MELBOURNE has only 26 available players just three weeks out from the start of the season, with star utility Bianca Jakobsson withdrawing due to work commitments.
Jakobsson, 26, was accepted into the Victorian Police Force last year and has been struggling to combine her Police Academy training with her training at Melbourne.
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"We're obviously disappointed Bianca won’t be playing with us this season, but we fully support her decision to pursue her career in the police force," AFLW football manager Daniel McPherson told the club's website.
"She has put in a significant amount of work to get to this point, and now faces a demanding few months in the Academy.
"Juggling those demands of the Academy with the requirements of training and playing AFLW was just not practical for her during this time.
"While we know this was a difficult decision for Bianca to make, it is an exciting phase in her career, and we look forward to seeing her graduate from the Academy with this current squad intake."
Jakobsson's decision highlights the difficulties faced by AFLW players due to the part-time nature of the competition, with women balancing work and study commitments during the day with elite-level training at night.
The AFLW's injury replacement rule was last used in 2017, when list sizes were 27 (compared to the current 30). When the number of available players drops below 23, clubs can bring in a top-up player.
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That player generally comes from the club's train-on group (usually state league players who boost numbers at training), although provision can be made if a particular position is required and can't be filled from the group.
Jakobsson's versatility to be able to play on either flank, endurance and elite kicking skills will leave a big hole in Melbourne's line-up, compounded by injuries to All-Australian ruck Lauren Pearce, Katherine Smith and Shae Sloane.
Pearce is currently rehabbing after surgery to repair cartilage in her knee and is expected to miss three to four matches.
Without a second recognised ruck on their list, the Dees are currently pondering using a combination of key forwards Tegan Cunningham and Eden Zanker and full-back Harriet Cordner to look after centre square duties.
Smith underwent surgery on her torn ACL on Tuesday, while Sloane's operation to repair her ACL is still a little way down the track.
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Cunningham herself is carrying a minor right quad complaint, but at this stage, is expected to be ready to go for round one.
The Dees host a strong North Melbourne line-up at Casey Fields in round one of the AFLW season.