An MCG grand final? Will the Blues squeak through? Burning questions ahead of the final round of AFLW

We take a look at the big questions ahead of the AFLW’s final home and away round.

What’s at stake?

The 2021 AFLW season will mark the first time a top-six finals series has been implemented, and with just one place left up for grabs in the top six, the Lions, Collingwood, Adelaide, Fremantle and Melbourne are all locked in.

North Melbourne sit sixth on 20 points, and a win against Fremantle on Saturday will seal the deal.

The top two will head straight to preliminary finals, meaning Brisbane must defeat the Dees to secure a home preliminary final.

But a loss will leave them vulnerable to dropping out of the top two altogether, percentage the deciding factor if the Crows or the Dockers win.

If the Crows do win, Collingwood will likely drop below the top two, but if they win, the Pies will be in a good position for preliminary finals.

North Melbourne and the Lions have plenty to play for in round nine.Credit:Getty Images

A big loss could mean the Magpies plummet as low as sixth if the Kangaroos knock off Fremantle.

Carlton, the Bulldogs and GWS all sit one game behind, but the Blues have the most realistic chance at closing the percentage gap needed.

Having now lost three straight games, the Bulldogs need a significant win against the Tigers and will have to cross their fingers that the Kangaroos lose to the Dockers and Carlton fall to GWS.

What does it mean for Carlton?

The Blues made the grand final two years ago and are now in danger of slipping out of the six.

They had a marginal chance at a finals campaign heading into round eight.

But after recording the highest-ever AFLW score and skyrocketing their percentage by 19.3 points, if things fall their way, they could be the dark horse.

The Blues need results to go their way to make the eight.Credit:Getty Images

If the Kangaroos defeat the Dockers, it’s season over for the Blues. But if not, Carlton need to thump GWS to make up the 19.2 per cent deficit and give themselves a fighting chance.

It was the result Daniel Harford’s side needed but speaking post-match last week, the senior coach said he wasn’t “getting too excited” about the prospect of a finals campaign.

“We’ve put ourselves in a position where we’ve got no real control over what happens.

“We’ve got to focus on getting better every week and if that means there’s a finals appearance, there’s a finals appearance. If there’s not, we need to get better to make sure there is. They’re the things we’re worrying about,” he said.

Who’s looking good to win the W Award?

Dockers star Kiara Bowers narrowly escaped suspension for a dangerous tackle this week at the AFLW tribunal, meaning she remains in contention for the league best-and-fairest award.

Bowers is hot favourite for the title, having a career-best season averaging 21.5 disposals, 12 contested possessions, 6.5 clearances and 10.8 tackles a game. Leading the league in tackles and clearances, the tough midfielder finished runner-up last year behind Carlton’s Madison Prespakis.

The AFL Coaches Association AFLW champion player of the year is voted by AFLW senior coaches on a 5,4,3,2,1 basis after each home and away game, acknowledging outstanding effort to an individual player in a season.

Kiara Bowers is a favourite for the W Award.Credit:Getty Images

Collingwood’s Brittany Bonnici sits second on this list.

The hard-running midfielder has shown unfaltering consistency with an average of 25 disposals and 16 kicks. Last season Bonnici was named the club’s best player for finals and runner-up in Collingwood’s best and fairest.

All-Australian Kangaroo Jasmine Garner claimed the AFL Players’ Association most valuable player award in 2020 and is averaging 13 contested possessions, 5.6 tackles and 20.6 disposals this season, placing her in high contention.

Magpie Brianna Davey sits fourth on the AFLCA rankings, with 23.3 average disposals a game at 70.4 per cent efficiency, 10.6 contested possessions, 4.4 clearances and 3.5 inside 50s.

Prespakis, Adelaide star Erin Phillips (twice) and North Melbourne skipper Emma Kearney are the previous winners of the W Award.

Which veterans need to stand up?

This finals race is precarious and it is now more than ever that sides need experience and game smarts on their side, rendering their veteran players invaluable.

Darcy Vescio put on a clinical performance last week with a career-high five goals and in the process became the first ever AFLW player to boot 40 goals. If the marquee forward can replicate that performance, Carlton may have a chance to make up the 19.2 per cent deficit they need.

Adelaide superstar Erin Phillips has finals credentials.Credit:Getty Images

Phillips is well known for stepping up in finals, the prolific ball-winner having been integral in both the Crows’ premiership triumphs, named best on ground each time.

She has history on her side: she claimed the AFLW best and fairest, AFL Players’ Association MVP and the Crows’ club champion award in the competition’s inaugural season.

In addition, she has a season average of 5.8 marks, 10 contested possessions, three clearances and 3.5 inside 50s per game.

Melbourne skipper Daisy Pearce was instrumental in the Dees’ triumph over the Dockers last round, and now that they’ve consolidated their place in finals, Pearce will need to lend her marquee player knowledge to her teammates.

The powerhouse midfielder has performed consistently without having a standout year, but it will be the two-time Melbourne best and fairest winner’s leadership and expertise the Dees will need in their finals run.

North Melbourne captain Kearney is one of just two players to be named All-Australian in every season of the AFLW. One of the competition’s best midfielders, Kearney’s consistency with 5.1 tackles, 4.1 clearances, 20.6 disposals a game will be a key factor in whether the Kangaroos defeat Fremantle on Saturday and soar into their second finals campaign.

Could there be an MCG grand final?

The decider will be played between winners of the two preliminary finals, with the side highest on the ladder at the conclusion of round nine awarded hosting rights.

More than 53,000 people crammed into Adelaide Oval to watch the Crows beat Carlton in 2019, which has Victorian fans speculating whether there is a chance of an MCG grand final, should a Victorian team finish in the top spot.

Nicole Livingstone, general manager of women’s football says the beauty of the competition is that the grand final venue isn’t locked in ahead of time.

“The history of the competition has seen a NAB AFLW grand final played in Queensland, two in South Australia and one in Victoria.

“The thought of a grand final at the MCG is very exciting, however, it’s equally as exciting to picture a grand final at Optus Stadium, the Gabba, Adelaide Oval or Marvel Stadium, depending on which team earns the right to host.”

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