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Opinion

The contenders and the pretenders in the 2021 AFLW season

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Roar Guru
1st March, 2021
2

Sometimes, footy can be unpredictable – ask the Giants about the men’s 2019 grand final.

We got five right in Round 5 of the AFLW season, failing to foresee Brisbane’s ending Fremantle’s ten-game win streak, as well as Melbourne continuing to misfire so dramatically. The Demons have now kicked 3.20 over their last two games.

But Round 6 of the AFLW 2021 season is easy. If we miss more than one game out of seven this week, we should retire our prognosticator’s badge.

As we’ve written about excessively this season, the fourteen women’s clubs have stratified into three very distinct tiers.

Contenders: Collingwood, Brisbane, Fremantle, Adelaide, North Melbourne, and Melbourne.
Tepid trio: Western Bulldogs, Carlton, St Kilda.
Pretenders: GWS, Richmond, West Coast, Gold Coast, Geelong.

The Contenders are 18-1 versus the eight teams below them; the Pretenders are 0-17 against the nine teams above them, and the middle three are 1-5 against Contenders and 4-0 versus Pretenders.

The only game marring perfection is the R4 upset by the Bulldogs over the Demons, and the scoreline succinctly explains the reason: 6.1 against 2.12.

Within their bracket, Collingwood is 2-0, North is 0-2, and the other four Contenders are 1-1 against each other.

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Among the bottom five, GWS and Richmond are without defeats, Gold Coast and Geelong are without victories, and West Coast sits at 1-1. Finally, each of the Tepid Trio have won one and lost one in their unintentional round-robin play.

As the powers-that-be gave each of the six Contenders a R6 opponent outside their strata, and mismatched the seventh game’s tiers as well, all seven games are a snap to pick.

Is there a chance that one of these games will fluke into another 6.1 to 2.12 endeavour? Of course. But if there is more than one such game, it’ll be astounding. Our ELO-FF ratings don’t put any game within two goals.

Friday
North Melbourne at Richmond’s Swinburne Centre. Contender goes to Pretender and should win by 26 points, but it was wonderful to see Richmond win their first-ever AFLW contest!

It’s not every team that can honestly say their all-time average winning margin is 47 points! In fact, of the Tigers’ ten losses over their two-year history, only one was by more than that 47-point margin.

Unfortunately for them, that one was a smashing last year by these Kangaroos, 76-20. We don’t play favourites at “Following Football”, but truthfully, we’re hoping for a closer match than that Friday night.

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Saturday
Brisbane goes to the Manuka Oval to play the GWS Giants. Contender goes to Pretender and is favoured by just over two goals. While the Giants are 2-0 within their stratus, they’re not in the same class as the Lions are, and we expect an easy Brisbane win.

Gold Coast goes to Adelaide’s Norwood Oval, and the “Following Football” ratings have the Contender winning by 38 points.

The two teams have never met, but the Crows are one of the four teams atop our ratings grouped around 66 (the Kangaroos have a 1.5-point separation above the Dockers, Crows, and Magpies), while the Suns have only the Eagles and Cats below their rating of about 32. (50 is the median rating.)

The Saints and Demons meet at Casey Fields in a Biblical battle that we think will end differently than Revelations says it does: Contender Melbourne should defeat mid-trio member St Kilda by two goals.

With the poor shooting of the last two games, Melbourne has dropped from having the third-best ELO-FF rating to sixth, barely above Carlton and the rest of the Tepid Trio.

But St Kilda sits ninth, well below the median, and at home the Demons should be up to their task – especially after two embarrassing games in front of the posts focuses this week’s practices.

Leah Kaslar handles the football.

Leah Kaslar (Chris Hyde/AFL Photos/Getty Images)

Sunday
Geelong goes to Ikon Park and gives the Blues a chance to pretend they are contenders. We see Carlton as 28-point favourites against the 14 place Cats, who have a long four weeks ahead of them if the Tigers can put 60 on them in Geelong.

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The middle game pits the Bulldogs against the lead dogs from Collingwood in Victoria Park. Over the last two weeks, Melbourne’s met both foes: while Footscray had to rely on a near-perfect 6.1 scorecard to win by 13, the Magpies annihilated the Demons 49-14, putting a 27-2 lead on the scoreboard at halftime.

I suspect Melbourne’s staff would tell you that Collingwood’s the real deal, and after Sunday, the Bulldog staff will say the same thing. Collingwood by 16.

The last game of the weekend is our first repeat of the season. I’m sure that the powers-that-be didn’t want to have any duplicate games, considering the brevity of the season and the fact that not every team is playing every other team to begin with.

But Covid changes everyone’s plans, so the two teams stranded out west will play a second Derby, with some local fans in attendance this time.

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Assuming the weather’s better this Sunday than it was in R2, Fremantle margin of victory should far exceed the nine points they muddled through by a month ago. Our ratings suggest that the Dockers are more than a six-goal favourite, in fact.

If these predictions hold true, Collingwood will remain one game up on the Lions, Dockers, and Crows. The last two spots in finals will momentarily be held by the Kangaroos and either the Bulldogs or Demons, depending on percentage.

Carlton would be alone in eighth at 3-3, one game ahead of the Saints and Giants.

The bottom four rungs of the ladder would still have Richmond and West Coast at 1-5, with Gold Coast and Geelong tied for the spoon, winless for 2021 and officially out of finals contention with a third of the season to go.

With a win, the Pies would be the third AFLW team to start 6-0, following last year’s Fremantle and the OG Brisbane team of 2017. History notes that neither of those teams finished with a championship, even though both finished the home-and-away unbeaten.