Where to from here? How this year's finalists can take the next step

THIRTEEN teams looked on in envy as Brisbane held up the premiership cup on Saturday.

Five of those 13 – Adelaide, Collingwood, Melbourne, North Melbourne and Fremantle – had qualified for finals, finishing within four points of each other.

What do the finalists have to do to take the next step?

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Lost the Grand Final to Brisbane by 18 points

Aside from losing a Grand Final, it was a pretty smooth season from the Crows.

Questions remain about life after Erin Phillips, although it's looking more likely than not the superstar will go around one more time.

Brisbane dominated the air in defence against the Crows, who struggled to take marks inside forward 50.

The Lions forwards also exposed the Crows' defence for pace, especially when the ball was at ground level.

Adelaide superstar Erin Phillips leaves the field after the 2021 AFLW Grand Final loss to Brisbane. Picture: AFL Photos

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Lost a preliminary final to Brisbane by four points

The Pies' rise up the ladder this year showed they are oh-so-close to being one of the very top teams in the competition.

A young team, they tired somewhat as the season progressed, and had to come from 14 points down at three-quarter time to beat North Melbourne in the qualifying final.

They've got an elite midfield – especially with Tarni Brown and Mikala Cann coming through – but the home and away loss to Adelaide and preliminary final defeat showed they might be one key-position player short.

Lauren Butler and Jordy Allen returning from injury will help, but Ash Brazill was needed at both ends of the ground at once against the Lions.

Collingwood young gun Tarni Brown in action during the qualifying final against North Melbourne. Picture: AFL Photos

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Lost a preliminary final to Adelaide by 18 points

The Dees defied a tumultuous off-season and difficult run home to qualify for a preliminary final.

They've unearthed some strong young talent in Eliza McNamara, Alyssa Bannan, Megan Fitzsimon and the newly crowned NAB AFLW Rising Star Tyla Hanks, with Lily Mithen and Maddi Gay also taking a step forward in their development.

It seems most of Melbourne's issues stem from confidence and composure, with the team having a few serious cases of the yips in front of goal this year.

The forward line can be the Demons' greatest strength, but it can also cost them games.

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Lost to Collingwood in a qualifying final by six points

North Melbourne has an excellent midfield but struggles to retain possession once inside 50.

The Roos appear to be down a marking target in attack, with Jas Garner leading the goalkicking from the midfield, and 167cm Sophie Abbatangelo kicking the most goals of the established forwards.

The Roos have shown they can absolutely tear struggling teams apart but were exposed by the more established sides above them on the ladder, finding it difficult to halt opposition momentum.

At times, they were also exposed deep in defence when the ball hit the deck.

Abbatangelo's brilliant banana in dominant North quarter

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Sophie Abbatangelo shows off her skills and kicks her second major of the night from the boundary line

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Lost to Melbourne in a qualifying final by 17 points

Fremantle's high-pressure game saw it run out of steam at the end of the season with losses to Melbourne and North Melbourne, before dropping the qualifying final to the Dees.

The depth of the midfield was occasionally exposed. AFLW best and fairest Kiara Bowers starred and was ably assisted by Hayley Miller and Tiah Haynes, but there are question marks over the next rotation through.

The Dockers have star forwards – including Gemma Houghton, Sabreena Duffy and Roxy Roux – but consistency can be an issue in attack, oscillating between starring and struggling to make an impact.

However, they are a hungry, highly competitive team, and probably better than a sixth-place finish indicates.

Fremantle's Ebony Antonio and Hayley Miller after a win against Carlton in round seven on March 14, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos