We're officially in the second half of the AFLW season and Round 6 delivered a lot to talk about.
The race to finals has begun with an unlikely Suns looking likely to contest for a spot in the top six. This is while, sadly, it's seeming like West Coast, St Kilda and Carlton fans might have to wait another year for a taste of postseason action.
The Giants were kept scoreless until the final three minutes of the game against Melbourne, and narrowly avoided making an unwanted new record: no score for the first time in an AFLW match.
Both Melbourne and Brisbane shanked a few (read: a lot) too many gettable goals, and will need to refine their sharpshooting before the season's end, while we also found out Ruby Schleicher has a very loud and proud fanbase over in Western Australia, and Chloe Molloy proves you can't beat class when it comes to goalkicking.
There's a lot to discuss. So, let's get to it. Here's what we learned in Round 6.
Suns declare themselves in finals race
As talk of finals has entered the season's chat room, who would have thought conversations about a Suns top six berth would be in there? (Not this writer, who had seemingly -- wrongly -- pegged them as back-to-back wooden spooners).
Yet after an 11-point victory over Geelong, they've clocked three back-to-back triumphs and are 7th on the ladder - just four points behind Collingwood, who've played one extra game.
It's as if the bottom-ladder clouds have parted over the Queensland side, and now their stars are shining. This round, Tori Groves-Little got on their jets and booted two goals, Tara Bohanna registered another and Charlie Rowbottom was once again dominat around stoppages. Alison Drennan broke the record for most possessions by a Suns player in an AFLW game with 30, and although Sarah Perkins had more of a quieter game than what we've become accustomed to, her leadership on field was still on show.
It's still hard to know for sure -- with four rounds left until the top six are truly cemented -- but the up-and-comering Gold Coast side have declared themselves as strongly in finals contention.
Carlton found much-needed rhythm, then lost their tune
In the opening ten minutes of Carlton's game against Fremantle over in Perth, it appeared the Blues had found their much-needed lacking-of-late rhythm. They had good transitions, repeat entries into their forward 50, were setting up structure well, and looked more cohesive.
They were also the first to put points on the scoreboard as Darcy Vescio kicked the first major of the game eight minutes in. But it was the last their side would boot for the remainder of the game as the tide quickly changed to purple.
From the third quarter onwards, the Dockers ran riot against the travelling Blues. They were able to not only move the ball up the ground but also get it to their forwards - notably to Mikayla Morrison and Mikayla Hyde, who registered 3.1 and 2.0 goals respectively. The Blues were unable to match Freo and made costly mistakes that forced turnovers.
Carlton have the players to challenge rival teams; Grace Egan registered 22 disposals and 12 kicks, Mimi Hill had 25 disposals, 11 kicks, thjree marks and four tackles and Gabriella Pound and Maddy Prespakis both had 19 disposals - but this team just still can't seem to click. Blues fans will have to wait another week to hopefully see their team find some reward for effort.
St Kilda's midfield's a problem, but the potential is there
At the start of the season, questions lingered over St Kilda on how they would fill the midfield void after two crucial players were taken out of the equation. Dual best and fairest and All-Australian Georgia Patrikios choose not to get vaccinated and rising great Tyanna Smith ruptured her ACL during training.
Many were in doubt over how the side would perform without them -- especially as they ended lower on the ladder the previous season -- and after registering 5 losses and being the only team left winless after Round 6, it's fair to say concerns were warranted.
They did, however, appear in competitive form over the weekend, losing to Brisbane -- one of the top sides -- by a mere five points. (Yet it must be noted that if the Lions kicked a little straighter -- registering 3.13 -- it could have easily meant a blowout).
For Nick Dal Santo's side, it was the midfield that was a sore spot. The Lions finished with 42 inside 50s to the Saints' 22, and much of the clearances and ball movement up the ground could be traced back to issues in the centre of the side.
Yet in making the reigning premiers work for the win, St Kilda may have shown fans a glimpse of what's to come. The side are in a building year -- that much seems clear by now -- but this round, they showed us some of the blocks.
Tilly Lucas-Rodd has been in stellar form all year and racked up 20 disposals, 17 kicks, five marks and one goal. Nicola Xenos had two goals, six tackles, and proved crucial in applying pressure. Tarni White, Cat Phillips and Bianca Jakobsson all had an impressive work rate. With some tidying up in the midfield and refining across the board, this could soon be a real deal side.
Top teams can't afford to get comfortable
In what's being dubbed the upset of the season, the Western Bulldogs had an electrifying win over the previously unbeaten Adelaide Crows - in Adelaide.
The visitors nabbed a one-point victory and kept fans biting their nails til the very end. The final 40 seconds saw the ball, 30m metres out from Adelaide's goal, being swarmed by all 32 players in a desperate act to either get it through the big sticks or keep it away from them.
It was an exciting, get-on-your-feet, game of football, but it also was a lesson in not getting comfortable. Adelaide went into the match by far easy favourites but as expert commentator Chyloe Kurdas mused after the Bulldogs had a comfortable lead in the first half, "...maybe the Crows aren't respecting the young Dogs". Perhaps they weren't prepared for the fight that they soon had on their hands.
The youthful Dogs posted some slick goals, applied constant pressure, were invigorated around the contest, won clearances and played as a team. One impressive passage of play saw the ball go for from Bonnie Toogood to Kirsty Lamb to Britney Gutknecht, and then sail through big sticks. It was teamplay of dreams.
That kind of play forced the Crows out of their comfort zone. And now, Adelaide have conceded their first loss for the season and the Bulldogs got their first win away from home in over 200 days.
Fatigue factor playing major role this season
It's becoming increasingly clear that fatigue is playing a major role this season - and it's coming from many sources.
Some players are coming off the back of being bedridden with COVID, and others are taking a while to get fitness levels back up after the virus has left their body. Some teams are cramming games into short time frames due to fixtures changes; notably, last week Freo registered their first loss of their season to North Melbourne after playing four games in 16 days.
And the heat and wind can't be ignored. It's a main talking point for players, spectators and commentary teams alike.
As pressure and work-rate are separating wins from losses, and the good teams from those floundering, fatigue management is becoming more and more significant in determining the fate of clubs this season. It's a short season but a COVID-disrupted one in the height of summer, is also a very demanding one when it comes to the players.