‘Do the same for us’: AFLW returns as Matildas encore

The 18 captain's have helped launch the eighth AFLW season, which starts on Friday, in Melbourne.

The 18 captain's have helped launch the eighth AFLW season, which starts on Friday, in Melbourne. Photo: AAP

All eyes are on the AFLW to deliver the best season yet amid the massive hype for women’s sports.

The competition returns on Friday, almost 300 days since Melbourne claimed their maiden premiership in the scorching heat by beating the Brisbane Lions in Queensland.

The women’s sports landscape has changed considerably since then thanks to a historic co-hosted World Cup in Australia where the Matildas captured the nation.

AFLW chief Nicole Livingstone said the league has “planned methodically” to deliver a sport worthy of doing the same.

“We have been thinking about how we build the fandom of the AFLW long before the Matildas were talked about,” Livingstone told AAP.

“We’ve had essentially everybody here in the AFL and clubs turning their attention to ‘what does the 2023 AFLW season look like? How do we deliver the best season ever?'”

Persuading more fans to jump on board is number one on the agenda.

Television ratings were down 70 per cent and crowds 60 per cent from the first season in 2017 to season seven, according to figures presented at a meeting of club chiefs in July.

Five rule changes have been introduced to encourage faster ball movement and high-scoring games – areas in which AFLW has faced dogged criticism.

Quarters lengths will be extended to 15 minutes with time-on, while the halftime interval will be reduced to 14 minutes.

Boundary throw-ins will be moved 10 metres into the playing field between the 50-metre arcs and an interchange cap of 60 rotations has also been introduced.

The competition itself is set for a shake-up with all 18 clubs raring to go after a full pre-season.

Sydney went winless in their debut campaign – one of the four expansion clubs scrambling to prepare just four months after the conclusion of season six.

Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and the Swans made up the bottom of the ladder in season seven, with the exception of Essendon who finished with a 4-6 win-loss record.

First-year Sydney captain Chloe Molloy is adamant the odds will quickly turn in their favour.

“Last season was just a reflection of the lack of time that they had to build,” the former Collingwood forward told AAP.

“Girls were learning each other’s names within a week.

“The best thing ever was not winning a game for that side because it creates more hype and motivation this season.”

Molloy’s Swans have clinched two wins in their pre-season simulation matches and look certain to surprise in the opening-round derby against GWS.

Melbourne walk into the season as the premiership favourites, with 14 out of the 18 club skippers tipping the Demons to go back-to-back.

The final top-eight teams will receive a split $1.1 million prize, increasing from $632,922 in season seven.

Hawthorn captain Tilly Lucas-Rodd is urging fans to support the league as they did with the Matildas.

“I wholeheartedly believe in the AFLW game and that we’re capable of entertaining fans and putting on a good show, just like the Matildas did,” the midfielder told AAP.

“I hope that fans can see that. Do the same for us and get behind us.

“We’re athletes, we’re teachers, nurses, doctors, we’re a great eclectic mix of people – so come down and watch us and celebrate our stories and get involved in our game.”

Melbourne will unfurl their premiership flag in front of fans before kicking off the 10-round season against the Magpies on Friday night at Ikon Park, followed by a trio of derbies on the weekend.


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