There will be a sense of déjà vu with Saturday’s Qualifying Final between Fremantle and Melbourne at Casey Fields.
The Dockers hosted the Demons just two weeks ago, with the visitors holding on for a tight five-point win.
After suffering such a narrow loss, Fremantle defender Laura Paugh is excited to get another crack at Melbourne so soon.
“I think when there’s one kick in it you’re always thinking about everything you could have done to win. This week we’re feeling confident that we’ve improved from even just a couple of weeks ago,” Pugh told The Inner Sanctum.
She knows the strength and form of the side they’re playing, with the Demons riding a four-game winning streak.
But Pugh is confident that the work the team has done addressing its slow starts and close losses will hold it in good stead.
“We’ve addressed, as Trent (Cooper) has talked about as well, the slow starts. Also after having a few close losses, we’ve addressed what’s gone on there and hopefully we can pull away with the win this week,” she said.
While she isn’t looking beyond this Saturday, she is acutely aware of the fact that Fremantle’s path to the Premiership will require it to play three games on the road.
But this isn’t something that’s worrying her or the team.
“You definitely do kind of think about it, but we’ve had some pretty good success this year when we’ve travelled away,” she said.
“I think it even just brings the group together a lot more when we do go away and we’re together for that time.
“Although it can be challenging and we love playing down at Freo with our fans, hopefully we can win on away soil!”
The mood at the club has been high this week, with the Dockers’ gearing up for their third finals campaign in a row.
“It’s really exciting leading into finals. We went to the club yesterday and had some speeches from people like Simon Garlick (Fremantle’s CEO) and everyone’s super pumped for us to be in the finals,” Pugh said.
Adding to the pre-finals hype was the news that Fremantle superstar, Kiara Bowers, is the AFL Coaches’ Association AFLW Champion Player of the Year.
“She’s so deserving of that award and she’s just so humble about it. But everyone was getting around her and we’re just so proud of the season she’s had. She puts in so much hard work and is thoroughly deserving. She’s amazing to be able to play with, I pinch myself every day.”
Pugh has personally enjoyed a strong season down back.
Her versatility and ability to use the ball well off half-back has been vital to Fremantle’s success.
“I have some more confidence in myself to be able to perform and be a real part of the team. But the team that I work with, the backs, they’re just all so amazing. We support each other really well, so I wouldn’t be anywhere without them,” she said.
She credited a whole squad mentality among the defenders as the reason they drive each other and jell so well as a group.
“There are more girls there than just the six on the field. I guess we just had to challenge each other during pre-season and that’s made every player a lot better because there’s been that competitiveness,” she said.
“Each individual is just so amazing to play with and everyone has their own strengths, we’re working really well together.”
Managing the realities of an AFLW season in the present climate has been tough, with the Dockers having to deal with the WA lockdown and the possibility of being on the road for a long period of time.
“It’s been very up and down, and at the start not knowing what we were doing each week does bring a bit of anxiety with everyone working and things like that. But it’s been a bit more stable these past few weeks knowing who we’re playing and where we’re going,” Pugh said.
“Even these next few weeks, there’s still a lot going on in the community that we don’t have control over. We’ll just have to adapt to that and hopefully all goes well.”
But these challenges, plus some unlucky breaks across the previous two seasons, would make a Premiership all the more rewarding for one of the league’s inaugural clubs.
“I think it would mean so much for all the players, staff, everyone at Fremantle and all our supporters. It’s been a very big journey, it’s not just this year but the years before as well.”
Fremantle carried a mission statement of “Unfinished Business” heading into this season, in reference to its undefeated run last year that was cut short to COVID.
But while the streak has ended, the same motivation remains.
“It is driving us, I guess those memories of what happened last year and how devastated we were when it all finished up. That’s I guess the driving force behind what we’re doing. But also it is a new year, we’re a different team and the other teams are different, so we also have new goals that are driving us,” Pugh said.
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