MEGA PREVIEW: Where the Grand Final will be won and lost

IT ALL comes down to this. The top two teams across the home-and-away season have won their way to the ultimate decider, with one of Brisbane or Melbourne to hold the premiership cup aloft on Sunday afternoon.

Head-to-head history

In a strange loop, Brisbane and Melbourne will meet in Sunday's Grand Final having launched their first ever AFLW campaigns against each other back in round one of 2017.

The Lions won that day in a wet, windy affair at Casey Fields, and since then the two clubs have enjoyed an evolving rivalry.

After that inaugural game, they have played a further six times, with the Demons claiming victory in five of them. The Lions broke that five-game losing streak earlier this season with a 15-point win in round four.

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The biggest margin between the two has been 39 points, although a further four games have been decided by a goal or less.

Tayla Harris is the only player currently listed to feature for both Brisbane and Melbourne, while young gun Alyssa Bannan has kicked six goals against the Lions - the equal-most of any player in the competition.

Last time they met

In round four at Casey Fields, the Lions started slowly but got over the line by 15 points thanks to three last-quarter goals. This match was the last time this season the Demons conceded a goal in the final quarter; since then, they have allowed a total of six points in eight fourth quarters.

Jesse Wardlaw and Kate Hore each kicked two goals for their respective teams that day, while Lauren Pearce had seven clearances for the Demons.

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Brisbane held the Demons to just 75 handballs, impressively breaking down their ball movement after a blistering first quarter to steadily work back into the game and ultimately overrun them.

But it's important to remember that Melbourne was without key tall Tayla Harris that day due to suspension. In her 11 games this season, Harris has kicked 10 goals while also averaging 9.6 hitouts, 2.3 inside 50s and 1.6 marks inside 50. Back in the line-up this week, she has the potential to stretch Brisbane's impressive backline.

The key match-up

These are two sides who rely more on structural set-ups over one-on-one roles, but the battle on the wing will be crucial to the result.

Brisbane running machine Sophie Conway looms as a dangerous player for Melbourne as she's able to get the ball on the outside and gain plenty of ground with her disposal, with Lily Mithen looking likely to spend time running with her.

Both players are intelligent and highly disciplined, able to compete at the contest but also very aware of when to maintain space outside.

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Conway's ability to gain ground - she's averaging 374.5 metres throughout the finals series - will be important, while Mithen's elite ball use - she's going at 73 per cent with 18.5 average disposals throughout finals - will also be pivotal.

The Conway-Mithen match-up must also be considered in the broader context of how each side uses its wings. Conway works with Orla O'Dwyer and Jade Ellenger in that outside role, while Mithen has been rotating effectively with Casey Sherriff and Sarah Lampard. All are now experienced campaigners with finals under their belts, so the occasion is unlikely to distract them from their regular, damaging impact.

The state of play

This Grand Final is a meeting of the No.1 attack and No.2 defence this season (Brisbane) against the No.1 defence and No.2 attack (Melbourne), setting up one of the most intriguing head-to-head battles in AFLW history.

Brisbane has some bigger bodies through the middle, but the Demons have competed well against taller midfield groups all season, so this will not worry them.

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However, the pressure around the ball to break down Melbourne's handball chains will undoubtedly be a key strategy for Brisbane, and the Lions have the personnel to do it. Cathy Svarc is the obvious pressure player coach Craig Starcevich has at his disposal, but Emily Bates, Belle Dawes, Courtney Hodder and Ally Anderson are all equally willing to tackle and defend.

Melbourne is a contested possession side and wants to keep the ball in tight until it moves into space on its own terms. Keeping the Lions starved for space when they have possession will be vital to shutting down such a dominant attacking side. By doing this, the Demons force the contested ball onto their opposition and have the mindset that if they are to give up possession, it will be under the most arduous circumstances possible.

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Once on the outside, both teams have genuine speed and Melbourne will no doubt be looking to get the ball over the back of Brisbane's wall of defenders to get the likes of Alyssa Bannan and Casey Sherriff on the run toward the goalline. As tough as the Lions' defence is, they don't boast the speed of Bannan and Sherriff.

What Melbourne cannot do is get trapped in defence like it did last week against North Melbourne. The longer the ball lives in Brisbane's forward 50, the more dangerous the Lions get, and they have taken a shot on goal from 49.2 per cent of their inside 50 entries.

Brisbane have tended to jump clear in second quarters this season, while Melbourne finds itself most damaging in first and fourth terms. Each coach will be aware of these gear changes and work to negate such shifts in momentum, while on-field leaders - of which both sides boast plenty - will look to maintain organisation around the ground.


The Lions' strengths are just the ticket to limiting Melbourne's game. Brisbane by 15 points.