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Opinion

The haves, the have-nots, and the tepid trio

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Roar Guru
16th February, 2021
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It’s too easy to simply separate the 14 clubs in the 2021 incarnation of the AFLW into contenders and imposters.

There’s also a curious threesome of clubs in the middle, which have somehow already obtained equilibrium just three rounds in.

In Round 1, St Kilda defeated the Bulldogs 51-42, who beat Carlton 42-36 in Round 2, who then conquered the Saints 40-16 in Round 3. Transitive logic concludes that St Kilda are 39 points better than the Saints, which isn’t possible.

What it means is that these three teams fall squarely between the haves and the have-nots of the AFLW, and we should expect each of them to win when matched up with a bottom-five club and lose against one of the top six.

That top six is now firmly established: Brisbane, Fremantle, Collingwood and Melbourne are all unbeaten, while North Melbourne and Adelaide each lost their initial game this week to one of the aforementioned unbeatens.

Together, they are 14-0 against the rest of the AFLW. Fremantle and Melbourne earned those wins against fellow contenders and should be considered the most tested so far, although Brisbane’s gaudy percentage can hardly be discounted, unless you watched the first half of Monday’s game against West Coast.

Jess Wuetschner

(Chris Hyde/AFL Media/Getty Images)

On the dark side, the bottom five teams are 1-14 overall, with the only win coming when the Giants beat Gold Coast 18-8 this weekend.

The quintet is thus 0-13 against the rest of the AFLW, with the only vaguely competitive loss coming out west in the rain in Round 2 when the Eagles held the Dockers to a soggy 23-14 victory. We should expect that none of these five teams will win except when they get to play each other.

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While this stratification makes for dull competition, it makes prognostication easier. Here are the seven games currently scheduled for Round 4 – as we’ve learnt, even during game week these are subject to change thanks to COVID restrictions.

Friday
St Kilda host Geelong at RSEA Park. Geelong are playing a team outside the bottom five, therefore, I agree with the ELO ratings that our Following Football organisation maintains, which give the Saints a 14-point advantage.

Saturday
Carlton host Richmond at Ikon Park. Richmond are a bottom-five team, so their record losing streak should extend to ten following this game. ELO-FF favours Carlton by 34 points.

Fremantle host Gold Coast at Fremantle Oval. Another bottom-five team goes down on the road, as the Dockers enter this match as 40-point favourites to move to 11 straight victories. The Suns broke a string of eight goalless periods late in the game against GWS Saturday. It’s possible they’ll have a new streak going when they leave Fremantle.

Next there is a competitive match-up. Marvel Stadium hosts two contenders, the Kangaroos and Magpies. ELO-FF has this as a 14-point North Melbourne victory. I’ll trust the numbers and take North despite last week’s loss, banking on the anger at Arden Street following their third straight poor performance against Melbourne and their spotless record versus Collingwood.

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Sunday
The other important game this weekend takes place at Hickey Park, where Brisbane pit their 500-plus percentage against their old nemesis, the Adelaide Crows. These are two of the most successful teams in AFLW history: Adelaide are 18-11-1, while Brisbane sit at 18-10-2. Freo have 19 wins across all time, and Melbourne sit atop the record book at 20.

Our ratings have Adelaide as a one-point favourite, but after the rout at the hands of Fremantle last week, it’s hard to see this version of the Crows keeping up with the leader in points scored and points allowed so far this season. I’ll take Brisbane in a close one.

Whitten Oval hosts the original women’s game: the Bulldogs versus the Demons. Melbourne shouldn’t lose to a team outside the top six, and our ratings have them favoured by 14. But for at least the next several years, we should simply appreciate it whenever these two clubs duke it out, as they’re the reason this entire league exists.

Marvel Stadium

(Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Finally, GWS host West Coast in Blacktown. Both clubs sit in that bottom five, so both will relish the rare opportunity to put a tally in the left-hand column. The ELO-FF ratings give the Giants a 19-point advantage, which seems far too high given the fight the Eagles put up in the first half versus Brisbane on Monday, and the fact that GWS have only surpassed 19 points once in three attempts. Still, I am pegging the Giants to win, just by far less than 19.

Sadly, forecasting the final ladder is impossible without knowing what the next several rounds hold in store. We can’t blame the AFLW for that. They’re doing the best they can with the hand they’ve been dealt in this COVID-laden environment. What it will come down to, unfortunately, is how many of the top six teams face each other, and how many can skirt through the next several rounds relatively untested and garner a top seed.

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Fortunately, we can already safely predict the six teams that should qualify for finals – the six teams in my contenders tier, in some random order dependent on scheduling: Brisbane, Fremantle, Collingwood, Melbourne, Adelaide and the Kangaroos.

Or maybe that’s not so fortunate after all. In 2018 we came within two games of having all eight teams within one game of .500 at season’s end. It was exciting: a season without one dominant team, and while we only had two clubs in the finals (it shouldn’t have been plural with just one game), it lent truth to the old notion that any club could be champion, every game meant something, and any team could beat any other team on any given weekend.

I miss that feeling.