Fremantle have stood down 75 per cent of their staff in what they have labelled “extreme austerity measures” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
We have now over the halfway mark of the 2020 AFL Women’s season, and if what we have seen in the first four rounds is anything to go by, then this round of matches should prove to be a beauty.
The top places sides in Conferences A and B, the Brisbane Lions and Fremantle, will face off in a potential grand final preview in the west but not before another heavyweight match between North Melbourne and the Adelaide Crows in the Apple Isle.
With Canberra’s Manuka Oval unavailable due to the Twenty20 Cricket Women’s World Cup, Wagga Wagga will play host to the GWS Giants’ clash against Richmond, with their men’s sides to also face off in the NSW country town the following day in the AFL grand final rematch.
Elsewhere, Carlton will look to maintain its winning form when they host St Kilda at Princes Park, while Collingwood will look to put a horror week behind them when they face the Western Bulldogs in Morwell.
Here is your preview to Round 5.
Gold Coast Suns versus Geelong Cats
The start of Round 5 takes us to Mackay in central Queensland where the Gold Coast Suns will play host to the Geelong Cats.
The Suns have had a mixed start to their AFL Women’s history, losing to the GWS Giants by one point, defeating Richmond by eleven points and then coming from behind to force a draw against the Brisbane Lions in the first women’s QClash at Metricon Stadium.
In what was their first premiership match in Melbourne, the Suns kept North Melbourne honest for most of the match, before falling away in the final quarter to lose by 13 points.
They probably should be lucky to have not lost by more, if not for the Kangaroos’ inaccuracy in the second half.
Meanwhile, the Geelong Cats will be buzzing after defeating Richmond by 22 points to register its first win for the season, but it came with a cost with Jordan Ivers to miss through suspension after her high bump on Tigers captain Katie Brennan.
In kicking 10.7 (67) against the Tigers, the Cats registered their highest ever score in the AFL Women’s league, beating the 6.2 (38) they had scored against the Adelaide Crows the previous week.
The win over the Tigers was set up by a six-goal second term, and at one stage in the third they led by as much as 41 points before they allowed their opponents to save some face, reducing the final margin to 22 points.
Now, after making the long trip west in Round 1 where they lost to Fremantle, the Cats must now make another long trip out of town, travelling to Mackay for this fixture against the Suns. Something tells me they’ll return home with the points.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by six points.
North Melbourne versus Adelaide Crows
The first match on Saturday promises to be one of the matches of the year when premiership heavyweights North Melbourne and the Adelaide Crows face off at North Hobart Oval in Tasmania.
After losing their first game of the season to Melbourne by just two points, the Roos have hit back to win their next three matches, easily accounting for the GWS Giants and Richmond before holding off the Gold Coast Suns last week to win by 13 points.
It very nearly didn’t happen, though, as Sophie Abbatangelo gave away a 50-metre penalty in the final quarter, which resulted in the Suns’ Lauren Ahrens kicking a major to reduce the margin to less than a kick.
However, Daisy Bateman proved to be the hero as the Roos marked their first AFLW match at their spiritual home, Arden Street Oval, with a hard-fought win.
Now they face the Adelaide Crows, who despite the return of superstars Erin Phillips and Rhiannon Metcalfe, and a strong start in its grand final rematch against Carlton, fell by eight points to see their season record drop to 2-2.
The return of Phillips and Metcalfe was supposed to be the boost the Crows needed as they attempt to successfully defend their flag, but while they did kick the first three goals of the match, they conceded five of the final six majors to crash to their second defeat this season.
Still, the Crows sit in third place in Conference A, behind the Brisbane Lions and North Melbourne, and will almost certainly require a huge win if they are to overtake the Roos and move into second place on the ladder.
And while they did win the corresponding match last year by 35 points, I think the Roos will take the points this time – but only by just.
Prediction: North Melbourne by one point.
GWS Giants versus Richmond
Over five months after their men’s teams met in the grand final, it’ll be the women’s turn to take centre stage when the GWS Giants and Richmond face off at Wagga Wagga.
The Giants’ inconsistent form continued last Sunday when they fell to the Brisbane Lions by 28 points in the sunshine capital last week, but could take one minor victory in that they kept the Lions goalless in the final quarter.
This followed their impressive win over the West Coast Eagles in which they kept their opponents scoreless for three quarters, before notching up a 28-point win – their second-largest in AFL Women’s.
While they will start favourites against a Richmond side that is yet to get off the mark, they’ll want to take notice of the Tigers’ performance, where they pushed the Cats for most of the match before falling by 22 points.
What didn’t help the Tigers’ cause was that Katie Brennan was knocked out just before three-quarter-time, the result being that she wasn’t able to play out the final quarter when her influence could’ve swung the result their way.
In what is also shaping as a huge weekend for both the Giants and Tigers at Wagga Wagga, their men’s teams will face off in the AFL grand final rematch the following day.
The fixture in Wagga Wagga indirectly replaces the Giants’ annual fixture at Manuka Oval in Canberra, which was rendered unavailable due to the ongoing Twenty20 Cricket Women’s World Cup.
The fear of becoming the first team to lose to Richmond should spur the Giants to another win, which would again put them in the black as far as their season record (2-2) is concerned.
Prediction: GWS Giants by 12 points.
Carlton versus St Kilda
The Saturday evening match sees Carlton return home to host St Kilda in front of what is expected to be another bumper crowd at Ikon Park.
