The AFLW was bigger and better this year, with more teams, more games and even a suspension controversy. The seven round (and a final) season meant that every team played everyone else, and most games were quite competitive.
With eight teams every major AFL city had someone to support, and in footy mad Melbourne there were four. The Western Bulldogs replicated the men’s 2016 heroics to win the grand final without their captain and star player, Katie Brennan.
There were complaints from fans about the low scoring nature of the games, but this will pick up as the women involved gain more match experience and general exposure to the sport. 171,312 people watched the games live, with many more able to see their team on TV.
Only 7,083 were at the grand final between Western Bulldogs and the Brisbane Lions, with heavy rain forcing the pre match entertainment (Missy Higgins) to be cancelled and keeping the crowds away.
Overall the season was very successful, with five teams still in with a chance of making the final at the start of the last round of the regular season. It was a highly entertaining 2 months of AFL action. Hopefully next year the grand final won’t be overshadowed by the first round of the men’s AFL happening at the same time.
Next year the competition will expand to 10 teams, with Geelong and North Melbourne joining in the action. AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan says that it will either be a conference system (presumably similar to Super Rugby) or a longer season.
As the AFLW edges towards the full 18 clubs, a solution will have to be found to the competition losing crowds to men’s games. One suggestion might be to (eventually) simply reverse the men’s draw, so that when (for example) the GWS men are at home the women play the same team away, and vice-versa.
Next year there will be more rule changes made to encourage a more free flowing game. One suggested option is to get keep backs and forwards in designated zones to reduce congestion.
Crowds have also grown since the inaugural AFLW season. The biggest crowd ever at a women’s game took place in round 2 this year, when 41,975 people watched the first ever Aussie Rules game at the new Optus Stadium in Perth, when Fremantle faced Collingwood.
And of course, it wouldn’t be footy in Australia if there wasn’t a suspension controversy. In this case, Bulldogs captain Katie Brennan was banned from the grand final. If she had been a man she would have simply been fined, however because the women don’t get paid enough for a fine penalty system she was suspended instead.
Hopefully a better system can be found next year for penalising foul play. Overall, however, the season was a success. We can all look ahead to next year’s AFLW season with interest.