AFL

AFLW Grand Final Preview: Western Bulldogs vs Brisbane Lions

Brooke Lochland of the Bulldogs in action during the round two AFLW match between the Brisbane Lions and the Western Bulldogs at South Pine Sports Complex on February 11, 2018 in Brisbane, Australia.
(Feb. 10, 2018 - Source: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images AsiaPac)

And then there were two! After a roller coaster seven weeks of AFLW footy, we’re here; Grand Final eve. The Bulldogs were the best and most consistent team over the course of the season, taking out the minor premiership, but the Lions showed at times their best footy is as devastating as anyone’s, as they just scraped in to qualify for their second successive Grand Final. On the eve of the big dance, let’s take a look at how this one is shaping up.

The Road to the Final: Western Bulldogs

  • Round 1: Western Bulldogs 7.7 (49) def Fremantle 3.5 (23)
  • Round 2: Brisbane Lions 3.6 (24) def by Western Bulldogs 5.3 (33)
  • Round 3: Adelaide Crows 6.5 (41) def Western Bulldogs 5.3 (34)
  • Round 4: Western Bulldogs 12.14 (86) def Carlton 2.1(13)
  • Round 5: Collingwood 6.5 (41) def by Western Bulldogs 7.7 (49)
  • Round 6: GWS Giants 7.4 (46) def Western Bulldogs 4.4 (28)
  • Round 7: Western Bulldogs 5.3 (33) def Melbourne 4.7 (31)

The Western Bulldogs burst out of the blocks this season with two convincing wins and, after a hiccup against the Crows, announced themselves as the team to beat for 2018 with a record-breaking 73-point win against the Blues in round four. Brooke Lochland went insane with seven goals against Carlton and from there the Dogs looked like the benchmark. Another hiccup against the Giants in the penultimate round of the season meant the ladder leaders had to overcome the Demons in a final round top of the table clash to secure their spot in the final — but AFLW leading goalkicker, Lochland, broke Melbourne hearts with a match-winning, grand-final-securing left foot snap inside the last 90 seconds.

The Road to the Final: Brisbane Lions

  • Round 1: Adelaide Crows 3.1 (19) def by Brisbane Lions 4.7 (31)
  • Round 2: Brisbane Lions 3.6 (24) def by Western Bulldogs 5.3 (33)
  • Round 3: Carlton 2.6 (18) def by Brisbane Lions 6.4 (40)
  • Round 4: Brisbane Lions 3.4 (22) def Fremantle 2.3 (15)
  • Round 5: Melbourne 4.10 (34) def Brisbane Lions 4.4 (28)
  • Round 6: Brisbane Lions 5.9 (39) def by Collingwood 8.5 (53)
  • Round 7: GWS Giants 3.6 (24) def by Brisbane Lions 10.4 (64)

The Lions’ season wasn’t as convincing as what the Dogs are entitled to boast – and certainly nowhere near that of 2017. Nevertheless they did manage to knock off the reigning premier Adelaide in round one in addition to three more wins from the seven games. Roadblocks against Western Bulldogs, Melbourne and unexpectedly Collingwood meant that their thumping 40 point win in the final round against the Giants was only enough to give them a chance of being one of the last two teams standing, pending other results. Sure enough, Melbourne lost on the Saturday and Adelaide fell short to Collingwood on the Sunday, and the Lions were in.

Analysis:

It’s no coincidence that the most exciting, organised and efficient team across the seven rounds of AFLW finished on top of the ladder. The Dogs lost stars Katie Brennan and Izzy Huntington very early in the season, but found a way to adapt mostly through system over talent. What they suddenly lacked in height and key position power, they made up for in ball-winning ability and crumbing around goals. You only have to look at what Lochland did against the Blues. Ellie Blackburn, Emma Kearny and co. won the ball consistently, they moved the ball quickly and effectively, and they put constant pressure on the back six of the opposition, making it impossible to contain them. At times their opposition must’ve felt like they were trying to fill a sieve with water against the Dogs.