The Blues improved to 3-1 for the season after gatecrashing the return of Adelaide Crows superstar Erin Phillips in the grand final rematch in Adelaide last Sunday, coming from behind to win by eight points, thanks once again to 19-year-old sensation Maddy Prespakis.
They had conceded the first three goals of the game, but hit back with five of the final six majors of the game to register its first interstate win since Round 3 last year.
Now they have their sights set on St Kilda, which suffered a heartbreaking one-point loss to competition pacesetters Fremantle at its spiritual home, Moorabbin Oval, also last Sunday.
With less than two minutes to go, the Saints were on track to record its second consecutive victory before Molly McDonald gave away the match-losing 50-metre penalty when she failed to give the ball back to Fremantle’s Kate Flood.
Not only did that result in Flood kicking the goal that levelled the scores, they later finished on the wrong side of the scoreboard when Gemma Houghton inflicted a Barry Breen on them by kicking the winning point in the final minute.
Rubbing salt to the wound, Kate McCarthy and Tarna White both suffered a leg and ACL injury respectively, with neither player likely to return again this season.
While the Saints should provide a contest, the Blues, in front of their home fans, should take the chocolates.
Prediction: Carlton by eight points.
Collingwood versus Western Bulldogs
The first match on Sunday sees Collingwood return home to host the struggling Western Bulldogs in the country Victorian town of Morwell.
After starting the season with two straight wins, the Pies have dropped their last two, the worst of them last Friday night’s 20-point loss to Melbourne in which Ash Brazill suffered the dreaded ACL injury that has not only ruled her out for the year, but also the Pies’ upcoming Super Netball season.
They had, prior to the defeat against the Dees, beaten the West Coast Eagles and Carlton in the opening two rounds, before falling short against Fremantle by just three points in the west in Round 3.
Thus, they’ll be keen to hit back against the Bulldogs, who after defeating St Kilda in Round 1 have proceeded to drop their next three matches, including last week’s gut-wrenching four-point loss to the West Coast Eagles.
The Dogs had the chance to win the match in the dying minutes, but a set shot from Kirsten McLeod missed its target, thus sentencing the side to their third straight loss and seeing their hopes of qualifying for the finals drift away.
As it stands, both the Pies and Dogs sit in fourth and fifth place respectively in Conference B, so a loss for either side and they can just about kiss their finals chances goodbye.
For the Pies, they’ll want to ensure their return to Morwell is much more successful, after they gifted the GWS Giants their first win of season 2019 there over twelve months ago.
Prediction: Collingwood by eleven points.
Melbourne versus West Coast Eagles
On a high after registering their first win in the AFL Women’s competition, the West Coast Eagles will be hoping to keep the momentum going when they travel across the country to face Melbourne at Casey Fields.
After a tough initiation into the league, which included losing heavily to arch-rivals Fremantle, and being held scoreless for three quarters against GWS, the Eagles broke through for their inaugural win last week, coming from behind to down the Western Bulldogs by four points.
This would not have been possible without the services of captain Emma Swanson, who picked up 22 disposals and also kicked a goal.
Melbourne, meanwhile, bounced back from its gut-wrenching loss to St Kilda with a strong 20-point win over Collingwood in the match that was played as a curtain-raiser to the men’s State of Origin for Bushfire Relief match at Marvel Stadium.
Coach Mick Stinear would have put the onus on his team to respond to the loss to the Saints, which could prove costly if the side again misses the finals like they did in the past three seasons, and they did so, leading from start to finish to improve their season record to 3-1.
The Dees were the beneficiary of consecutive 50-metre penalties which saw Jackie Parry kick the opening goal in her debut match, while Karen Paxman and Libby Birch were also strong performers for the club.
Now, on Sunday, they’ll start hot favourites against the Eagles, which will be attempting to break its duck in Victoria after going down to Collingwood by 27 points in Round 1.
Prediction: Melbourne by 14 points.
Fremantle versus Brisbane Lions
They say to save the best for last, and that’s exactly what will be the case when Fremantle and the Brisbane Lions, top of their respective conferences, clash in a potential grand final preview in the west to wrap up Round 5.
After spending their first three weeks at home, the Dockers travelled for the first time in the season last week, and managed to escape with a one-point win over St Kilda after they had been down by a goal with two minutes remaining.
In rather controversial circumstances, it was Kate Flood who stepped up to kick the match-tying goal after Saint Molly McDonald had been slapped with a 50-metre penalty after failing to return the ball to her opponent inside the final minutes.
Gemma Houghton later pulled off a Barry Breen and kicked the match-winning point to give the Dockers victory by that margin, ensuring they remained unbeaten in 2020.
Meanwhile, the Lions put the Giants to the sword at home, kicking the first two goals of the match and never really being threatened despite being held goalless in the final quarter.
After being pegged to a draw against the Suns in Round 3, the Lions were out to ensure there was no repeat of their second half fadeout from last week against the Giants, leading from start to finish to reclaim top spot in Conference A.
It was a welcome return to the coaches’ box for Craig Starcevich, who was forced to watch the inaugural women’s QClash from the comforts of home due to illness.
It is possible that the Lions could go into the match against the Dockers in second place on the ladder, if North Melbourne beats the Adelaide Crows on the Saturday. Thus, the incentive will be there for the northerners to win.
At home, though, I think Fremantle will take the points.
Prediction: Fremantle by six points.