AFLW Round 1: A conference imbalance already?

Nail-biting finishes and scorching hot conditions were in plentiful supply as AFLW Season 3.1 saw both debut expansion teams register starkly contrasting victories. With a compressed seven week regular season fixture affording no chance to ease into the season, pressure and nerves were again evident in most games, accentuated by the generally tight margins. But in a significant development on the first two AFLW seasons, most sides also showed ample intent to emulate the faster, cleaner ball movement of the better teams from last season. Some sides succeeded, only to squander the impact with poor finishing in front of goal.


Geelong and Collingwood got proceedings under way at GMHBA Stadium on a hot Saturday evening. The 18,429 crowd squeezed into the shaded side of the ground, leaving the sun-drenched Hickey stand largely unpopulated for the duration. They witnessed Collingwood dominate the opening 13 minutes for little scoreboard result, before Geelong’s first forward foray was aided by a 50 metre penalty, leaving the teams a goal apiece at quarter time. The second term belonged to Geelong, who finally established some ball transition from defence to attack. Collingwood hit back in the third term, to lead by a point at three quarter time. In a goalless final term, a poster to Nina Morrison, who starred on debut, proved the final difference.


The win was a fine result for a relatively young Geelong team, who have been drilled into cohesion by two seasons in the VFLW. With skipper Mel Hickey, forward Phoebe McWilliams, and rugged utility Richelle Cranston to return to the team, they would appear every chance to compete strongly in their debut AFLW campaign. For the Magpies, it was yet another Round 1 disappointment. A team that has seen a massive talent exodus over its three seasons of existence will be acutely aware of the costs of a slow start to the season.


Defending premiers, the Western Bulldogs, travelled to Norwood Oval to play the inaugural AFLW premiers, Adelaide. The Crows dominated early, but finished their work abysmally in front of goal. A brace of goals to Katie Brennan saw the Dogs hit back in term 2. Though the second half saw plenty of fast midfield transition, and some superb pressure skills, it didn’t see another goal. The Bulldogs dominated field position in the final term, but proved just as poor at finishing as the  Crows. In the end, they were probably fortunate to sneak home by a point, in their first win over Adelaide. In what shapes as a tough Conference A, it may prove a vital result.


Highly-touted debut side North Melbourne served notice on Sunday with an emphatic thrashing of last season’s wooden-spooner, Carlton. After a competitive first term, North powered away. Ex-Pies Emma King and Jassie Garner starred, and debutant Ashleigh Riddell dominated in midfield. Most of North’s swag of high profile recruits made their mark in a dominant display. Carlton saw their lack of midfield run and generally poor field kicking once more thwart their efforts. Though they held a slight statistical advantage in inside-50’s, the poor quality of these entries merely served to set up North rebounds. Without a major turnaround, another tough season  looms for the Blues.


The best game of the round was played in the most oppressive conditions, 39 degrees and a blustery wind at Casey Fields made this fixture one for the true diehard supporter, yet the Melbourne and Fremantle players put on a high-scoring, see-sawing encounter. After establishing a 20 point lead at half time, the Dockers saw Melbourne kick 5.4 to nothing in the third quarter. Undaunted, they used the magnificent return of Kiara Bowers (after 30 injury riddled months) to inspire them to three unanswered final term goals, producing a four point win as their first interstate success.


The final match of the round saw Brisbane demonstrate yet again how tough they are in a tight finish. Seeking to avenge their comprehensive final round loss to the Lions last season, GWS’s powerful midfield group gave them the advantage in forward entries, but the formidable Brisbane defensive unit again proved hard to crack. Only the remarkable Cora Staunton was able to conjure a couple of goals, but she was more than answered by Lion Jess Wuetschner, who with three goals again proved herself the competition’s premier opportunist goal sneak. Though GWS fought to the end, it was no shock to see the Lions prevail by two points. Underestimate Brisbane at your peril.


