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Melbourne far from invincible in wide-open AFLW flag race

Fremantle’s Emma O'Driscoll manages to get her handball away against Sydney on Sunday.

Fremantle’s Emma O'Driscoll manages to get her handball away against Sydney on Sunday. Photo: Getty

The AFLW finals series is wide open after Melbourne’s losses to flag rivals Brisbane and Adelaide cast serious doubt over the competition juggernaut’s premiership defence.

The Demons were dominant early in season eight and looked capable of becoming the first team to go through an entire campaign unbeaten.

Mick Stinear’s 8-2 side ended up banking enough wins to ensure the club won the McClelland Trophy and its accompanying $1 million prize.

But a 25-point defeat to Brisbane on Saturday in the last home-and-away round, following a narrow loss to Adelaide in round six, cost it top spot heading into the finals.

“(The minor premeirship) wasn’t ours to begin with. We haven’t lost anything there, but it would’ve been a nice ending to a strong season,” coach Stinear said ahead of a qualifying final against North Melbourne in week one.

“Adelaide have had a brilliant season as well and Brisbane are a good side.

“They’ve had some unfortunate loses but they’ve found a way to beat the three top four teams.

“It’s going to be a good finals series.”

Three-time premiers Adelaide – the only club with multiple AFLW flags to date – has claims on favouritism as it prepares for a qualifying final against Brisbane.

But the Lions were the only team to knock off the Crows during the home-and-away season, winning a round-eight thriller by three points, and pose a huge threat.

“We’re really rapt with the season as a whole,” Adelaide coach Matthew Clarke said.

“To go 9-1 is a really strong performance and as much as we could have hoped for.

“We’re now set up to have the double chance to play in front of our home fans next week.”

First-time finalists Essendon and Sydney face difficult tasks in elimination finals after sneaking into the top eight on percentage ahead of St Kilda.

The Bombers take on Geelong, while the Swans visit Gold Coast.

All four elimination finalists are chasing their first finals victories.

The Suns are without Charlie Rowbottom for the clash with Sydney after the influential midfielder underwent season-ending ankle surgery.

“She’s probably their best player and it gives you a little bit more opportunity in the game,” Swans coach Scott Gowans said.

“It doesn’t mean that you’re going to win or anything like that.

“I know (Suns coach) Cam Joyce quite well from our days at North Melbourne and he’ll be talking about the 21 that he takes to the field. It doesn’t matter who it is, and we’ll do the same.

“But there’s no doubt that it (Rowbottom’s injury) gives us an opportunity that we wouldn’t have had if she was playing. It just makes it even out a little bit more.”

In their second season as an expansion side, Sydney waited until the last minute to book its finals ticket with a 22-point win over Fremantle in the last game of the home-and-away season.

That result pushed St Kilda out of a finals spot after the Saints had worked their way in temporarily with a 20-point victory over Carlton earlier on Sunday.

Collingwood was also in contention to sneak into the top eight but fell flat when it was hammered by Richmond to the tune of 52 points.

-AAP
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