NEARING on halfway through the season, three clubs remain undefeated, while four are still searching for their first win.
The Giants have a huge challenge on their hands, hosting Adelaide in Canberra without captain Alicia Eva, a couple of Saints will play their former side for the first time, while North Melbourne and Brisbane will face off in the game of the round.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22
Hawthorn v Melbourne at Kinetic Stadium, 5.05pm AEST
The Hawks and the Demons have never faced off in an in-season AFLW game before, but the former will be wary given Melbourne's dominant performance in their practice match a mere month ago. In that test run, Hawthorn worked to get numbers back and support in to counteract Melbourne's wealth of attacking options, and given how effective that plan was for the Bulldogs last week – albeit only for three quarters – it may work in their favour. The problem, however, is when the Hawks win the footy, exiting the congestion may prove to be a challenge. The Demons' defensive structure is super disciplined and very good at maintaining forward territory.
Sticking with Melbourne requires a full four-quarter performance, something no team has achieved so far this year. The Demons have conceded just four points in final quarters, while kicking 92 of their own, punishing sides who fall away late in games. The Hawks, meanwhile, have won just one final quarter so far this year, instead doing the bulk of their damage in second quarters. Winning ontested possession will be key, while the Demons dominate the metric, averaging 124 per game, the Hawks are struggling to win it at the contest, winning 26.3 fewer contested possessions than the opposition each week. If Hawthorn is any chance of quelling Melbourne's powerful attacking style, it must get its hand on the footy at the contest.
Tip: The Demons will be unfazed, continuing their winning ways. Melbourne by 50 points.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 23
Greater Western Sydney v Adelaide at Manuka Oval, 11.05am AEST
In the last two meetings between GWS and Adelaide, the former has failed to kick a goal while the latter has piled on a combined 142 points. Now the Giants will host the Crows in Canberra, but must do so without captain Alicia Eva who has been suspended following a dangerous tackle. While GWS has shown some exciting improvements in defence, namely the rebounding abilities of Tarni Evans and Chloe Dalton, the line must be able to withstand the onslaught of Adelaide's repeat inside 50s, averaging 43.7 per game so far this season.
The Crows are trying to use the ball more by hand this year, playing more of a running style of attack, averaging more handballs than ever before in the club's history. In the process they are winning an average of 56.3 more disposals than their opposition per game, meanwhile GWS is yet to win the disposal count in a game this season. It is imperative that the Giants don't allow Adelaide to simply control the ball from start to finish, because if they do, the Crows have the potential to repeat their 96-point victory of last season.
Tip: Life doesn't get any easier for the Giants. Adelaide by 45 points.
Carlton v Richmond at Ikon Park, 1.05pm AEST
The Tigers have beaten Carlton just once, in their most recent meeting. This year's edition presents as a potential danger game for Richmond. Carlton is coming off a confidence-building victory against the Eagles, while the Tigers had to grind out a win in warm conditions, picking up some less-than-ideal injuries in the process. Richmond's heartbeat remains Monique Conti in the midfield, the star is averaging 8.3 clearances, generating plenty of drive out of the middle, so Carlton would do well to send emerging midfielder Keeley Sherar to play a defensive role on Conti to limit her output.
The ruck battle also presents as an intriguing sub-plot in this game. Breann Moody, who spent much of the opening fortnight playing forward before moving back into the ruck last week, has the ability to hurt you in the air and on the scoreboard. Gabby Seymour, meanwhile, doesn't necessarily dominate the hitouts but certainly forces her opponents to be accountable around the field. The ruck who best serves their midfield will have a big say in the end result.
Tip: Carlton will be full of vigour, but the Tigers will get over the line. Richmond by seven points.
Port Adelaide v Geelong at Alberton Oval, 12.35pm ACST
Geelong will no doubt be disappointed with how it fell away in the second half against North Melbourne last week, and be on a mission to bounce back in captain Meghan McDonald's 50th game. Port Adelaide, however, had a stunning second half against the Saints, kicking five goals to mow down a 20-point deficit to post its second-ever win. This game is a different prospect, though, with the Cats' strength at the contest a massive hurdle to overcome.
Port Adelaide has averaged six fewer clearances per game than its opponent, while Geelong boasts the clearance power of Georgie Prespakis, Amy McDonald, and Nina Morrison. Compounding matters, the Power have been belted in the uncontested ball this year, averaging 39.3 fewer uncontested possessions than their opposition. In contrast, the Cats are finding 27.3 more of the same metric each week. So while Geelong are good on both the inside and the outside, preventing Geelong from transitioning the ball from inside the contest out into space will be priority No.1 for Port Adelaide this week.
Tip: The Cats will bounce back from last week's loss. Geelong by 17 points.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 24
Sydney v West Coast at Henson Park, 1.05pm AEST
The Eagles will be desperate to bounce back from three consecutive losses - including two particularly heavy defeats - while Sydney will be viewing this game as a potential second win. Neither team has started games well this season, with both yet to win an opening quarter, but from there the Swans have been able to find the scoreboard fairly consistently. West Coast, less so. The Eagles' backline is currently their weakest link, and they average 19.7 fewer inside-50s than their opposition each week, while Sydney is taking 7.3 marks inside 50 per game, which doesn't bode well for the Eagles.
