Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson won’t look outside the AFL bubble for advice on how to handle hub life, suggesting it is important to trust your instinct and acknowledge each club will handle it differently.
While the AFLW competition is still new, the clubs competing in the competition have histories stretching back decades.
With only four clubs without women’s teams, there are so many stories to come in the next couple of months that reflect on the past and future of the clubs involved. But just how is the fourth AFLW season going to go?
For the last couple of years, I have relied on a randomised list of the clubs to make a prediction for the men’s season and it’s time I introduced this tradition to the women’s. The following is the definite order that the ladder will be at the end of the AFLW season.
Note: while I know there are conferences in the women’s competition, I think they are arbitrary and pointless so I will be ignoring them.
Also, spoiler alert for the season ahead.
14. West Coast
One of the four new teams in the AFLW this year, the Eagles have built what looks on paper like a solid team. Former Giant Emma Swanson as captain is an inspired choice, despite her injury-afflicted career in the AFLW so far. She is a tough player that will inspire her team plus they have former Docker Melissa Caulfield to help her in the midfield and a forward line that could score plenty, with WAFLW leading goal-kicker Tarnee Tester in the goal square.
However, the Eagles do have plenty of issues. They’ve already lost their front-line ruck and that could undermine any advantage they have in the middle, meaning their advantage up forward isn’t able to be used. Plus they’ve signed Grace Kelly and having the long-dead Princess of Monaco in your squad is a bit of a bold tactic that won’t pay off.
The defending premiers should be threatening again this season. Since Port haven’t got a team, they can essentially build whatever squad they like from the SANFLW and this has helped them be the first multi-premier.
However, their most important and best player Erin Phillips ruptured her ACL in last season’s grand final. That’s a hard injury for anyone to recover from but Phillips has had a long sporting career of basketball before the AFLW started so it could be even harder for her. Without her at the top of her game, it’s going to take a big adjustment for the Crows to make another run at the flag.
A two-time runner-up, the Lions were – much like their animal kingdom counterpart – far more effective hunters than their men’s team before last season. However, now that the men are starting to look threatening again, it’s the women’s time to have some struggles.
With Sabrina Frederick now out of the pride, the Lions could struggle for on-field leadership. Plus with the Suns joining the comp, splitting the Queensland women’s football community in two looks likely to eat up a lot of resources. On the plus side, we do get to see the Q Clash, the most fierce and important local derby in women’s football, too.
One of the biggest clubs in the country has a women’s team now, too. There are some exciting match-ups to come this season and the Tigers have recruited well without being stellar. Katie Brennan is the biggest name and she will be a handy contributor but much of the team is made up of delisted players. This could be a way to build a team of pieces that fit together just right. However, the randomiser is suggesting this will end up less Moneyball more Get Him to the Greek.
10. Gold Coast
The Suns of the Gold Coast sky are another new team this year. It’s a bold choice for the AFLW to have two Queensland teams rather than giving either the Hawks or Bombers a license but this is what we’ve been given. As I said, I am excited by the idea of an extra Q Clash but I see it as hampering both teams in the deep north. However, the Suns have got a lot of young players and considering the heat this will help them get more wins, but the inexperience will show in the close matches.
If there’s any club that could be said to have been a disappointment in the women’s competition so far, the Magpies would have to be the one. Only three wins in their first two years and one win last year, the hype has not been lived up to by Collingwood. However, they have a new coach this year.
Stephen Symonds has coached the Norwood women’s team to two grand finals and a premiership, so he has the experience to turn the Magpies around. These things take time so while there will be improvement, it won’t be enough to see Collingwood into the finals.
Shame, because I love it when Collingwood choke.
8. Western Bulldogs
The only premier aside from Adelaide, the Bulldogs have been up and down over the seasons. Without captain Katie Brennan, this will be the most difficult year for the daughters of the west so far. However, much like the Magpies, the Bulldogs have a new coach and this is also looking like a good decision.
Nathan Burke was one of St Kilda’s best ever players and he could be just what the Bulldogs need to start building some consistency. Alternatively he could be like James Hird and Michael Voss and be a great player but a terrible coach that leads to an extended down period for the club. Even so, the randomiser isn’t thinking that’ll happen this year.
The Demons have a big in with Daisy Pierce returning to the field after a season off to have her kids. The time seems to be right for Melbourne to make a run at the finals. However, the randomiser has come up with them at seven so that suggests that Melbourne’s injury problems will continue through the season and put them out of contention for this season. However, I’d expect them to do well in most games with their losses being close.
6. North Melbourne
Last season the Kangaroos were unlucky in missing out. Without the conference system they’d have easily qualified for a spot in the finals but instead they had to make way for two inferior teams in Carlton and Geelong. That kind of disappointment can hamper a club’s development or so some annoyingly chatty people keep telling me.
There has been a lot more turnover with the players as well this season as well with Mo Hope being delisted among other changes. They still have Emma Kearney and Scott Gowans in charge but this might brew some discontentment at Arden Street and this will keep them from making the next step.
The Dockers had a solid season last year without being great. They snuck into the finals thanks to the absurd conference system and were quickly dispatched by the rampant Crows. That experience might prove valuable.
However, with the Eagles joining the comp they’ve lost some players. But it does mean they have to fly across the Nullarbor one less time than other seasons so that’s a bit of a boon. They still have a very solid list and with three teams from each conference qualifying from the finals a couple of early wins could get them the momentum they need to grab one of them.
The runners-up from last season, Carlton were the only team from Conference B who would have qualified with a normal ladder. In fact, they were the only team in that conference to have a winning record. That being said, their weakness showed on grand final day when they were barely able to fire a shot against Adelaide.
They have plenty of talent, not least of which is Darcy Vescio, who could be a ten-year superstar and long-term captain. Plus with an extra Victorian club in each conference, there’s less travel to deal with. The randomiser sees them having another good season but falling short in the finals once again.
Last year the Cats fell into the finals because of the conference system, having a losing record but getting in over North Melbourne. They were justifiably smashed by Adelaide. What they have on their side is their home ground. Kardinia Park is a fortress in the men’s comp and the women won two of their three games there last year.
Most other clubs have multiple grounds that they play at so the Cats getting to play all their home games at the one place is an advantage. They do have to travel to North Queensland to play the Suns, which is a downside to their fixture, but they should get enough wins at home with a couple away to easily make it into the finals.
2. Greater Western Sydney
The Giants haven’t put it together over the course of a season yet. There have been matches where they look like they could win the premiership and other times when they look unlikely to win a match. While they have lost captain and local product Amanda Farrugia to retirement, they have a lot of players returning to the team from previous seasons and new captain Alicia Eva is a player who leads from the front. If they do manage to put it all together, they’ll be a potent threat for a premiership.
But the randomiser says that the flag will go to…
1. St Kilda
It’s been 54 years since the Saints last won a premiership. They’ve come close a couple of times in the decades since but the men’s team just haven’t been able to get there. Now it’s time for the women to show them how it’s done. They’ve put together a team filled with good players without any of them being breakout stars.
This might actually be in their favour as it means that they deal with injuries better than most. Plus they have Peta Searle, one of the most experience women’s coaches in the league. With so much history against them it, a St Kilda victory in their very first season will put them in a league of their own.
So that’s what this season will unfold. What are your thoughts?