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AFLW season guide

Tiah Haynes training in preparation for the second AFLW season. - Fremantle Dockers,AFLW
Tiah Haynes training in preparation for the second AFLW season.

It's been a long off-season, but the second NAB AFL Women's season is almost here, with the opening game, Carlton v Collingwood, slated for Friday night at Ikon Park.

Adelaide's premiership triumph happened last March, with teams having waited months for their opportunity to knock the Crows off their perch.

No.1 draft pick Isabel Huntington was joined by 45 other draftees in earning a spot on an AFLW list, while a number of other players were signed as free agents or rookies.

Unlike last season, rookies will not be able to play unless they are upgraded to the main list to cover an injury. A rookie can be upgraded for as little as a single round to cover an injured player.

Players qualify as a rookie if they are under 21 or are crossing from another sport.

Several rule changes will also have an impact this AFLW, the most significant of which is the "last touch" rule.

Introduced in the SANFL competition in 2016, the rule will see a free kick paid against the last player to touch the ball before it crosses the boundary line.

However, if an opposition player chooses to shepherd the ball over the line, rather than pick it up in the field of play, the ball will be thrown in.

There will also be a throw in if the umpires are in any doubt.

The rule was introduced with the aim of decreasing congestion and stoppages, while increasing scoring. Expect to see quick, rebounding teams such as Melbourne and Brisbane Lions take full advantage of this change.

There will no longer be a "22" picked, rather a team of 21 will be selected.

This change means there will be five players on the bench, rather than six. The number of players on the field (16) will remain the same.

Data collected from the first season showed the "sixth" player on the bench played, on average, as little as 35 per cent game time, hence the cut in team size.

Games will run slightly longer than last year, with time-on added during the last two minutes of each 15-minute quarter.

Club-by-club guide

Coach: Michelle Cowan 
Captain: Kara Donnellan
Last year's finish: Seventh
Best and fairest: Dana Hooker

Overview

Things didn't go to plan for Fremantle last year. Western Australia's reputation as a hotbed for female football talent, combined with having arguably the best coach in Michelle Cowan, saw the Dockers installed as flag favourites.

Instead, Fremantle barely avoided the wooden spoon and won its only game in round six.

There were injury excuses. Kiara Bowers missed the entire season, Brianna Green and Tiah Haynes played just five games between them, and others were restricted.

The Dockers have already lost Kirby Bentley for 2018, but are again attracting hype, with Alex Williams returning west. On the downside, recruit Kellie Gibson has been sidelined with a hip injury.

Captain Kara Donnellan was an All Australian last year and Dana Hooker, Lara Filocamo and Hayley Miller emerged.

Fremantle will rocket up the ladder if more teammates provide support – and are healthier. 

Player to watch

Stephanie Cain: The midfielder was delisted at the end of last season despite playing six of seven games. She was re-drafted after winning the best and fairest for Swan Districts in a premiership-winning season during winter. 

Cain is back at the Dockers after a big season for Swan Districts. Picture: AFL Photos

Coach: Bec Goddard
Captains: Chelsea Randall and Erin Phillips
Last year's finish: First
Best and fairest: Erin Phillips

Overview

Written off pre-season as pretenders, Adelaide and quirky, quote-a-minute coach Bec Goddard proved doubters wrong in 2017.

The Crows not only made the Grand Final but defeated the until-then unbeaten Brisbane Lions to finish inaugural AFLW premiers.

Dual Olympic basketballer Erin Phillips, marquee player Chelsea Randall and Sarah Perkins – overlooked by all Victorian clubs – became stars in the process.

Phillips' incredible return to football included winning the AFLW best and fairest, the best-on-ground medal in the Grand Final and the Crows' best and fairest and the AFLPA MVP award.

The Crows lost Kellie Gibson to Fremantle, but added talented tall prospects Jessica Allan and Jasmyn Hewett in the draft.

They won't fly under the radar again, as their top-end quality stacks up and Goddard is sure to have some new tricks.

Player to watch

Jasmyn Hewett: The forward kicked 32 goals in 15 matches for St Mary's in the NTFL, with her long kicking a highlight. Hewett, 24, has strong hands and is agile for her height (184cm).

Coach: Craig Starcevich
Captain: 
Emma Zielke
Last year's finish: 
Second
Best and fairest: 
Emily Bates

Overview

The Brisbane Lions were the surprise packets of the inaugural AFLW season, and they will need to dig deep to repeat the dose in 2018.

Unbeaten during the home and away matches, the Lions lost the Grand Final to Adelaide by just six points.

During the off-season, they lost key forward Tayla Harris to Carlton and All Australian backline leader Sam Virgo to an ACL injury. 

In all they will incorporate 13 new faces into their team.

One thing that couldn't be quantified in 2017 was the Lions' team spirit. 

That intangible saw them repeatedly winning games in the final five minutes.

If the midfield can improve its contested ball and clearance rate, they have the speed in Kate McCarthy and power in bookends Sabrina Frederick-Traub and Leah Kaslar to again be a threat.

Player to watch

Jordan Zanchetta: The diminutive inside midfielder was a certainty to be selected in the 2016 draft until a knee reconstruction halted her progress. Now fit, she was selected with the Lions' first pick last year.

Coach: Damien Keeping
Captain: Brianna Davey
Last year's finish: Fourth
Best and fairest: Brianna Davey

Overview

Carlton will be hoping to repeat its perfect start to last season, when it hosts traditional rival Collingwood on Friday night.

