A new presence on our sporting landscape arrives on Friday evening when the inaugural Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] competition begins.
A match between rivals Carlton and Collingwood at Ikon Park kicks things off in the eight-team competition, which has seven rounds scheduled before a grand final on Saturday March 25.
So, what are the rules? Which teams will be good? And who is playing where?
Read on for our full guide …
Joining Carlton and Collingwood in the inaugural season are Adelaide, Brisbane, Fremantle, Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.
All matches will be broadcast on Fox Sports and a Saturday night match each week will also be live on the Seven Network (as will Friday night’s opener).
All but five of the 28 matches will be free to attend, the exceptions being played as double-headers with matches in the AFL pre-season competition.
The ball is slightly smaller than the one used by the men, quarters are 15 minutes plus time on, there are 16 players from each side on the field at a time, with six on the bench and unlimited interchanges.
There are storylines galore from the draft, including daughters and sisters of former AFL players, teammates in local competitions selected by opposing clubs, and exponents of other sports – notably basketball – being recruited.
There’s even identical twins, Jess and Sarah Hosking, playing together at Carlton and a girl who grew up as a Carlton supporter, Steph Chiocci, captaining Collingwood.
The AFL has tried hard to spread the talent as evenly as possible across the teams, and the club recruiters had plenty of time to scout the sorts of players they wanted, but it’s likely that a couple of competition frontrunners will emerge within the first few rounds.
The Western Bulldogs and Melbourne are seen by some to have had a bit of a head start – admittedly of their own making – by claiming the early ground as trailblazers of women’s football at the elite level.
Demons skipper Daisy Pearce has been one of the faces of women’s football for the past few years, but it remains to be seen if the team is strong enough, after they were overrun by Carlton in their practice match a couple of weeks ago.
Fremantle appears to have recruited well, with Western Australia providing a deep talent pool across the competition – although marquee player Kara Donnellan is originally from Victoria.
Fellow marquee and midfielder Kiara Bowers is regarded as the best runner in the game and the Dockers look to be stacked with pace and athleticism.
Their opening clash with the Bulldogs on Saturday night might be a Grand Final preview.
Dogs midfielders Ellie Blackburn and Emma Kearney are all class and their ability to get the ball forward to marquee forward Katie Brennan could be telling.
It wouldn’t surprise to see Collingwood win more than it loses, with spearhead Moana Hope able to kick goals from all angles, Emma King dominant in the ruck and vice-captain Alicia Eva having pace to burn.
Carlton opted to build its team around “bookends”, with former Australian soccer goalkeeper Brianna Davey leading the defence and strong-marking Darcy Vescio spearheading the attack.
Expect Adelaide co-captain Chelsea Randall to emerge as a star of the league, while the other co-captain, Erin Phillips, is not only one of Australia’s best basketballers, but also the daughter of former Magpie Greg.
The Crows take on the GWS Giants on Saturday afternoon.
Unlike it’s men’s team, GWS isn’t expected to be a contender this year, but look out for marquee Emma Swanson, a four-time best and fairest playing for East Fremantle, and local product Nicola Barr, the top pick in the inaugural women’s draft.
The final match of the opening round, Melbourne versus the Brisbane Lions at Casey Fields, might be robbed of one of its stars with Lions marquee Tayla Harris battling a shoulder injury.
Brisbane’s other marquee player, ruck-forward Sabrina Frederick-Traub, is likely to be one of the stars of the league.
The Carlton – Collingwood clash has been moved from Olympic Park, where it was originally scheduled, to the Blues’ spiritual home at Ikon Park, due to expectations of a bumper crowd.
Perhaps the Carlton women can avenge the four-point loss the VFL team suffered when the clubs played the first game at the venue in Round 7, 1897.