With one round of the regular season to go before the inaugural AFL Women’s grand final is contested between the Brisbane Lions and a still-to-be-determined team, the battle to become the second finalist and the race to avoid the wooden spoon will go down to the wire this weekend.
The Lions’ seven-point win over the Western Bulldogs, coupled with the Adelaide Crows’ two-point loss to Melbourne last weekend, confirmed that the club will host the inaugural AFL Women’s grand final next week.
The Craig Starcevich-coached side were expected to struggle in the inaugural AFL Women’s season but have exceeded expectations in more ways than one, and will almost certainly start favourites to win the inaugural AFLW premiership next Saturday.
The identity of their opponent, and the venue for the decider both remain unknown, but will become clearer by the end of Round 7.
The big talking point out of the Lions making the women’s grand final is where it should be held.
The Lions are arguing their case for it to be held at the Gabba, while their Queensland neighbours the Gold Coast Suns have pitched a plan for it to be played at Metricon Stadium as a curtain raiser to the men’s QClash, which takes place on the evening of March 25.
As has been documented in the past week or so, the ground recently hosted a music concert for British singer Adele, but Lions officials are confident that the ground will have recovered in time for the showpiece match.
Additionally, holding the match at the Gabba would also mean that fans would have to travel down to the Gold Coast if they are to catch the men’s team against the Suns later that day.
However, one pro in this respect is that with a starting time of 1:00pm, and all match formalities (including the post-match presentation) taking roughly less than three hours, fans can make it to the second match in time, but would have to tackle the traffic en route.
One strong point in the Suns’ favour is that having the AFLW decider at Metricon Stadium would eliminate the above point of Lions fans having to travel between the two grounds.
Another is that, as noted above, the Lions’ men’s team play the Suns in the evening, and there is no doubt the club would love to capitalise on this opportunity by having the Lions fans stay around for the main event.
With the minor premiership locked up, the Lions’ final round clash against Carlton at Ikon Park is a dead rubber, though the Blues will have something to play for as the second grand final berth is decided over the weekend.
The Blues, as well as the Crows, Demons and Magpies, are the only other clubs in contention to make the decider, though the Crows are in the box seat with the second-best percentage in the competition (159%).
The Crows had the chance to secure the second berth in the grand final but suffered a costly two-point loss to the Dees in Darwin last week.
Because of its percentage, all they need to do is beat Collingwood at Olympic Park Oval this weekend and they will qualify for the grand final, irrespective of other results.
Melbourne is the other club in a strong position to reach the decider; if it beats Fremantle and the Crows lose to the Pies, then they will overtake the Crows on the ladder and therefore be the team that travels north.
Carlton and Collingwood’s percentages of 114.9 and 92.7 respectively is too much of a gap to make up on both the Crows and Dees, so it’s a fair bet to rule them out of contention.
Meanwhile, the battle for the wooden spoon will be decided in the Saturday night prime time match between the GWS Giants and Western Bulldogs at the newly named UNSW Canberra Oval.
Last September, the men’s teams contested what many consider to be one of the greatest preliminary finals in modern history, with the Bulldogs winning by six points en route to breaking their 62-year premiership drought.
Six months on, their female counterparts will fight it out to avoid the ignominy of becoming the inaugural AFL Women’s wooden spooners.
Like the men’s team in their infant years, the Giants were expected to struggle in the inaugural AFLW season, but to their credit the injury-hit side have been competitive in at least half of their matches.
For their efforts, they managed a draw against Fremantle while they were able to score their first win by upsetting competition heavyweights Melbourne in Round 5.
However, as this is the first official season, the Giants, just like each of the other seven clubs, started on equal footing, unlike the men’s team which started miles behind the other 17 clubs when they entered the AFL (which is played across twenty-three rounds) in 2012.
Similarly, there was a large gap in experience between the Gold Coast Suns and the other 16 clubs when they entered the competition in 2011.
The Western Bulldogs, on the other hand, have lost five matches in a row since defeating Fremantle in Round 1 to drop to the foot of the standings with one round left to play in the inaugural AFLW season.
Fremantle, who is equal on points with the GWS Giants with the two clubs having contested a draw in Round 3, is the only other team that could finish last, but it has a superior percentage of 76.8 to the Giants’ 54.6.
The Bulldogs’ percentage is 87.3.
The Dockers would have to suffer an unlikely record defeat to Melbourne and hope the Giants versus Bulldogs tie ends in a draw if they are to finish last; otherwise, its 16-point win over Carlton at Domain Stadium last week ensured it would avoid the wooden spoon on percentage.
To finish off, what an exciting time it is to be supporting the inaugural AFL Women’s competition, and may there be many more great seasons and more teams to come in the future.