The Bulldogs go into the AFLW grand final as favourites, but they will not have things their own way against the Lions. (AAP: Glenn Hunt)
Before a ball is even bounced in the AFLW grand final, we know already there will be an extra edge to proceedings, with the Western Bulldogs missing their suspended skipper Katie Brennan.
But for both sides at Princes Park, this will be a game of second (and third) chances and potential redemption.
Last season, there were two standout sides, and we knew they were the standout teams weeks out from the decider.
The fancied Bulldogs were not one of those sides — they missed the grand final, and that disappointment will still be fresh in players’ memories.
In 2017, Brisbane showed it was the best unit in the seven-round regular season, but could not get the job done when it counted against Adelaide.
This year, the Bulldogs have been the best side so far, but it will count for little if they don’t win the decider — while for the Lions, losses to Melbourne and Collingwood made them outsiders to make the grand final, but a 40-point win in round seven means they now approach the big game with confidence.
The last time they met
Western Bulldogs AFLW tweet: When @brookelochland booked our tickets to the @aflwomens Grand Final #RealStrength #AFLWDogsDees
The last time the two sides met was in round two, when the Bulldogs won a tight struggle, 4.10 (34) to 4.4 (28) at South Pine Sports Complex in Brisbane.
The Lions dominated the hitouts, held their own at the clearances and had five more inside 50s than their opponents, but they could not take advantage.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, their win involved two players who will not be taking part on Saturday — the suspended skipper Brennan, and former number one draft pick Isabel Huntington, who ruptured her ACL against the Lions after taking two big grabs in the goal square and booting back-to-back goals inside a minute.
Brisbane has had an up and down season, but the Lions have improved at the right time.
Will they be able to create more opportunities (and take them) this time round?
What can we expect?
Brisbane must not give Brooke Lochland room to move, or she could be the match-winner for the Bulldogs. (AAP: David Crosling)
This grand final will be a clash of game-styles.
The Bulldogs have strength across the ground, and will be all about moving the ball cleanly and creating space for the likes of Monique Conti and Emma Kearney to use their speed and put their opponents on the defensive.
If football is a confidence game, then the Daughters of the West will be looking to get the ball into the hands of Brooke Lochland.
Bulldogs’ top five
- Emma Kearney: Elite midfielder and possession-getter who the Lions will have to stop
- Brooke Lochland: Star forward who put Dogs in the grand final — potential game-changer
- Ellie Blackburn: Strong in the middle of the ground, if Lions tag Kearney she could cash in with clearances
- Monique Conti: Speedy ex-basketballer who has starred on the wing in debut season
- Hannah Scott: Skilled defender whose accurate disposal off half-back has been key to Bulldogs’ game-style
The Sochi Winter Olympian doesn’t need to get her skates on this Saturday — with 12 goals she leads the scoring charts, and she has already shown she is capable of both kicking big bags (seven against Carlton) and key goals in the nick of time (last week’s winning goal against Melbourne coming with 90 seconds left).
The Bulldogs are not a one-woman forward line, however, with players like Bonnie Toogood, Aisling Utri and Hannah Scott all able to contribute.
The Dogs will go in with the gun midfield, courtesy of the star duo of Kearney and Ellie Blackburn.
They will rely on that midfield to read the taps to get the ball to drive their attack — with Tahlia Randall, the Lions have the advantage at the hitouts, but can they make enough use of it?
Brisbane’s top five
- Sabrina Frederick-Traub: Lions spearhead is great in the air, her kicking accuracy will be key
- Jess Wuetschner: Brisbane’s best finisher, a smart and dangerous mobile forward
- Kate Lutkins: Top defender off half-back who averaged 20 disposals in rounds 5-7
- Alexandra Anderson: Midfielder who gets lots of the ball — will need good delivery to forwards
- Nat Exon: Fierce, not flashy player in the middle and defence who will be key to stopping Dogs’ stars
The Bulldogs prefer a more open game, but last week in their unofficial grand final eliminator against the Demons, it was a much tighter, fiercer affair.
They still came out on top, but two losses plus last week’s scare shows they are not invincible.
A lot of the goals in the Dogs-Demons game came from pressure leading to free kicks given away in dangerous situations.
Neither the Bulldogs nor the Lions will be able to afford that luxury this time round.
On the Brisbane side of things, the Lions like to deny their opposition time to think in defence.
The first avenue to goal will likely be direct to give Sabrina Frederick-Traub first look at a high ball.
The underdogs will have to make sure, however, that they don’t become too predictable in attack.
Yes, Frederick-Traub has few players who can go with her when she is up and going, and in her last three matches she has kicked 8.0 after going goalless in the first four rounds.
However Brisbane must remember to use the likes of Jess Wuetschner, and where possible to set up the ball over the back of the Dogs’ defence so speedster Kate McCarthy can take care of business when she moves forward.
The Lions are strong in contested possessions, and they will need to be to keep the Bulldogs mids from dominating.
The Lions will rely on the athletic play of Leah Kaslar at the back to stop the Bulldogs getting a run on. (AAP: Roy Vandervegt)
The ball-getting ability of Alexandra Anderson and ferocity and second efforts of Nat Exon will be crucial if Brisbane is to hold its own.
In defence, the Lions will rely on the marshalling and accurate disposal of Kate Lutkins, the experience of captain Emma Zielke and key position play from Leah Kaslar.
On paper, this should be a win to the Bulldogs. Last year, however, the Lions finished as minor premiers but — although the slight matter of a frustrated Gabba groundsman and an Adele concert saw the match shifted to the Gold Coast — home ground advantage was not enough as Adelaide proved too strong.
The Dogs go into the game as deserved favourites — but the Lions putting 10 goals on the Giants in Sydney last week shows what the Queenslanders are capable of delivering.
The Bulldogs are beatable, and although Brennan has not been 100 per cent physically with an ankle injury, her absence is a blow.
Brisbane this season has struggled to win the games they are expected to win, but when the expectations are on their opponents they can come out — like last week’s six-goal quarter against GWS — and deliver a stunning shock.
If it’s a complete shootout, expect the Dogs to get up. But if the Lions can get off to a strong start then it is they who can make amends for previous missed opportunities.
Brisbane by five points.