The must-watch matches and moments in the upcoming AFL Women’s season
The draw for the second edition of the 2022 AFL women’s season has been released, and with the entry of four new teams there will be some new matches and new rivalries that you will not want to miss.
Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and the Sydney Swans complete the AFL Women’s 18-team line-up, with the entry of the latter two clubs meaning we’ll have our full suite of four intrastate Derbies.
The Bombers and Hawks will launch their AFLW history against each other, while the Swans’ inaugural match will be against St Kilda at the picturesque North Sydney Oval, home of the former rugby league club the North Sydney Bears.
Matches between the Big Three (namely Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon) will be eagerly anticipated, with the sides to face each other inside the first five rounds, including the season opener between the Blues and Pies on Thursday, August 25.
The season will launch during the AFL’s pre-finals bye weekend in August, giving footy fans who would otherwise be starved of any live action at this time of year the opportunity to watch some live football while the top eight men’s teams rest up ahead of the finals series.
Saturday matches in September are currently floated, so as to allow the league to potentially schedule double-headers which would include men’s finals matches wherever possible.
Here are just some of the matches and highlights you will want to look forward to.
1. The opening round
The seventh season of AFL Women’s (and the second to be held this year) kicks off on the weekend of the AFL’s pre-finals bye, with traditional rivals Carlton and Collingwood facing off at IKON Park on the Thursday night.
Melbourne will not have to wait long for its chance for Grand Final revenge, taking on the Adelaide Crows at Norwood Oval on the Friday night, with the match set to be televised on the Seven Network.
It’s expected the Crows will unfurl their premiership flag – its’ third in six seasons – prior to the match, but it will in some ways also herald a new era for the club, which lost several players to other clubs (including Erin Phillips to Port Adelaide) during the off-season.
The competition’s four newest teams – Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and the Sydney Swans – will all launch their inaugural campaigns on the Saturday – with bitter rivals the Bombers and Hawks to face off in the marquee Saturday night timeslot at North Port Oval.
There is, however, a push led by Hawks coach Bec Goddard to move that match to Marvel Stadium in order to potentially accommodate a large crowd between two clubs that have historically hated each other (think the Line in the Sand match in 2004).
Before that, the Power, led by star signings Phillips, Justine Mules and Angela Foley, make the trip west to face season six wooden spooners the West Coast Eagles while the Swans will hope to have a good crowd on hand when they take on St Kilda at North Sydney Oval.
It will be the first time an AFL/AFLW premiership match is played at the iconic venue, though the Swans’ men’s team did play a few pre-season matches at the venue in the early noughties, most notably Tony Lockett’s unofficial comeback match against Essendon in 2002.
Sunday sees last year’s beaten preliminary finalists, the Brisbane Lions and Fremantle, face off at the Gabba in between the Western Bulldogs hosting the GWS Giants at Princes Park, and Richmond heading down the highway to face the Geelong Cats at Kardinia Park.
This season the Bulldogs will split their home games between Princes Park and Ballarat, with the Whitten Oval out of action due to redevelopment works taking place at the ground.
2. Maddy Prespakis and Georgia Gee vs Carlton, Round 2
Carlton fans will be eagerly anticipating their round two clash against Essendon, who during the off-season poached two of the Blues’ best in 2020 best-and-fairest winner Maddy Prespakis and Georgia Gee.
Their departures came as a massive blow for a Carlton side that proved to be inconsistent last season, winning only four of its ten games, this coming after they had lost key forward Tayla Harris to Melbourne in controversial circumstances at the end of season 2021.
It is, arguably, the biggest high-profile move by any individual (or individuals) from Princes Park to Windy Hill since Scott Camporeale left Carlton at the end of 2005 in pursuit of team success at Essendon.
Camporeale would unfortunately be part of a Bombers side that underachieved in 2006 (finishing only above his old side the Blues on the ladder) before a knee injury forced him into retirement twelve months later.
Having been around since the inaugural season in 2017, the Blues will want to make a huge statement against the Bombers, who have also recruited ex-Brisbane Lions premiership player Jessica Wuetschner, as well as premiership Bulldog Bonnie Toogood, Daria Bannister and Ellyse Gamble.
The first women’s clash between the two clubs will mark another chapter in a rivalry that stretches over a century, including the 1993 Grand Final, the famous 1999 preliminary final as well as drawn matches in 2006, 2011 and 2014.
