Full AFLW R4 preview: Battle for top four heats up as unbeaten teams face off

AS THE fixture jostling continues, agility is required not just on the field, but off it. The Western Bulldogs are back in action and will look to make up one of their lost games in the next week, while the two WA sides are facing a condensed fixture to remain flexible given the state's border restrictions. 

Schedule adjustments aside, the undefeated top four are all preparing to face off throughout round four, and the Giants are set to play their first home game of the season at Henson Park, decked out in their first ever Pride guernsey. 

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Thursday, January 27

Collingwood v Fremantle at Victoria Park, 5.40pm AEDT

  • Collingwood returns home after a hard-fought win in Geelong that saw first-year player Eliza James cause a stir. The last time the Pies faced off with Fremantle was round three, 2020 in WA where the Dockers got over the line by three points and Jaimee Lambert starred with 32 disposals and eight tackles. Important for the Pies is their ability to grind a game out and persist when momentum isn't going their way. Coming up against one of the fittest teams in the competition, the side who hits the fourth quarter hardest will win out. 
  • This match-up will be a battle of different priorities. Collingwood's first focus is locking down the backline and limiting opponent scoring, while Fremantle's priority is piling on big scores. Last week the Dockers came within three points of their highest ever score - and 10 points of the competition's leading score - and enjoyed an array of nine individual goalkickers, equalling the AFLW record. Up against arguably the best defence in the League, Fremantle has enough spread to challenge the likes of Stacey Livingstone, Ruby Schleicher and Lauren Butler. 
  • Tip: It will be a tight one, but a bolstered Fremantle midfield faces a slightly depleted onball brigade from the Magpies. Fremantle by five points. 

WATCH IT LIVE Magpies v Dockers

Collingwood's Jordan Membrey flies for a mark against Fremantle in R3, 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

Friday, January 28

Greater Western Sydney v Western Bulldogs at Henson Park, 5.10pm AEDT

  • Greater Western Sydney heads home for the first time this season, making itself comfortable at Henson Park. No doubt the Sydneysiders will be disappointed by their showing against North Melbourne last round and will be seeking redemption on Friday evening. Ally Morphett's presence in the air has been a real positive, alongside Chloe Dalton's energy and run. Utilising what these two offer - dominance in the air and speed when the ball hits the deck - will serve the Giants well as they look to a second win for 2022. 
  • The Western Bulldogs are very much an unknown entity right now, coming off a 19-day break and being one of the hardest-hit clubs by the competition's health and safety protocols. If they can get some momentum out of the middle, and find the running, handball game that served them well in the third quarter in round one, they have the potential to really put the Giants' defence under pressure. 
  • Tip: The Giants will be smarting from their scoreless first half on Sunday. Giants by two points. 

WATCH IT LIVE Giants v Bulldogs

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Saturday, January 29

Adelaide v Melbourne at Norwood Oval, 2.40pm ACDT

  • The second of two top-four battles for the round, this is set to be a big one. These two sides faced off twice in 2021, one for a big Melbourne win at Casey Fields and a preliminary final at Adelaide Oval where the Demons kicked themselves out of the finals race. Both sides have won eight of their past 10 matches and average more than 40 points per game in that time.  
  • Across the opening three rounds, Melbourne has shown its classy ball movement, but also that it can be susceptible when oppositions bring pressure. No team so far has been able to apply that pressure for long enough to steal the win, but Adelaide's fitness and willingness to do that hard work, as evidenced in round one against the Lions, may just catch the Demons out. 
  • Tip: Melbourne will fight valiantly, but Adelaide's home ground advantage and incredible fitness will put them just ahead. Adelaide by three points. 

