The AFL has confirmed that it will split the competition into a contentious two-conference system as it unveiled the 2019 women’s competition draw.
The AFLW is heading into its third season with two new clubs joining the competition in 2019. Expansion teams Geelong and North Melbourne are in separate five-team groups for the seven-round season.
The competition will expand to 12 teams with the addition of Richmond and StKilda in 2020.
Conference A includes Western Bulldogs, Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle and North Melbourne, with Brisbane Lions, Greater Western Sydney, Collingwood, Carlton and Geelong in Conference B.
Teams in each conference play each other, plus three ‘cross-over’ matches against sides from the other conference.
Geelong host Collingwood in a Saturday night season opener at GMHBA Stadium on February 2 whilst reigning premiers the Western Bulldogs play Brisbane in round four in a grand final rematch.
Carlton and Collingwood have drawn big crowds to the season opener over the first two editions of the AFLW but fans will have to wait until round five before they meet at Ikon Park.
Defending premiers the Western Bulldogs start their title defence against the Adelaide Crows at Norwood Oval.
Newcomers North Melbourne have one home game in Melbourne, two in Hobart and one in Launceston.
For the first time, the top two teams in each conference qualify for preliminary finals.
With the expansion of the competition there was growing expectation that the AFLW would have an extended season featuring more home and away games for each of the participating clubs.
Alicia Sometimes is part of the “Outer Sanctum Podcast” that is a leading voice on AFLW football. She concedes that many fans are disappointed by the new format.
“The general consensus from the fans that I’m talking to is that it is short changing the AFLW. If you have two conferences it splits the focus of the game and it also means that it’s possible that the best won’t be playing the best.”
“I think there’s a lot of ill feeling about it. Of course AFLW fans are thrilled to see the fixture out but there’s a great level of disappointment that we are not seeing the full game in its full form and we’d love a smashing grand final where the two best teams play” Sometimes said.
Despite that, Sometimes is keen to point out that the support for the competition remains strong.
” From what we saw last season you can see that the women’s game is growing rapidly and fans are keen to support it. “
“The talent pool is going to be interesting to watch this season with the expansion. With two new clubs entering the competition everyone will be watching to see what they can bring to the AFLW.”
“We want to grow audiences and make sure that in this early stage of AFLW we’re not putting up any road blocks for families,” Head of Women’s Football, Nicole Livingstone, told reporters.
Entry remains free in the competition’s third year.
The grand final will be held on March 30 or 31.
– With AAP