Monday, December 4, 2023

AFLW Rankings: Finals 2023

The Brisbane Lions have won their second AFLW premiership (from their fifth Grand Final), and despite finishing fourth after the home-and-away season, it wasn’t much of a surprise. The top four teams – Adelaide, Melbourne, North Melbourne, and Brisbane – were all rated similarly heading into the finals, and in line with this we saw a few close finishes in games during the finals series. There were some surprises along the way though.

First, Brisbane kicked seven goals in the Grand Final against North Melbourne from only 21 entries inside 50. The Roos’ defence had been stellar during the 2023 season, conceding less than four goals per game, and being the only team to concede less points per game than inside 50s (see Statistics table above). The Lions were seemingly well-beaten in the midfield, with 13 less inside 50s and 18 less clearances. But they found ways to stop the repeated entries into their defence, amassing 109 tackles (over 30 more than the Roos, and the Lions’ season average), and to score from their limited opportunities going forward.

In the end the Lions don’t quite finish the season as the top team on the rankings, but they are certainly one of the best teams in the competition. Like Adelaide and North Melbourne – and Melbourne until recently, more on which below – they were clearly stronger across the board than most of the league. A few unexpected losses to lower teams meant they had to do it a slightly harder way in the finals by beating Adelaide and North Melbourne away, but there would not have been many who thought they didn’t have the credentials to give it a good shake at least.

The main surprises of the finals series though were the significant changes in form of Melbourne and Geelong. Reigning premiers Melbourne had been a scoring machine during the 2023 season but could manage only nine points in their first final against North Melbourne. The Demons then faced Geelong the next week and kicked only one goal and trailed by 30 points at three quarter-time. They finally recaptured their offensive power in the final quarter by piling on five goals, but ultimately lost by five points.

After knocking off the reigning premiers, Geelong continued their impressive form by coming close to beating Brisbane at home. They lost by only four points, although like Brisbane in the Grand Final, they were helped by their scoring efficiency when inside 50. The end result is that Melbourne slipped away from Brisbane, North, and Adelaide in the rankings, and were replaced in the top four by the Cats. While it’s a little strange to see Melbourne end up there after being so dominant during the season, based on their finals form it’s hard to argue.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

AFLW Rankings: Round 10 2023

It’s been fairly clear to most serious AFLW followers from early on this season that there are four top teams, and then the ‘rest’: Adelaide, Melbourne, North Melbourne, and Brisbane. None of these would be a surprise to win the premiership. In a close finals series, the results may to a significant extent come down to home ground advantage.

Rankings finals predictions:

Elimination Finals: Gold Coast defeat Sydney, Geelong defeat Essendon

Qualifying Finals: Adelaide defeat Brisbane, Melbourne defeat North Melbourne

Semi-Finals: Brisbane defeat Gold Coast, North Melbourne defeat Geelong

Preliminary Finals: Adelaide defeat North Melbourne, Melbourne defeat Brisbane

Grand Final: Adelaide defeat Melbourne (barely)

Sunday, October 8, 2023

AFLW Rankings: Round 6 2023

The Crows halt Melbourne

In an AFLW classic, the Adelaide Crows surprised with an away win against reigning premiers and previous league ladder leaders Melbourne on the weekend. While the Crows are themselves one of the top-rated sides, Melbourne had looked a step ahead of even the best teams with their awesome offensive prowess, averaging over two more goals per game than even the Crows heading into the matchup.

Adelaide couldn’t quite stop Melbourne’s forward firepower – the Demons still scored on 40 per cent of their inside 50 entries, which is still pretty good for any team not wearing red and blue. They couldn’t also stop Eden Zanker, who kicked five goals to bring Melbourne back into the match in the final half hour.

What Adelaide did reduce though was Melbourne’s inside 50 entries and particularly their flow of uncontested possessions. The Demons had just 88 uncontested possessions against the Crows, way down on the 153 per game they had been averaging beforehand this season. That brought down Melbourne’s supply of scoring opportunities, with only 28 inside 50s, about ten down on what they had been averaging.

The Crows meanwhile were able to mostly maintain both their uncontested game and forward supply. They racked up 139 uncontested possessions and 38 inside 50 entries – a little down on their averages so far this season, but very respectable against the toughest opposition in the league on their home turf.

Going Noff

A major part of the Crows’ win were the amazing performances of their midfield engine room of Ebony Marinoff and Anne Hatchard. Between them Marinoff and Hatchard had 60 disposals, 19 tackles, and 4 goals, which proved decisive in the win.

Marinoff in particular has become more of a forward threat this season. She has averaged seven inside 50 entries per game this season, after never averaging more than five per game in her previous six seasons.

Indeed, Marinoff would be clearly considered the most damaging midfielder in the game – if it wasn’t for a certain #25 at North Melbourne. Jasmine Garner has averaged over eight inside 50 entries per game, and is the only player to be ahead of Marinoff this season for inside 50s and metres gained (see below). Both are also in the top ten for score involvements. The main difference is that Garner is a clearance/contested possession machine, while Marinoff remains outstanding in terms of her tackles (though both are near the top of either statistic).

Either way, Marinoff and Garner are the main driving forces behind the league’s top two teams on the ladder at the moment. They’ll face off against each other in three weeks time, in a matchup that may be crucial for shaping the top four this season.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

AFL Rankings: Finals 2023

Collingwood won the 2023 AFL Grand Final over Brisbane, as I predicted at the start of the finals series. As I also predicted however, it easily could have gone another way, as the Magpies won their three finals by a combined 12 points.

In their first final Collingwood were well-beaten for forward entries as Melbourne had 32 more inside 50s (37-69), but benefitted from the Demons’ inefficiency in converting their entries to scores. Their second final with GWS was a more even affair, with the Magpies clearly winning the clearances (44-26) and GWS clearly winning the contested ball everywhere else (140-154), but with the other main statistics being relatively even. The Grand Final was almost a reverse of the Magpies’ first final as they had 14 more inside 50 entries than the Lions (57-43), but with inaccuracy in front of goal almost costing them the ultimate prize – they got there though.

Indeed, since their 2018 preliminary final, Collingwood has been in a bunch of close finals: losing by 5 points, winning by 10, losing by 4, winning by 1, losing by 68, losing by 6, losing by 1, winning by 7, winning by 1, and winning by 4. If things had gone a little less their way, they may have had no premierships over that period, but if things had gone a little more their way maybe they would have four? Although the Magpies have never been clearly the best team in any of those years (not even this one); their breakthrough is more a testament of giving yourself enough repeat opportunities in the finals that eventually you go all the way.

Collingwood in fact did not really stand out in any main area this season. They were sixth for average inside 50 differential per game, and tenth for average contested possession differential. Their defence stood up well against the barrage of Demon forward entries in their first final, but they didn’t stand out in stopping opposition scoring shots per inside 50 across the whole season. They were just solid in enough areas to compete in a season that there wasn’t a stand-out team in, and they had the close games go their way. There was a decent chance that whoever won the premiership this season was going to have that story though – in the end, someone had to win.

It made for an intriguing finals series in any case, compared with the past two seasons in which Geelong and Melbourne steamrolled their way through the final weeks. Comparisons are already being made between this season and 1993, which is so fondly remembered now that it had its own podcast series. At least Collingwood have now given their living supporters some more joy, for all the finals and Grand Finals they have made over the past 60 or so years.