SEVERAL NAB AFLW clubs are preparing for the potential of playing the same opponent for a second time this season.
In one of several options being considered in order to complete the season, clubs have been briefed on the prospect of playing return matches due to strict border laws in some states.
Should it take place, it would be the first time clubs have played the same opponent twice in an AFLW home and away season in five years of competition.
Fremantle and West Coast are expected to be most impacted, with WA's hardline stance ensuring any person arriving into WA from Victoria over the next fortnight must self-isolate for 14 days.
After this weekend's round five, both the Dockers and Eagles will have already played each other and the four non-Victorian clubs.
While it was initially hoped they would have been able to play Victorian sides by round six, the Dockers and Eagles may be required to play each other again or one of Greater Western Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast or Adelaide for a second time.
The potential of a split round from round six, with some clubs having the weekend off, has also been floated.
From rounds 2-5, non-Victorian teams exclusively played each other. From this weekend, however, Adelaide will host St Kilda and Greater Western Sydney will travel to face the Western Bulldogs with South Australia and NSW borders in and out of Victoria relaxed.
Provided Victoria has no more community transmission in coming days, Queensland is also expected to open up its borders from this weekend given 14 days will have passed without localised virus spread.
The AFL's Head of Women's Football Nicole Livingstone said it was crucial the League remained flexible to guarantee the season was completed.
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"The AFL continues to listen to and work closely with players, the AFLPA, and AFLW clubs, to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone in the game. This consultation is ongoing," Livingstone said on Tuesday.
"While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the community, the health and welfare of our players and the community remains the priority and we remain committed to delivering a season in a safe manner led by the advice of public health officials and medical experts."
It is understood the League has discussed the prospect of hubs or an extended period of time on the road to play multiple games – something Fremantle was prepared to do after round three. However, work and study commitments for players and extended staff members mean depleted team line-ups would make for an imbalanced competition.
"The AFL openly acknowledges there are unique challenges and recognises the non-football commitments of both AFLW players and staff and through this open dialogue we know the AFLW community remains determined to work through them to achieve a season and award a premier," Livingstone said.
"The AFL acknowledges and thanks the players and staff for their adaptability this season. AFLW players are part-time athletes with responsibilities outside of football – work, study, family life – and we commend our playing group for their understanding and patience this season."
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The integrity of a fair competition will also become crucial in building the next fixture block to ensure top teams aren't playing multiple games against lowly opposition.
The fixture rules set in place at the start of the 2021 NAB AFLW season will remain.
They state that clubs can only play a minimum of two and maximum of three teams from the top four and bottom four based off the 2020 ladder (from combined conferences) across the nine rounds.
Clubs can also only play a minimum of three and maximum of five teams from the middle band of six clubs based off the 2020 ladder.
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