The inaugural season of the AFL Women's competition was billed as one of the defining sporting stories of 2017, and now it has reached its final chapter after the two grand finalists were finally decided.
After seven home and away rounds of extraordinary action, the league's two best sides will face off for ultimate glory to become the first ever winners of a professional female Australian rules football premiership. As the old cliché goes, defence wins premierships, despite the fact that an attacking side can find a way to pile on the points. That is what the Adelaide Crows will look to do against the Brisbane Lions when they face off in the decider at Metricon Stadium on Saturday.
What happened in 2017?
Brisbane Lions are the overwhelming favourites for the premiership, but Adelaide have shadowed them all the way. After both teams won their first four games, they met in Round 5 in what loomed as the possible grand final matchup. That day, the Crows led by two points at the final change. However, the Lions' slick ball movement through the middle of the ground helped them snag a gritty three-point victory.
Why Brisbane can win
The premier defence in the league, Brisbane conceded just 148 points from 7 games this year (an average of 21 per game). When they get the ball in their hands, they are equally as frustrating for the opposition. However, in their final regular season match last weekend, Brisbane opted not to rest any players, instead fielding a full-strength line-up against Carlton. The Lions had the game under control, leading by 24 points in the fourth term, before their inaccuracy helped Carlton back into the match.
Regardless, with marquee stars Tayla Harris and Sabrina Frederick-Traub battling alongside pint-sized midfielder Emily Bates and captain Emma Zielke, the Lions boast arguably the best roster in AFL Women's. They play some bloody good footy, and they'll be hard to beat in the decider.
Why Adelaide can win
There was plenty at stake for the Crows last weekend. They had to get past a rough-and-tumble Collingwood side before even thinking about a grand final berth. Despite trailing Collingwood heading into the final term, the Crows were led superbly by Sarah 'Tex' Perkins and the inspirational Erin Phillips, the pair booting seven goals between them to seal a 24-point victory. Against Collingwood, Phillips finished with 21 disposals and three goals, while Perkins put together a second-quarter burst to give her side the ascendancy at half-time. Big game players Perkins and Phillips, as well as midfielder Ebony Marinoff, will give Adelaide the firepower they need to compete with a rampant Brisbane side.
The Crows are the best attacking side in the league, coming into the decider averaging nearly 42 points per game. An intimidating force, Adelaide don't just beat teams, they smash them. However, a watertight Brisbane side will provide their biggest challenge yet.
Brisbane will 'host' the grand final on the Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium, after the AFL opted not to use the Gabba for Saturday's clash. The match will take place at 1pm local time (2pm AEDT) as the curtain-raiser to the men's Q-Clash between the Suns and the Lions. AFL boss Gillon McLachlan also confirmed that the grand final would be free entry, but it's of minimal benefit to many fans who wanted the match at the Gabba. After Adele's concerts and the summer of cricket left the Gabba turf in a sorry state, the AFL had no choice but to move the grand final to the Gold Coast.
The Key Players
Brisbane powerhouse Sabrina Frederick-Traub has dominated ruck and centre field battles all season. As one of the first signings for the Lions alongside Tayla Harris, Frederick-Traub was under pressure to perform from the first bounce. She has responded with aplomb, dreadlocks and all, and has quickly become the league's most prominent player. She grew up in the UK playing soccer, but with her tall frame a result of her father's Antiguan and Jamaican heritage, she has transformed into a dominant force in the ruck and in the forward 50, despite balancing a university sports psychology degree.
Meanwhile, the Crows' not-so-secret weapon stands at 95 kg and 173 cm. An aficionado of blood vessel-bursting goal celebrations, Sarah Perkins has managed to show her presence on the field against any opponent. She booted four goals against Collingwood last weekend, a wonderful performance considering she had to battle with the sudden passing of her aunt who lost her battle with cancer a fortnight earlier. Raised in Melbourne, 'Tex' Perkins played netball and soccer before trying out Aussie rules. It's a wonder she has made it this far in her career, considering a 13-year-old Perkins was told she would no longer be able to play contact sports due to a spinal disc herniation. Make no mistake, though; if anyone can win it for Adelaide, it's Perkins.