Round 6 of the AFLW season has been released – the highlight of which is a blockbuster clash between Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs at Victoria Park on Sunday.
For several other teams, this is just about the last roll of the dice, with the Giants’ finals hopes hinging on a tough home clash with the Brisbane Lions in what will be the first AFL or AFLW match to be played in Canberra since August 2019.
St Kilda’s finals aspirations will also go on the line when they face Melbourne at Casey Fields, while we will have our first return clash in AFLW history when the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle contest the second Western Derby of the season, to be played with fans in attendance.
The Eagles and Dockers had already clashed in Round 2, but a major COVID scare in Western Australia saw that match played behind closed doors at Fremantle Oval. The return clash will give fans an opportunity to watch the two rivals in action at Optus Stadium.
Elsewhere, Richmond will look to back up its breakthrough win over the Geelong Cats when they face North Melbourne, while the Cats’ chase for a win continues against Carlton at Ikon Park.
Here is your preview of Round 6.
Richmond vs North Melbourne
Watching the scenes after full-time at Kardinia Park last Friday night, you’d think that Richmond had just won the grand final.
Rightly so, after the Tigers broke a ten-match losing streak spanning two seasons with a strong 47-point win over the Geelong Cats in which they controlled proceedings from start to finish.
It wasn’t quite exactly the celebrations that we saw when the Tigers defeated the Cats when their men’s teams contested last year’s grand final at the Gabba, but what we saw last week were quite similar in nature.
Among their best were captain Katie Brennan and 2018 premiership player Monique Conti, while Sabrina Frederick chipped in with a major as the Tigers produced easily their best performance since joining the AFL Women’s competition in 2019.
But for all the euphoria of their first-ever win, things could come crashing back down when they welcome North Melbourne to Punt Road Oval to kick off Round 6.
The Roos broke a two-match losing streak by defeating Carlton in the Apple Isle, though they were aided by the absence of suspended Blues star Maddy Prespakis, who copped a one-match suspension for rough conduct on ex-teammate Sarah Hosking in Round 4.
That has put the club’s record back in the black, following consecutive losses to Melbourne and Collingwood, and revived their premiership aspirations as they look to become the second Victorian club to claim the AFL Women’s flag.
But while the Tigers will be aided by a parochial home crowd, the Roos will spoil the party and take the points back to Arden Street Oval.
North Melbourne by 25 points.
GWS Giants vs Brisbane Lions
Over 19 months since its last AFL/AFLW match, Canberra will finally get to see some action when the GWS Giants travel to their secondary home to face premiership fancies the Brisbane Lions on Saturday afternoon.
It will be the first match to be played in the nation’s capital since the infamous snow match between the Giants and Hawthorn, which the latter won by 56 points, in August 2019.
Five months before that, the Giants’ AFLW team’s most recent match at Manuka Oval saw them record a 31-point win over the Geelong Cats for their second of two wins that season (the other being against Collingwood in Melbourne in Round 4).
But the cricket Women’s World Cup, followed shortly after by the global COVID-19 pandemic, saw no AFL or AFLW matches played in the ACT for the first time since 2000, with the territory declared a hotspot by the Queensland government in the second half of last year.
While there was little or no community transmission in the ACT last year, the fact Sydneysiders were attempting to use Canberra as a backdoor to enter the Sunshine State forced Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to shut the door on travellers from the territory.
Back on topic now, and the Brisbane Lions will enter this match riding a wave of momentum after putting an end to Fremantle’s unbeaten run to the season, and an 11-match winning streak, with an 11-point win in the west last Saturday afternoon.
Craig Starcevich’s side had gone into the match on the back of a disappointing home loss to the Adelaide Crows, but rediscovered their Midas touch to upset the Dockers and overtake them in premiership favouritism.
On the other hand, after two straight wins, the GWS Giants came crashing back to earth against the Western Bulldogs last weekend, beaten by 25 points and they failed to kick a goal in either the second or fourth quarters.
