Blues a hot tip for long-awaited AFLW flag race

NO AFLW premiership was awarded last year, but the League has declared crowning a 2021 champion is its top priority in the face of ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19.

Rivals Carlton and Collingwood will battle at Ikon Park on Thursday night in the first NAB AFL Women's game since the 2020 season ended prematurely last March after the opening week of finals.

Preliminary finalists Fremantle, Melbourne, North Melbourne and the Blues had their flag dreams cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The 2020 men's season was completed despite numerous setbacks, but AFLW boss Nicole Livingstone claims she was never worried about the fifth edition of the female competition not going ahead.

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"Every time that we have been in front of the AFL Commission, they have been more than supportive about AFLW 2021," Livingstone said.

"Their commitment to ensuring that not only we see the season completed but that also we have a premier crowned this year is 100 per cent – more than 100 per cent, if that's possible."

Only the first two weekends of the nine-round home-and-away fixture are locked in, with the League to adapt to changing health restrictions around Australia.

AFL head of women's football Nicole Livingstone. Picture: AFL Photos

Greater Western Sydney shifted to southern NSW, before moving to Adelaide in preparation for their season-opener against Fremantle after COVID-19 cases spiked in the Giants' home state.

AFLW players are still semi-professional and will be compensated for loss of work if they do need to temporarily move away to play.

"We were pleased to come to an agreement with the AFLPA on a relocation rate for players; if they do need to relocate they are compensated for that on top of their AFLW contracts," Livingstone said.

Fitzroy junior Eve Tram handballs with Melbourne's Daisy Pearce at the 2021 AFLW season launch. Picture: AFL Photos

Buoyed by a Grand Final appearance in 2019 and a barnstorming finish to last season, Carlton are shaping as favourite to clinch its first AFLW flag.

"I think Carlton will be very, very hard to beat. I felt like they were the best team we played last year and I feel like they will only get better," Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce told AAP.

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Collingwood co-captain Brianna Davey, who started her career with the Blues, agrees with the champion Demons midfielder but also believes two-time premier Adelaide will again be a threat.

"But sometimes with AFLW, you think one thing and a dark horse will come through," Davey said.

AFLW games will be ticketed for the first time and Richmond's clash with Brisbane at Punt Road Oval on Sunday already declared a sell-out.

2021 NAB AFLW season launch

13:40 Jan 27. 2021. 1:41 PM

The season launch officially signals the beginning of a new edition of the NAB AFL Women's competition