The AFL National Women’s League – What Do (And Don’t) We Know


After the announcement of the creation of a national women’s Australian Rules competition, HPN thought we’d look at the known knowns and the known unknowns of the new competition.


The Teams

On Wednesday 15 June 2016, the eight teams of the inaugural season were announced. They are, along with their areas of draft catchment:

  • Carlton (VIC)
  • Collingwood (VIC)
  • Melbourne (VIC)
  • Western Bulldogs (VIC)
  • Fremantle (WA)
  • Brisbane (QLD)
  • Adelaide (SA/NT)

The Number Of Players

Each team will have 25 players on their initial lists, recruited through a variety of mechanisms. That means 200 players will get an opportunity to play in the first competition. Given that a full team is 22 players (18 onfield plus interchanges), we assume there’ll be provision to supplement these lists if a spate of injuries occur.

The Length Of The Season

The AFL have stated that there will be six home and away rounds, followed by finals. They have also stated that the competition will run in February and March, and have suggested it will start after the Australian Open. With that in mind, it would suggest that a straight knockout, two-week finals is likely on the cards as compared to a standard McIntyre Final Four (with a double chance for 1 and 2) that would go for three weeks. This would place the Grand Final in the opening week of the men’s AFL season.

The Top Salaries

Various media reports have stated the marquee players of the new competition will be paid $25,000 for the two month season and whatever preseason they also do. Various reports have also stated that the next tier of players will earn around $10,000, descending in contract value along with draft order per state.

The Recruitment Methods

The AFL previously outlined three different methods of recruitment for the inaugural season:

  • Two undrafted marquee players;
  • 20 players drafted from state drafts; and
  • Three undrafted free agents (players not drafted, players not registered with state competitions such as those from other sports)

Whilst it was initially said that there would be two marquee players per side, there has been further information that certain teams in “development” areas may be able to sign extra marquee players. Recent articles also no longer mention the pre-signed non-marquee players. We’d suggest the listing of non-drafted players is yet to be finalised – what we know currently is that each club is sending lists to the AFL of five preferred marquee signings.

State-based drafts will take place in October and indications are that women can nominate for specific states or for anywhere they’re willing to move and play. This is certainly the case for Tasmanians, with the AFL planning to fund the costs of flights and accommodation for Tasmanians to nominate for whichever draft they’d like. This is a change from the previous plan of assigning Tasmanians to GWS.

The initial reporting has suggested that each team would receive five pre-listed players, and would need to fill the remaining 17 list spots via a state based draft, however this has been walked back in previous days.

There also appears to be a strong interest from players outside of the current competitions joining the NWL, with Melbourne City keeper Brianna Davey already linked to the Dogs. This would allow for extra financial opportunities for talented female athletes in Australia.

Finally, there seems to be a provision for Father/Daughter recruiting, in a manner yet to be determined (will there be point matching on draft picks? PLEASE LET THERE BE BIDDING!). The requirements for Father/Daughter is for the father to have played one game at AFL level at the affiliated club at this early stage.

Team Budgets

It has previously been announced that the AFL will contribute $500,000 to each of the eight teams in the first competition; however at the launch the AFL indicated that they would cover all costs of the new competition. It is unknown at this stage whether these payments will be ongoing or not, nor what extra resources clubs may themselves pour in.

The Rules

The AFL announced on the 15th of June that they competition would be “full AFL rules”. However, they hedged this by saying “We’re not going to make any changes that are not well thought out.”

Known Unknowns

Name of the Competition

While no official name has been announced, a number of clubs are running with National Women’s League (NWL) so for simplicity we’ll do likewise. Given that WAFL is taken and AWFL is not a great acronym there aren’t too many decent naming options.

The Salary Cap

We’ve seen mention but no confirmation of a salary cap of around $300,000, nothing firm has been announced. HPN has calculated a scenario for salary caps based on information already in the public domain.

Salary Cap:

Marquee players (2 at $25,000): $50,000

Free agents and drafted players (23 at ave of $10,000): $230,000

Total cap: $280,000

Potential movement of interstate players

The chance to earn $25,000 over two to three months, for some women with no previous opportunities to make a living wage through sport, is an amount that may be able to lure players from the strongest states to less established states and teams. We expect the AFL to proactively encourage the use of marquees and pre-lists to bolster the teams from weaker women’s football states.

A state-based draft will be used to make up about two-thirds of each team. This will render most teams a de facto state squad, or for the Victorian teams a partial state team. Given that most of the women will be paid a significantly lower amount (i.e., up to $10,000 per season) the potential for non-marquee relocation is unknown but seems limited. It’s worth noting that male AFL players have commuted to interstate teams in the past, and some clubs have reserves players train with their affiliated team for most of the week when not selected in the main squad. There may be the potential for FIFO players, working their standard job for most of the week while training and playing in a condensed week.

The fragmentation of an uneven talent base by state could become a competitive balance issue, one that would only be solved by offering sufficient pay to make a national draft worthwhile to these players, who of course have jobs to hold and families to support.


It has been mooted that both Seven and Fox Footy have shown interest in showing NWL games, and there has been some mention of radio coverage. In what form and frequency all of this takes is as of yet unknown.

The Grounds

It hasn’t been declared where the games will be played. Various clubs have announced some information about where they intend to play home games, and other grounds will be unavailable during the proposed time of the season (due to cricket). There’s also the possibility that double headers with the men’s pre-season games are arranged, especially in metropolitan areas.

These are HPN’s best estimates as to ground usage:

  • GWS: Sydney Showgrounds/Blacktown International Sports Park/Manuka (at least 1 game)
  • Adelaide: Marrara Oval (at least 1 game), various SANFL grounds
  • Fremantle: Planning to play at Cockburn HQ and Curtin University for one game each. Also scope for Subiaco Oval and Fremantle Oval.
  • Carlton: Visy Oval/Docklands/Punt Road
  • Collingwood: Victoria Park/Docklands/Punt Road
  • Melbourne: Docklands/Punt Road
  • Western Bulldogs: Whitten Oval/Docklands
  • Brisbane: Coorparoo/Gabba/Aspley/Moreton Bay

Punt Road hosted the state game between NSW and Victoria this year, and doesn’t have a cricket pitch any more. Etihad hosts T20 games until late January but we assume the AFL has priority access.

Adelaide will not have Adelaide Oval and split games between Darwin and Adelaide. It could use any number of SANFL grounds– the relatively central ovals of Sturt and Norwood have been used for preseason games and would seem to be ideal.

The Sydney Showgrounds hosts the Sydney Thunder in the BBL but there surely won’t be any issues with the senior tenant GWS hosting games there. If there’s a turnaround with the pitch (or preparations for an early Easter Show) then both Manuka and Blacktown are available for GWS along with a number of smaller inner city suburban ovals.

The Lions traditionally struggle to find preseason venues in metropolitan Brisbane and it will be interesting to see if they can resolve this for the NWL.

How will the teams go?

The two biggest determinants of club performance will likely be their marquee signings and the underlying strength of each player pool that is available to clubs through state-based drafts. We’ll have some early thoughts on power rankings in the near future.

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