AFLW qualifying final preview: Kangaroos v Dockers

THE AFLW finals series kicks off on Saturday with a crucial qualifying final.

The match between North Melbourne and Fremantle will see the winner face Adelaide in a prelim the following week. 

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Last time they met

In round five this year, the Kangaroos got to work on how Fremantle had been piling on big scores, forcing the visitors wide or far from goal, and countless Dockers' shots fell just short. This led to Fremantle's lowest goal accuracy of the season, with just 16.7 per cent of shots resulting in a goal, less than half of the club's season average of 39.6 per cent. 

Gameplans

If the Dockers are to reverse their fortunes against North Melbourne, they will need to break through the Roos' clever defensive set-up and get the ball deeper inside 50. While a forward marking game would be ideal from the likes of Roxy Roux and Gemma Houghton, they will need to rely on recapturing the burst from congestion into attack that Hayley Miller and Ebony Antonio have offered for much of the year. 

Head to head 

North Melbourne and Fremantle have played each other twice in the last two years, with the former taking the four points each time. They haven't been easy wins, however, as the Kangaroos have won by a combined 11 points. 

Ash Riddell has had 30 or more disposals seven times in her career - the most of any player - and the first time she broke through the 30-touch barrier was in round nine last season against the Dockers when her Roos fell over the line by one point into finals. 

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For the Kangaroos, they were greatly helped by arguably Tahlia Randall's coming of age in attack. Randall had been teasing fans with some big leaps in the early part of the season, but had not yet put a big game together. Against Fremantle she took three contested marks and kicked a crucial goal when the Dockers found momentum. 

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Players to watch 

Jasmine Garner 

Much like her team, Garner had a slow start to the season but really hit her straps after a couple of games, including a game-high 29 disposals in round five against Fremantle. Her ability to play in any position and do some damage in the process will no doubt be front of mind for Trent Cooper and his team of coaches.  

Ebony Antonio 

Has been a game changer - and game winner - for Fremantle this year with her composure and agility with ball in hand. More than once, Antonio has neatly slotted a goal from distance after evading a number of opponents, lifting her team in the process. 

Fremantle's Ebony Antonio celebrates after beating Gold Coast on March 13, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

WATCH IT LIVE Kangaroos v Dockers

Dream match-ups 

Tahlia Randall v Janelle Cuthbertson 

Cuthbertson looks ready to return after a fractured cheekbone saw her miss the last eight games of the season. Her strength and intercept ability will match well with former defender Randall, especially given both are as strong in the air as they are on the ground. 

Emma King v Aine Tighe 

Both rucks have proven to be particularly useful at either end of the ground this year. King kicked two goals and took five marks against the Eagles on Sunday, while Tighe has registered more than 10 intercepts in a game twice this year despite spending time in both defence and attack. 

North Melbourne's Emma King and Fremantle's Aine Tighe battle in the ruck in R5, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Season so far 

North Melbourne 

The Kangaroos started the season slowly, with a narrow win over Geelong and a 13-point loss to Adelaide, but found some momentum through the middle stages where they won five consecutive games by an average of 21.8 points. An issue for the Roos this year, however, has been when coming up against sides above them on the ladder. The team's three losses have come against Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne, although it did defeat Fremantle when the Dockers were comfortably sitting in second spot. 

Fremantle 

Fremantle hit the competition hard early, debuting six players in round one and winning its first five games of the season by an average of 25.4 points. Similar to North Melbourne, the Dockers simply haven't been able to beat the sides above them this year, with their three losses coming against Adelaide, Melbourne and the Kangaroos. They do, however, have a better record in Victoria this year (4 wins, 0 losses, 206.5%) than they do at home (2 wins, 2 losses, 88%), so missing out on a home final might not be the worst result. 

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