No AFLW premiership was awarded last year, but the league has declared crowning a 2021 champion is its top priority in the face of ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19.
Rivals Carlton and Collingwood will battle at Ikon Park on Thursday night in the first AFL women’s game since the 2020 season ended prematurely last March after the opening week of finals.
Preliminary finalists Fremantle, Melbourne, North Melbourne and the Blues had their flag dreams cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2020 men’s season was completed despite numerous setbacks, but AFLW boss Nicole Livingstone claims she was never worried about the fifth edition of the female competition not going ahead.
“Every time that we have been in front of the AFL commission they have been more than supportive about AFLW 2021,” Livingstone said.
“Their commitment to ensuring that not only we see the season completed but that also we have a premier crowned this year is 100 per cent – more than 100 per cent, if that’s possible.”
Only the first two weekends of the nine-round home-and-away fixture are locked in, with the league to adapt to changing health restrictions around Australia.
Greater Western Sydney shifted to southern NSW, before moving to Adelaide in preparation for their season-opener against Fremantle after COVID-19 cases spiked in their home state.
AFLW players are still semi-professional and will be compensated for loss of work if they do need to temporarily move away to play.
“We were pleased to come to an agreement with the AFLPA on a relocation rate for players; if they do need to relocate they are compensated for that on top of their AFLW contracts,” Livingstone said.
Buoyed by a grand final appearance in 2019 and a barnstorming finish to last season, Carlton are shaping as favourites to clinch their first AFLW flag.
“I think Carlton will be very, very hard to beat. I felt like they were the best team we played last year and I feel like they will only get better,” Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce told AAP.
Collingwood co-captain Brianna Davey, who started her career with the Blues, agrees with the champion Demons midfielder but also believes two-time premiers Adelaide will again be a threat.
“But sometimes with AFLW, you think one thing and a dark horse will come through,” Davey said.
In a win for players and fans, the league has scrapped the controversial conference system with one ladder to sort out the 14 teams.
The conference system was introduced in 2019 and resulted in some weaker teams making the finals.
AFLW games will be ticketed for the first time and Richmond’s clash with the Brisbane Lions at Punt Rd on Sunday already declared a sell-out.