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2023 NAB AFLW Season 8
Kangaroos v Brisbane Lions
Grand Final •
27 4.3
Full Time
44 7.2
Lions Won By 17

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    Roos v Lions GF preview: Who will be crowned AFLW champions?

    Gemma Bastiani previews Sunday's NAB AFLW Grand Final between North Melbourne and Brisbane

    Brisbane and North Melbourne will face off for the 2023 AFLW premiership. Pictures: AFL Photos

    IT ALL comes down to this. North Melbourne, having finally reached the season decider, is searching for its first AFLW premiership, and the Lions are fighting for a second flag from five Grand Final appearances.  

    Should the Kangaroos win on Sunday, they will become the first expansion side to reach the pinnacle, having joined the competition in 2019 in the first round of growth. Brisbane, meanwhile, has reached finals and Grand Finals more than any other side, and will be keen to begin evening out its record in the decider. 

    28:06

    Head-to-head record 

    North Melbourne and Brisbane have faced off four times, having met for the first time in 2021 and played every season since. In that period, the Lions have claimed victory on each occasion, although the margin was just two points when they played in round four this year. 

    The Roos have two former Lions on their side this year, with power forward Tahlia Randall playing in the northern state across 2017 and 2018 – including both Grand Finals – while more recently Lulu Pullar made the move to the blue and white this year. 

    Last time they met  

    It seemed like the Kangaroos were on the precipice of beating Brisbane for the first time when the two sides clashed in Tasmania in round four, but a final-quarter goal from inaugural Lion Shannon Campbell was a heartbreaker, resulting in a two-point win for the visitors. 

    After North Melbourne dominated the opening half, Brisbane captain Bre Koenen moved into the middle in short spurts to disrupt Jasmine Garner's control at the contest, allowing the Lions' midfielders to get into the game and roll from there. 

    Notably, All-Australian key forward Dakota Davidson was suspended for the game, meaning Campbell, typically a defender, was swung into attack.  

    It was important Roo Jenna Bruton's first game of the year after a calf injury derailed her pre-season, while vice-captain Nicole Bresnehan was felled with an ankle injury that saw her miss the next five games.

    02:58

    Dream match-up 

    Emma Kearney v Courtney Hodder 

    This is not a match-up to expect for the whole match, but the drive out of defence Emma Kearney gives the Roos is something Brisbane will no doubt be keen to limit. Courtney Hodder has been playing a higher half-forward role this year, and her brand of pressure is well known. She's quick, smart and strong, so the perfect option to unsettle any sense of control Kearney might find. 

    Players to watch 

    Jenna Bruton (North Melbourne) 

    Despite a later start to the season than she would have liked, Jenna Bruton has been playing a really important role for North Melbourne in the attacking half in recent weeks. 

    02:38

    The way she sets up at forward stoppages, often able to lose her direct opponent and find space on the defensive side of the contest, makes her really dangerous, and her contributions often allow the Kangaroos to maintain forward territory.  

    Lulu Pullar (North Melbourne) 

    Coming up against her old side for the second time this season, Lulu Pullar went toe-to-toe with Sophie Conway when they met back in round four. Now a heart and soul Roo who is vocal on the field, getting her teammates up and about, she has the ability to play havoc with Brisbane's outside running game. 

    Jade Ellenger (Brisbane) 

    Arguably the Lions' biggest improver this year, Jade Ellenger will notch up career game No.50 in Sunday's Grand Final. One of Brisbane's highly touted wing trio, Ellenger gains a lot of ground with her disposal, and has developed a real confidence to run and carry down the ground this year. A bit more of a defensive winger than the others at the Lions, so offers fantastic rebound out of the back half when needed. 

    Jade Ellenger celebrates after the AFLW R4 match between Brisbane and North Melbourne at UTAS Stadium on September 24, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

    Shannon Campbell (Brisbane) 

    More than once this year, Shannon Campbell has been the matchwinner for the Lions. In round four she slotted a neat snap around the body to put her side up and maintain its winning record against North Melbourne, while last week she went forward late in the game and kicked the goal to put the Lions into a fifth Grand Final. She is also a noted big-game player, winning last season's Grand Final best on ground medal, and given the injury cloud over Dakota Davidson, will be crucial to how the Lions shape up on Sunday. 

    Where it will be won or lost 

    What really has the potential to shape this game is actually each side's least experienced players. When they met in round four, Eliza Shannon was playing just her fourth game for the Roos, and the 10th of her career, while winger Taylah Gatt was playing career game No.17. For Brisbane, key defender Jennifer Dunne was playing just her second game, Poppy Boltz her third, and Charlie Mullins her fourth. 