The loss may have exposed the Giants as flat-track bullies, their two wins having come against bottom sides the Gold Coast Suns and West Coast Eagles.
Facing the Lions in Canberra is the last thing they would want as they battle to keep their finals hopes alive, and less than a month out from April, the northerners will show no mercy as they attempt to bring a flag back to the sunshine capital for the first time since 2003.
Brisbane Lions by 28 points.
Adelaide Crows vs Gold Coast Suns
The second match on Saturday sees the Gold Coast Suns play away from Queensland for a fourth straight week, this time to face the red-hot Adelaide Crows at Norwood Oval.
The Crows dominated from start to finish to thrash St Kilda at home last week, winning by 53 points and restricting the Saints to their lowest score of 1.2 (8), while piling on eight majors from 21 scoring shots themselves.
Of course, the winning margin could have been so much larger had it not been for their inaccuracy at goal, but otherwise, Erin Phillips and Ebony Marinoff were among their best as they made it four wins from five starts this year.
Next in the firing line are the Gold Coast Suns, who fell agonisingly short of their first win of season 2021 when they fell to the West Coast Eagles by just a solitary point in Perth last Sunday.
David Lake’s side conceded the first three goals of the match but threatened to pull off a miraculous win when Kalinda Howarth kicked a goal with less than two minutes remaining to set up a grandstand finish.
But in the end, Jamie Stanton’s snap with 90 seconds left missed to the right, thus sentencing the Suns to a heartbreaking defeat and with more questions to be asked of their progress this season after making the finals in their inaugural season.
Having not played in their home state since Round 2, the extensive travel will ultimately take its toll and the Crows should, if anything, run riot at home.
Adelaide Crows by 30 points.
Melbourne vs St Kilda
The finals hopes of both Melbourne and St Kilda will go on the line in this must-win clash at Casey Fields in the only match to be played in Melbourne on Saturday.
A week after their goalkicking radar was exposed by the Western Bulldogs, the Dees suffered more disappointment when they fell to Collingwood by 35 points at Victoria Park last Sunday.
From nine scoring shots, they could only muster one major in the third quarter, leaving them with a total of 3.20 (38) from their past two matches, so surely coach Mick Stinear will be taking his forwards to goalkicking school in the lead-up to the match against the Saints.
The Saints struggled to find a way past the great wall of Adelaide last Sunday, losing by 53 points despite having more disposals, as well as their forward forays being repeatedly repelled by the Crows’ defence.
That is not to say that they played terribly, as Georgia Patrikios continued her strong season with 24 disposals and Jayde van Dyk marshaling the backline, which got a workout from the Crows forward line.
Saints fans will also look towards this match with perhaps some great optimism, as it was in the corresponding match last year that Caitlin Greiser made a name for herself by kicking a memorable goal that gave her side their first-ever AFLW win at the Dees’ expense.
It saw her assume the “G-Train” nickname that had not been used at Moorabbin since Fraser Gehrig retired in 2008.
For both clubs this weekend, this will be all about bouncing back. The Dees, at home, will take the points after two tough losses against the Dogs and Pies on the road.
Melbourne by 14 points.
Carlton vs Geelong Cats
With Maddy Prespakis back on tow, Carlton will look to bounce back from its loss to North Melbourne when they welcome the Geelong Cats to Ikon Park in the first match on Sunday afternoon.
Without their reigning best-and-fairest, who is now ineligible for this year’s award, the Blues were made to look second-rate against the Roos in Launceston, going down by 22 points.
It was left to Jess Hosking and Nic Stevens to do the heavy lifting for their side, gathering 33 disposals between them, but it was not enough as the Roos mids ran riot in the middle.
They’ll be favoured to bounce back when they face the bottom-placed Cats, whose 2021 season hit a new low as they copped a 47-point humiliation at the hands of the previously-winless Richmond at home last Friday night.
The Cats’ defeat, which will surely add more pressure on coach Paul Hood to retain his job at season’s end, was soured by a serious knee injury to reigning best-and-fairest Olivia Purcell, who was confirmed to have suffered the dreaded ACL injury.
