IT ALL comes down to this. With one round to play, 10 teams are still a genuine chance for finals, with a further three mathematically possible finalists.
The first game of the round, Gold Coast against Essendon, could potentially decide the top four, while the final game, Fremantle against Sydney, will be a nail-biting watch to see if the Swans can qualify in just their second season.
To cap it all off, round 10 is Pride Round, where the AFLW will celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community, wearing specially-designed Pride guernseys and painting the forward 50 arcs in the pride rainbow.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3
Gold Coast v Essendon at Great Barrier Reef Arena (Mackay), 6:45pm AEST
In Gold Coast and Essendon's first ever AFLW meeting, the teams will be effectively playing off for a place in the top four. The loser, meanwhile, is a genuine chance to drop out of the top eight altogether. Everything is on the line in Mackay.
The Suns have already been dealt their first blow, with star midfielder Charlie Rowbottom ruled out for the match. Rowbottom has been responsible for nearly a quarter of the side's clearances this year, and 14.6 per cent of its tackles, so the whole midfield unit must rise to help cover her absence. More positively, however, is the return of Lucy Single from suspension, who likely cops a role on Maddy Prespakis through the middle.
Both sides boast very similar stat profiles, wanting to win plenty of the footy and find marks around the ground, but where they differ is in Essendon's forward half. The Bombers are efficient in generating shots on goal, while the Suns are great interceptors. Whichever side can find ascendancy in that part of the ground will snatch the win.
Tip: The Suns will rise to the occasion. Gold Coast by two points.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4
Western Bulldogs v North Melbourne at Whitten Oval, 1:05pm AEDT
Despite a frustrating, last gasp loss last week, North Melbourne can sew up third spot with a win over the Bulldogs on Saturday. These sides sit at opposing ends of the defensive scale, with the Western Bulldogs conceding an AFLW record 60 points per game, while the Roos are conceding just 20.4 points per game. This is an ominous sign for the home team, who must stand up against a North Melbourne side that sends the ball inside 50 38.5 times each week.
The Roos try to take advantage of their powerhouse midfield quartet of Jasmine Garner, Ash Riddell, Jenna Bruton and Mia King, flicking the ball around by hand before sending it forward. It will be a huge challenge for the Bulldogs, who have struggled for midfield depth across much of the season. What the Dogs have been known for, however, is their ability to rise to a big occasion, challenging good teams in patches throughout games. Should they maintain that high pressure, spirited footy for long enough, they may just unsettle the Kangaroos on the eve of finals.
Tip: Third spot is the Roos' for the taking. North Melbourne by 21 points.
Port Adelaide v Greater Western Sydney at Alberton Oval, 2:35pm ACDT
In what is otherwise an inconsequential game in terms of finals, this is a final chance for footy fans to watch champion Erin Phillips play the game. In Port Adelaide's first battle with the Giants, the home side will be on a mission to send its captain out on winning terms.
A win would allow the Power to go one better than last season, while Greater Western Sydney is working to salvage a season that hasn't gone to plan. Last week the Giants were smashed in uncontested possession, but against Port Adelaide they have a chance to control a bit more of the footy. The latter is still struggling to get its hands on the ball consistently, and that opens a door for a Giants side that wants to attack with venom. Throughout the season both teams have consistently built throughout the opening three quarters before falling away dramatically in the fourth, so this will simply be a battle of endurance.
Tip: The Power will do it for Erin. Port Adelaide by five points.
Geelong v Hawthorn at GMHBA Stadium, 5:05pm AEDT
In simple terms, Geelong is one of the sides who needs to win to make finals thanks to its high percentage. Having never played one-another, the Hawks are the great unknown for the Cats, but the high-pressure Hawks have the potential to unsettle Geelong's style. Should Hawthorn make the game very contested and ugly, it could take away the time and space needed for the Cats to use the ball well, particularly on the narrow deck of GMHBA Stadium.
Emily Bates is playing an underrated role for the Hawks this season, strong at the contest, winning the footy, but then positioning herself expertly behind play to ready the ball beautifully as an interceptor. Geelong needs to be really conscious of her running patterns to limit her output. Meanwhile, the Hawks need to work to shut down the Cats' outside ball movement, because the likes of Jackie Parry, Chloe Scheer, and Aishling Moloney have the ability to put the visitors' defence under immense pressure.
Tip: The Cats will gather momentum into finals. Geelong by 22 points.
West Coast v Adelaide at Mineral Resources Park, 2:05pm AWST
This game will be a matter of pride for the Eagles. In the final round last season, they fell by a club record 78 points to Melbourne, scoring just one behind themselves. Now, matched up against an equally frightening opposition, they simply cannot finish another season in such a manner. Meanwhile for Adelaide, a win will put immense pressure on the Demons to nail down top spot with a win of their own later in the evening.