    Although both teams boast some of the biggest stars in the game, it is the development of this inexperienced group that can make or break either side's fortunes. 

    Eliza Shannon in action during the AFLW R5 match between North Melbourne and GWS at Arden Street on October 1, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

    In particular, Dunne and Boltz's ability to battle it out with North Melbourne's tall forwards will be crucial for the Lions, and while both were serviceable in that round four game, they have developed significantly since. 

    Another player's evolution throughout the season may also come into play, with North Melbourne's Amy Smith largely taking on run-with roles in recent weeks. Should she be handed a role again for Sunday's decider, it is likely she'll be sent to either Belle Dawes or Ally Anderson through the Lions' midfield. While Anderson is the club's most prolific ball winner, Dawes is arguably just as damaging with fewer disposals.  

    North Melbourne, still boasting the tightest defence across the League this year, is well structured behind the play. They don't get sucked up to the ball, instead maintaining a well-drilled layered set-up. Meanwhile the Lions want to gain territory and trap the ball forward, regularly getting the ball onto the boot into space in an effort to gain ground. This will, if ill-directed, work right into the hands of Kangaroo duo Jasmine Ferguson and Sarah Wright, so composure going forward is crucial if Brisbane is to break through. 

    Because of this defensive structure, the Roos are conceding the lowest average shot efficiency – the percentage of inside 50s resulting in a shot on goal – the AFLW has ever seen at just 31.3 per cent. This has also led to conceding a goal from just 11.2 per cent of inside 50s.  

    This clashes with Brisbane's forward pressure and territory game. Averaging the competition's record of 17.5 tackles inside 50 per game, with that defensive pressure applied to trap the ball within scoring distance, the Lions work relentlessly to unsettle opposition defensive units. 

    Despite labelling leading goalkicker Dakota Davidson 'good to go' for the decider, coach Craig Starcevich will have to shuffle the magnets if she is a late withdrawal ahead of the game.

    Dakota Davidson looks on from the bench during the preliminary final between Brisbane and Geelong at Brighton Homes Arena on November 25, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

    Campbell being moved forward would be an option, but a risky one given North Melbourne's attack of Tahlia Randall, Kate Shierlaw and Emma King, but someone like midfielder Ellie Hampson has also been used out of the goalsquare throughout the season so presents as another option.  

    For North Melbourne, the crucial piece of the puzzle is its connection between midfield and forward. Although boasting a potent attack, it has been let down at times with how it has moved the ball inside 50. Should the Roos nail that chemistry on Sunday, however, they become exceptionally difficult to defend. 

    Lion-hearted: Brisbane storms past North to win second flag

    Brisbane has won the 2023 NAB AFLW Grand Final after a come-from-behind 17-point win over North Melbourne

    Brisbane players celebrate their win in the 2023 NAB AFLW Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

    WE SHOULD have learned in 2021. Never, ever, ever write off Brisbane.

    After another round of expansion losses, and with seemingly the entire (non-Brisbane) football public siding with the fairytale story of North Melbourne, the Lions have once again triumphed, defeating the Roos by 17 points to sew up the 2023 AFLW premiership.

    ROOS v LIONS Full Grand Final match coverage and stats
    FULL REPORT Brisbane storms past North to win second flag
    THE MOMENT Revolving Dawes sparks Lions spearhead
    FULL VOTES Lions' brick wall named Best on Ground
    'STILL BUILDING North to be stronger after GF pain

    They came from fourth on the ladder – having their ups and downs in the home-and-away season – but a final-quarter brace from Dakota Davidson, who had come into the match under a serious injury cloud with a knee injury, carried the Lions to a 7.2 (44) to 4.3 (27) victory.

    Brisbane set an AFLW record for tackles in the process such was its intensity, laying 110, ahead of 106 by Sydney in this year's elimination final, and held North Melbourne scoreless in the final term.

    05:57

    North Melbourne had suffered a significant blow in the opening minutes when last week's best-afield, the lively Jenna Bruton, was felled by injury and was unable to put any weight on her right leg.

    The gun mid was assisted from the field by trainers and didn't take any further part in the game, with skipper Emma Kearney confirming post-match that Bruton has suffered a suspected torn Achilles.

    The first quarter itself was tense and scrappy, Courtney Hodder and Mia King themselves laying eight and seven tackles, respectively. Chances deep in attack were few and far between.

    01:15

    After a week of being in the headlines (presumably much to the humble Garner's own distaste) after missing out once again in the AFLW best and fairest count, it took a beautiful Garner set shot from 48m to kick the opening goal, coming 16 minutes into the game.

