AFTER five seasons of the NAB AFLW competition, a nice little quirk has developed.
Not bound by historic men's rivalries, the women's teams have established their own teams they either love to hate, or just simply do not like one little bit.
Whether it's been built by finals, expansion, trade or just good, old-fashioned physical contests, what are some of the battles to watch for next season?
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ADELAIDE AND BRISBANE
This is the big one. Built more respect rather than any traitorous big moves, the pair have now played each other in two Grand Finals for one flag each. In home and away matches, the ledger stands at 3-1 in Brisbane's favour, but with margins of 12, 13, 12 and three points. Look for Erin Phillips to renew her battle with shutdown defender Breanna Koenen the next time these sides meet.
MELBOURNE AND WESTERN BULLDOGS
The original rivals, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs were the first two AFL clubs to fully embrace women's footy, holding a series of exhibition matches dating back to 2013. The clubs still play for the Hampson-Hardeman cup today, named after the two women (Barb Hampson and Lisa Hardeman) who created the first women's championships in 1998. The Bulldogs just hung on in their final round match against the Dees in 2018, qualifying for (and ultimately winning) the Grand Final.
COLLINGWOOD AND NORTH MELBOURNE
One to watch for the future, it's a pairing that is bubbling along nicely. Both play an attractive, attacking style of footy, and Collingwood has had North Melbourne's measure of late, beating the Roos in three matches (including a practice game) in 2021. The most recent battle between the pair saw North Melbourne concede three fourth-quarter goals to lose the qualifying final by six points. The match-up of Emma Kearney and Britt Bonnici is always entertaining, stemming back to their boundary line tussle when the former was a Bulldog.
FREMANTLE AND WEST COAST
Some things never change. While the established Fremantle has comfortably had the wood over relative newbie West Coast (in a reversal of the men's scenario), these two sides are fierce rivals. In a slight twist, many have state league teammates on the other team, leading to all sorts of interesting battles. The Dockers have enjoyed getting under the skin of former teammate and current Eagle Kellie Gibson, while West Coast also poached one of Fremantle's best players in Dana Hooker.
GOLD COAST AND BRISBANE
See above, re some things never changing. The Suns recruited heavily from the Lions for their inaugural season, with nine players making the switch (five remain). The very first battle between these two sides was a draw, but the 2021 edition saw eventual premier Brisbane demolish eventual wooden spooner Gold Coast. Look for the Suns to close the gap over their big sister and for Jamie Stanton to continue her battle against her former side.
NORTH MELBOURNE AND WESTERN BULLDOGS
A rivalry built on the back of trade, this one has a little spice. AFLW best and fairest Emma Kearney moved from the Dogs to the Roos just after winning a premiership, with Jenna Bruton and Daria Bannister also jumping ship. The latest saga saw a trade for Kim Rennie fall through, with the former Dogs ruck opting to turn down a contract and join the Roos via the NAB AFLW Draft.
OTHERS TO WATCH FOR
- St Kilda and Richmond. The two Victorian teams came into the competition at the same time and often use the other as a measuring stick. The Saints comprehensively thumped the Tigers in their one match, winning by 39 points.
- Geelong and Adelaide. These two have had a few odd results, with the Crows dismantling the Cats in a preliminary final, and later sneaking home courtesy of a deliberate rushed behind decision. Chloe Scheer's defection to the Cats will add some spice.
- Carlton and Collingwood. Having opened the season on three of five occasions, these two are used to spoiling the other's party. Brianna Davey has become the first person to captain both teams across both the AFL and AFLW.
- GWS and Brisbane. Bit more on the Giants' end than the Lions, having lost to the Queenslanders five times in five seasons. The nail in the coffin was a disappointing 40-point loss in round seven, 2018, which knocked GWS out of Grand Final contention.