This has added to the pain of a horror season for the Kardinia Park tenants, with the possibility that the wooden spoon could be heading down the highway for the first time since 1958.
The last thing they want is to be facing a Carlton side with their reigning best-and-fairest back, and with Maddy Prespakis back in tow, the Blues should hit back hard.
Carlton by 30 points.
Collingwood vs Western Bulldogs
Without doubt, this is the match of the round, one that could decide who assumes premiership favouritism with three rounds still to play after this weekend.
In one corner is the undefeated Collingwood, who’ve started to realise their potential in the fifth season of AFLW, going 5-0 for the first time in club history and all but sewing up a finals berth in the process.
Another powerful performance saw them thump Melbourne by 35 points, with Brianna Davey again their best with 25 disposals, while Chloe Molloy booted three of their seven majors.
But the win was soured by a serious knee injury suffered by Jordan Membrey, who will play no further part for the Pies this season after she suffered the third ACL injury of the round.
In the other corner are the Western Bulldogs, who stamped their authority on the competition with a dominant 25-point win over the GWS Giants at home, which was also soured by the ACL injury suffered by Deanna Berry.
The architects behind the victory were the forward pairing of Isabel Huntington and Bonnie Toogood, who terrorised the Giants’ defence with three goals each, with Kirsten McLeod booting their other major.
Ellie Blackburn continued her solid season, but was shaded by her direct opponent Rebecca Beeson who gained more disposals in an entertaining running battle on the ground.
It marked their fourth straight victory and it came after they had dropped their six previous matches, including their Round 1 loss to St Kilda at Moorabbin Oval in January.
In what looms as a potential finals preview, expect nothing but a close match between the two sides as we close in on April.
Collingwood by eight points.
West Coast Eagles vs Fremantle
The final match of Round 6 brings us our second Western Derby of the season, just a month after the two sides met at Fremantle Oval in Round 2, when fans were banned from attending due to a case of the UK coronavirus strain being detected in the Western Australia community.
To compensate, and to allow fans the opportunity to witness a Derby in the flesh, the AFLW have scheduled a return clash between the two sides to be played at Optus Stadium, with up to 30,000 fans set to be permitted to attend – roughly half of the ground’s capacity.
It is the first time any two sides will face off for a second time in a regular season, this being made possible due to border restrictions between Western Australia and Victoria which would’ve required either or both Western Australia clubs to quarantine for a fortnight if they had been scheduled to play any Victorian side in Melbourne.
The previously-winless Eagles will go into the match off the back of a drought-breaking one-point win over the Gold Coast Suns, while the previously-undefeated Dockers go in having suffered an 11-point loss to the Brisbane Lions.
The Eagles not only defied a horror injury toll which included captain Dana Hooker, but were also forced to repeatedly repel the Suns’ attack in the dying minutes, with only a missed shot at the death saving the Eagles from what would’ve been their fifth-straight loss.
It was their number one, Mikayla Bowen, who kicked what proved to be the winning goal for the blue-and-golds, but not before Kalinda Howarth pegged one back for the Suns to force Eagles fans to watch on to see if their team could hold on.
Meantime, the Dockers endured another goalless quarter against the Lions, being left to play catch-up for the rest of the match and ultimately losing by two goals after having trailed by just a solitary point at halftime.
It has put to an end their 11-match winning streak, which was both the longest in club history (eclipsing two nine-match winning streaks by the men’s side in 2006 and 2015) and the longest in AFLW history.
Coach Trent Cooper will be hoping to help the side get back to basics as they rediscover their winning form, but it won’t come without a fight from the Eagles who will go in hoping to cause a boilover and dent their rivals’ premiership aspirations for a second straight week.
It may well be the final time either the Eagles or Freo play at home this season, with the fixture after this weekend to be known well before full-time.
This match will also serve as a curtain-raiser to the men’s pre-season match between the same two sides, with that match starting at 4:10 pm AWST.
Fremantle by 18 points.