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Five quick takeaways from AFLW Round 4

Brooke Lochland of the Bulldogs celebrates a goal during the 2018 AFLW Round 04 match between the Western Bulldogs and the Carlton Blues at Victoria University Whitten Oval on February 23, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)
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25th February, 2018
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The 2018 AFLW season moved past its halfway point this week, with records broken and a surprise or two along the way.

The Bulldogs deserve some luck – Carlton doesn’t
If Katie Brennan and Isabel Huntington were healthy, the Bulldogs would likely be undefeated and the team to beat this season.

Injuries have hit their season hard, much as they did last year. A makeshift forwardline did pretty well in Round 4 – Brooke Lochland kicking an AFLW record bag of seven goals – but they can’t rely on that every week.

The Dogs sit first on the ladder with an enormous percentage, but as Carlton showed us, percentage can be eradicated quickly and you can be thrust down the ladder quicker than a game of snakes and ladders.

They’ll have to beat a resurgent Collingwood next week, then GWS in New South Wales and finally Melbourne at Whitten Oval. What this means is the top three teams all play each other going into finals and they control their own fates.

The Bulldogs have put together an elite midfield with top 10 draft selection Monique Conti fitting in alongside Ellie Blackburn and Emma Kearney beautifully and their backline dispatched Carlton like they were nothing.

Yes, the Blues were missing Tayla Harris, but they had one less inside 50 than the Dogs and kicked 10 fewer goals. Give credit to the Dogs’ backline and midfield pressure as well as blaming Carlton’s ineptitude.

The Blues meanwhile came into this game without Bri Davey, Tayla Harris Danielle Hardiman, Katie Loynes, Lauren Brazzale and Georgia Gee – all of whom are in the team’s best 18.

Davey, Harris, Hardiman and Loynes in particular would be in Carlton’s best eight players. The team they sent out there was a skeleton of their potential. Despite all of that and a coach recovering from a stint in hospital, there’s no excuses for what happened because the result would’ve been similar had that group been playing.

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Read last week’s takeaways for an in-depth look at Carlton’s failings. The Blues would obviously be a better team with that group in, but that doesn’t change their inability to win the footy which is rather important in this sport.

They’re the worst team in the competition through the midfield – by far – and unlike last year, they aren’t able to paper of the cracks with their forward and backline strengths.

Darcy Vescio can’t get anywhere near the footy and given the delivery she’s been getting, it’s not entirely her fault. The Blues have kicked 10 goals for the season – Vescio had eight by herself after four games last year.

It’s worth repeating the Bulldogs had only one more inside 50 than Carlton. Goes to show what you can do when you have a midfield that can transition the ball and any kind of functioning forward line structure.

Half the teams in the competition have injuries to key players, but only Carlton has fallen apart. This club needs a total overhaul, while the Dogs should be commended for their resilience.

Brooke Lochland tall

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Brisbane’s remaining games will shape the ladder
While other teams falter and fall apart, Brisbane continues to get the job done. Anything could have happened in the wet and wild conditions they faced against the Dockers, but they got the four points and sit second on the ladder.

How they recover from the bruising affair will be of upmost importance as they travel to Casey Fields on Friday night to take on Melbourne in what could be the biggest game of the season.

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The Bulldogs sit on top of the ladder but with the injuries they’ve suffered, they’re no certainty to stay there. The winner of Friday night’s game will be in the fast lane to the Grand Final, especially with Adelaide, GWS and Carlton now out of the mix.

Brisbane will then need to get the job done against Collingwood at home and GWS in Blacktown to secure their spot and there’s no reason to suggest they won’t given how good they’ve looked so far in 2018.

They continue to be the hardest team to score against, only conceding 85 points so far this season.

Every other team has given up over 100. Their midfield gets it done without being flashy thanks to the likes of Emma Zielke, Emily Bates, Nat Exon, Jamie Stanton and Kate Lutkins – who’d be in the mix for the MVP award.

Up forward, they look more dynamic this season without Tayla Harris thanks to the improvements of Jess Wuetschner who’s as dangerous as any player in the competition and of course Sabrina Frederick-Traub who continues to play whatever role the team needs her to play.

No team has found a good match-up for the two of them while also keeping excitement machine Kate McCarthy in check.

Of the three teams that won this weekend, Brisbane will be talked about least and yet they should be flag favourites.

Jess Wuetschner

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

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Wayne Siekman coached the game of his life, but what happens next?
Collingwood didn’t just take down the mighty Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, they completely out-coached them.

