How blowouts could put the brakes on AFLW expansion

In round six of the AFLW season, Adelaide’s Danielle Ponter booted four goals and Gold Coast trudged off Norwood Oval following a crushing 70-point loss. The Crows, winner of two premierships from a possible three, had just become the first team in AFLW history to slot 13 goals in a game.

Earlier in the season, Brisbane thumped the Suns by 63 points, a week after annihilating West Coast by 45.

The three blowouts had one thing in common: the winners were all part of the first AFLW season in 2017. The losers were all expansion teams.

Expansion team Geelong have not won a game in 2021.Credit:Getty Images

The chasm between the inaugural eight and newer six has been apparent since expansion began with the Kangaroos and Geelong entering the competition in 2019 before Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast followed in 2020.

With two home-and-away rounds and three weeks of finals remaining in 2021, the top four are Fremantle, Brisbane, Collingwood and Adelaide, all foundation teams.

With four clubs still lacking AFLW representation (Port Adelaide, Essendon, Hawthorn and Sydney), there is concern their inclusion could widen the existing gulf between new and old. Is it time
to let the current teams catch their breath?

Of the current bottom six, five are expansion clubs, winless Geelong and Gold Coast at the bottom then West Coast, St Kilda and Richmond.

The exception is North Melbourne. The Kangaroos are contentious because of their link with VFLW side Melbourne University and partnership with Tasmania, and sit fifth on the ladder with a percentage of 163.

Interestingly, the Cats made finals in their first season but this was due to the introduction of American-style conferences – they edged ahead of Melbourne for a finals spot despite having four fewer points. Conferences have since been scrapped.

Despite concerns about the blowouts and the depth of talent if players had to be spread across more teams, Essendon and Hawthorn are lobbying for quick admission to the AFLW.

And women’s football pioneer Meg Hutchins says the AFL can’t afford to slow down.

”The only way to get long-term stability is to add the teams in and let it build from there. If you pump the brakes now, and then in two years more teams come in then everyone loses players, they have to rebuild and it’s rinse and repeat,” said Hutchins, who played for Collingwood’s inaugural team and now represents Hawthorn in the state league.

“From a supporter’s point of view, you form connections to the players and then if the players continually move it’s hard to build a really strong supporter base.”

Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell says the Bombers are ready to revive Windy Hill as a home ground for an AFLW team.

Essendon say they are ready to play in the AFLW.Credit:Getty Images

“We’re awaiting the decision by the AFL. We encourage them to be bold, grow the game and
commit to expansion that can only add value to the competition,” Campbell said.

“We make no secret we are ready to pursue an AFLW licence no later than next year. With likely the best women’s football facilities in the country, we’re ready for entry into this competition.”

Hawthorn’s VFLW coach Bec Goddard, who also coached the Crows to their first premiership, says the Hawks are also ready to go.

“We’re really well equipped, it’s another step on the journey of equality so the sooner we have all
clubs in the competition, we can start having those next conversations about when it becomes full
time, look at pay and see how it all flows on, that’s why we want it done quick,” Goddard said.

Hawthorn players celebrate after winning the VFLW grand final in 2018. Credit:Darrian Traynor

GWS hold a monopoly over NSW talent, as the Crows do in South Australia, and Port Adelaide chief executive Matthew Richardson said they are keen to be involved.

“Port Adelaide is excited by the growth of women’s football in South Australia, a second licence here is important to expand the talent opportunities and pathway to the elite level,” he said.

“We have a working group and business model in place and are committed to securing an AFLW licence at the next available opportunity.”

Sydney chief executive Tom Harley said a Swans women’s team is a priority, but did not put a timeline on entry into the competition.

“It’s well documented that when the first round of licenses were awarded, we were not in a position to proceed. Since then, we’ve worked feverishly on developing and nurturing home-grown talent and we continue to focus on resolving our facility challenges. Our entry into the AFLW is a key priority,” Harley said.

With no word from the AFL on their stated ambition to have all 18 teams in the league by 2023, it remains to be seen whether the new arrivals will be granted time to catch their breath.

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