Adelaide and Fremantle will fight for the top of the ladder in Round 8. (Photo: Adelaide FC)

The AFLW season is heading towards the run home, and while most of the top six is set, there are still plenty of games left to shape the final look of the 2022 ladder.

At the start of this weekend of matches, every AFLW team will have played seven games.

In a 10-game season, this means that the competition is now on ‘the run home’. While the majority of the top six seems decided, there are still key games to shape the finals.

The Inner Sanctum has chosen the key games across the final three rounds of the 2022 AFLW season.

Gold Coast vs Western Bulldogs – Round 7

These two sides have been the surprise packages of 2022, and with their records continuing to look better and better, they both sit on the cusp of finals.

After starting the season with major injuries, COVID interruptions, and three crushing losses, the Dogs have rocketed back up the ladder with three wins on the trot. This included a gutsy one point victory over Adelaide, handing last year’s runner up its first loss of the year.

Gold Coast similarly sits on three wins and three losses, knocking on the door of the top six to take Collingwood’s place. Cameron Joyce’s side is yet to take a big scalp, but came within two goals of fourth placed Melbourne.

Both teams have been excitement personified across February, and the Dogs’ resilience has to be commended. With the return of Ellyse Gamble, Eleanor Brown’s massive defensive improvement, the resurgence of captain Ellie Blackburn in the midfield alongside the ever consistent Kirsty Lamb, and the aerial dominance of Bonnie Toogood, the gears are starting to turn in a condensed schedule.

The Suns meanwhile have shown some of the best fourth quarter performances in the league, weathering storms and mounting comebacks. Ali Drennan is becoming a bona fide elite midfielder, Jamie Stanton and Kate Surman keep leading from the front, and there’s no seats left on the Tara Bohanna express.

With Collingwood faltering and with season-defining games of its own to come, this match could decide the final spot in the top six.

Alex Catalano

Fremantle vs Adelaide – Round 8

With both notching up convincing wins over the past week, Fremantle and Adelaide playing at Fremantle Oval in Round 8 seems like a mouth-watering match-up. 

It’ll be two teams at the top of the table with one loss each playing for the top spot, and possibly even a home ground advantage come the pointy end of the season. It’s all here to play for including bragging rights when these teams potentially play against each other in finals.

The only real question mark so far this year has been the Crows’ performance in the first five to ten minutes of their game against the Western Bulldogs. The Crows lacked intensity, and the Bulldogs jumped to an early lead and held on to win by a point in a famous upset.

A key factor in how this game plays out is the possible absence of Adelaide’s best forward and defender, and leaders, in Erin Phillips and Chelsea Randall. It will be a test to see whether the Crows can win without these two instrumental players at an away game, with momentum into the finals a motivating factor.

With the likes of Sarah Allan, Teah Charlton, Eloise Jones and Ashleigh Woodland stepping up more around the ground to fill in their absence across other games this year, is this the game that they can show how much they’ve grown, or will a more mature Fremantle side pull them apart?

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Fremantle has only been beaten by North Melbourne, where it was playing its fourth game in 16 days. It was a low scoring game in a tight and contested tussle. Ebony Antonio dragged her side back into the game before three-quarter time after she only had one touch up to half time.

The Dockers struggled in the absence of Kiara Bowers, having to send Ange Stannett to the midfield and covering her in their defence. Bowers will be back to her usual ball-winning midfield capability for her side, and this may prove to be the thorn in the Crows’ side.

This game is shaping up to be a game of which midfield can best supply its forwards and which defence can stand up. Both sides are littered with talent in the middle and can kick a score against poor opposition, so it’ll all be up to which group wins out from the source.

Madeline Irwin

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Collingwood vs Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast Suns – Round 8 and 10

The Pies have had their struggles in recent weeks, but now they face two major tests if they want to prove they’re still a contender in 2022.

After winning their first three games, they’ve lost three of their last four, all against current top four sides. In those three losses, they averaged a measly 11 points for and 37 points against.

Their next two games are against sides who have started to hit their straps recently. The Bulldogs come into the game in red hot form, defeating the Tigers and Cats, and most impressively, the previously unbeaten Crows.

Whilst the Suns have been patchy, they’ve still pulled off plenty of surprises in 2022, defeating competitive sides like the Cats and Tigers and staying close to premiership contender Melbourne at Casey Fields.

The one advantage for the Pies is that both these games will most likely be at their Victoria Park fortress. Since the women’s side have come back and played home games there, they’ve only lost twice – against Melbourne in 2019, and Fremantle this year.

Collingwood will need to be on its best game if they are to win these two contests. If it loses both, then it can say goodbye to finals for the first time since 2019.

Melbourne and Brisbane vs North Melbourne – Round 8 and 9

After being bundled out of finals last season by Collingwood by a goal, North Melbourne has come into season 2022 with a point to prove. The Roos have returned to their 2020 form, that would have likely seen them make an inaugural grand final appearance.

Now, after taking their revenge against the Pies, the Roos sit 2-1 against last year’s finalists, having also defeated Fremantle and lost to Adelaide. These two matches now sit as their last test ahead of finals.

Both games being away match ups only adds to the challenge. North holds a 1-2 record at Casey Fields, with every game being decided by under 10 points. While North won’t have to worry about Tegan Cunningham (two goals) this time, it now faces the prospect of a highly dangerous Tayla Harris.

Harris has kicked six goals in her past three matches, and sits second on the goalkicking tally behind league leader Ash Woodland. She nearly singlehandedly wrestled back a loss against Brisbane into a single digit victory.

North has the benefit of a similarly in form defensive group. Brooke Brown has had a breakout season after struggling to break into the side in 2021, while Emma Kearney continues to flourish off half back. It will be up to Dani Hardiman to take on the ultimate challenge of Harris though, but she’s fresh off keeping Collingwood’s Chloe Molloy goalless.

Whoever loses the game between North Melbourne and Brisbane will have their chances of a top two finish lost for good. The stakes will be even higher if North loses to Melbourne, with both sides likely coming in at 6-2.

Alex Catalano

St Kilda vs Geelong – Round 9

The Saints’ struggles this year have been well documented, with first year coach Nick Dal Santo unable to get his side a win so far in 2022.

St Kilda’s issues began before anyone stepped out on a footy field, with star midfielder Georgia Patrikios sitting out the season due to remaining unvaccinated past the mandate deadline, immediately forcing a change to the club’s plans.

The match against Geelong proves to be vital for its maiden win of the season, as the Cats are similarly struggling with just the one win for the year.

Both sides haven’t been without their positives this year, specifically the Cats, who have been around the mark in nearly every game.

Geelong took it right up to current third placed North Melbourne in Round 1, along with just a two point loss to the Lions in Round 4. They have yet to lose by more than 14 points for the year.

The Saints were heartbreakingly close to a win over the Eagles, along with a close loss to the Lions five days later in a purple patch for the team. This however seems a distant memory after a 46 point loss to the Blues in which they equalled the lowest score of all time in the AFLW.

The clash between the Saints and the Cats, while not massively important to the shape of the finals, will be a game of pride for both sides trying to avoid bottom spot.

If the Saints can put the game against the Blues behind them and play their best footy against the Cats, it will be an interesting match up to help decide the draft order for the year to come.

Jarryd Thomas

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