3. The local derbies
With the addition of Port Adelaide and the Sydney Swans into the competition, it means we’ll see the complete suite of intrastate derbies in the AFL Women’s competition.
The first Sydney Derby is scheduled for the SCG in round three, in what will also be the venue’s first taste of AFLW football, while Port Adelaide will have the honour of hosting the inaugural AFLW Showdown at the Oval in round six.
Both matches promise to be interesting and intriguing as both clubs will field players who used to play for the other cross-town club – not least the latter, in which ex-Crows Erin Phillips, Angela Foley and Justine Mules will be playing against their old premiership teammates.
25 years after Port won the first men’s Showdown against eventual premiers the Crows in 1997, Lauren Arnell’s side would surely love to repeat history against the reigning premiers of the AFLW competition, which will be aiming for back-to-back flags within the calendar year.
The Swans have ex-Giants Rebecca Privitelli, Maddy Collier (via the West Coast Eagles) and Lisa Steane among their playing ranks, and will be coached by Scott Gowans, who was let go as North Melbourne coach in 2020 despite their early success in the competition.
Unlike in the AFL where the Swans were the only team in town for three decades prior to the GWS Giants’ 2012 arrival, it’s the other way around in the AFL Women’s – with the Giants having been around since the inaugural season in 2017.
While the Giants will have to trek to the SCG for the first AFLW Sydney Derby, they will still be keen to make a statement against the red-and-whites and show them who has ruled town since 2017, despite their lack of success in the competition thus far.
As for the two other intrastate derbies, the QClash will be held in round three at the Gabba, while the Western Derby at Optus Stadium in round six is the second part of a Thursday night double header in the week leading up to the AFL men’s Grand Final.
A time is yet to be determined for the QClash, as there is the possibility that the Brisbane Lions men’s team could host a home semi-final at the Gabba in week two of the men’s finals series, thus creating the potential for a huge Gabba double header.
4. The inaugural AFLW Dreamtime match headlines a two-week Indigenous Round
As is the case in the men’s competition, Indigenous Round will be spread out across two weeks, with each side hosting a game in Rounds 3 and 4, the pinnacle of which will be the inaugural Dreamtime match between Essendon and Richmond in the latter round.
But unlike the men’s fixture, which is typically held on a Saturday night at the MCG (or, in the case of 2020 and 2021, TIO Stadium and Optus Stadium respectively), it will be held on a Sunday afternoon at North Port Oval, located in Melbourne’s south.
The two-week Indigenous Round also includes the aforementioned QClash and Sydney Derbies in round three, as well as Port Adelaide playing its first premiership match in Melbourne when they face Carlton at Princes Park.
St Kilda will be the last club to play its first home game for the season, doing so against Melbourne after starting off with consecutive away assignments against expansion clubs the Sydney Swans and Hawthorn.
Also in round four, Melbourne will face the Brisbane Lions for the first time since last season’s thrilling preliminary final, in which the Dees ended the Lions’ premiership defence with a heartstopping victory at the MCG.
Launceston’s only piece of AFLW action sees North Melbourne host the Geelong Cats, while expansion sides Port Adelaide and the Sydney Swans will square off at Alberton Oval.
5. A huge AFL bonanza on the final weekend of September
AFL Grand Final public holiday this year (September 23) will see four matches played on the day, as part of a festival of celebrations leading up to the men’s decider on September 24.
It kicks off at Punt Road Oval – just a stone’s throw away at the MCG – where the Western Bulldogs will host North Melbourne as part of a double header that also sees the Sydney Swans play a “home” game against Hawthorn, indirectly honouring its South Melbourne heritage.
In between, Collingwood and Essendon will face each other for the first time at Olympic Park Oval, while in the evening Carlton will lock horns with last season’s Grand Finalists Melbourne at Princes Park.
This leaves only one match scheduled for the Saturday – the day of the AFL Grand Final – with Richmond and the Brisbane Lions facing off at 11:10am in the morning – over three hours before bouncedown in the men’s decider at the MCG.
If either/both the Tigers and/or Lions feature in the men’s decider this year, then it would stand to be a huge day for that club overall, as fans would then make the short walk up to the MCG to see their men’s side fight for the ultimate prize later in the afternoon.
6. The final round
As has been the case for the men’s season since 2010, the final round is a floating fixture, with times and dates for each of the nine matches to be determined closer to the round so as to allow for premium scheduling outcomes leading to the AFLW finals.
