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Opinion

AFLW Round 5 at a glance

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Roar Guru
5th March, 2020
3

Before analysing this week’s games, let’s take a quick look at the meta-standings for the teams and the players in the AFLW at the midpoint of the season.

Like all the other related sports my colleagues and I analyse at Following Football, the AFLW is rated using an ELO rating structure – a zero-sum system where every game produces a rise in the over-performing team’s rating and an equal drop in the under-performing team’s rating. Thus the sum of all 14 teams’ ratings is always the same (in the AFLW, that sum is 1400).

All that is preface for the fact that we’ve violated that on behalf of Adelaide’s Erin Phillips.

Phillips, the two-time MVP, is so significant to the Crows’ success that her absence made their absurdly high carryover rating from their 2019 title unsustainable. So we semi-arbitrarily subtracted a goal per game from their rating, six points. This brought their rating down from 16 points higher than the next-best team (the Kangas at the time) to just ten.

With Phillips’ return, we’ve returned those six points to their rating, putting the Crows back on top of the AFLW ELO-Following Football ratings ladder.
1. Adelaide (62.8)
2. Kangaroos (61.7)
3. Fremantle (58.0)
4. Melbourne (57.6)
5. Carlton (56.8)
6. Brisbane (51.8)
7. Collingwood (49.9)
8. St Kilda (49.3)
9. Gold Coast (47.3)
10. Bulldogs (45.6)
11. GWS Giants (43.9)
12. Geelong (42.1)
13. West Coast (38.3)
14. Richmond (34.9)

It may look odd to see the two loss-less teams sitting third and sixth on this list, but on a neutral field, as currently constructed, it’s not hard to argue that both the Crows and Roos might very well be favoured against either Fremantle or Brisbane. Richmond has claimed the bottom of this ladder as firmly as they have the league ladder, and St Kilda’s second strong showing in as many weeks has them planted as the best of the four newbies at the halfway mark.

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On the topic of the best-and-fairest league wide, our amalgamation of nine sources of player evaluations shows these dozen women on top of their game so far.
1. Kiara Bowers (FR) – 137
2. Jaimee Lambert (CW) – 133
3. Jasmine Garner (NM) – 120
4. Emma Kearney (NM) – 115
5. Karen Paxman (ME) – 111
6. Madison Prespakis (CA) – 109
7. Dana Hooker (WC) – 104
8. Ebony Marinoff (AD) – 103
9. Anne Hatchard (AD) – 101
10. Kate Lutkins (BR) – 99
11. Emily Bates (BR) – 92
12. Jamie Stanton (GO) – 90

Now, on to this week’s games. Last week, we all failed to foresee wins by the Eagles and Blues. The fans picked Richmond over Geelong for some reason, and while I called all five of the other winners, I missed two spreads (the Roos and Dockers struggled more than I expected). Overall, I’ve hit 21.5 winners. ELO-FF is at 20. The oddsmakers are at 19.5, and the fan consensus is at 18.5 for the season.

Gold Coast vs Geelong
Oddsmakers say: Suns by 4.5
ELO-Following Football says: Suns by nine
The fan consensus says: 78 per cent favour Geelong

Remember, experience beats exp… hmmm. Maybe not. This time, there are legitimate reasons to take the novice Queensland team over the more experienced club from Sydney. On record and percentage, Gold Coast has the edge. The last couple of times I recall Suns teams wandering northwards along the western coast to play, they’ve managed pretty well (the men beating North in a flood in Cairns in 2018 sticks out). And in comparing common opponents, it’s hard not to notice that while the Lions could only manage a draw with their Queensland neighbours, they handled the Cats with ease on the road in Round 2.

Rules are made to be broken. Gold Coast to win and cover the 4.5-point spread.

North Melbourne vs Adelaide
Oddsmakers say: Kangaroos by 6.5
ELO-Following Football says: Kangaroos by four
The fan consensus says: 63 per cent think the Kangaroos will win

This has the potential to be a fantastic game. You’d think North would have a home-field advantage, but the Roos are as unfamiliar with this stadium as Adelaide are. This is their sixth home game all time, and they’ve hosted games on four different sites already. They’ve been at UTAS in Launceston twice since they played their ice-breaking game here in Round 1 last year – in fact, they’ve played Melbourne on the road at Casey Fields twice since they last hosted a game in North Hobart! In this, their 12th AFLW game, this is the ninth different field they’ve played on, and the fifth in five games in 2020. Admittedly, this is a league-wide issue, not just one for this club.

You could see Erin Phillips easing herself into the action over the course of the afternoon against Carlton last week after ten months on the sideline with that horrific ACL injury she sustained in last year’s grand final. With another week’s full practice and the experience of playing a strong opponent without re-injuring that leg, it’s easy to picture Phillips allowing herself to move more freely this weekend compared to last.

