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AFLW: Weekly wrap

Chelsea Randall's Courage Have a look back at some of the most courageous moments from AFLW co-captain Chelsea Randall

With just two rounds of the NAB AFL Women’s season remaining, five teams are still in realistic contention for the two Grand Final spots.

The Western Bulldogs are in the box seat, one win clear in first position on the ladder. With a healthy percentage, the Bulldogs most likely need just one more win to confirm their place in the March 24 decider. 

Notwithstanding the slim eight-point margin over Collingwood, the Bulldogs were impressive in proving they can win without their best forward and captain Katie Brennan (who sustained an ankle injury in round three). 

The Dogs also are missing young key forward and last year’s No. 1 draft pick Isabel Huntington (who tore the ACL in her right knee in round two). But Paul Groves' team has found multiple avenues to goal, having seemingly addressed accuracy issues that plagued their first season. 

Brooke Lochland was well held by Cecilia McIntosh against Collingwood but still bobbed up to kick two goals. Solidly built rookies Bonnie Toogood and Aisling Utri (both NAB AFLW Rising Star nominees last week) have shown they won't be pushed around despite their inexperience. 

Ellie Blackburn, Emma Kearney and Aasta O'Connor are also not averse to floating forward from the midfield and hitting the scoreboard. 

The Bulldogs' midfield depth has also increased significantly, with Kirsty Lamb improving from last year and Jenna Bruton providing an alternative if Kearney or Blackburn are being tagged. 

Of the other teams, Brisbane or Melbourne (second and third on the ladder respectively) look most likely to reach the Grand Final.

The Demons made hard work of their win over the Lions, with inaccuracy (they finished with 4.10) keeping Brisbane in the game much longer than it should have been.

A non-decision in the last few seconds (for incorrect disposal against Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce) was a talking point among the Lions as they left the field. 

Had the free kick been paid, Shannon Campbell would have had a difficult shot from about 30m on the boundary to level the scores.  

But Emma Zielke's puzzling decision moments before to pass to Brittany Gibson when she could have had a set shot from about 35m on a slight angle should have been the talking point, not the incident that saw the ball knocked out of Pearce’s hands just before the final siren. 

Unfortunately for the Lions, too much was left to too few, with defender Kate Lutkins (26 disposals), Sabrina Frederick-Traub (three goals) and Gibson the standouts on the night.

If Melbourne and Brisbane win their remaining two matches (Melbourne faces Carlton and the Bulldogs while Brisbane take on Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney), Grand Final spots could be decided by percentage. 


A golden opportunity?

The two other teams with realistic shots at making the Grand Final are Adelaide and the Giants.

They dented their Grand Final hopes by drawing in round four, leaving them relying on other results to go their way, assuming they both win their remaining matches. 

In the short seven-round season, a draw is costlier than it is in the 23-round AFL season, raising the question of adding extra time or even implementing a golden point rule, where the team scoring first gets the points. 

Bulldogs ruck Aasta O'Connor, speaking on the official AFLW podcast Trail Blazers, said it might be time to introduce a tie-breaker. 

"I just think in such a short season a draw is not what we're after," O’Connor said.

The Crows will be sweating on the fitness of star on-baller Erin Phillips, who appeared to tweak her quad again during the team's big win over Carlton. 

She was benched in the second half as a precaution, and when interviewed during the game, said she would come on if required. In the end, the Crows were dominant enough over the Blues to leave Phillips in her tracksuit top.

Where to play the Grand Final? 

With the Gabba confirmed to be available for the Grand Final on March 24 if Brisbane finishes on top of the ladder, questions remain about the location of a Melbourne-based match.

If the Western Bulldogs finish first, their home ground of Whitten Oval (with a capacity of 10,000) may be seen as too small for the event. 

Casey Fields, Melbourne's home ground, also has a capacity of about 10,000. 

An AFL match between St Kilda and Brisbane is scheduled for Etihad Stadium that day at 3.35pm, leaving too little time for the Grand Final to be played beforehand. 

It means Carlton's home ground of Ikon Park, with its capacity of around 24,500, would be the most likely venue for a Melbourne-based Grand Final. 

Award predictions 

The race for the competition best and fairest award seems to be narrowing to two players – Adelaide’s Chelsea Randall and the Western Bulldogs' Emma Kearney. 

Kearney has taken her game to another level in 2018; the midfielder is averaging a competition-high 19 disposals, as well as five tackles, five clearances and four marks.

Randall has steadily worked her way into the season, and the return of Courtney Cramey and Erin Phillips has allowed her to play at her rebounding best.

Courtesy of her seven-goal haul last week, Bulldog Brooke Lochland is leading the competition's goalkicking with 11. She is four clear of Giant Phoebe McWilliams and Lion Jess Weutschner, who have kicked seven each.  Crow Ruth Wallace sits in fourth place with six majors. 

Collingwood forward-turned-defender Chloe Molloy is favourite to take out the NAB AFLW Rising Star award, although Bulldogs pair Monique Conti and Bonnie Toogood could give her a run for her money.

A hairy issue 

Call it the Darcy Vescio effect, but top-knots are now all the rage in the AFLW. 

In one of the more unusual rule changes to hit the AFLW, players are no longer able to wear their hair in plaits, with most now choosing to gather plaited hair in a bun. 

It’s an addition to the competition guidelines for this year, with the official wording reading: "Ponytail or pigtail plaits are not permitted unless they are tied up". 

It's understood to be a safety concern, with long plaits a real risk of hitting players in the eye or face in general. 

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs