fans – and AFLW fans, in particular – have been through over the last year, that will be no less than the punters deserve.
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