The third AFLW Pride Round is set to take centre stage this weekend as season seven enters the home stretch. (Photo: AFL Womens/Twitter)

We’re into the home stretch of AFLW season seven, with plenty of season-defining matches taking place last weekend.

And there’s more of that to come amongst the Pride Round celebrations. Here are the five things that The Inner Sanctum has chosen to look out for in Round 8.

The return of Pride Round

One of the biggest rounds on the AFLW calendar will make its return this weekend, with the Pride Round aiming to promote and support diversity and inclusion of LGBTQIA+ communities and families.

Initially it was the Bulldogs and the Blues that kicked off the Pride celebration in 2018 with their own Pride Game. Over the last two years though it’s blossomed into a much bigger spectacle, with this weekend being the third-ever Pride Round.

Like the two previous iterations every player and umpire across all nine games will wear rainbow-coloured socks. This time around it’ll be bigger than it’s ever been before, with all 18 teams to run out in specially designed guernseys.

All AFLW field and boundary umpires will also wear rainbow-coloured sweatbands whilst goal umpires will use the rainbow-coloured progress flags.

Each ground hosting a game will also have its signage updated for this weekend’s celebrations, whilst the 50 metre arcs will be painted rainbow. 

Lions and Crows rivalry adds another chapter

Brisbane and Adelaide have been two of the biggest clubs since the inaugural AFLW season, and under the Friday night lights of Metricon Stadium they’ll add another chapter to an ever-growing rivalry.

Both have had major success since the inaugural AFLW season, combining for four of the five AFLW premierships. They’ve also met twice in Grand Finals, and five times in home and away fixtures. The Lions lead the way with four wins to three, with both splitting the ledger in Grand Finals.

They’ve both continued to sustain their success this past season, occupying the top two spots on the AFLW table and being separated by only 26 per cent.

Brisbane come into this having won its last two games, following its only slip up against Richmond. Led by Ally Anderson and reigning league best and fairest winner Emily Bates in midfield, along with Jesse Wardlaw (12 goals) and Greta Bodey (nine goals) up forward, the Lions average a league high 53.7 points per game.

Reigning premiers Adelaide though come into this game as the in-form team of the competition, winning its last six matches and conceding only 35 points in its last three. Midfielders Ebony Marinoff, Anne Hatchard and captain Chelsea Randall continue to stuff the stat sheet week in, week out.

There’s plenty to play for this weekend for both sides, with top spot and a hand on the minor premiership on the line. Expect nothing short of another fierce contest between these two.

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Bulldogs looking to find their groove against struggling Saints

It’s set to be a big final three weeks of season seven for the Western Bulldogs, who’ll look to get back into form against the struggling Saints.

After sitting on equal top and being unbeaten just under four weeks ago, Nathan Burke’s side is now outside the top eight for the first time this season following three consecutive defeats at the hands of North Melbourne, Geelong and Melbourne.

Despite their recent form, there have still been plenty of positives to take out. Captain Ellie Blackburn and Kirsty Lamb are putting together stellar campaigns once more, whilst Alice Edmonds and Katie Lynch continue to have career-best seasons.

This weekend will see them take on a St Kilda side desperate to find some form towards the backend of another rough season. Starting the season with two comfortable wins over expansion sides, the Saints have since gone winless and currently sit in the bottom third of the AFLW table.

Much like the Bulldogs though, there have been some positives for coach Nick Dal Santo. Despite no goals last week Kate Shierlaw has put together a career-best season with 11 majors, while Bianca Jakobsson and Georgia Patrikios lead the way in their respective areas of the ground.

With a finals spot on the line for the Dogs and the Saints looking to build towards 2023, many would expect the former to come out firing. However they’ll still be aware of what the Saints can produce at their best and will need to be on their best game.

Dockers looking to continue building momentum

It’s been a promising last month for Fremantle, and it will be looking to continue to improve against another top four side in Collingwood.

Starting the season 0-3 and being hampered with injuries to key players, the Dockers found form against the Blues and Eagles in Rounds 4 and 5. The last two weeks have seen them go down to top four sides Adelaide and Melbourne despite being in both contests for the first three quarters.

There have still been plenty of starring seasons from individuals. Kiara Bowers continues to go from strength-to-strength, leading the AFLW in tackles (13.3 per game) and clearances (seven). Captain Hayley Miller and forward Aine Tighe are improving in tandem with the side around them each week.

This weekend will most likely see the Dockers without star duo Gabby O’Sullivan and Janelle Cuthbertson. However they could gain another star duo in return, with Dana East most likely to return from concussion and Ebony Antonio a test to play her 50th AFLW game.

However the Pies, led by young superstar duo Ruby Schleicher and Mikala Cann, come into this game as the best defence in the entire AFLW. They’ve conceded 20 or more points in a game only twice, and are averaging only 18.4 points against per game.

Despite Collingwood being the toughest defence to penetrate, some may say that Fremantle has the firepower to break through it. But as the last few weeks have shown, Trent Cooper’s side will have to put together a four-quarter performance in order to do so.

More leaders pass 50 game milestone

Two of the game’s biggest names and most-respected captains of their respective clubs will also take centre stage this Pride Round as they surpass the 50-game milestone.

First off the rank this weekend will be Carlton captain Kerryn Peterson, as she leads her charges out to battle against the red-hot Tigers.

Switching to footy in 2017 after initially pursuing a career in basketball, Peterson hasn’t missed a game since her Carlton debut in Round 1 of 2018. During her stint she’s made the All-Australian side three times and has captained the Blues since 2020.

Melbourne captain and AFLW original Daisy Pearce will also hit 50 games in the Demons’ match up on the Gold Coast.

One of the original marquee signings from the Darebin footy factory, Pearce has gone on to put together one of the more stellar AFLW careers.

Leading the Demons from day one (bar when she missed 2019 due to pregnancy), she’s also made three All-Australian sides as well as being named the AFLPA AFLW best captain four times.

And as previously mentioned, Ebony Antonio could be set to play her 50th match if deemed to be match fit. The lively forward/winger has kicked 24 goals across her previous 49 games and has won one club best and fairest, also gaining All-Australian honours in the same year of 2018.

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