IN A uniquely fixtured round five, the prospect of several close games packed across Thursday and Friday Is an exciting one.
We will also be treated to the fifth Western Derby, a battle between emerging sides Geelong and St Kilda, and the opportunity for a third expansion side to claim its first win.
West Coast v Fremantle at Optus Stadium, Thursday, September 22 at 1.10pm AWST
Coming into the fifth AFLW Western Derby, the trajectory of these two teams has never been more different. The Eagles, while inconsistent, have found some real spark at times this season, while Fremantle has stumbled early and is now coming from a long way back. West Coast has never won a match-up against the Dockers in-season, but this looks to be its best opportunity to break the run of losses. This will likely be a highly contested game, and whichever side can more efficiently transition to the outside will be in the box seat. For this reason, Kiara Bowers looms as the most dangerous player on the field, thanks to her ability to win the hard ball and then spread impressively.
The ruck is an intriguing match-up between two impressive youngsters. After being drafted ahead of the 2020 season, Mim Strom immediately became Fremantle's go-to ruck and has gone from strength to strength since, with her positioning around the ground particularly important. For the Eagles, Sarah Lakay has really come of age this season, sitting fifth in the competition for hitouts, she has also laid 18 tackles and really added a presence for her side at ground level.
Tip: The Eagles will get closer than ever before, but the Dockers will register their first win of the season. Fremantle by five points.
Geelong v St Kilda at GMHBA Stadium, Thursday, September 22 at 5.10pm AEST
Last week, Geelong showed that it can match it with the best midfielders in the competition. The problem the Cats have is then connecting that strength at the contest with their developing forward line to post a damaging score. Those entries forward this weekend need to be considered enough to avoid St Kilda's intercepting defence, which is likely to regain key post Clara Fitzpatrick. The Cats' forward unit needs to maintain its structure ahead of the ball – something that has been improving this season – and spread the Saints' defence so they cannot come in and support one another.
St Kilda has lost its past two games after a bright start, but the principles behind its game style are sound. The Saints are focused on gaining as much ground as possible with each possession to provide their forward line with plenty of opportunity to score. Much of this has been launched out of the back half, and this is an important factor against Geelong, given the Cats' dominance at stoppages.
Tip: As with any Geelong game, this will be a tight tussle. St Kilda by two points.
Western Bulldogs v North Melbourne, Friday, September 23 at 12.40pm AEST
In their two clashes to date – both of which have taken place in Tasmania – North Melbourne has claimed victory over the Western Bulldogs. Coming into this one, however, the Dogs sit second on the ladder undefeated, while the Roos are ninth with two wins and two losses, albeit with a tougher run. The Bulldogs' aerial strength has been key to their ability to remain undefeated this season, leading the competition for contested marks, and may prove to be the point of difference on Friday.
North Melbourne's midfield is overflowing with talent. The likes of Jasmine Garner, Ashleigh Riddell, Jenna Bruton and Mia King all running through the middle may seem ominous, but what the Dogs' midfield group of Ellie Blackburn, Kirsty Lamb, Jess Fitzgerald and Isabelle Prichard does more consistently is hit the scoreboard. The quartet's ability to support in attack and then transition defensively is really valuable and something the Roos are not doing quite as effectively this season.
Tip: The Dogs will continue their undefeated run. Western Bulldogs by 10 points.
Collingwood v Essendon, Friday, September 23 at 3.10pm AEST
Collingwood suffered its first loss of the season last week against reigning premier Adelaide but did challenge late to cut the margin to just five points. What did let the Pies down was their accuracy in front of the big sticks, going at just 30 per cent goal accuracy. They are getting the ball inside 50 more than they did last season, just not making the most of that improvement. This makes for an interesting match-up against the Bombers' defence, which is allowing a score from almost half of its inside 50s conceded but have minimised the impact by forcing poor accuracy from those shots on goal.
At the other end of the ground, Essendon has been extremely efficient once in attack, taking a shot from 55.4 per cent of its forward 50 entries, and goaling from 22.3 per cent. If the Bombers' midfield can take control at stoppages and prevent the Pies from taking charge of the territory game, they have a real opportunity to take the win in their first ever head-to-head clash, but should Collingwood be given the opportunity to set its structures as it has done so well in the past, it could be a long day for Essendon's backline.
Tip: The Bombers will put up another good fight but lose another agonisingly close one. Collingwood by three points.
