Footy is back, with AFLW kicking off earlier than usual and in the context of yet another COVID-19 outbreak.
In this explainer, you'll find answers to some of the most common questions about the season.
When does it start?
The sixth season of AFLW kicks off on Friday, January 7, 2022.
The AFL aspires to make AFLW players the highest-paid sportswomen in a domestic competition in Australia, but their vision is light on detail.
It was originally planned to take place in December 2021, but was pushed back to January on account of ongoing uncertainty over COVID-19 (at that time the Delta variant), including border restrictions.
Moving forward, head of women's football Nicole Livingstone has committed to December as the ideal time to start the AFLW season.
At the fixture launch, however, she acknowledged that it could start earlier than December if the season length increases.
Who won last year?
The perennially underrated Brisbane Lions clinched their first Premiership with an 18-point victory over two-time Premiers the Adelaide Crows.
The win was all the more impressive given it was achieved in front of a shell-shocked Adelaide Oval crowd of 22,934.
When and where is the season opener?
The AFL surprised many this year by announcing the season opener would take place at Frankston Park on Friday night.
Over five seasons, the opening game of the season has taken place at Princes Park all but once.
The upcoming season of AFLW features a number of breaks with tradition, including a Frankston opener and an early January start.
Traditional rivals Collingwood and Carlton also generally play in the opener (with Geelong and Richmond respectively filling in for one of those teams in their inaugural seasons).
Frankston Park is an unusual choice given the ground's capacity of approximately 8,000, and around 1,000 seats.
This compares to Princes Park's capacity of approximately 24,500, which was reached in season one.
With the exception of the 2021 season, which had crowd capacity limits due to COVID-19, the season opener has never drawn fewer than 15,000 spectators.
The game will also controversially be contested by St Kilda and Richmond — two teams who did not make finals in 2021.
What other round one match-ups are there to look forward to?
The opening round features a series of highly-anticipated contests including:
- The grand final re-match between Adelaide and Brisbane
- The Hampson-Hardeman cup between women's football stalwarts and traditional rivals the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne
- The Western Australian derby between Fremantle and West Coast (one of two re-scheduled matches for the round due to the ongoing Omicron COVID-19 outbreak), and
- The traditional match-up between Carlton and Collingwood on Sunday.
Fremantle and West Coast will face off in a round one Western derby.(Getty Images: Paul Kane)Which teams are in the competition?
You may have heard the announcement that all AFL clubs will join the AFLW competition shortly.
The remaining four teams to join the competition are: Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney.
They will join the competition in season seven, beginning in December 2022 (later this year).
At present, there are 14 clubs in the competition.
- New South Wales: Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants.
- Queensland: Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast Suns.
- South Australia: Adelaide Crows.
- Victoria/Tasmania: Carlton Blues, Collingwood Magpies, Geelong Cats, Melbourne Demons, North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos, St Kilda Saints, Richmond Tigers, Western Bulldogs.
- Western Australia: Fremantle Dockers, West Coast Eagles.
How long is the season?
Season six is the longest yet at 10 regular rounds followed by three weeks of finals.
Season length has long been a point of contention for the AFLW playing cohort, with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring at the end of this season.
A number of players have vocalised their desire to see a full-length season in which each team plays each other once.
Is it a regular fixture, or will there be conferences?Loading
Breathe easy, everyone — conferences have been banished for another season.
This means the AFLW ladder will operate as per "usual" AFL protocol: 14 teams ranked on the one ladder, as per their wins and losses and percentage (calculated as a measure of the team's points scored versus against).
Will we see themed rounds again, like Pride Round?
Yes, fan favourite Pride Round will be back in round three (beginning Friday 21st January).
The Western Bulldogs and Carlton, who played in the inaugural pride match before it was extended to a full round in 2021, have been fixtured to play on the Sunday (the same day as the Midsumma Festival — the start of Victoria's three-week LGBTQI+ carnival).
