Adelaide's Montana McKinnon contests the ball against the AFLW Suns.
Adelaide hope to rise to the occasion as they take on ladder leaders Melbourne in the AFLW. Image by Matt Turner/AAP PHOTOS
  • Australian rules football

Crows relish huge tests in AFLW premiership race

Shayne Hope October 6, 2023

Adelaide have welcomed a tough month ahead as a chance to make a statement in the AFLW premiership race, starting with their top-of-the-table clash with Melbourne.

Both sides are unbeaten through five rounds entering Saturday’s contest at Casey Fields, where Melbourne’s fickle spring weather is poised to play havoc.

The Demons – reigning premiers, ladder leaders and hot flag favourites – are on a competition-record 14-match winning streak.

They present a significant hurdle for the second-placed Crows, who also face fellow top-four sides North Melbourne and the Brisbane Lions within the next four rounds.

“It’s good to go up against the best in the competition so we can prove ourselves to be one of the best as well,” Crows midfielder Rachelle Martin told AAP.

“Melbourne’s a good side, I don’t doubt that, but if we can beat them this week it will be a big stamp on the competition.

“We’re going over to their home ground, so our mindset is very important.

“As long as we don’t think it’s impossible, then we’ll be OK. We’re a good side and we can get it done.”

Melbourne have dominated since last year’s breakthrough premiership, winning their opening five matches this season by an average of 53.8 points.

Their high-powered attack has generated a record 79.8 points and 15 marks inside-50 per game throughout the first half of the campaign.

Saturday’s clash shapes as a huge test for Adelaide’s largely inexperienced defence, led by 20-year-old Zoe Prowse and All-Australian Chelsea Biddell.

“Melbourne always run-and-gun and use that as their strength, so we need to shut that down early and get on top in the contest,” Martin said.

“Our back-line, even though they’re young, they really do hold us up.

“But it will be on us as forwards and midfielders to get back to help out.”

Melbourne key forward Tayla Harris returns from a hamstring injury and Megan Fitzsimon is also back.

Tough midfielder Paxy Paxman has been ruled out under concussion protocols after an accident at home while playing with her dog, and Georgia Campbell has been omitted.

Adelaide have regained premiership players Stevie-Lee Thompson (back) and Najwa Allen (hamstring) from injuries, with Brooke Tonon and Montana McKinnon omitted.

A forecast maximum temperature of 15C accompanied by blustery winds at Casey Fields could make life difficult for both sides.

But training at West Lakes – on the remodelled site of the demolished Football Park stadium – has prepared Adelaide for their trip across the border.

“We always call it ‘Windy West Lakes’,” Martin said.

“We had a very windy training on Wednesday night and we were like, ‘OK, this is what it’s going to be like at Casey Fields’. We’ll be OK.”

Elsewhere on Saturday, Brisbane can stretch their winning streak to five matches against finals hopefuls Collingwood, and St Kilda hope to make it three straight wins when they host Hawthorn.

GWS host fellow strugglers West Coast in Saturday’s first match, while Port Adelaide welcome Sydney to Alberton Oval.

An intriguing Sunday schedule features three matches that have direct ramifications on the make-up of the top-eight: Essendon-Geelong, Richmond-Gold Coast and Fremantle-North Melbourne.

The winless Western Bulldogs host Carlton at Whitten Oval on Friday night.