ADELAIDE has protected its place at the top of the AFLW ladder and confirmed itself as the team to beat with a thrilling nine-point win on the road against fellow contender Fremantle on Saturday.
Midfield stars Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff produced dominant performances at Fremantle Oval to secure the important win, lifting in the final term as the Crows prevailed 3.7 (25) to 2.4 (16).
DOCKERS v CROWS Full match coverage and stats
The battle came with high stakes as both teams chase a top-two finish, and the win all but guarantees the Crows will secure one of those prized spots at the end of the season.
In a low-scoring but high-quality contest, the visitors controlled the final term and held Fremantle goalless, adding two themselves after the Dockers had entered the final change with momentum.
Danielle Ponter, who was excellent in attack, converted her set shot to take back the lead for the Crows before Ash Woodland dropped the ball in a tackle in front of goal but converted off the ground after play continued.
Hatchard, who won nine of her 30 disposals in the final quarter, was the star and drove her team to victory late with the help of Adelaide sidekick Ebony Marinoff (30 and six inside 50s).
The pair combined for 20 contested possessions and 15 forward entries, while Ponter was the leading goalkicker with her two, also amassing 20 disposals in an excellent performance, helping cover for the absence of superstar Erin Phillips.
The Fremantle defence, which was stoic throughout, could only sustain so much pressure and was under siege in the final term as the Crows went inside 50 14 times to two.
The final tally of 43 to 17 proved the visitors were the better team, with their fitness and strength late in the game telling.
The lack of scoring, somehow, took nothing away from the contest, which was fierce and played at an elite standard, as both teams weathered pressure to use the ball well in general play.
The Crows ratcheted up that pressure in the third term, dominating territory and going inside 50 10 times to just two. They were wasteful, however, kicking 0.5 and spraying other chances out on the full.
With 90 seconds left, Fremantle enjoyed its best passage for the quarter, moving forward patiently and methodically before Kara Antonio's long kick inside 50 – the team's first forward entry for the quarter – was crumbed by Mikayla Morrison.
Morrison handballed into space for Hayley Miller to run forward and kick the only goal for the quarter, lifting the Dockers and giving them a two-point advantage at the last change.
Battle of the backs early
The respective backlines neutralised the contest in the first half, led by Docker Laura Pugh at one end and Crow Sarah Allen at the other. The result was the Dockers' equal-lowest-scoring quarter of the season in the first term, and the Crows second-lowest-scoring quarter in the second term, with only two goals kicked in total. Pugh finished with 20 disposals and five rebound 50s to be one of the Dockers' best players, while forward-turned-defender Chelsea Biddell led the Crows with five rebounds.
The stat that jumped off the page was the Dockers' lowly two inside 50s in the final quarter, but the truth is Adelaide's dominance had set in much earlier. The Crows had also kept Freo to two entries in the third term, making the second half total an incredible 4-24. The Crows' midfield dominance after half-time was the key, but the Dockers also identified a lack of run from defence as a concern. There were frequent examples of rushed clearing kicks that went to the Crows' advantage and bounced straight back in as a result, making for unsustainable pressure over four quarters.
Docker lifts to cover for Bowers
The positive for the Dockers was Steph Cain's game, moving from a wing to a midfield role and taking on more responsibility with AFLW best and fairest Kiara Bowers sidelined by a knee injury. Cain won a game-high eight disposals in the first quarter and finished with a team-high 22, including three clearances. Her running power was important in the new role, pushing back repeatedly to help her defence. With Bowers not certain to return for next week's crunch clash against Melbourne, the role change could continue.
"I thought Freo had the better of the first half but our response in the second half was outstanding and particularly the last quarter. To finish as strongly as we did was really pleasing. The players have put in a truckload of work in terms of their fitness and conditioning, so that's a big part of it." – Adelaide coach Matthew Clarke
"It's possible to finish 8-2 and finish fifth, so that's our best possible result now – 8-2 – and that's how tight it is at the top. To be honest, if we play like we did today we don't deserve to be anywhere near [top four] or be competitive in the finals. We have to come out and make sure we play well next week against Melbourne." – Fremantle coach Trent Cooper
FREMANTLE 0.1 1.3 2.3 2.4 (16)
ADELAIDE 1.0 1.2 1.7 3.7 (25)
Fremantle: Runnells, Miller
Adelaide: Ponter 2, Woodland
Fremantle: Cain, Pugh,E Antonio, Verrier, Runnells
Adelaide: Hatchard, Marinoff, Ponter, S Allen, Biddell, Charlton, E Jones
Crowd: 2,419 at Fremantle Oval
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