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Erin Phillips

(Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

They’re the top two teams on our ratings ladder, and for the first time all season the Crows are the underdog in the ELO numbers. But I have a suspicion that Adelaide will look much better this week than last, and since losing to Melbourne in their season opener, North have only played mediocre opponents (or worse, in Richmond), and they struggled for too long last week against the Suns. On top of that, the Crows already have two losses, and a third probably eliminates them from finals, while the Kangaroos have more leeway – it’s not as urgent for them to win.

I smell an upset brewing. Adelaide to win outright.

GWS vs Richmond
Oddsmakers say: Giants by 13.5
ELO-Following Football says: Giants by 12
The fan consensus says: Giants, 82 per cent

It’s easy to watch the Tigers and see that they’re improving. They managed 45 points last week, only four other teams scored more in Round 4. But much of that came once Geelong were comfortably ahead and could relax a bit on the back end in order to soak up the free-flowing scoring vibe themselves. The only team this season that scored more than Geelong’s 67 was North, scoring 76 in Round 3 against this same Richmond team, which has now given up 143 points in two weeks. Uh oh.

Just because the Tigers are improving doesn’t mean they don’t have a long way to go to reach competitive. They don’t even have a home-field advantage to lean on, having never played a game here before. GWS should win and cover comfortably.

Carlton vs St Kilda
Oddsmakers say: Carlton by 9.5
ELO-Following Football says: exactly the same
The fan consensus says: a whopping 96 per cent think Carlton will win

Ah! A familiar stadium! A home-field advantage! Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles!

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This is an interesting match-up. Carlton are 3-0 on the road (counting their Round 1 game at Ikon at Richmond in that total) and 0-1 in their one official home game (against Collingwood in Round 2). The Saints have played two impressive games in a row, pulling off a win against Melbourne in Round 3 and nearly doing so against Fremantle in Round 4. But both of those experiences were at home. It was in their one previous road game, in Adelaide in Round 2, where their inexperience showed in spades.

Despite their impressive and improving performances, it’s hard to get past experience beats expansion in this contest. Every team has had an off game already (some more than one), so I can’t hold Carlton’s loss to the Pies against them after their last two wins. They will be too strong for the Saints. Carlton win, although I’m not sure enough of the margin to stick my neck out and say they cover.

Collingwood vs Western Bulldogs
Oddsmakers say: Magpies by 7.5
ELO-Following Football says: Magpies by a goal
The fan consensus says: 80 per cent are in favour of the black and white

Originally, I was going to make an argument that the Doggies were regressing, but then I took a closer look at the four games this season.

Round 1 was an easy win over an expansion Saints team still trying to figure out which way was up.

In Round 2, they were routed by Melbourne, kicking just two scoring shots (one of which came from an Irish import not yet knowing every nuance of the rule differences here).

Round 3 was a 21-point loss to a Blues team favoured by just four. They never led.

In Round 4, they became the first team to lose to what I thought was the weakest of the expansion clubs.

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This is simply a bad team. Replay that Saints game today and the Dogs would lose by three goals. Collingwood hadn’t had a bad game all season except versus Melbourne last Friday, and there are forgivable reasons for that loss. I’m taking Collingwood plus the points, plus a few more than that – it won’t be close.

Melbourne vs West Coast
Oddsmakers say: Demons by 17.5
ELO-Following Football says: Demons by 22.5
The fan consensus says: Demons take it, according to a 94 per cent majority

Remember my argument last week as to why Fremantle would dismantle the Saints following their first victory? Sounded foolproof – and yet the Dockers were lucky to escape. St Kilda were the better team for most of the game.

This is a similar situation, but I’m going to make a similar argument despite my logic failing last time. There are reasons why history won’t repeat itself this time.

The Saints upset a good Melbourne team. The Eagles only beat the Bulldogs (see the game forecast just above this one for why that’s different).

The team travelling across the country this time is the upsetter, not their opponent. Big distinction.

Melbourne were the first team upset by an expansion team. I guarantee their pride won’t let them get caught unprepared this time.

There is no number four. Melbourne win comfortably – but three goals is a big spread. I’m not comfortable hanging my hat or any other piece of clothing on 17.5, even if our own computer is spitting out 22. Just say Melbourne win without sweating during the last minute or so.

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Melbourne Demons AFLW

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Fremantle vs Brisbane
Oddsmakers say: Fremantle by 6.5
ELO-Following Football says: Dockers by ten points
The fan consensus says: 86 per cent in favour of the Dockers

Given their respective ladder positions, this isn’t just a potentially great game. It’s potentially a grand final preview as well, although neither club has an easy back half to their schedule awaiting them. But I’m a firm believer that tough games create tough teams, and both Fremantle and Brisbane are quality 16s that will almost certainly qualify for finals even if they lose one or two down the stretch (besides this one). Teams that coast into the post-season without battle-testing rarely do well when the skin hits the road, but these two will face plenty of challenges that will prepare them to perhaps meet again in the last game of the year.

Home-field advantage says the Dockers win this round. That lone goal the oddsmakers are preferring Fremantle by may just be little enough to entice me to lay the points. Okay, Dockers to win and cover, I suppose.