COMMENT: Melbourne should be the favourites to win the AFL Women’s premiership, despite not qualifying for the final if the season ended today.
The Demons currently sit perched in third position on the ladder, behind the two remaining undefeated teams in Adelaide and Brisbane. To reach the final, they’ll have to knock off both GWS and Fremantle, the bottom two sides, and Adelaide, who may be the biggest test of the year.
But a theme has emerged which has set Melbourne apart from the rest of the league, and one which could ultimately beckon success when it matters most.
In Melbourne’s most recent game against Carlton, their game plan became clear – keep the ball, and you have a better chance to win. The tactic has been employed across the earlier rounds, yet it took full effect against the Blues, and it worked. The Demons recorded 254 disposals in their win, the highest recorded tally in the league to date. The total was 91 more than the opposition, which is also a record.
By controlling the game, Melbourne aren’t only giving themselves better and more opportunity to score, they’re also restricting their opposition from having a similar impact at the other end. It’s a simple formula, but in a league where games are low-scoring and lack consistent chains of clean disposals, Melbourne’s game plan has been a resounding success.
Across the first four rounds of the season, they’ve won the disposal count in each, and have a disposal differential of +165 on the season. To put that into perspective, Fremantle ranks second with +21 disposals and only another two other teams rank above 0. Their dominance in games, particularly through the midfield is unparalleled in the league.
Their dominance through the midfield has much been due to the consistency of their name players. Daisy Pearce is the number one ranked player in Champion Data’s ranking points system, while teammate Karen Paxman is fifth. The pair also grade in the top five players for disposals, effective disposals, uncontested and contested possessions, while Elise O’Dea also ranks in the same echelon for effective disposals, ground ball gets and inside 50s, among others.
Melbourne’s midfield dominance also translates on the score sheet where rank fourth in points differential; behind Adelaide, Brisbane and Carlton despite scoring the third most points. Both the Crows and Lions are runaway leaders in the category. They also rank fourth in points scored per inside 50 – a stat which is again dominated by Carlton, Brisbane and Adelaide in that order. However, both undefeated sides have played both GWS and Fremantle already this season – the two teams who allow the most points to the opposition, whereas Melbourne haven’t. And if they do away with Fremantle and GWS as the top two teams have, the Demons could be firmly set for a premiership tilt.
There is unquestionably still a way to go for the Demons to reach the final, especially if the Crows and Lions can further capitalise on their undefeated starts to the season. However, those two play each other this week, allowing Melbourne to join one of them in equal second with a convincing win over the Giants this weekend. Currently, their percentage is inferior, so even if they do progress through the remaining three rounds without losing, they may still miss the Grand Final. Given this, they remain dark horses, but a slip-up from either of those teams above them could have them in a strong position to become the first ever AFL Womens premiers.