With four out of five matches decided by less than a kick, this looks likely to be the most tightly contested AFLW season yet. This makes the AFL’s decision to divide the expanded competition into two conferences loom as a fateful decision. With only the top two teams in each conference to progress to the semi-finals, any imbalance in the strength of the respective conferences would see the fixture potentially decide at least one finals position. Though predictions based on one round are a fraught exercise, it seems distinctly possible that Conference A might prove significantly stronger than Conference B.


In American conference systems, wild cards are used as a mechanism compensate for conference imbalances. No such provision has been made for AFLW. This could lead to a situation where the second team in Conference B could reach a semi-final with an inferior record to the third team in Conference A. After such a thrilling and entertaining first round, it feels disappointing to contemplate that AFL fixturing might arbitrarily override the efforts of the players.


While that potential scenario is for future consideration, the performance of the players this weekend, in extremely trying conditions, deserves our celebration in the present. Both previous AFLW seasons have seen a significant improvement in play as the rounds have progressed, and teams have settled into their stride. Given the opening round efforts of most sides, we have a most enticing season ahead of us.


Geelong 3.6.24 d Collingwood 3.5.23
Adelaide 1.11.17 d by Western Bulldogs 2.6.18
North Melbourne 7.10.52 d Carlton 2.4.16
Melbourne 8.7.55 d Fremantle 9.5.59
Brisbane 4.5.29 d GWS 4.3.27


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About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Hi John, I agree with you regarding the inbalance.
    At the very least the AFLW needs tighter recruiting rules. It was too late already when the NM team was announced.
    That being said; I don’t necessarily think NM will always come out on top. We have been shown examples on the weekend that confirm others are out for blood. Wonder what we will be saying in 8 weeks?
    Loved the write up. Great work.

  2. Kasey Symons says

    Great stuff JB – hit the nail on the head re: the conferences and lack of wildcard opportunities. Will be following this closely as I feel the AFL want conferences for the long term in AFLW.

  3. Yvette Wroby says

    Love your write up and your and Marion’s company at the season opener.i also watched all games and was impressed with the standard and footy nous of the players. Thanks for great write up and summary of all the games.

  4. Add my voice to the chorus, JB, conference system looks like it could play a far larger role in deciding the fate of the potential finalists than expected, which is a real shame. I wonder if things play out as per your scenario, we might see a shakeup next year – or at least an attempted re-balancing with the four new sides.

    Otherwise a highly entertaining round of footy – the two games I attended (Cats v Pies and Demons v Dockers) were really enjoyable, but for different reasons. Always a pleasure when the mighty Lions get a win too!

  5. John Butler says

    Thanks for the comments folks.

    Sporting predictions have a long history of being proved wrong. That’s why we love sport.

    But on the first up showing, Conference A has 5 very strong contenders. It wouldn’t surprise if the 2 weakest teams turned out to both be in Conference B. That means some wins are going to matter a lot more than others.

    Kasey, I reckon the conference idea was a means to avoid having to make the big decisions about season length, timing of the season, etc. The AFL seem determined to hasten slowly in that regard. There are some valid reasons to do so, but you do feel they are a long way from a long term plan just yet.

    Kate, Yvette, Jarrod, totally agree re the general standard. Improving very quickly, considering the abbreviated time to train, etc. I just wish the Blues were keeping pace.

    Cheers all.

  6. Following on from previous sections where writers have composed teams of Garys, Brians, Bills and Bruces,. when are we going to see teams of, say, Marys, Natalies, Ericas – even Maudes or Mabels? Hop to it ladies.

  7. John Butler says

    Fisho, it’s an interesting aspect you raise.

    I suspect Mabel has had her day, so to speak. Maude may still have some chance. Natalie is a definite starter

    A quick perusal of the AFLW record suggests Kate (& Katie), Emma and Sophie would also be strong candidates.

    Lord Bogan, be prepared.