    00:42

    Brisbane skipper Breanna Koenen – generally playing as the spare in defence, with North opting to use its free player around the footy – was simply outstanding throughout, showing immense bravery on many occasions to take a goal-saving mark under pressure.

    Sometimes in Grand Finals it's as simple as taking your chances, and that's what Charlie Mullins did from the 50m mark, wheeling and kicking to the top of the square, with the ball skipping through an out-of-alignment North defence for the Lions' first.

    00:39

    Koenen was swung onto Garner, starting in the middle, and while she didn't completely shut down the superstar, her influence was somewhat quelled.

    "Zombie" from Irish band The Cranberries hit the PA as Orla O'Dwyer kicked a clever bouncing snap early in the third, giving Brisbane the lead for the first time in the game.

    It signalled the steely resolve of the Brisbane side, lifting its pressure around the contest and beginning to turn the tide in the clearances.

    The heavy North-dominated crowd could sense the turning tide, rising in volume in an attempt to urge their side forward.

    It worked.

    Kate Shierlaw – who had barely been sighted to this point – took a strong contested mark, beating out two Brisbane opponents, and converted truly from a tight angle to snatch back the lead.

    00:39

    Ash Riddell streamed out of the centre, three North players laid a tackle (with an excitable Riddell celebrating before the umpire had even called holding the ball), with Alice O'Loughlin kicking truly.

    But there was a final twist in the tale yet, with the polarising Davidson – who Lions fans love while she gets under the skin of opposition supporters – shook off her knee injury and stood tall to kick not just the first, but the second of the final term as well.

    00:47

    Integral Brisbane winger Sophie Conway underwent a head injury assessment at three-quarter time and into the fourth term, but returned, while the tough-as-nails Shannon Campbell received a series of heavy knocks throughout the game.

    Garner was once again the Roos' best with 24 and two goals, while Mia King stood tall in the contest, recording a game-high 12 clearances and 19 touches.

    Belle Dawes ran her heart out, with a game-high 18 contested possessions, 20 touches and 13 tackles, while Ally Anderson bobbed up at important moments to finish with 20 disposals and six clearances.

    02:04

    Captain Koenen the courageous
    The Brisbane skipper is an incredibly consistent performer, but saves her very best for the big games. Deployed in defence in the first half – taking nine intercepts for the game – she was also the Lions' "break glass in case of emergency", moving onto Garner and making the Roo a little more accountable. She was named winner of the Best on Ground Medal in a well-deserved effort, with 19 disposals and 11 tackles.

    01:50

    Devastating Roos blow
    She was the match-winner in the one-point preliminary final win over Adelaide, but Jenna Bruton's Grand Final lasted just three minutes, suffering what Roos skipper Emma Kearney confirmed post-match to be a suspected torn Achilles. The diminutive Roo had jumped high for a successful, slap-down intercept before landing and moving to take off on her right foot, crumbling to the deck instead of running. She had a moon boot and crutches by the three-quarter time break, hobbling out for the final address for the year from Darren Crocker.

    00:47

    2023 Best on Ground voting

    15 – Breanna Koenen, Brisbane Lions – 33333
    9 – Jasmine Garner, North Melbourne– 22221
    5 – Belle Dawes, Brisbane Lions – 2111
    1 – Natalie Grider, Brisbane Lions – 1

    Judge votes (3, 2, 1)

    Abbie Holmes (Chair): Breanna Koenen, Belle Dawes, Jasmine Garner
    Erin Phillips: Breanna Koenen, Jasmine Garner, Belle Dawes
    Gemma Bastiani: Breanna Koenen, Jasmine Garner, Belle Dawes
    Quentin Hull: Breanna Koenen, Jasmine Garner, Belle Dawes
    Lauren Wood: Breanna Koenen, Jasmine Garner, Natalie Grider

    ALL THE HIGHLIGHTS

    NORTH MELBOURNE     1.0    2.2    4.3    4.3 (27)
    BRISBANE                     0.0    2.1    3.2    7.2 (44)

    GOALS
    North Melbourne: Garner 2, Shierlaw, O'Loughlin
    Brisbane: Davidson 2, Hampson 2, Mullins, O'Dwyer, Koenen

    BEST
    North Melbourne:
    Garner, M. King, Riddell, Rennie, Kearney
    Brisbane: Koenen, Dawes, Anderson, Grider, Hodder

    INJURIES
    North Melbourne: Bruton (Achilles)
    Brisbane: Conway (head knock)

    Crowd: 12,616 at Ikon Park

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