What we learned in AFLW: Freo through to prelim, COVID still causing fixture chaos

The first week of AFLW finals has played out with Fremantle continuing their strong end-of-season form and heading to a preliminary final date with minor premiers Adelaide, while North Melbourne emphatically bow out.

And, as the story of 2022 goes, health and safety protocols have popped once again, postponing the qualifying final between Brisbane and Collingwood, originally scheduled for Saturday just gone at the Gabba.

When it will be played, and how it will affect the other games, is still yet to be determined.

Yet despite only having one game for fans to enjoy this weekend, excitement was never in doubt. Arden Street was awash with blue and white as home ground fans settled into spots on the hills around the ground to watch two of the top six teams go head-to-head.

Plus, there were plenty of takeaways.

Here's what we learned in the first week of AFLW finals.

Fremantle are heading to a preliminary final

After a convincing 38-point win over the Kangaroos at Arden Street Oval, the Dockers are heading to a preliminary final against flag favourites Adelaide. A date and time for the match is yet to be confirmed with interested parties keeping a close eye on developments.

The first quarter delivered the close match up we anticipated with strong contested footy and inside 50 counts from both sides. However, from the second term onwards, it was all Freo.

The visitors controlled the contests, brought the strong pressure they're increasingly being known for and had individual star power shine while also maintaining team effort. And importantly, they hit the scoreboard. They booted seven goals in the second and third quarter in an unstoppable surge and ran away with the win.

Interestingly, Fremantle had fewer inside 50s than the Roos (28 to 31) but were more efficient, which at the end of the day, is what counts. Interestingly, Adelaide has a weak spot in goalkicking accuracy, so if the Dockers can maintain control of the ball and efficiency in their next match, the Crows might have something to be worried about.

The Dockers are now five from five in their games played in Melbourne this season - let's see how they stack up in South Australia in the next instalment of their finals series.

Curtains close on North's season

After bowing out in the qualifying final, North Melbourne have now ended their season. Despite finishing fourth on the ladder, and displaying some dangerous looking footy throughout the season, they haven't been able to match the top-tier teams.

In the back end of the season, they experienced losses to both Brisbane and Melbourne and over the weekend failed to get the job done over Fremantle, who finished 5th on the home and away ladder.

They'll now lick their wounds, dust some of the disappointment off and get back to work for next season' potential August start. In the post-match press conference, coach Darren Crocker said they'll review the game, the season and work on areas that need improvement. Bringing the heat consistently against top teams might be a start.

However, hopefully, they'll enjoy a well-deserved night or two off first.

And there's a lot of good things to build upon. This season, they've been strong in winning contested possessions and shown an ability to dominate territory. They just need to turn that into scoreboard pressure and keeping their feet against top sides. Notably, midfielder Ash Riddell had a terrific season, continually smashing the disposal count and setting a new match record high of 42.

If the weekend's game was in season, Hayley Miller could have mark of the year

There are always moments in games where athletes do the seemingly impossible. A mark by Fremantle captain Hayley Miller in the final moments of the second quarter was one of these.

Going up alongside a North Melbourne defender, Miller arched her back, closed her eyes and just went for it, clunking the ball overhead. The best part was it came from a great passage of play and ended with a goal. Not much better than that.

As AFLW analyst Gemma Bastiani tweeted: "Holy heck. That was incredible." That it was.

If it was in season, the grab would have been in good contention for mark of the year.

Janelle Cuthbertson makes successful return to defence

Fremantle's Janelle Cuthbertson hadn't played a game since Round 2 with injury keeping her from running out. First, she suffered a concussion against GWS and was ruled out for a fortnight. Then a broken jaw at training kept the 31-year-old sidelined for six weeks.

The 2021 All-Australian defender made her long-awaited return over the weekend and proved just how valuable she can be in the backline, making it hard for North to get control of the footy or apply scoring pressure.

As one of the competition's best interceptors, Adelaide will need to keep a close watch for her in the upcoming preliminary. Especially as the Crows like finding targets in their forward 50 and get a lot of their goals from marks taken by the likes of Ash Woodland and Erin Phillips. It will be an interesting match up whoever the returning defender is played on.

Finals not free of COVID fixture chaos

Despite all our best hopes, the season's finals fixture is not without disruption from health and safety protocols. And this time, it's struck over at Collingwood's camp.

With the Pies short of the minimum players required to be able to play, the qualifying final between Brisbane and the Collingwood has been postponed with a forfeit from the Magpies never on the cards according to several players.

When the new scheduled match will go ahead is still unknown at this point and it's fair to say, no one envies the person working out the logistics of how it will affect all the other finals games too.

One of the important questions being asked is how the new fixture will affect Melbourne and Adelaide, who potentially have to wait longer before playing their home preliminaries. One week off can be a help, whereas two, a hindrance.

Fremantle coach Trent Cooper in the post-match interview said after their win that the AFL are in a really difficult situation: "Whatever they do, someone is going to be disadvantaged.

"I said to the girls 'we'll prepare to play next Saturday at this stage and if that doesn't happen, we'll adjust'. Like everyone's had to do this year."

Whatever the case, they'll be even more potential asterisks to add to the season now with COVID chaos reaching the finals.