A common argument against the rapid expansion of the AFLW is that it spreads talent too thinly.
After the league’s inaugural season in 2017, the key factors in the AFL Commission’s decision to delay the expansion by 12 months included seeking to increase the talent pool, as well as addressing concerns that the elite players may be too thin. would be distributed throughout the competition.
With four new clubs entering the competition this season, which starts in August, there are 120 new places in the new teams from Essendon, Hawthorn, Sydney and Port Adelaide.
This has already seen some stars of the league switch Guernsey colours, including the league’s best and most beautiful Maddy Prespakis, who has moved from Carlton to Essendon, and three-time premiership player Erin Phillips, who has toured the city from Adelaide to Port Adelaide.
The flip side of the coin, however, is that there will be more opportunities to spot new talent, including players previously overlooked in checkers or players rising through the ranks.
While that new talent will include many new faces from the draft, it should also give older AFLW or VFLW players – who have not been able to break through in a side – a chance, a venture that has proved beneficial for clubs and past players.
Tilly Lucas-Rodd, for example, was delisted by Carlton in 2019 and then picked up by St Kilda for their inaugural side, in 2020.
Last season, Lucas-Rodd took 11 votes in the league’s best and fairest, despite the Saints winning just two games.
An opportunity for some snubbed at previous drafts
Another success story that rose from draft ban to stardom is North Melbourne’s Ash Riddell.
The midfielder was overlooked in the 2016 and 2017 drafts.
When North Melbourne entered the competition in 2018, she joined the club as a free agent during the expansion club’s signing period.
In her second season she was named to the All-Australian Team and in the 2022 season she was selected as an All-Australian midfielder, placed fourth in the league’s best and fairest, was her club’s best and fairest and set a league – high wild resistance of 42.
“It was fantastic then that someone like Ash, who was overlooked in two versions, could make her way into the system,” Darren Crocker – senior coach for North Melbourne AFLW – told the ABC.
“Then, [Riddell] is so driven to continue improving to the point where she is now one of the best midfielders in the league.”
VFLW players get the chance to develop
Tara Bohanna of Gold Coast Suns – who had similar success to Riddell – said expansion would also give many players from the VFLW and local leagues more opportunities to develop their craft at the AFLW level.
Bohanna was overlooked in six AFLW ladies when she played for the Southern Saints VFLW side before Gold Coast picked her up as an injury top-up player last year.
In her first season playing at the highest level, Bohanna was named to the 40-player All-Australian squad after scoring 13 goals in nine games, making her one of the top five goalscorers in the league.
“It was such a surreal season and I don’t think I could have asked for more unless we made it to the final,” she said.
The 27-year-old attributes her success in her first season to the support of the Suns and the experience of playing at the AFLW level with elite physiotherapists and facilities.
“You get every opportunity to thrive and do good things,” she said.
“It gives you the opportunity to push yourself a little harder.
“That’s why it’s so exciting to see all these girls I’ve played against, from your Essendons and your Hawthorns [VFLW sides]give it a try – and I’m excited to see how they go.”
Essendon has signed a bevy of players from his VFLW side, including Georgia Nanscawen, Joanne Doonan, Federica Frew, Danielle Marshall and Jordan Zanchetta.
Likewise, Hawthorn has attracted players from current VFLW rosters, including Sophie Locke, Bridget Deed, Eliza Shannon, Tahlia Fellows, Dominique Carbone and Jenna Richardson.
Cusp players to get more playing time
Expansion also means that players who were about to start each week can get more playing time as the talent spreads, helping them develop their skills.
Women’s chief executive at the Brisbane Lions Breeanna Brock said clubs like Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle had such maturity and depth to their active playlists that their lineups were packed with mainstays every week.
That means players on the cusp — such as under-18s or emergency picks — “can’t break all the way into the side.”
“Maria Moloney is a great example,” said Brock, referring to the former Brisbane midfielder who signed with expansion club Port Adelaide.
“She’s 28 years old… inside and out, [been] emergency more often than she can imagine. So in order to play well for the next two to three years of her career, the reality is that she has to go elsewhere to do that.
“For someone like her, expansion is so great because she gets another chance to play her lead role as an insider.
With the final expansion phase in the AFLW underway, the coming season will give countless new players the chance to try their hand at getting their teeth on the big stage, including those like Moloney.
Some former AFLW stars will have another chance in the league, just as Lucas-Rodd did, and VFLW players will have the chance to shine at the highest level, as Bohanna and Riddell have done.