Last year, the Blues were fantastic in front of a locked-out crowd at Ikon Park, winning comfortably by 35 points. 

But the club's Grand Final hopes were cruelled by consecutive close losses in the middle of the season. The Blues ultimately finished fourth after a thrilling final-round draw with the Brisbane Lions.

The league’s leading goalkicker Darcy Vescio and best and fairest winner Brianna Davey were important bookends, while key defender Danielle Hardiman and ruck Alison Downie rounded out the top three in the best and fairest.

Carlton was active in the off-season, acquiring Lions forward Tayla Harris and Collingwood’s best and fairest defender Nicola Stevens. The Blues will also be boosted by Jess Hosking, who did not play a game last season due to knee and shoulder injuries.

Player to watch

Tayla Harris: All eyes will be on the Blues' star recruit in round one. The high-flying forward showed glimpses for Brisbane, but never really fully asserted herself as a dominant player.

Harris will be hoping for a more productive season at Carlton. Picture: AFL Photos

Coach: Wayne Siekman 
Captain: Steph Chiocci
Last year's finish: Fifth
Best and fairest: Nicola Stevens

Overview

Collingwood will be looking to make a faster start than it did in 2017, when it lost its first three games before finally recording its maiden win against the Western Bulldogs in round four. 

The team reaped the rewards of a few tweaks to its gameplan, winning three in a row before falling to Adelaide in the final round, consigning it to fifth spot.

Collingwood’s list was decimated in the off-season, losing its best and fairest (Nicola Stevens) and runner-up (Alicia Eva), after they requested trades to Carlton and Greater Western Sydney respectively.

The Magpies brought in first-round pick Jaimee Lambert from the Western Bulldogs and exciting youngsters Chloe Molloy, Darcy Guttridge (sidelined with a broken collarbone), Iilish Ross and Sarah Dargan with their first four picks in the AFLW Draft.

Player to watch

Ash Brazill: The former Australian netballer has played footy on and off for several years in Perth. She is an excellent reader of the play and looks to be slotting in at half-back or on the wing. 

Coach: Alan McConnell
Captain: Amanda Farrugia
Last year's finish: Eighth
Best and fairest: Jessica Dal Pos 

Overview

Greater Western Sydney had a promising win over the Brisbane Lions in a practice match earlier this month, suggesting it will be much more competitive than it was in the first season of the competition. 

Recruit Alicia Eva has already made a major impact, and the Giants also targeted experienced players in the draft, picking up Courtney Gum (36 years old), Tanya Hetherington (32) and Gaelic footballer Cora Staunton (36).

Last year, a young, inexperienced and mainly local line-up was boosted by the inclusion of several Victorians as priority players, including best and fairest Jess Dal Pos, Phoebe McWilliams and Louise Stephenson, as well as West Australians Emma Swanson and Renee Forth.

The Giants battled early, before breaking through for a draw with Fremantle in round three and their sole win (against Melbourne) in round five. They finished last after losing to the Bulldogs in the final game of the season. 

Player to watch

Renee Forth: The midfielder missed the first AFLW season after rupturing her ACL. Forth has been honing her coaching skills while on the sidelines and the Giants will benefit from her experience.

Coach: Mick Stinear
Captain: Daisy Pearce
Last year's finish: Third
Best and fairest: Daisy Pearce 

Overview

Melbourne could be the team to watch this season after missing a Grand Final berth last year only by percentage.

The Demons dropped their opening game to the Brisbane Lions, but Mick Stinear's team bounced back strongly with three straight wins – over Collingwood, the Western Bulldogs and Carlton. However, a slip up against Greater Western Sydney in round five proved costly and ultimately denied it the chance to play in the decider. 

Star quartet and All Australians Daisy Pearce, Melissa Hickey, Elise O'Dea and Karen Paxman will again be expected to lead the way. 

Youngster Lily Mithen, key recruit Bianca Jakobsson (Carlton) and mature-age draftee and former basketballer Tegan Cunningham are also likely to shape whether the Demons can improve.

Player to watch

Bianca Jakobsson: The former Blue will add some height and speed to Melbourne's defence. A classy player, Jakobsson's strong marking and rebounding could be the missing link for the Demons.

Former Blue Jakobsson should be a key part of Melbourne's defence. Picture: AFL Photos

Coach: Paul Groves
Captain: Katie Brennan
Last year's finish: Sixth
Best and fairest: Ellie Blackburn and Emma Kearney

Overview

An air of cautious optimism surrounds the Western Bulldogs this year after a disappointing injury-ravaged inaugural season.

The club identified goalkicking as a key problem – they booted 31.51 last year – and put plenty of work into that aspect of the game over the pre-season.

Furthermore, Katie Brennan should be vastly improved, having managed just two games in an injury-plagued 2017. She is a genuine star of the competition.

Brennan and on-ballers Emma Kearney and Ellie Blackburn form a trio that is almost unstoppable when operating at its peak. 

Armed with last year's No.1 selection Isabel Huntington, who could partner Brennan in attack, the Dogs are set to put in a more impressive showing in 2018.

Player to watch

Katie Brennan: The Bulldogs captain will be raring to go after managing just two games last season due to an ankle injury. Had a strong VFLW season for Darebin, finishing equal-leading league goalkicker (with Collingwood draftee Chloe Molloy).

Visit the NAB AFL Women's hub for latest news and fixture info

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs