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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.