Sydney v Hawthorn, Friday, September 23 at 5.10pm AEST
This is the best opportunity for Sydney or Hawthorn to claim its first AFLW victory after tough inductions into the competition. Experienced campaigners Aileen Gilroy and Kaitlyn Ashmore are key to the Hawks, driving positive ball movement throughout the season to date, and that outside run and speed is Sydney's biggest vulnerability. The Swans, meanwhile, will likely welcome back Cynthia Hamilton so will enjoy the combination of her and Rising Star nominee Montana Ham for just the second time this season.
The sides have opposing concerns. Hawthorn is adept at getting the ball forward, but really struggle to fire off shots on goal once they're in there. Meanwhile, Sydney finds it hard to move inside 50, but once in there does look reasonably dangerous. This match-up will ultimately come down to which side can make the best of the opportunities it creates, and a win will no doubt buoy the victors for the back half of the season.
Tip: It will be a tight scrap, but the Swans' young talent will take their chances. Sydney by four points.
Carlton v Melbourne, Friday, September 23 at 7.30pm AEST
These two inaugural sides have played one another just four times across six years, with the Demons claiming victory in three of those games, albeit by a solitary point in their last meeting. Despite sitting with one win, one loss and two draws, the Blues have proven they can score quickly and efficiently when they click, but they just haven't been able to do so for four quarters.
Carlton has won half of its quarters played this season, but in those that it hasn't won, it has been exposed on the scoreboard. Melbourne, on the other hand, has consistently started games well and progressively faded as the game has gone on. It has scored 67 points for a percentage of 372.2 in first quarters this season, dropping to just 26 points and 56.5 per cent in fourth quarters – the difference is significant. The concern for the Demons is if the Blues click in the final quarter, and then it may become very tense very quickly for all their fans.
Tip: The Demons will be better for the run against the best side in the competition last week, but this one will still be tight. Melbourne by six points.
Richmond v Brisbane, Saturday, September 24 at 11.10am AEST
Despite Brisbane sitting atop the ladder undefeated, and Richmond eighth with an even ledger, these two sides play similar styles of footy, the Lions are just doing it more efficiently. Richmond is third in the competition this season for inside 50s with 31.9 per game – the 14th most in AFLW history – but is simply not generating enough score from those entries. Alternatively, Brisbane is leading with 37.8 inside 50s per game and also going at the highest goal efficiency the competition has ever seen, kicking a goal from 25.8 per cent of its entries.
Richmond's defence has stood strong this season, particularly last week against Essendon's attack without leader Bec Miller, but the Lions are a whole new type of challenge. This season the Tigers are the worst clearance side in the competition, which makes them particularly vulnerable to Brisbane's quick forward entries which will really expose their backline in the one-on-one.
Tip: Richmond will work hard but the Lions are just too good. Brisbane by 20 points.
Gold Coast v Port Adelaide, Sunday, September 25 at 1.10pm AEST
This one is an exciting battle of emerging stars. Last week, Port Adelaide pair Hannah Ewings and Abbey Dowrick combined for 43 disposals, 12 clearances, four goals and 885 metres gained in the club's first AFLW win. For Gold Coast, Charlie Rowbottom had 30 disposals, nine tackles and six clearances, while young recruit Courtney Jones had 18 disposals and 12 score involvements in the Suns' victory over St Kilda. While both of these teams have incredible stalwarts of the AFLW at the helm, it is the youth coming through that will be the difference in this game.
Historically Gold Coast has been one of the elite pressure sides since joining the competition in 2020, but this season Port Adelaide has taken the pressure mantle, averaging 76.8 tackles per game to date. For this reason, the ability to transition to outside space becomes more valuable, and it is the likes of Ewings, Dowrick and Rowbottom who have been most proficient in this respect.
Tip: The momentum of their first win will drive the Power to another victory. Port Adelaide by 12 points.
Adelaide v Greater Western Sydney, Sunday, September 25 at 2.40pm ACST
Another game between two inaugural sides, in their six matches Adelaide has won four with an average winning margin of 38.8 points. The Giants have beaten the Crows just once, while they have also played in a draw in 2018. Last week Adelaide started to find its brand again in a narrow win over Collingwood, while GWS had its new method taken from it by West Coast.
The key to the Giants' new style of play has been its speed down the wings and quick attacking transition. Adelaide, meanwhile, has rediscovered its pressure game and spreads particularly well which means it is rarely susceptible to being opened up on turnover. This takes away GWS' main attacking method. In addition, without Pepa Randall marshalling the Giants' defence, the Crows' forward line has the potential to really overwhelm GWS' backline.
Tip: The Crows are going to continue to build momentum. Adelaide by 25 points.