THIS weekend, everyone returns to the starting point to attack the finals series. As they say, finals are a different game.
While four teams - Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and North Melbourne – have the double chance, it's do-or-die for Gold Coast, Sydney, Geelong and Essendon.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11
Adelaide v Brisbane at Norwood Oval, 2.35pm ACDT
This will be the 11th match-up between Adelaide and Brisbane, with the latter enjoying seven wins throughout AFLW history. This will be their fourth head-to-head final. This season the Lions are bringing their best footy against the best sides, and this is a chance for them to go again, fresh off an impressive win over reigning premier Melbourne.
Outside run from the likes of Sophie Conway, Jade Ellenger and Orla O'Dwyer will be key to Brisbane's success, with their workrate across the four quarters a make-or-break factor. While the Crows have equally good outside runners, with Niamh Kelly in career-best form and Stevie-Lee Thompson's push up from defence impressive, the Lions are simply at their best when Conway, Ellenger and O'Dwyer are humming.
Adelaide is more reliant on using uncontested possession, winning a record 148.2 uncontested possessions per game this season, and it is this that the Lions need to interrupt. Ideally Brisbane will work to play surge footy - gain ground, then make best use of its record 17.5 tackles inside 50 per game.
The Crows, having rested several key players last week, will be tough to stop particularly in the second half. Always knowing that they have another gear to hit means they are a threat right until the final siren.
Tip: It will go down to the wire. Adelaide by two points.
Gold Coast v Sydney at Heritage Bank Stadium, 6.15pm AEST
The Suns and Swans have played off just once before, in a 34-point Gold Coast win last year. Both sides are very different this season, each improving significantly, although the home team will be without powerful midfielder Charlie Rowbottom.
Claudia Whitfort's impact has been huge this year, serving as the main link between midfield and forward, so Sydney will need to limit her impact if it is any chance at progressing to the second week of finals. The other key to the Suns' midfield is Lucy Single, whose two-way running has really caught opponents out this year. It is a toss-up as to whether she will be sent to prolific ball winner Laura Gardiner, or if they opt for Chloe Molloy when the latter is running through the midfield. But it is an opportunity for Gold Coast to force Gardiner to run defensively, given Single's ability to win the footy, so that could be the priority.
Sydney is dangerous when it gets the ball forward, taking a shot on goal from 46 per cent of its inside 50s, so it is important that it generates plenty of forward entries to create opportunities. What the visitors cannot do, however, is send the ball forward without consideration, because Gold Coast's interceptors will lap up any wayward kicks.
Tip: It's hard to go past the momentum Sydney has gathered, but the Suns at home are tough to tip against. Gold Coast by five points.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12
Geelong v Essendon at GMHBA Stadium, 1.05pm AEDT
Another battle of the Prespakis sisters, but this time in an elimination final. Essendon got the better of Geelong earlier this season after the Cats got off to a fast start but failed to maintain the rage.
The sides are conceding the lowest disposal efficiency of the season – separated by just 0.01 per cent – proving they are adept at preventing the opposition from moving the ball how it wants. For the Bombers, this is by restricting the amount of uncontested ball their opposition is able to win, conceding just 101.9 uncontested possessions per game, the fewest of any side this year. In a dangerous sign for the Cats, winning uncontested ball is crucial to how they want to play, averaging 136.6 uncontested possessions per game.
This game, as with their match-up in round six this year, will be won or lost in the outside space. In that meeting the Cats were held to their fewest marks inside 50, second fewest inside 50s, second lowest disposal efficiency, and third fewest marks of the year. It is a pressured, possession game style that Essendon will need to maintain if it is to pull this off again.
Tip: The Cats' experience will come to the fore late. Geelong by nine points.
Melbourne v North Melbourne at Ikon Park, 3.05pm AEDT
The Demons and Roos have played off seven times, with the former claiming victory in the past six, including the biggest margin between the sides in round eight this year. North Melbourne failed to score across the last three quarters as it went all in on defence against the best attacking side the competition has ever seen.
A big tick for Melbourne in that meeting was its ability to slow the impact of North Melbourne's stars, including Jasmine Garner. Garner is in a similar situation to last season's finals series, where Richmond's Meg MacDonald worked her out of the game late in the home and away season, but adapted come finals. This is something the Demons, and specifically Shelley Heath, must be aware of heading into Sunday's game.
North Melbourne is the highest kicking team in AFLW history, while Melbourne is the highest handballing team across the competition, proving the clash of styles that will be at play. Because of the Demons' want to handball out of trouble, they have been caught out when they have had to play physical, pressured footy for four full quarters. The question will be whether the Roos can bring that for the duration of the game.
Tip: The Demons' streak will live on. Melbourne by 12 points.