Arguably the best day of AFLW football in the league’s five-year history has opened up all sorts of permutations with two rounds left.
First up, the Dockers produced footy’s version of the great escape to beat Carlton at Princes Park.
Then someone finally found a way past Collingwood in 2021.
This combination of results means what had looked like a dominating front-runner being chased by a pack with a couple of standout challengers is now a lot less clear-cut.
So what did we learn from a super Sunday of football, and where does it leave us with the finals looming?
Lions find a way to take down Pies
The Lions’ success not only shattered the Magpies’ sense of invincibility but put Brisbane firmly in position to earn a first-ever AFLW premiership.
Why did Brisbane get the win? The Lions managed to outplay the Pies for much of the first three quarters, and left Collingwood with too much work to do in the final term, as the Magpies went down by three points at Whitten Oval.
The fact that key forward Chloe Molloy only touched the ball for the first time with 6:44 left in the third quarter was a sign of how well Brisbane played to Craig Starcevich’s game plan.
An all-round pressure game kept the Magpies off-balance for much of the match, although the Lions could have established a much bigger lead than 13 points after making 12 forward entries to just two by Collingwood in the first quarter.
The Magpies — led by the performance of Brittany Bonnici (28 disposals, five marks, four tackles) — still rebounded to win the inside 50s 30-25 for the match, edged the clearances 22-21 and broke even in contested possessions.
The difference was Brisbane’s ability to use Bree Koenen to stop the Pies’ main goalkicking threat Molloy, who had just five disposals, one mark and one tackle for the match.
Cathy Svarc was also a vital cog with her booming third quarter goal, and her effort to restrict the Pies’ engine, Bri Davey to 14 disposals, one mark and seven tackles.
The latter is not a bad day in many people’s books, but a poor one for Davey, who averaged a tick under 25 possessions in Collingwood’s six-game winning streak leading into the Lions’ match.
Brisbane’s defence held strong when it counted. Even so, the Pies would probably have won if Maddie Shevlin’s soccered shot went through from near the goal square with 55 seconds left.
Collingwood also had to contend with being two players down (Jordyn Allen and Lauren Butler) for the entire second half.
The Magpies may well still be the best team in the comp — and they may well still go on to win the flag. But this was a loss that will hurt.
Fremantle answers the call against Blues
Then we had the Dockers.
Prior to this season, the talk was all about how Fremantle would cope following their unbeaten run in 2020 that was left frustrated when the season was shut down.
The Dockers began the season on fire, with wins over the Giants, Eagles, Adelaide and Gold Coast before coming a cropper at home against the Lions.
They responded with a five-goal haul from Gemma Houghton in their 67-point thrashing of West Coast last week, and this time they produced one of the comebacks of the year.
They trailed by 14 points with less than six minutes left, only to kick three goals in a little over 60 seconds to down Carlton.
They had plenty of inside 50s but lost the possession count by more than 30, were outmarked by the Blues and lost the contested possessions as well.
But their desperate pressure — 11 tackles in forward 50 — helped them, as did their 23-16 win in the clearances.
Everyone in the league knows that Fremantle have some genuine superstars up forward in Sabreena Duffy and Gemma Houghton.
But the play of ruck rover Kiara Bowers was the difference. She proved unstoppable at the clearances and everywhere else with a brilliant all-round performance.
They have not consistently been the best, but showing they are capable of turning games around in the blink of an eye sends a message to their rivals and sets the Dockers up for a serious run at the flag.
Every match counts — but two could hold the key
So the combination of Fremantle’s big comeback and the Pies’ loss to Brisbane turns the ladder around.
Collingwood drops from first to third, the Dockers are top, and the Lions are hunting just behind them on percentage.
Then you have the Crows in fourth, and the Kangaroos lurking if Adelaide slips up.
With two rounds to go, the close nature of the top three teams means there is every chance that an upset or two could tip the whole thing upside down again.
While every game will have a lot riding on it from here on in, and a 30-point win or loss could make or break some teams, the two pivotal match-ups appear to be in the final round.
The Dockers are scheduled to travel to Melbourne to face the Kangaroos at Arden Street, and the Magpies head to Adelaide to play the Crows at Norwood Oval.
A loss for the Dockers could let the Pies in, whereas a loss for Collingwood could potentially see the Crows sneak into the top two.
If there is to be a change in the makeup of the final six at this stage, it is most likely Melbourne or the Kangaroos being replaced by the Western Bulldogs, who have a slightly easier draw.
Up top there are now at least three genuine premiership chances — four if we include the Crows.
The last time we had a completed season, we were still dealing with conferences, and the top teams in both conferences ended up facing each other in the AFLW decider.
It’s hard to see anyone making the grand final from outside the four.
However, the action from this weekend shows there is little between the top three — and although Adelaide lost comprehensively to the Demons on Saturday, it would be a brave person who wrote off any team with Erin Phillips in it in a finals series.
The other question in this flexible season is whether scheduling and COVID concerns will allow teams to exercise a genuine advantage with home finals.
Regardless of the finishing order, however, the finals series is already shaping as a classic.