Star power against depth – a quick(ish) 2021 AFLW GF preview

Adelaide. Brisbane. Facing off in the AFLW Grand Final.

Stop us if you’ve heard that one before.

In the AFLW’s short history the Crows and Lions have made three grand finals each. No other side has made more than one.

Of course, Adelaide has two premierships to show for it, and the Lions just some runners-up silverware.

Both sides have rebounded from an out-of sorts 2020 campaign to cement themselves as the best two sides this year. Both sides have been raided in recent years (Brisbane more than any other side), and their continued success calls to their strong core group of players, and solid administration.

There’s been a lot of virtual ink spilled about the surrounding factors for this GF – HPN really recommends this preview from the ABC’s Dean Bilton for example – so take this as a quick look at what might come to the fore today.

Strengths and weaknesses

As was the case in 2017, the AFLW Grand Final pits the best attack in the league (Adelaide) against (about) the stingiest defence (Brisbane). Thanks to the presence of core stars like Erin Phillips and Kate Lutkins, the core identities of both sides have stayed more or less true – at least at face value.

As is normally the case, the truth is a little more complex than just the headline figures. Adelaide’s attacking success isn’t just a product of its potent forwardline, but more a story of how their midfield dominates the flow of the ball around the ground. The Crows average 1.5 inside 50s for every opposition entry. This control of ball position suffocates opposing sides and allows the Crows to capitalise on repeated attacking opportunities.

The Lions aren’t too bad in the ball movement stakes either – having a positive split across the year. In their meeting earlier in the year, the Lions were able to break even in the clearance battle, but significantly lost the inside 50s – 23 to 36. Those 36 inside 50s lead to 15 marks inside 50, which is a hard position for any team to win from.

As alluded to earlier, its down back that Brisbane asserts its influence. Once the Brisbane wall goes up, it’s hard to break through. Given their ability to absorb attack after attack, the onus will be on Adelaide to dominate possession around the ground to give their forwards a fighting chance. Up forward, Dakota Davidson shapes as the main target for the Lions. The Crows have converted former ruck Sarah Allan into a fantastic KPD, and the pressure will be on the Lions to put Allan and co. under pressure early.

The teams

The Grand Final shapes as a classic battle of star power and depth.

Even missing captain Chelsea Randall, the Crows have a lot of top quality performers in their side, with Phillips, Marinoff and Hatchard carrying a lot of the load for Adelaide. The expectation would be that at least two of these three will need to have big games for the Crows to win.

By contrast, the Lions are an exercise in productive depth. Where the Crows start to tail off through the back end of their selected side, the Lions are far more consistent right through to their 21st player. This depth of contribution could be vital if injuries come into play, or if the game is a tight tussle going late into the fourth.

So what will happen?

Most predictions are showing that the game will be tight – potentially finishing within a goal. In their aforementioned match earlier this year, there was just twelve points between the two sides.

Brisbane have been relatively consistent throughout the year, and have been able to play some stellar football – witness the Lions’ destruction of GWS earlier this year. By the same token, Adelaide have shown their ability to put points on any team.

In short – it should be a close one.

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