  8. First up, I am a fan of the women’s competition. However, I have to disagree with seemingly most of you here. I admit I only watched the Pies v Cats game but there were a few ladies out there that looked like they never played before; athletic perhaps but no clue how to contest a ball, get to a contest or dispose of the ball, whereas other players looked like proper footballers and carried the team. Perhaps it was first round nerves affecting a few. I fear that the AFL, by diluting the talent to increase the number of teams, has set the evenness between players back and done the competition no favors. I only hope the gap between the elite few and the rest in each team closes as the season progresses because I really do want to see AFLW level players. Btw, I really dislike that we are now using American jargon to describe our split AFLW competition. On a more positive note, isn’t it great footy is back!

  9. John Butler says

    BJ, I think it’s fair to say that you didn’t see the best standard game on the weekend. Crows v Bulldogs, Dees v Dockers, and Lions v Giants were clearly better.

    The reality of AFLW is that amateur players who were playing weekends in the suburbs, if they were playing at all, have only been able to access a semi-professional level of support since the AFLW kicked off in 2017. I think some of the women have exhibited elite skills from the start. Others clearly haven’t. But the rate of improvement for most has been fantastic given the limited time and resources so far expended.

    It is very legitimate to wonder how the expansion of the competition will effect depth of quality. I think that ‘s a valid question also to ask of the mens’ comp since it went to 18 teams. Given the vastly smaller resources thus far made available to the women, of course there’s going to be some effect over the next couple of years. But there’s also a decent pathway for the women now operating. I think that already seems to be having an impact. That impact will grow.

    I also dislike Americanisms in our sport. But the AFL execs do like their trips over to the US. It has an effect.


  10. Fisho, don’t underestimate the return of Mabel as a common name. My primary school age kids count three Mabels in their acquaintance.

    JB, thanks for this summary piece. Having watched all of Geel v Coll and parts of the other games, I enjoyed them as battles and as footy matches. My overwhelming response was positive. I eas engaged by the games and the stories around the games (to that end I think Jason Bennett is a fine commentator with his researched back stories and tidbits which help build our awareness of the players)

    I don’t think the frustrations associated with AFLW’s administration, organisation and structure are the big story. Those issues must not be ignored. But for me, the story of Round 1 is the players, the game and the fans. I think the story for the Mabels is the playing of footy. The Mabels are thrilled to be able to watch women’s footy and women’s football – which did not have the same visibility,nor the same place, in national life in 2016.

  11. John Butler says

    JTH, I stand ready to be corrected on the status of Mabels.

    I agree completely that the big picture here is how far women’s football has come. Whatever we think about aspects of the AFL’s management of the comp so far, they did a very good thing by launching AFLW back in 2017.

    The main thing that has won me over is the sheer effort these women are putting in. They are giving it everything they have. That’s the most important thing you could want from any sporting contest.

  12. Once it was a real insult for a bloke to be told he was playing like a girl. Well that’s no longer true. in fact, in many cases, it could be well classed as a compliment. If you don’t believe me, just watch those girls perform, especially at cricket. Incidentally, how about the Muriels, Joans or Bevs

  13. John Butler says

    Fisho, any one of these players would leave me for dead.

  14. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Excellent report JB. Pies lose by a point, Carlton get thrashed. Bad omens?
    I wonder if there is any merit in the idea of starting AFLW in October and through to November and continuing through to Feb and March? It’s not like their is much competition on the sporting landscape other than horse racing and trade period.
    More games, coverage opportunities and better weather conditions might actually help skills and the product. I’d go along and or watch on TV for sure.
    As for forgotten names: Mavis, Flo, Beryl?

  15. Mavis: 0
    Flo: 0
    Beryl: 0

    Beryl is a great name. Remember Anthony Blanche in Brideshead always pronounced it ‘Burial’.

  16. Andrew Starkie says

    The start of NMFC’s domination of footy in 2019, JB?

    Three seasons in, AFL is already stuffing this up.

  17. John Butler says

    Starkers, it was a pretty fair NM display first up. Too good for the Blues.

    I reckon GWS might be a sterner test. As for domination in 2019? Don’t get ahead of yourself. :)


  18. Andrew Starkie says

    Certainties, JB

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