The match between the Lions and Collingwood at Metricon Stadium is on the same weekend as the Gold Coast 500 Supercars event, so if it was to be scheduled for Saturday evening, fans could head from the racetrack to Carrara to take in a huge day of sport on the holiday strip.
That weekend, however, sees the Suns playing away to the GWS Giants at Henson Park in Marrickville, where the locals will play three of their home games as their Blacktown home base is rendered unavailable due to the cricket season.
Among other matches, Hawthorn will fly west to face Fremantle, while the two newest clubs, Port Adelaide and Essendon, face off at Alberton Oval. The Sydney Swans, on the other hand, will finish off their regular season against the Geelong Cats at Kardinia Park.
7. The AFLW finals
With all 18 teams now in the competition, the finals series expands to eight teams and will be contested over four weeks, with the expectation that the current format which has been used by the AFL since 2000 will be implemented.
All eyes will be on the Adelaide Crows to see if they can make it two flags this calendar year, but the challenge has been thrown to them with the departures of premiership stalwarts Erin Phillips, Angela Foley and Justine Mules, who all defected to Port Adelaide.
Melbourne, led by its inspirational captain Daisy Pearce, will be eager to go one better after falling short of Grand Final glory in April, with the super-mum signing on for one more year as she aims for a fairytale finish to her glittering AFL Women’s career.
Despite also being gutted by player losses such as Jessica Wuetschner to Essendon and Maria Moloney and Indy Tahau to Port Adelaide, the Brisbane Lions can also expect to feature at the business end of the season as they aim for two flags in as many years.
Just as interesting will be whether any of the four new expansion clubs will feature in the post-season; since the expansion began in 2019, only the Geelong Cats (2019) and Gold Coast Suns (2020) were able to qualify for a finals series in its inaugural season.
The Cats fared best, but were humiliated in its preliminary final against eventual premiers the Adelaide Crows at the Oval after failing to score a single point in each of the first three quarters.
Apart from the Power poaching three premiership Crows from West Lakes, the Bombers landed 2020’s best player Maddy Prespakis from Carlton, while the Hawks secured 2017 premiership coach Bec Goddard and the Swans signed 2018’s leading goalkicker Brooke Lochland.
The Grand Final is fixtured to be played on the weekend of November 26-27, which also happens to be the same weekend as the Victorian state election, so if the decider is held in Melbourne, it could be a huge Saturday, unless the AFL Women’s decide to play it on the Sunday.
To date the only time an AFLW Grand Final has been held on a Sunday was in 2019, when the Adelaide Crows defeated Carlton to win its second flag in three seasons.
So will it be the Crows lifting the cup for the fourth time, or will the premiership cup end up in Victorian hands for just the second time after the Western Bulldogs’ triumph in 2018?
Or can the Brisbane Lions make it two flags in as many years while reigning best-and-fairest Emily Bates is still at the top of her game?
The countdown is now well and truly on to what promises to be a very exciting seventh edition of AFL Women’s, with the first game between Carlton and Collingwood at Ikon Park now just over 50 days away.
Other fixturing highlights
* Last year’s Grand Finalists will play only one of the new clubs; apart from the Showdown in Round 6, Melbourne will host Essendon at Casey Fields in round nine.
* There is only one AFLW match fixtured for Saturday September 24, to avoid a clash with the AFL men’s Grand Final. If the Brisbane Lions do feature in the big dance, it stands to be a huge day for the club with both its men’s and women’s teams in action.
* Melbourne will host the Western Bulldogs for the first time, the two sides to face off at Casey Fields in round seven.
* Rounds 6-9 will feature Friday night double headers, including in Round 8 when Carlton and Richmond clash at IKON Park, followed by a rematch of the inaugural Grand Final between the Brisbane Lions and Adelaide Crows at Metricon Stadium.
* Pride Round takes place in round eight, the highlight of which is a Princes Park double header in which expansion sides Essendon and the Sydney Swans face off, followed by the Geelong Cats hosting the West Coast Eagles.
* 33 venues will be used throughout the season, with ETU Stadium, Box Hill Oval, Alberton Oval and the SCG among others to host their first AFLW games. Ballarat, Warrnambool, Mildura, and Mackay will also host matches.
* The GWS Giants will play its first home game for the season against the Brisbane Lions in Canberra in round two, seven weeks after their men’s counterparts face off in the nation’s capital.
* Richmond’s only match outside of Victoria is in round seven when they face the West Coast Eagles in Perth. They do, however, play in Geelong and Mildura in rounds one and nine respectively.