Demons one step from historic AFLW flag after defeating Kangaroos in preliminary final

Melbourne are one step away from a breakthrough AFLW flag after hanging on for a gritty 17-point win over North Melbourne.

Lily Mithen and Tyla Hanks starred as the Demons weathered a third-quarter storm in a 5.3 (33) to 2.4 (16) victory in Saturday’s preliminary final at Ikon Park. Mick Stinear’s side will meet Brisbane in the grand final at Brighton Homes Arena on Sunday week.

After losing the decider away to Adelaide last season, the Demons will again travel interstate in pursuit of silverware.

Mithen (16 disposals, one goal) was everywhere in Melbourne’s eighth consecutive win, with Hanks (20 disposals, 12 tackles) and veteran Karen Paxman (19 disposals, seven tackles) also influential in a tight contest.

Neither side led by more than two goals until Demons captain Daisy Pearce brought the crowd to its feet with a superb piece of play to kick the sealer in the dying stages.

Star forward Tayla Harris battled on despite hurting her left shoulder during a third-quarter ruck contest and will be a close watch in grand final week.

Ash Riddell (17 disposals), Jasmine Garner (25) and captain Emma Kearney (17) were among the best for North Melbourne. Riddell became the fastest player in AFLW history to register 1000 career disposals, reaching the mark in just 43 games.

But the record was of little consolation as the Kangaroos were left ruing a wasteful third quarter. They dominated territory for the term – enjoying an 18-2 advantage in forward entries – and kept Melbourne scoreless.

But they failed to cash in, registering just two behinds of their own to trim the margin to three points at the final change.

Melbourne got the crucial first goal of the last quarter through Kate Hore, who had been quiet to that point. Demons skipper Daisy Pearce then put the match to bed with a superb snap around her body with less than three minutes on the clock.

After the siren Melbourne were confident star forward Tayla Harris will be fit for the AFLW grand final against the Brisbane Lions despite concerns over a shoulder injury. Harris hurt her left shoulder in a ruck contest during the first quarter .

The 25-year-old was assessed on the bench and returned after quarter time, playing out the rest of the preliminary final. But she had little impact as a permanent forward, held scoreless and finishing with just four disposals.

Demons coach Mick Stinear shifted Eden Zanker into the back-up ruck role behind Lauren Pearce in order to protect Harris.

“There was a bit of discomfort during the game but she fought through it really well,” Stinear said. “We took her out of the ruck just to limit the contact and really try to use her as a weapon forward.

“It gave Eden a chance to go in there, who was moving a bit more freely,” the coach went on. “(Harris) is OK, but it was certainly uncomfortable for the majority of the game. Credit to her to keep competing and I can’t see her wanting to miss out next week.”

Harris has eight days to recover before the grand final against her former side at Brighton Homes Arena on Sunday week, and the Demons have no other injury concerns.

Harris and Sinead Goldrick were both missing from the Melbourne side when they were outclassed by Brisbane in round four. The Demons have since won eight straight games by an average margin of 43 points.

“We learnt so much out of that (round four) game, which was a bit of a reality check,” Stinear said. “It sort of spring-boarded the rest of our season by showing up our flaws. The group tends to respond well when we’re challenged by the best teams.”

Harris began her AFLW career with the Lions and spent four seasons with Carlton before joining Melbourne this year.