Melbourne has atoned for last week’s slip against GWS, rising to the occasion to defeat Adelaide by two points and surviving a late scare in a do-or-die clash with major Grand Final implications.
After Carlton lost on Friday night and Brisbane booked their place earlier on Saturday, all the Crows had to do to secure the second Grand Final spot was claim the four points against Melbourne, and it looked as though their early dominance would send them on their way.
But the Demons had other ideas despite their sluggish start in the 30-degree heat and 70% humidity that Darwin offered up.
With plenty on the line, the Crows got the start they were after when Melbourne’s Mia-Rae Clifford dumped Sally Riley in a marking contest, allowing her to kick the game’s opener.
For all their dominance, the likes of Elise O’Dea, Karen Paxman and Sarah Lampard did well to not allow the Crows to further impact the scoreboard.
The problem was that once they cleared the defensive 50, nobody could create anything going forward, including Daisy Pearce who had eight first quarter disposals.
As we have seen so many times in the AFLW, sustained pressure finally paid off for Adelaide when Erin Phillips’ highlight mark was the precursor to Georgia Bevan’s gather and goal.
Trailing the inside 50s 13-1 at the first break, Melbourne needed only 12 seconds to go forward and add their first goal to the scoreboard through Deanna Berry, who read the bounce of the ball better than anyone else.
Having created their first goal, Pearce’s began to have an impact with her touches, and Lily Mithen raised her game to help buoy the Dees midfield with Paxman and O’Dea played defensively.
However, the impressive work of Rhiannon Metcalfe in the ruck and regular contributions from Ebony Marinoff, Dayna Cox and Phillips continued to make life difficult for the Demons.
Chelsea Randall found herself running into an open goal on the back of a deep forward entry, Adelaide’s first real chance of the quarter, to deflate the Dees just as they were working into the contest.
As one skipper goaled, so did the other.
A crucial contest formed on the half-forward line, and a quick kick from Ainslie Kemp allowed the Demons to go forward and the ball to spill to Pearce, adding a goal to her 14 disposals for the half.
The margin could and probably should’ve been tied at half time as Alyssa Mifsud dropped a sitter in front of goal and Catherine Phillips missed a running opportunity, but the Demons headed for the sheds with all the momentum despite trailing by one straight kick.
With dark clouds looming, Melbourne seemed keen to apply scoreboard pressure before any rain came along.
Having missed a great opportunity on the other side of the half, Mifsud gave the Dees their first lead of the night by way of a quick snap around the body that got a favourable bounce.
From that moment, both defences held firm, Courtney Cramey, and Heather Anderson for Adelaide, and Melissa Hickey and Jasmine Grierson for Melbourne.
Emma Humphries’ night-ending injury looked to put the Demons under the pump, but a defensive mistake from Talia Radan gifted Shelley Scott the chance to load up on the run and give her side an eight-point lead with one quarter to play.
Lightning flashes in the distance acted as a metaphor for the Crows who could see the clock ticking down but do nothing about it, clearly fatiguing faster than their opposition.
Aliesha Newman took advantage of Adelaide’s sluggish defensive transition to put a dagger in the contest, keeping the Grand Final race alive going into the final AFLW round.
Though it should’ve been a simple task to see out the game, goals in the final 90 seconds to Kellie Gibson and Sarah Perkins made the margin much closer than it should’ve been.
Karen Paxman’s defensive role was critical to Melbourne claiming the four points, as the regular standouts in Pearce, Mithen and O’Dea starred once again.
It’s a case of what might have been for the Crows, who looked to be in cruise control at the quarter time break.
Melbourne’s win means that Queensland will host the 2017 AFLW Grand Final, with Brisbane now two games clear on top of the ladder with just one round to play.
Depending on what Collingwood does against GWS, the Magpies also have a slender chance of making the big dance, but it will require even more results going their way.
Adelaide: 2.1, 3.1, 3.1, 5.2 (32)
Melbourne: 0.0, 2.1, 4.3, 5.4 (34)
Adelaide: Sally Riley, Georgia Bevan, Chelsea Randall, Kellie Gibson, Sarah Perkins
Melbourne: Deanna Berry, Daisy Pearce, Alyssa Mifsud, Shelley Scott, Aliesha Newman
Adelaide: Erin Phillips (20), Angela Foley (13), Courtney Cramey (11), Ebony Marinoff (11)
Melbourne: Karen Paxman (21), Daisy Pearce (20), Lily Mithen (16), Elise O’Dea (16)