This year’s AFLW season sees teams divided into controversial “conferences” for the first time, including two clubs making their debut in the competition: the Geelong Cats and Kangaroos.
Kate O’Halloran reviews each team’s chances ahead of Season Three.
Conference A: Adelaide, Fremantle, Kangaroos (North Melbourne), Melbourne and Western Bulldogs
Senior coach: Matthew Clarke (replaces Bec Goddard)
2018 finish: Fifth
What to expect in 2019: They’d hate to admit it but the Crows showed plenty of signs they were a “one-woman show” in 2018.
According to Champion Data, with Phillips in the side, the Crows were the equal best team in the competition, while without her, they were the worst. Their co-captain is fit after a tailored eight-week strength and conditioning program undertaken in the US, and if she stays that way expect the Crows to be right back in Premiership contention.
Ruck Rhi Metcalfe’s ACL injury however, leaves a gaping hole for former Australian basketballer Jess Foley to fill. Watch for Chloe Sheer to shine in her first season after dominating the u/18 championships.
Senior coach: Trent Cooper (replaces Michelle Cowan)
2018 finish: Seventh
What to expect in 2019: It has been two decidedly underwhelming seasons for a team who started the AFLW competition as favourites for the inaugural Premiership.
Despite their formline, however, the Dockers still boast four elite players headlined by the notoriously underrated Dana Hooker (second in last year’s competition best and fairest), Antonio, Donnellan and Kellie Gibson.
After a hip flexor injury sidelined the former Crow for most of 2018, look for Gibson to become a serious asset: she had 11 disposals, nine contested possessions, seven score involvements and a goal in her sole appearance for season two.
Kangaroos (North Melbourne)
Senior coach: Scott Gowans
2018 finish: N/A (inaugural season)
What to expect in 2019: The Kangaroos have well and truly raided the competition for ready-made talent, boasting the signatures of 2018 AFLW best and fairest Emma Kearney, Jess Duffin, Jasmine Garner and Emma King (all rated “elite” by champion data) as well as Jamie Stanton, Jenna Bruton, Ashmore, Tahlia Randall, Danielle Hardiman and Kate Gillespie Jones (all ranked “above average”).
As a result, despite it being their first season in the competition, the Roos have 10 players on their list who are rated in the top 35% of the competition. If they can gel on the field, they have the talent to go all the way.
— SuperFooty (AFL) (@superfooty) March 27, 2018
Senior coach: Mick Stinear
2018 finish: Third
What to expect in 2019: After two consecutive seasons missing out on the Grand Final by percentage, is it finally the Demons’ year?
Over the first two seasons of AFLW, Melbourne ranked No1 for disposals, contested possessions, uncontested possessions and inside 50s – all without an appearance on the biggest stage.
The loss of regular captain Daisy Pearce (pregnant) is a big blow, as is veteran Mel Hickey’s departure to Geelong. While Paxman, O’Dea and a fit and firing Lampard (returning from an ACL) are well equipped to take over the mantle in the midfield, it may again be a case of so close yet so far.
Coach: Paul Groves
2018 finish: Premiers
What to expect in 2019: A purportedly injury-free Brennan should mean the Dogs are every chance of going back-to-back – even without star Emma Kearney.
However, news that the competition’s leading goal-kicker Brooke Lochland sustained a fracture to her fibula in the practice match against Collingwood could be a mortal blow.
Like No.1 draft pick Huntington, she is likely to be sidelined for most of the season.
— AFL Women's (@aflwomens) March 24, 2018
Conference B: Brisbane Lions, Carlton, Collingwood, Geelong Cats, GWS Giants
Senior coach: Craig Starcevich
2018 finish: Runners-up
What to expect in 2019: The Lions were unlucky not to win their first Premiership after two consecutive years of Grand Final heartbreak.
They have arguably the best defensive setup in the league – headlined by Lutkins, who almost single-handedly won Brisbane the decider with an enormous 20 intercepts in just 70 minutes (the AFL men’s record is 24 from 119 minutes) – while former All-Australian Virgo also returns from an ACL.
The form of star forward Sabrina Frederick-Traub will again be decisive to her team’s fortunes.
Senior coach: Daniel Harford
2018 finish: Eighth (last)
What to expect in 2019: The return of captain courageous Bri Davey will make an enormous difference, but can the Blues afford to persist with Harford’s plan to keep her up forward?
They already have plenty of firepower in front of goals in Tayla Harris and Darcy Vescio, and taking Davey out of the middle seems to leave them without requisite class in the engine room.
That said, recruit Madison Prespakis looks poised to slot in seamlessly – she boasts an impressive junior CV, including player of the U/18 championships and Vic Metro best and fairest.
Senior coach: Wayne Siekman
2018 finish: Sixth
What to expect in 2019: It doesn’t look good for the Magpies, who lost a total of 11 players heading into season three, with their forward line all but decimated.
They’ve lost Mo Hope and Jasmine Garner (North Melbourne) as well as Christina Bernadi (GWS Giants) who combined for 22 of the Magpies’ 42 goals last season.
They’ll also be ruing the loss of Rising Star and All Australian in Molloy to a dreaded lisfranc (foot) injury.
Keep an eye on Irish recruit Sarah Rowe, a Gaelic football star back in hometown Mayo.
— Collingwood Women's (@CollingwoodFCW) March 18, 2018
Senior coach: Paul Hood
2018 finish: N/A (inaugural season)
What to expect in 2019: Will be fascinating to see how the Cats go after taking a very different recruiting approach to North Melbourne; opting for local talent, preferably those who have come through Geelong programs, including inaugural captain Hickey (relative of Cats hero Reg). They look to have a good mix of future stars, proven VFLW performers and mature talent including VFLW No1 ranked midfielder and veteran Renee Garing and VFLW captain Bec Goring. Premiership player Aasta O’Connor and livewire forward Phoebe McWilliams (GWS) are astute recruits. Nina Morrison – a No1 pick after just two years of football – has a huge ceiling.
Senior coach: Alan McConnell
2018 finish: Fourth
What to expect in 2019: The addition of Collingwood’s leading goalkicker Bernadi, as well as some exciting young talent including Alyce Parker (two-time junior All Australian), could see the Giants take the extra step required to feature in the AFLW grand final after they were cruelly denied by the Lions in 2018.
With a midfield boasting 2018 AFLW players’ MVP Courtney Gum, Eva, Farrugia and Dal Pos, the Giants have an engine room the envy of the competition.