SYDNEY qualified for a maiden AFLW finals series in thrilling style, kicking away from Fremantle to win an arm wrestle by 22 points at Fremantle Oval and claim a finals berth in just its second season.
The Swans will join fellow 2022 expansion team Essendon in playing finals so soon after entering the competition, bumping a devastated St Kilda out of the top eight in the process with the 5.10 (40) to 2.6 (18) win.
DOCKERS v SWANS Full match coverage and stats
It all came down to the final quarter at Fremantle Oval, with the Swans holding a three-point lead at the last break against a desperate Dockers team that appeared intent on finishing its own season on a high and spoiling Sydney's November plans.
The visitors controlled the final quarter, however, kicking the only three goals of the term to break open an entertaining match that was played with a ferocious intensity as neither team gave an inch, with the final margin not reflecting the tightness of the match.
The result was laced in some controversy after the Dockers were denied a third quarter goal that would have given them a nine-point lead. Makaela Tuhakaraina's snap cannoned into the umpire and was ruled a behind, despite being on course for a goal.
It didn't matter in the end, however, as the Swans took care of business, with superstar recruit Chloe Molloy stepping up in the final quarter to kick her second goal and give the team much-needed breathing room down the stretch.
"Who knows what we can do? There's no expectations on us at all and everyone probably thinks we go out in the first week. But it's a great position to be in because there is no pressure on us," Sydney coach Scott Gowans said after the match.
Midfield gun Laura Gardiner was outstanding with a game-high 33 disposals and five clearances, while Tanya Kennedy played a crucial role on Kiara Bowers and had an impact offensively with 16 disposals and four clearances.
It was hard work at times for Molloy against a stoic Freo defence, but the star broke free at critical times and kicked two goals that shaped the game.
No team gained any meaningful break on the scoreboard through the first three quarters, with Sydney enjoying a weight of opportunities early but Fremantle standing up on the last line of defence repeatedly to keep the margin to just three points at the first break.
The Dockers then used a slingshot play to kick the only goal of the second quarter when Airlie Runnalls snuck out the back and ran into an open goal following a clever inside 50 from Megan Kauffman to give the home team a four-point lead at the main break.
Sydney built on its clearance and contested possession edge in the third quarter was rewarded when Privitelli converted her set shot late, with the Dockers unable to hit the scoreboard aside from Tuhakaraina's controversial behind.
The slim three-point margin had Sydney right on the precipice of finals if it could finish the job, and that's what it did with some crucial interventions from Molloy and Co.
The Dockers were best served by influential ruck Mim Strom (41 hit-outs) and midfielders Bowers (21 and 18 tackles) and Dana East (24 and eight clearances). Defender Emma O'Driscoll was outstanding several times on the last line of defence.
In a low-scoring game with so much on the line, Makaela Tuhakaraina's disallowed goal in the third quarter shaped as a pivotal moment. The Freo speedster bolted through the midfield and kicked long inside 50 to Miller, whose own shot refused to cross the line and stayed in play. Tuhakaraina followed up and snapped what was destined to be a goal until it hit the goal umpire, who ruled the ball was on track for the post. Replays showed otherwise, with Fremantle – and St Kilda – within their rights to be upset with the pivotal call.
The Swans win denied St Kilda a place in the finals, extending the Saints' post-season drought to five seasons. St Kilda sits alongside West Coast as the two expansion teams from 2020 who are yet to play finals, with Gold Coast and Richmond qualifying in their fifth and fourth seasons, respectively. They have been overtaken by Essendon and Sydney, who qualified this season for the first time. Fellow expansion teams from 2022, Hawthorn and Port Adelaide, are also yet to play finals after two campaigns.
The Swans get ready for a maiden finals appearance after emotional post-match celebrations. Fremantle's season is over and the team will look to building on an improved finish to the year under Webb and returning to finals in the coach's second season.
FREMANTLE 1.1 2.3 2.4 2.6 (18)
SYDNEY 1.4 1.5 2.7 5.10 (40)
Fremantle: O'Sullivan, Runnalls
Sydney: Molloy 2, Ham, Lochland, Privitelli
Fremantle: Bowers, East, Strom, O'Driscoll, Seth
Sydney: Gardiner, Molloy, Kennedy, Heads, Privitelli
Sydney: Steane (knee), Mitchell (finger), Ham (head)
Crowd: 2,271 at Fremantle Oval