NORTH Melbourne has sewn up the last finals spot by the skin of its teeth, beating Fremantle by one point in a thriller at Arden Street.
After trailing at three-quarter time, young forward Daisy Bateman showed great composure to take the lead, with the Roos holding on for dear life for the remaining seven minutes in the 4.6 (30) to 4.5 (29) win.
KANGAROOS v DOCKERS Full match coverage and stats
The Dockers had yet another slow start but charged home in the second half, starting to win more clearances and causing great panic in North's defensive line, with the hosts giving away numerous free kicks in front of goal.
North Melbourne had initially got off to a flyer, dominating the early stoppages before a clean, curling goal on the run from Sophie Abbatangelo.
But the Kangaroos were unable to capitalise on their early ball as a Freo defence – led by Janelle Cuthbertson, Laura Pugh and Ash Sharp – rebounded with ease, with the Roos recording just one first-quarter goal from 10 inside 50s.
Without integral midfielder Jenna Bruton (who was suspended for a dangerous tackle), Emma Kearney played more of a sweeping role, and had 11 touches in the first quarter. Ash Riddell picked up where the skipper left off after the first break with 19 to half-time and 33 by the final siren.
North key defender Tahlia Randall went over on her ankle after going up for a mark and left the ground in considerable pain in the third term, with Kiara Bowers capitalising on the opposition's lapse in concentration.
Randall later returned to play a key role in the final quarter.
After Emma O'Driscoll sprayed a rare shot in front of goal, Freo skipper Kara Antonio kicked a goal to put the team in the lead.
The fourth quarter kicked off with three straight behinds to North Melbourne as the Dockers struggled to clear their defensive half.
Fremantle had an opportunity to take back the lead in the final 90 seconds after a superb passage of play with Kiara Bowers and Ebony Antonio showing incredible vision to pierce North's defence, but Tiah Haynes' set shot drifted wide.
Star Dockers forward Gemma Houghton could come under MRO scrutiny for a bizarre, deliberate late knee to Randall in a marking contest in the fourth quarter.
The ladder now
North Melbourne has ended Carlton's faint finals hopes with its win, and will qualify for its second finals series in its three-year AFLW history. Fremantle has lost its chance at a top-two spot and home preliminary final and will be hoping Brisbane defeats Melbourne in order to hold onto a home qualifying final. There is a strong chance these two sides could face off next week in Western Australia.
Tahlia Randall has arguably been North Melbourne's most important defender this year, and when she rolled her ankle in the third term it looked as if the Roos' finals hopes had gone down with her. The defender's return to the field was heralded by coach Darren Crocker: "I don't normally individualise, but I made a mention of her and Danielle Hardiman, who both went down … I think that's a really good sign going forward."
Riddell's road to success
Ash Riddell hit the ground running and did not stop until the final siren. She recorded 33 disposals for the match – just shy of Anne Hatchard's record of 34 and a club record – as well as nine clearances, seven inside 50s, seven intercepts and three tackles. Most pleasingly for the Roos was that fact the 33 touches was at 72.7 per cent efficiency.
"The heart rate is all right – it's the life of a coach that it's more relief than elation, although you would have seen me at the end and it was pretty much elation. Just felt like we controlled large parts of the game, we controlled the forward half battle, but they looked dangerous when they went forward quite regularly. For the girls to just find a way to win was great for them." – North Melbourne coach Darren Crocker
"I thought North were definitely on top early, and they were on top through the midfield, but we really pressured them and got the game on our terms for the middle two quarters and at three-quarter time, kicking with the breeze, it looked set up for us, but to North's credit, they were really good and our pressure dropped right away." – Fremantle coach Trent Cooper
We won't know for sure until the finals fixture is released, but if Melbourne loses to Brisbane, there is a strong possibility these two sides will face off in Western Australia. What is known is both will be playing sudden-death finals.
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.0 2.2 3.3 4.6 (30)
FREMANTLE 0.1 2.1 4.2 4.5 (29)
North Melbourne: Abbatangelo, Bannister, Garner, Bateman
Fremantle: Houghton, O'Sullivan, Bowers, K. Antonio
North Melbourne: Riddell, Kearney, Garner, E.King, Bannister
Fremantle: Bowers, Cain, O'Sullivan, Cuthbertson, Haynes
North Melbourne: Randall (ankle)
Crowd: 1223 at Arden Street Oval
Did you head to the footy over the weekend? Tell us your thoughts! Take the survey now