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Predicting the AFLW preliminary finals

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Roar Guru
3rd April, 2021
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Melbourne beat Fremantle in Round 8 37-32 in a game at Fremantle Oval where the Dockers failed to score a single goal in the entire first half and the Demons went to the long break up by 24 points.

The Dockers came roaring back in the second half and closed within five before falling.

On Saturday, Melbourne beat Fremantle in the prelim final 40-23 in a game they hosted at windy Casey Fields where the Dockers failed to score a single goal in the entire first half and the Demons went to the long break up by ‘only’ 19 points. The Dockers came back in the third quarter and closed within four before falling, the Casey Fields wind playing a major role in the fourth.

And now, the Demons get the top-seeded Adelaide Crows, another team they defeated in their five-game win streak, the last four of which have essentially been elimination finals. On the surface, it would be tempting to write the same repeat narrative for a Demons-Crows preliminary final.

That temptation would be wrong.

This time, Adelaide had a week off to rest up, and after the longest season in AFLW history, that means more than it has in the past.

And this time, it won’t be at the highly advantageous field known as the Casey Wind Farms – Adelaide will get to host the contest this time, and they’ve played three of their last four games at home (the exception being the Melbourne loss) with imposing results: last week’s surprisingly convincing win over league-leading Collingwood 31-17, the prior week’s destruction of a potential finalist Bulldogs club, 78-22 and the devastation of the Saints’ finals hopes, 61-8.

Ebony Marinoff Chloe Scheer

Ebony Marinoff and Chloe Scheer of the Crows. (Photo by AFL Media)

Plus, Adelaide does not lose in finals – in two previous seasons, they’ve never lost, taking the title in 2017 and 2019. This being another odd-numbered year, it would be foolhardy to bet against the Crows in 2021.

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Crows by 13 points, which is the margin the ELO-Following Football ratings set for the contest.

As for the other semi-final, we correctly predicted most of the game – Collingwood’s lead to start, North coming back to take over – but failed to foresee the fourth quarter, when the Magpies found another gear and put three goals on the Kangas to overtake them to win, 50-44. It would be tempting to blame Emma Kearney’s injury, but the truth is we simply missed: we thought the deflating loss in Round 9 would carry over to crunch time here, and it didn’t. This Pies team is too strong (we should have listened to our own ELO-Following Football ratings, which said the Pies would win by half a goal).

So now they move on to meet Brisbane again, and presumably this game will actually stay in Queensland rather than be suddenly transferred to Melbourne since the Lions are already home this time (watch this space). It seems that the Lions would have a psychological advantage on Collingwood: they’ve already shown that it doesn’t matter where they played, Brisbane will defeat them regardless of location or circumstance.

So if the home team gets off to a lead, I expect them to keep it.

The only shot the Magpies have is if they can grab the early lead, as they did against North, and hope that the versatile Lions are all off that day.

Sarah Rowe

Sarah Rowe of Collingwood. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

But Brisbane is the most immune to having an off day because they don’t have one star they rely on. It was fascinating to note that although their total number of AFLCA votes was as high as any team’s, they didn’t have a single player in the top 15 because of the “even spread of contribution from the team”, as Sarah Black put it. So it seems unlikely that they’ll play an ‘un-Lion-like’ game. ELO-FF backs Brisbane by four points, so we will too.

The AFLW has never had byes in its finals before – there were either two, four or eight teams involved in equivalent playoff routes to the title, although this six-team format was supposed to be in place last season before COVID interrupted and changed everything. But back in the day, when the men’s league had a similar week off for the winners of the qualifying final in Week 1 (and did not have another week off ahead of that to turn the advantage against them), and the prelim final was similarly a team which had played straight through, week-after-week, often under more than a game or two of pressure to win or go home, against a team with not only a better record but better rest under its belt – not to mention home-field advantage – this round was the easiest bet in sports.

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We always took the well-rested home team with the better record, and over three-quarters of the time they won. A similar statistic holds true in the divisional round of my home country’s National Football League, for precisely the same reason.

This might be a first in format for the AFLW, but the principle will hold true: bet on the well-rested home team with the better percentage to make it through to the grand final.

And assuming it does become a repeat of the Adelaide-Brisbane grand final from the inaugural season, bet on a repeat of the final margin of victory, too: Crows by about six. The best percentage has always won the grand final in the AFLW, and that won’t change this season.

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