Both West Coast and Adelaide want to move the ball by foot, getting the ball to the outside and playing a kick-mark game. That being said, the Crows are far better at winning and maintaining possession, averaging 268.6 disposals at 66.8 per cent efficiency compared to the Eagles' 213.6 disposals at 60 per cent. In addition, Adelaide brings that high efficiency into its attack, kicking at an AFLW record 51.3 per cent accuracy at goal, taking a shot from 45.5 per cent of their forward entries. Essentially, when the Crows get the ball inside 50 they will punish you on the scoreboard.
Tip: A tough way for the Eagles to end their season. Adelaide by 40 points.
Brisbane v Melbourne at Brighton Homes Arena, 6:05pm AEST
It has taken until the final round of the home and away season for us to be treated to a Grand Final rematch, but arguably far more is on the line at this stage of the year. Brisbane faltered last week, and a loss against the Demons will see them fall out of the top four altogether, while Melbourne needs a win to sew up top spot.
The main concern for Brisbane heading into this game is its capacity to contain Melbourne's expansive forward line. Averaging 5.7 goalkickers, 13.4 marks inside 50 and 69.4 points per game, the Demons' attack is unprecedented in its potency. Meanwhile, Brisbane is conceding its highest average points against since 2019 – the last time it missed finals – and allowing its opposition to kick at record accuracy. Essentially, this game will be won or lost in Melbourne's forward line.
While the Demons have been the constant this season, Brisbane has been the unknown week-to-week. But what we do know is that the Lions tend to bring their best footy against the best teams.
Tip: It will be tight, but the Demons' consistency is too hard to pass up. Melbourne by 11 points.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 5
Carlton v St Kilda at Ikon Park, 1:05pm AEDT
A win for the Saints and they all but make their first ever finals series. That is what it comes down to, and Carlton will no doubt be out to spoil the party. In the three match-ups between these two sides to date, the Blues have won all three by an average of 30.3 points. But now it is St Kilda with the hot hand, full of confidence after toppling last season's grand finalist Brisbane last week.
Carlton's forward efficiency has dropped away in recent weeks with Breann Moody needing to spend more time in the ruck, and Phoebe McWilliams out of the side. The Blues cannot find themselves rushing their ball movement forward as in the last couple of games, because it will simply provide St Kilda's defence a platform to slingshot attacking runs. The Saints are very direct with their disposal, wanting to get the ball on the boot and gain ground, so they are increasingly damaging when attacking off turnover.
Tip: The Saints will do the damage on the scoreboard early. St Kilda by 12 points.
Collingwood v Richmond at Victoria Park, 3:05pm AEDT
In a frustrating season for the Pies, where injury has marred an otherwise potential-filled year, it will come down to Sunday's clash with the Tigers to decide whether they reach a fifth-consecutive finals series. Collingwood needs the win, and to make up some percentage if it is to make it. Once again without important defensive duo Ruby Schleicher and Lauren Butler, it is important that Richmond really challenges the home side's depleted backline. Living in their forward half will be key, because the alternative is exactly what Collingwood wants – trapping the ball in attack, setting up a high defensive line and intercepting any attempts to exit. Instead, Richmond must force Collingwood to defend deep.
Another injury blow, albeit this one on the Tigers' side, is ruck Gabby Seymour's unavailability. Given the rich vein of form Pies ruck Sabrina Frederick is in, Richmond's Poppy Kelly must be ready for a physical four-quarter battle. Frederick has the potential to really take the game by the scruff of the neck, and Kelly simply cannot allow this to happen.
As has been the case for much of the season, Richmond just needs to be within touching distance of the lead coming into the final quarter to be a genuine chance, but this is especially pertinent this week as the Pies fall away significantly late in games. Collingwood has won just one final quarter this year, so the Tigers just need to weather the early storm, then put the foot down.
Tip: It's time for an upset. Richmond by three points.
Fremantle v Sydney at Fremantle Oval, 2:05pm AWST
In a remarkable turn of events, Sydney is just one win away from a maiden AFLW finals berth just 12 months on from a winless debut season. The only thing standing in its way is an improving Fremantle side. The Dockers showed some real grit in the Casey weather conditions last week, using the wind to their advantage to limit the pain on the scoreboard, and this week conditions will likely be similar at Fremantle Oval so presents as an opportunity for the home side to capitalise.
Sydney is consistently finding marking targets inside 50, led by Bec Privitelli in a career-best season, but also through Chloe Molloy, Cynthia Hamilton, and Montana Ham. Because of this, the Swans are generating regular scoring opportunities from their forward 50 entries. It is here that they can challenge the Dockers, taking a shot on goal from 46.1 per cent of their inside 50s, compared to Fremantle's 37.3 per cent. While this is thanks to the forward personnel the Swans boast, it is also due to the uncontested ball movement the side is working to achieve, while Fremantle is focused more heavily on contested ball and tackle pressure.
Tip: It's time for Swans fans to dream. Sydney by six points.