WATCH IT LIVE Crows v Demons

Rachelle Martin of the Crows kicks under pressure from Alyssa Bannan of the Demons. Picture: AFL Photos

Brisbane v Geelong at Maroochydore Multi Sports Complex, 4.10pm AEST

  • Brisbane bounced back from a tricky start to the season with a big win against Carlton on Tuesday. Backing that up within four days is its next challenge. The Lions' one-percenters have been a cornerstone of their game for the past few seasons, and that has continued this year, averaging the most across the competition with 36 per game. These actions allow them to keep the ball alive and, when in the forward line, break through opposition defences. 
  • Geelong has shown plenty of improvement this season, particularly when it comes to where they are winning and maintaining control of the ball. The issue of their own scoring remains, however, as they average fewer than 20 points so far this year. Against a powerful Brisbane forward line that has just unleashed Zimmorlei Farquharson, the Cats will need to be able to generate a higher score than they have managed so far in 2022. 
  • Tip: Brisbane's attack will prove too strong despite growth at the Cats. Brisbane by 15 points. 

WATCH IT LIVE Lions v Cats

Brisbane's Orla O'Dwyer handballs against Geelong in R2, 2020. Picture: Getty Images

Sunday, January 30

Carlton v North Melbourne at Ikon Park, 3.10pm AEDT

  • Carlton's lack of pressure up the field regularly saw the side caught out in 2021, and that has crept in again this season. That lack of pressure through the middle of the ground leaves its defensive group under extra pressure as the ball tends to come in faster and when they are stuck one-out. Defensive efforts high up the field will be crucial if the Blues are going to get over the Kangaroos. 
  • On Sunday against the Giants, North Melbourne looked more like the destructive, unrelenting side we've come to know in recent years. Their 19 scoring shots last weekend was the highest in club history, but they converted just 38 per cent of those shots. Improving this accuracy will be a focus for the Roos as they look to continue this momentum with another win. 
  • Tip: Carlton hasn't yet played two weeks of consistent footy, and the short turnaround means key players will still be unavailable. North Melbourne by 20 points. 

WATCH IT LIVE Blues v Kangaroos

North Melbourne's Emma King in the ruck against Carlton in R5, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Gold Coast v Richmond at Metricon Stadium, 4.10pm AEST

  • The Suns have had two weeks to celebrate their first win in two years, but now need to take that momentum into another match. The maturity and game awareness Gold Coast showed in its last-quarter burst against West Coast was impressive, but this is something the side needs to find more consistently throughout games. Lowering eyes when going inside 50, slowing the game down when it gets too hot to control and drawing opponents out of space to create leading lanes for teammates, this was all prevalent in that final-quarter victory. 
  • Richmond is a better side than its 1-2 record suggests, kicking two of its three highest scores so far this season. The Tigers have been one of the most efficient sides in attack this year, not just when it comes to creating shots on goal, but converting those shots, going at 74.2 per cent in front of goal. At the other end of the ground, the backline faces the challenge of covering Harriet Cordner, who suffered an ACL injury last weekend. 
  • Tip: Gold Coast will be looking for its first back-to-back wins in its history, but Richmond will prove too strong. Richmond by 23 points. 

WATCH IT LIVE Suns v Tigers

Gold Coast's Alison Drennan runs with the ball against Richmond in R7, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Tuesday, February 1

Western Bulldogs v Fremantle at Whitten Oval, 7.10pm AEDT

  • The Western Bulldogs need to play a strong game in the midfield. Use the speed and breakaway power of Ellie Blackburn and Jess Fitzgerald to isolate Bonnie Toogood up forward and catch the Dockers' defence on the hop. This will be key to beating a well-drilled, high scoring Fremantle outfit. 
  • Fremantle has started to find more consistency throughout four quarters of game time, but still very much relies on winning and making the most of momentum swings within games. So far this year the Dockers have enjoyed two runs of three unanswered goals, a run of five and a run of six, helping them to a 3-0 record. The Bulldogs need to be hyper conscious of this aspect of Fremantle's game and develop strategies to limit it. 
  • Tip: The lack of second key forward target for the Bulldogs will see them struggle to make the most of the attack they create. Fremantle by 20 points. 

WATCH IT LIVE Bulldogs v Dockers

Fremantle's Gabby O'Sullivan in action against the Western Bulldogs in R6, 2020. Picture: Getty Images

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