Indigenous round then kicks off in round eight.
Held for the first time in 2021, AFLW's Indigenous round pays tribute to an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person who has contributed to the game and community.
Last year's recipient was Aunty Joy Murphy AO.
The Brisbane Lions wore their Indigenous guernsey on grand final day in 2021.(Getty Images: Mark Brake)How has COVID-19 affected the competition?
The short answer is that COVID-19 has affected the competition in almost every way.
In terms of rescheduling matches, the AFL has announced that games will go ahead until clubs have fewer than 16 primary-list players (including five-top ups) available.
After that, a club's situation will reportedly be dealt with on a "case-by-case" basis, with options including rescheduling the match for another time that round, another time later in the season (with a minimum four-day break) or cancelling the match altogether.
The idea of re-scheduling matches will no doubt cause some anxiety among the playing cohort given AFLW players are not paid as professional athletes and are balancing careers with other responsibilities.
It also has the potential to cause havoc among administrators who are balancing the ever-emerging threat of Omicron with shifting border and travel policies (with Western Australia being the most difficult to manage).
What about the mandatory vaccination policy?
This has also wreaked havoc, with the most high-profile case being St Kilda's Georgia Patrikios.
Georgia Patrikios reveals her vaccination status, however St Kilda is yet to place her on the club's inactive list ahead of the season kicking off in January.
On Tuesday's AFLW "captains' day", Saints captain Hannah Priest said the playing group was no closer to discovering whether the two-time best-and-fairest winner would play this AFLW season.
In late November 2021, Patrikios revealed she was not vaccinated and had not yet made up her mind about whether to get vaccinated.
As it stands, Patrikios is named on the Saints' active list, but it would seem unlikely that she will be vaccinated in time for the season start.
Deni Varnhagen, meanwhile, made waves last year by not only refusing to get vaccinated, but becoming one of four South Australian workers to challenge the state government's COVID-19 vaccine mandate in court.
Varnhagen works as a nurse and was moved to her club's inactive list last year.
Is anyone in doubt for round one because of COVID-19?
The short answer is yes — with the most high-profile being Kangaroos captain Emma Kearney, who Sarah Black from the AFL Women's website revealed had returned two positive rapid antigen tests.
Emma Kearney has not missed a game of AFLW, but is in doubt for round one because of positive rapid antigen tests.(Getty Images: Robert Cianflone)
The best and fairest winner has not missed a match in five seasons of AFLW and is currently awaiting her PCR result (as of Wednesday).
The Gold Coast Suns, meanwhile, has five players still in isolation, but Black reports they should be available for selection.
How can I attend matches?
Tickets can be purchased by following the link on the AFL website to the fixture and then clicking the "Buy Tickets" button below the specific match you are interested in attending.
As with last season, tickets must be purchased in advance, with no tickets available for sale at the ground on the day (unless purchased via the relevant ticket agency app or website).
How much do tickets cost?
Tickets cost $10 for adults or concession card holders, while juniors under 18 can attend for free.
As with last season, fans won't be able to purchase tickets at the ground on game day.(Getty: Michael Willson)
However, juniors must also obtain their free ticket prior to the match.
Some clubs allow AFLW members to attend home games for free, but tickets must again be purchased in advance.
How can I watch it?
Every AFL Women's game is available to be streamed live on the AFL Women's, AFL Live and Telstra TV AFLW apps. You can also stream games via the womens.afl and AFL.com.au websites.
AFLW matches are broadcast live on the Seven Network, Fox Footy and Kayo.
How can I listen to it?
ABC Grandstand will be broadcasting AFLW matches, while ABC also just launched The W podcast with Sam Lane and Sharni Norder.
OK, but who will win?
I can't answer that, but the 14 club captains were polled on their thoughts and most answered Melbourne (7), followed by Brisbane (5) with Collingwood and Adelaide receiving a vote each.