The Lions were a bit harder to get a read on, purely because of horrendous weather conditions into which they were constantly unfortunate enough to run. However, with more of a key forward focal point than the Dogs in Sabrina Frederick-Traub, they were often more predictable in relying on Sabrina to sit under the high ball and make a contest for the smalls to crumb, if not mark. Their rebound was strong throughout the season, often using Kate Lutkins as a conduit through whom to propel their forward movements and looked at their best when they did. Interestingly enough, in their final game they were finally able to play in perfect conditions and, low and behold, they controlled the game as well as they had all year. Outside the Dogs’ win over Carlton, the win over the Giants in round seven was the season’s most complete and polished performance.

Together they make for a blockbuster clash. Last time the Dogs probably took the chocolates in the midfield battle, to which Emily Bates, Ally Anderson and co will no doubt take exception. They’ll be desperate to win the battle against star duo Blackburn and Kearny. Does Lutkins go to Bonnie Toogood? Who stops the dangerous livewire Lochland? The injured Sam Virgo would come in handy here. Can anyone go with Kate McCarthy? Do the Dogs have anyone who can matchup with Sabrina?

So many mouth-watering questions, but of course, the biggest of them all – WILL KATIE BRENNAN PLAY? Suspended by the Match Review Officer, Michael Christian, for one game for her sling tackle last week. The ban was upheld at the tribunal, but they may yet take it further, to Federal Court. Brennan has one game under her belt after that ankle injury that robbed her of most of the season, which means she may well be ready to really hit her straps again. If she does play, she will make a massive difference to the game on Saturday. If nothing else, it will at least mean that Toogood will get a lesser defender, Lochland and Monique Conti will have more opportunities to burn their opponents at Brennan’s feet and the Dogs will have a genuine bail-out target coming out of half back. That’s without even mentioning what she could do to the game herself. A superstar of the competition in her own right, no doubt.

Here’s how the teams have been named for the match to start at Ikon Park, 12.35pm AEDT.

WESTERN BULLDOGS

B: L.Birch 18, L.Spark 11, N.Ferres 16

HB: H.Scott 22, T.Ernst 19, N.Callinan 10

C:              E.Blackburn 2

HF: J.Bruton 35, B.Toogood 28, M.Conti 8

F: A.Utri 23, K.Brennan 3, B.Lochland 1

Foll: A.O’Connor 4, E.Kearney 5, K.Lamb 27

I/C: A.Gogos 36, B.Hunt 21, H.Wildes 17, K.Rennie 24, D.Berry 7

Emerg: E.Mackie 25, K.Brennan 3

In: K.McLeod

Out: K.Brennan (suspended)

BRISBANE

B: E.Pittman 29, L.Kaslar 11, B.Koenen 3

HB: E.Zielke 8, K.Lutkins 13, K.McCarthy 9

C:        N.Exon 15

HF: E.Bates 1, T.Randall 16, M.Hunt 6

F: J.Wuetschner  23, B.Gibson 25, K.Ashmore 10

Foll: S.Frederick-Traub 14, J.Stanton 17, A.Anderson 18

I/C: S.Webb 4, I.Ayre 2, S.Campbell 20, S.Conway 12, A.Clarke 21

Emerg: J.Zanchetta 7, N Hildebrand 22

Who will win?

The Bulldogs will have so many headaches worrying about the danger and balance with which the Lions’s lineup is blessed. Their forward six alone boasts Kait Ashmore, Jess Wuetschner, Brit Gibson and of course, Frederick-Traub. Kate McCarthy’s speed out of the back half is scintillating, Emma Zielke’s class off half back and through the midfield is unconditional and Bates, Anderson and Nat Exon are as hard as a cat’s head. It’s no wonder they’ve made consecutive Grand Finals now. However, the Bulldogs have been forced to play without two of their best players almost the whole season and still managed to produce the best standard of footy the competition has seen. Their ability to move the ball with such control, class and precision is no doubt a result of their deep understanding of their game and of each other. Anyone can win on any Grand Final Day, and this clash has all the ingredients of a classic — but I think the Dogs just have a higher ceiling to go to than the Lions and I think if they are capable of hitting that ceiling, they’ll be premiers.

Dogs to win by 5 points.

Like what you’ve read? You can follow the author on Twitter at @harrisonreid12.

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