The AFLW Grand Final contest will be an enthralling battle between Adelaide and Brisbane, the competition's best respective offensive and defensive teams.
Reviewing statistics and past performances may tell a good story leading into a grand final, but the power of such games can cast a shadow over the best preparation, decimate the most dominant of players whilst carving out heroes out of the most unassuming.
Adelaide has scored 30 more points than any other AFLW team, yet it's their defensive work inside 50 that keeps them in the hunt. Their forwards have laid 103 tackles this season, 43 more than Brisbane's forwards, and only 16 less than Brisbane's defence, their direct grand final opponents. If there's a ball to be won across the Crows scoring zone, they're a good chance of winning it. They've won the contested ball a massive 203 times (76 more than Brisbane's forwards and only 19 less than the Lions' backs) and nailed 92 'hard ball gets' inside 50 compared to 78 for Brisbane's backs.
Adelaide's offensive numbers sound good, but they will need to be. Brisbane's defense is the most suffocating of all, managing to concede 35 less points than any other team. Their ability to create stoppages and slow down fast-breaking opposition has worked a treat. The Lions' damaging intercept marks and defensive clearances are where they set up for their potent counter attacks -- the reason they sit third for metres gained for AFLW defenders.
Whilst Brisbane's forwards are sixth for AFLW scoring, their ability to eke out wins in low scoring affairs is the reason they've topped the ladder.
The blistering outside run of Lions' leading goal kicker Kate McCarthy is unmatchable. Sabrina Frederick-Traub and Tayla Harris, both of whom can outmark the best defenders in the land, finish over long distances in front of goal. Throwing them both forward stretches opposition defence in height and strength, and draws defenders away from smaller forwards like Jess Wuetschner who then find themselves dangerously free. Adelaide will struggle to match the height of the Lions' talls but marquee player Chelsea Randall showed she's up to the task by annihilating Harris in round five with intercept marks and swift rebounding.
The Crows go into the grand final with great faith in their defensive unit with only two teams restricting opposition scoring more than them and it could be the Crows defenders' ability to win more hard ball gets than their forward opposition that could balance out the ledger at the Lions' end of the ground.
With both ends likely to be locked in an arm wrestle, the midfield is where the game will be won, and it's here where Adelaide appears to have the upper hand.
Adelaide's rucks provide their midfield runners with first use of the football more often and are part of the reason why their midfield leads Brisbane's in clearances 92 to 66. Their midfield moves the ball quickly avoiding congestion and covering extraordinary ground. They've gained 4.6 kilometres -- more distance than their Lions' counterparts -- doing so whilst applying more pressure than any other AFLW side. The Crows midfield brigade has also laid 237 tackles in 2017, 75 more than Brisbane's.
In Brisbane's favour, their midfield trumps the Crows on disposal effectiveness, but the question is, with Adelaide's mids racking up 203 more disposals than Brisbane's, will the Lions' engine room get enough of the ball to make the most of it?
Adelaide's midfielders work harder for longer than any other AFLW team. Ironically, their 40 fewer midfield rotations and nine percent more game time than the Lions' midfield could be their undoing. Erin Phillips has had a miserly five bench rotations for 97.6 percent of game time. When only three points separates the teams, coach Bec Goddard will be hoping that her minimal use of the bench won't find them stumbling at the last hurdle.
Having the statistics going Adelaide's way doesn't mean the scoreboard will, with other factors playing their part. Their journey to the grand final and styles of play couldn't be more contrasting.
Brisbane, following a simple mantra that sees them all sharing the load, has yet to lose a game and has extraordinary belief in their capacity. Adelaide's two losses forced them to win their grand final spot in round seven.
Brisbane congests and goes slowly, suffocating the skills and attack of their opponents, before pouncing. Starcevich's knack for drawing opposition players too close to the contest creates almost indefensible fast break avenues to goal. Conversely, Adelaide are frenetic. They attack at all costs, keeping the ball moving forward, in play and the game open enough to maximise their skills.
In addition, nullifying the X-factor will be critical. Brisbane has high flying Harris, who is due for a good game, McCarthy's run, and Frederick-Traub's size and presence. Adelaide has given birth to Sarah 'Tex' Perkins, brought home local hero Erin Phillips to rival Daisy Pearce as AFLW's most valuable player after seven games of football, and imported the fearless Chelsea Randall to beat all comers.
The grand final forecast predicting rain, 27 degrees and high humidity makes for an exhausting contest. Both have won in rain this summer, however Adelaide's struggles to adapt their ball control in Darwin's soapy humidity was influential in their tight loss to Melbourne. Adelaide's 80 fewer rotations than the Lions, AFLW's most rested team in the competition, also make fatigue a likely factor.
Their round five encounter was a classic moment in the AFLW fairytale. Their statistical and tactical idiosyncrasies will only enrich the last chapter. Come Saturday night we will know the names of new heroes, how this tale ends, and be left hanging for the next instalment.