The third season of the AFLW competition will begin on February 2nd and 2019 will bring some exciting changes to the league.
Firstly, two new teams have been added - the Geelong Cats and North Melbourne Kangaroos. With this change, the AFLW has overhauled the fixture to separate teams into a conference - similarly to the divisional structure used in major US sports. Each conference will consist of 5 teams and the two top sides will reach the finals.
Conference A is highlighted by the 2018 Grand Final winners in the Western Bulldogs. They're joined by the new side (Kangaroos) and Melbourne Demons. While the interstate sides in this conference are the Crows and Dockers. In Conference B, old rivals Carlton and Collingwood are paired together. While up north, the Giants and Lions are the two interstate teams. Making up this conference will be the Geelong Cats.
There's also an important change to the finals system. Instead of playing the Grand Final between the two top sides on the ladder after the regular season, 2019 will see a Preliminary finals weekend. Then, the two winning sides will meet in the AFLW Grand Final in late March.
Conference A Winner
Looking at Conference A, it looks like a tough battle between the top 4 sides - Kangaroos, Crows, Demons and Bulldogs. Melbourne is going to miss Daisy Pearce as she's pregnant and as a result, you can pretty much rule them out of #1 spot. In saying that, their squad is still good enough to finish near the top of this conference. Fremantle hasn't shown much in the last 2 seasons with injury concerns and the Perth travel factor. The Bulldogs are the defending champions and will be tough to beat with Ellie Blackburn and Katie Brennan on the field. However, they have already lost Brooke Lochland to a broken leg and Isabel Huntington is still recovering from a knee injury. Being the defending champion is also never easier as most teams will get a bit of extra motivation out of beating them. North Melbourne are currently favourites to take out this conference and it's hard to back against the talent in this new squad. The only question mark is how long this team will take to gel together under a new gameplan. I think it will take more than a single offseason. So I do see value in the Adelaide Crows. They won the league in 2017 and were fairly close to the Grand Final in 2018 despite a poor season for their standards. They have one of the best players in the competition - Erin Phillips - and 2018 wasn't a great season as she struggled with injuries. She has retired from Basketball so the Crows will get the best out of her in 2019. In the backline, Chelsea Randall is a star and the general. Also, they've traded in former marquee player for the Giants in Renee Forth. With a good schedule that sees them play Carlton, Geelong and Fremantle in 3 of the first 4 rounds, I think they should be around 3-1 after Round 4 and building momentum before the finals.
Conference B Winner
This Conference will likely be dominated by either the Lions, Giants or Magpies. Carlton's 2018 season was terrible, to say the least, as they earned the spoon (in both AFL competitions!). So I don't see much improvement in 2019. Geelong is the new side and it's hard to see them competing straight away. Brisbane has been the most consistent side in AFLW history with two straight Grand Final appearances. While they did lose both finals, they could have easily won both as well. However, I think keeping up this standard will be a challenge and they haven't been helped by the addition of 2 new teams (player movement). Collingwood is an interesting side because they finished 2018 with impressive form. They beat the Crows and Lions by 2+ goals and also just lost to the Bulldogs by 8 points. However, the depth at the Pies will be tested. They've already lost Chloe Molloy for the season and Christina Bernardi is now playing for the Giants. I still think they can surprise a few teams and the fact they don't play the Bulldogs is a bonus. GWS improved from a 1-5-1 record in 2017 to a 4th placing finish in 2018. In 2019, I think they have the talent to win this conference if things go their way. They have a tough Round 1 matchup against the Lions but don't travel much after that (1 trip to VIC and 1 trip to SA). So home games against the two new sides, Melbourne and Carlton should see them win 3, if not all 4 home games. Their squad looks strong with the additions of Courtney Gum and Alicia Eva in the midfield. Then, the forward line is boosted by former Pie Christina Bernardi. Their defence is probably a question mark but if this star-studded midfield is getting the ball, it should outweigh that fact.
To Make The Finals
As mentioned above, 2019 should be another improving season for the GWS Giants and they look like a safe bet to make the top 4.
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