Putting aside the fact someone at AFL HQ ticked off playing a game in Alice Springs in the middle of summer, the Pies adjusted to the conditions better and put the clamps on Melbourne’s engine room after half time.

Daisy Pearce was completely shut out of the game by Brittany Bonnici who picked up 13 disposals herself, Jasmine Garner was effective after moving down into defence, Emma King gave the Collingwood midfielders first use and they punished Melbourne on the scoreboard every time they turned the ball over thanks to the ever-underrated duo of Steph Chiocci and Christina Bernardi.

Coach Siekman was harshly criticised by former Collingwood player and current Richmond Head of Women’s Football Kate Sheahan during the week and while Sheahan has copped it from the media for having an opinion despite her role with the Tigers, you couldn’t look at Collingwood’s body of work and disagree with her assertion that Siekman’s job was in danger.

Collingwood was winless and still had to play the four best teams in the competition. They were competitive in their three losses, but with the exception of Chloe Molloy, there wasn’t much to get excited about and it would’ve meant two very poor seasons under Siekman.

They had a daunting forward line on paper coming into the season, but they opted to play the likes of Molloy, Garner and Jess Duffin in other positions despite the fact they were struggling to hit the scoreboard. The Pies were a frustrating team to watch and the coaching staff deserved to be put under pressure.

What they did against the Dees was risky, but it paid off. They built their forward line around Moana Hope and Bernardi and pushed everyone else up the ground.

Melbourne’s backline love getting their hands on the ball more than they do defending, and so this left open space for the Pies to hurt them on the counterattack and it worked at least three times, with Collingwood players kicking goals after being left alone inside 50.

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One win doesn’t make a season though and Siekman isn’t out of the fire just yet. They’re still wooden spoon favourites because of their fixture.

Scrap the draw
Full disclosure, I love when we see draws in AFL games, but their purpose just doesn’t translate to AFLW.

Draws create an oddity in the ladder and when you have 18 teams, 22 games and eight finals spots up for grabs, they cause utter chaos and it’s beautiful. As far as AFLW goes, they simply eliminate teams from finals contention.

Because of that draw, GWS and reigning premiers Adelaide are now both done for the season, barring divine intervention. Each team only gets seven games and the value of every win and loss is enormous.

It’s a massive shame because GWS looked a much improved team this season and were fun to watch when they didn’t have to play in driving rain – thanks New South Wales.

Adelaide meanwhile had to run the table to make the Grand Final, but with Erin Phillips back in the side, they had a chance. Not anymore!

Draws don’t create the same chaos in AFLW as they do for the men because there isn’t enough time or spots available for them to be a factor.

All they do is count as a half-win that gives teams nothing.

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Even GWS gun Alicia Eva said post-game that the match “deserved a result”. Scrap the draw next season please.

Are the Dees out of it too?
It’s now a four horse race for the Grand Final – with Fremantle also a chance, but needing a lot to go their way.

While Brisbane and the Bulldogs have hit their strides this week, Melbourne has been going in the opposite direction.

Two weeks ago they looked unbeatable. Now, after a two-game road trip, they sit in third place having lost to the Dockers and Collingwood and wondering what just happened.

This is what happened – Melbourne got cocky and paid the price. There’s not a shadow of a doubt they’re better than both of the teams that beat them, but if you watch both of those games, the Demons were not prepared to be the team everyone is trying to hunt.

Fremantle hit them hard early and sacrificed their best midfielders to neutralize Melbourne’s. From there, a scrap broke out and the Dees weren’t able to put the score on the board.

As already mentioned, Collingwood totally out-coached Melbourne, but they were also the better team for three and a half quarters.

The Pies didn’t put scoreboard pressure on Melbourne in the first half, but otherwise they were on top from start to finish.

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The Demons now face Brisbane, Carlton and the Bulldogs in the final three games and won’t have to leave Victoria.

Obviously, playing the two other main teams in contention will determine their season and while they sit in third right now, they’re still just as alive as anyone.

The issue will be percentage. They’ve conceded 157 points this season, while the Dogs and Lions have conceded 101 and 85 respectively.

Unless they beat both teams – which is entirely possible – they may miss out on percentage for the second consecutive season.

Melbourne may still be the best team in the competition, but they’re fighting from the outside. It’s now their turn to be the hunters and we’ll have to wait and see if that role suits them more.