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Why an all-expansion AFLW grand final could hurt new teams

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Roar Guru
4th March, 2019
7

Wouldn’t it be weird if the expansion team that won its conference was Geelong instead of North Melbourne?

The first loss for the North Melbourne women was a big one. It’s not so much that they fell into a tie for first in Conference A – technically they’re second on percentage among the three one-loss teams. The Kangaroos lost much more than their first game; they lost their air of invincibility.

Since before the season began the expansion club was being touted by most observers as a ‘super-team’ that had poached the best players from several competitors and put themselves in a class by themselves even before the first striped guernsey appeared on the field.

Nothing they did since play began in January had damaged that image. Beating Melbourne in their preseason hit-out by four goals put the league on notice: the Kangaroos were the team to beat even before their first season in the AFLW began.

They routed Carlton 52-16 in Tasmania.

They smashed the Giants 48-23 on the road.

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They easily passed their first conference challenger, the Bulldogs, 53-22.

They faced down their first close game opponent at Melbourne’s Casey Field 38-34.

The Kangaroos were the only undefeated team in the league, and even while preparing to play second-place Adelaide at home they seemed to possess momentum that would undoubtedly carry them as the favourite into finals even if somehow the Crows or their Round 7 opponents, Fremantle, happened to edge them out and ruin their rampage towards perfection.

But Adelaide didn’t just win Sunday. They left no doubt that North was no longer the belle of the ball.

After Elisha King brought the home team within four points with her first league goal at the five-minute mark of the third quarter it seemed like we were going to see the same kind of game we’d seen the previous week against the Demons. Perhaps North would win, perhaps they’d lose, but they’d remain the standard-bearer that all other teams measured themselves against.

Instead Adelaide spent the last 20 to 25 minutes wresting the mantle of domination from the Shinboners.

Goal to Sally Riley. Crows back up by ten.

Behinds to Danielle Ponter and Riley to finish the quarter up 12.

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Goal to Chloe Scheer early in the fourth. Crows pull away. Up 18.

Ebony Marinoff Chloe Scheer

Ebony Marinoff and Chloe Scheer of the Crows. (AFL Media)

And when the Roos failed to put the Sherrin between the big sticks when there was still a chance to win the Crows made a statement in the last five minutes of the game. When a champion has an opponent down you step on their throats.

Sophie Li, goal, 12:28.

Stevie-Lee Thompson, goal, 14:31.

Erin Phillips, goal after the siren.

Winning a game 45-29 would’ve been sufficient – it would have been a clear-cut victory for Adelaide and they still would have taken a percentage lead in the conference (165.6 to 157.1). But it isn’t as impressive or as dominant as 64-29, nor does it inflict the same psychological damage to a once-impervious club as slamming those last three goals down their throats just because they could.

It will be interesting to see how the Kangaroos recover in what would otherwise be a fairly easy game against Collingwood next week. Will they have the same swagger they did through the first four rounds? Or will it be a back-to-basics week during which they simply remind themselves what they’re capable of before facing Fremantle at home in what will now become an elimination game for a spot in finals?

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As for Adelaide, how will they perform against a ‘lesser’ opponent after having spent last Sunday on the mountain top? The Giants are perfectly capable of putting points on an opponent, and they will be playing for their finals lives Sunday afternoon.

Stay tuned!

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Meanwhile, Geelong has a full game lead over Brisbane and Carlton, who play each other this Sunday, in Conference B. Since they therefore can’t both catch Geelong even if the Cats lose to Freo this week, they’re literally one win from a finals spot as a top-two team in their conference. Only the Giants in Round 7 stand in the way of an eighth game for Geelong.

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Just a thought: I suspect that the folks running the AFLW expansion projects at Richmond, Gold Coast, St Kilda and West Coast are frantically praying that the 2019 grand final is not Geelong versus North Melbourne. If the two expansion clubs win their conferences in 2019, I’ll guarantee that the four new clubs next year get none of the privileges or opportunities these two got this year.

An update on our points-per-game extrapolations from last week: Round 5 didn’t budge the season average of 35.9 points per game so far this season. The Round 5 average was exactly 36.0 points per game. For that I blame Brisbane setting an all-time AFLW record low of eight points; the rest of the league averaged over 39 points per game.

Arguably, with two weeks to go in the season, all ten teams are still finalist possibilities – so there is an advantage to the lopsided conference set-up! – but in reality the Magpies and especially the Bulldogs will have to score about 100 points a game to tilt their percentages into the proper ranges, and even then it’s highly unlikely they’ll get the cooperation from the teams above them. But, as Lloyd Christmas would say, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”. Disrespect Dumb and Dumber at your discretion.

Now, the forecasts for Week 6.

Geelong vs Fremantle
Saturday, GMHBA Stadium
The ELO-Following Football metric and I disagree on this game (hey, it happens sometimes!). The home-field and long trip for the Dockers pushes the Cats to a 1.7-point advantage in this game. I tend to think that the purple haze will overwhelm the Cats despite the travel, and I’m taking Fremantle to win it even if it stays close. For the record, I am leading the ELO-FF metric so far this season, 16 to 15.

Collingwood vs North Melbourne
Saturday, Marvel Stadium
This is the first of the AFLW indoor double-header, and I sure wish I could be there! It’s going to be great to see the women compete in the environment that the Docklands provides the men’s game. Unfortunately we see both games as being a bit one-sided – here we’ll be very surprised if the Kangaroos don’t take out their frustrations from losing their first-ever game on the stagnant Magpies club. Our metric favours North Melbourne by over 17 points, but it could easily be double that margin or worse if the Roos get the ball moving. The Magpies simply aren’t equipped to keep up.

Courteney Munn

Courteney Munn of the Kangaroos. (Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

Western Bulldogs vs Melbourne
Saturday, Marvel Stadium
And if you were hoping the nightcap would make up for that potential rout? Well, join the crowd: I’m hoping for that too. It’s very possible that the defending champs will rise up and deliver against the Demons to stay ostensibly in the race for a finals berth, but that’s not the way to wager. ELO-FF has the Demons by 13.5 points, and we do too.

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Adelaide vs Greater Western Sydney
Sunday, Unley Oval
This game will be on Sturt’s home ground, just south of downtown Adelaide. I can’t recall an AFLW game being played there before, so I don’t know how familiar the home team is with the field. But given the sky-high rating of 67 that the Crows are flying above the league with right now, they could probably be playing in the parking lot and win this game barring a severe emotional let-down following their scintillating victory last week over the previously presumptive premiers. ELO-FF has this a 34-point game in Adelaide’s favour, and while I think the Giants could keep it closer than that, I can’t envision a scenario where they win this. Crows by less than 34 points.

Carlton vs Brisbane
Sunday, Ikon Park
On the other hand, Ikon Park has almost become the home ground of women’s football in Australia. The very first AFLW game was played there, for example, and probably the best game of the weekend will take place there as well. It’s hard not to agree with the six-point margin given to the Blues by the ELO-FF rating system. Carlton should be able to win this game at home, although Brisbane’s last road game was a rout of the Bulldogs – and its last home game was an eight-pointer last week – so who can say for sure. Still, we’ll take the Blues by that major.

Last Week: 3-2.
Overall: 16-8-1.

The ELO-FF metric on its own is 15-10 – but then so are the oddsmakers this season.

I notice that on AFL’s ‘crowd metric’ we’ve gone with the supposed underdog three times out of five with Fremantle, Melbourne and Carlton, so I’m going to look like either a genius or an idiot. I’ve done both before. Neither is fatal.