A back issue for ruck Sarah Lakay is another big concern for West Coast, with fourth-gamer Lauren Wakfer set to do battle with breakthrough Swan Ally Morphett in the air. Morphett's stats line of 33.7 hitouts, 16.3 disposals and six clearances per game is an ominous prospect for some of the more experienced rucks in the competition, let alone a talented but inexperienced teenager, so any support Wakfer's teammates may be able to provide in the air will be welcomed.
Tip: The Swans will register their second ever win, while West Coast will slump to 0-4. Sydney by 10 points.
North Melbourne v Brisbane at UTAS Stadium, 1.05pm AEST
Brisbane will travel to Tasmania, where the Kangaroos have never lost, without important key forward Dakota Davidson. Playing the Roos in Tassie is one of the toughest tasks in the AFLW, but if there is a team that can rise to the occasion, it's the Lions. North Melbourne's forward line continues to be threatening, able to adapt both in the air and on the deck, while the Lions' backline is a little undersized and disorganised early in the season. The big question for Brisbane is whether last season's Grand Final best-on-ground medallist Shannon Campbell lines up to support the defence or reprises a role in attack like she did last week. Up forward she offers an extra presence, particularly with Davidson unavailable, but given the Roos' dangerous forward line, she may simply be too important in defence.
The Lions are quite dangerous once they enter their forward 50, using an average of 17 tackles inside 50 to keep the ball in their attacking half and generating a shot on goal from 50 per cent of those entries. What North Melbourne does well, however, is use pressure to force poor forward efficiency from its opposition, conceding a goal from just 8.5 per cent of opposition inside 50s, and just two marks in the opponent's attacking arc. For this reason, the Lions need to be considered in the way they choose to attack, because otherwise they will play right into the hands of the Roos' defence.
Tip: Brisbane will challenge but it won't quite be enough. North Melbourne by eight points.
Essendon v Fremantle at Windy Hill, 3.05pm AEST
The Bombers and Dockers will meet for the first time this weekend, both having registered two wins from three starts this season. Essendon returns to Windy Hill after its biggest loss to date, going down by 47 points to Adelaide last round, while Fremantle put together its best team performance of the season so far to claim a 13-point victory over the Hawks. The match-up to watch will be Bombers defender Brooke Brown taking on Dockers key forward Aine Tighe. Both are tall, highly athletic, and capable of instigating big moments in games.
Fremantle is a far more contested team, playing a tackle-heavy, contested-possession-driven game-style that doesn't necessarily see it use the ball at a high efficiency. Essendon, on the other hand, is the polar opposite of this, wanting to control play through uncontested possession, taking marks around the ground and hitting up leading targets in attack. With such contrasting styles, it is likely to become a push-and-pull game, with shifting momentum, but if the Dockers can restrict that outside ball movement that Essendon craves, it may be enough to claim the win.
Tip: Essendon will be a little too susceptible to the Dockers' contested footy. Fremantle by four points.
St Kilda v Collingwood at RSEA Park, 3.05pm AEST
In one of the most enthralling games of last season, Collingwood dramatically got over the line against the Saints thanks to a last-gasp goal from Eliza James. The Pies' inaccuracy almost cost them the win in that game, and it is a problem they haven't quite solved given last week against Gold Coast it did result in a loss. This year things look very different for both sides. Steph Chiocci and Jaimee Lambert are now Saints, Tarni White is now a Pie, and neither side has started the season how they would have liked.
Both St Kilda and Collingwood have been poor clearance teams over the opening three rounds. The Pies are averaging a competition-low 22.7 clearances per game, with Brianna Davey responsible for 7.7 of those, while the Saints are registering 7.7 fewer clearances than their opponents each week. This game is a chance for Davey and fellow Pies Mikala Cann and Brit Bonnici to get their stoppage game back on track, and their forward line simply must make more of their attempts on goal and put the Saints' defence under pressure.
Tip: St Kilda won't be able to stop the Pies. Collingwood by 12 points.
Gold Coast v Western Bulldogs at Heritage Bank Stadium, 3.05pm AEST
These two sides have only played once before, in a Tuesday evening game in the throes of a COVID-impacted season, resulting in a draw. Gold Coast got out to a 24-point lead before the Bulldogs kicked four last quarter goals to almost snatch the win. This one shapes up as the Suns' to lose, with the Dogs still yet to register a win and some key players unavailable for selection. The role of Suns midfielder Lucy Single will also come into play, with her ability to shut down some of the stars of the game important, and an ominous sign for Bulldogs captain Ellie Blackburn.
Blackburn is responsible for more than 10 per cent of the Western Bulldogs' disposals and over a quarter of their clearances, so should Single limit her impact, must of the Dogs' drive from the middle will disappear. The likes of Isabelle Pritchard and Jess Fitzgerald will need to be hyper aware of the attention Blackburn receives, and work to assist her, particularly given Gold Coast's strength at stoppage. Meanwhile the Dogs must find a way to combat the Suns' tall marking forwards while still maintaining a presence in attack. Last week Gab Newton was shifted into defence to support in the air, but her absence was felt when the Dogs worked the ball into attack, so achieving balance will be vital.
Tip: The Suns will register three consecutive wins for the first time in their history. Gold Coast by 15 points.