There has been a lot said about the AFLW fixture now that the men have started their preseason games, and with good reason. Danielle Croci said it very well on the latest Footy Gospel podcast. Games starting 11am on a Saturday morning or at 3pm and 5pm on a Friday are not giving the game the best leg up as far as attracting a crowd.
The AFL have displayed a stroke of genius, however flukey, with the fixture for next week, though. Before the season, pitting Brisbane against Adelaide in the primetime Saturday night slot may have been hopeful at best. Now, though, with the season having just ticked over the halfway point and the teams sitting first and second, it shapes as the game of the season.
After four full rounds the Crows and the Lions are the two standout teams of the competition and they have had fairly similar journeys as well. Both have had to travel interstate for two of their four games (the only two teams to have played Fremantle on their home deck). That's no small feat for two teams that are made up of players that already hail from far and wide. Compare it to Footscray, who have so far played all their games at home and whose players almost exclusively come from Victoria.
They also come into this week's clash having just officially ended the seasons of their opponents from last week. GWS and Fremantle now sit in the bottom two rungs of the ladder, the only two winless teams in the comp, and too far from the top two spots to make up the ground in the last three games.
Brisbane's demolition job on GWS may have started slowly, with no goals in the first quarter and only one for the first half, but it was clinical. While the Lions didn't make the most of their opportunities in the first half, they had 11 inside 50s to two and the game was being played on their terms, all that was needed was for a few small things to click into gear. And click they did after halftime. Goals to Sabrina Frederick-Traub, Kate McCarthy and Kaitlyn Ashmore in the third quarter started a run of five unanswered goals and that was that. GWS were done for the year and Brisbane keep on keeping on.
Adelaide had a similar start against Fremantle on Sunday afternoon, except that their first quarter had them looking like they were heading for an upset loss. The Dockers were ferocious at the contest (20 tackles to two in the first quarter) and much cleaner by hand and foot than the Crows. A two goal lead at quarter time was well earned. After quarter time it was all Adelaide, though. Co-captain, Erin Phillips, set the tone with a goal in the first minute and the Crows started to lift their tackling intensity and disposal efficiency. From then on they looked like the Adelaide that had set the competition alight in the first three rounds.
Especially pleasing for the Crows would have to be the form of Sarah Perkins and Abbey Holmes. Perkins has been amongst the goals all season but against the Dockers she did even more. As well as kicking 1.3, she laid an incredible nine tackles - an invaluable contribution from a key forward. Throw in a few goals that she set up, and even a hitout, and you have a textbook full forward performance.
Holmes, meanwhile seemed to find her rhythm and place in the side. Hers is an interesting story. The first woman to kick 100 goals in Australian football history, for Waratah in the Northern Territory, Holmes was on track to become the most well-known face in women's footy. Unfortunately, after moving to Melbourne last year she had a recurrence of a rib injury and was sidelined for most of the year. It took until pick 103 in the AFL Women's Draft for Adelaide to take her and leading into the season she seemed to be on the outer, being picked as an emergency for Round 1 before a late change.
Rather than playing at full forward, where she made her name in Darwin, she's had more of a half forward role at Adelaide and she played it with aplomb against Fremantle. She created run off the half forward line, moving the ball beautifully by hand in particular, while also getting to the front of packs in the goal square. She managed to kick her first goal of the season and set a couple up as well. Having her and Perkins hit top form ahead of a 1v2 clash against the Lions next week is a godsend.
So who will win next week? It's hard not to go with Adelaide with the home ground advantage, but travel has not proved a factor for Brisbane thus far. The Crows' scoring power might be too much though. They are the highest scoring team in the comp by a decent margin, while the Lions rank fourth in that category. Brisbane did kick their highest score of the season last week, though, and having Ashmore and McCarthy kick multiple goals should instill a bit of confidence. They also have Tayla Harris, who hasn't had a really big game since they beat Freo. Adelaide will be hoping she's not due for a big one.
The game could be won by the best defence. These two teams are the only to have not conceded 100 points over the season so far. Not only have they not conceded that much but they're nowhere near it, the Crows with 72 points against and the Lions with only 65.
As with most games, though, it will likely be won or lost in the middle, which is where Adelaide have the edge. Erin Phillips, Chelsea Randall, Ebony Marinoff and Kellie Gibson are an imposing midfield group. Touch, quick and skilful, Brisbane will have their work cut out for them trying to stifle their effectiveness.
Whatever the case, circle next Saturday night in the calendar. The two best teams are set to do battle to claim outright top spot, perhaps even for the right to host the inaugural AFLW grand final in a month's time, and its being played at a decent time on national free-to-air TV. Well done, AFL, you've programmed this one spectacularly well.