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  • Writer's pictureSavannah Miscik

Why You Should Watch the AFLW

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

Before you can learn why you should watch the AFLW, you have to know the sport it’s based on first. If you’re outside of Australia, you’ve probably never heard of it. Australian rules football, also known as Aussie rules or simply “footy,” is the most popular sport in Australia. It’s best explained to newcomers as a cross between rugby and soccer, although its rules are quite distinct from both. Since this article is about the women’s game, the following rules are the women’s edition, which are slightly different than the men’s.

The AFLW logo

For women’s footy, there are 16 players on the field in a 5-6-5 formation: five defenders, six midfielders, and five forwards. Five players comprise the bench. There are unlimited substitutions (called interchanges), meaning players can rotate in and out as much as needed. The game is played on a massive, oval-shaped field that’s much larger than an American football field or a soccer pitch.

There are four quarters of 15 minutes each, although extra time is typically added to quarters since the clock keeps running like in soccer games. There are six-minute breaks in between quarters and a 20-minute halftime.

The goal of the game is as follows: kick the ball through the opponent’s goal posts and get more total points than them by the final siren. There are three ways to get the ball down the field:

  1. Run with the ball, but you have to bounce it every 15 yards with your hands

  2. Using your fist to hit it ahead - called handball (not to be confused with soccer’s handball—this is totally legal)

  3. Kicking it

There are three sets of goalposts, as seen in this screencap from the AFLW 2022 Grand Final:

Kicking the ball through the center set of goalposts is called a goal and is worth six points. Kicking the ball through either set of side goalposts or hitting any goalpost is called a “behind” and is worth one point.

Tackling is allowed, much like rugby. Tackles must be between the shoulders and knees. Unlike rugby or soccer, however, there is no offsides rule. Players can catch the ball from any part of the field. Per the AFLW definition, if a player catches a ball from a “kick of 15 or more meters that hasn’t touched the ground or another player,” that is called a “mark.” If a team gets a mark, they can either keep going or stop play and get an unimpeded kick on goal.

Scores are reported as such: Goals.Behinds (Total Score). For example, the final scoreline would be 3.1 (19) if a team scored 19 total points by scoring three goals and one behind.

What Is the AFLW?

As the name suggests, the Women’s Australian Football League (known as the AFLW), is the national league for women’s Aussie rules. It is the most prevalent women’s footy league in the world, although the game is played in other countries such as Ireland and the United States as well. The AFLW was established in 2017 with eight teams, all-female counterparts to existing men’s teams. This upcoming season will mark the first time that all 18 men’s teams will have women’s teams competing in the AFLW. The teams are as follows:

  • Adelaide Crows

  • Brisbane Lions

  • Carlton (also known as the Blues)

  • Collingwood Magpies

  • Essendon Bombers*

  • Fremantle Dockers

  • Geelong Cats

  • Gold Coast Suns

  • Greater Western Sydney Giants

  • Hawthorn Hawks*

  • Melbourne Demons

  • North Melbourne Kangaroos

  • Port Adelaide Power*

  • Richmond Tigers

  • St Kilda Saints

  • Sydney Swans

  • West Coast Eagles*

  • Western Bulldogs

*= inaugural season in August 2022

There is a playoff tournament to determine who wins the league every season. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs, which are in a knockout format. The last two teams remaining play in the Grand Final (championship game) for the Premiership (championship.) The reigning Premiers are the Adelaide Crows, who have won it three times in total. The Brisbane Lions and Western Bulldogs have also won the Premiership one time each.

AFLW players are primarily from Australia, but players have come from New Zealand, Ireland, the United States, and Canada too. Americans should note that the first (and only) American to ever play in the AFLW, Danielle Marshall, will play for new team Essendon this upcoming season.

Players to Watch

As with any league, there are legends, rising stars, and underrated favorites in the AFLW. Here are three players to watch:

Erin Phillips

Erin Phillips at Alberton Oval wearing her new Port Adelaide colors. Photo: Brant Cumming/ABC News

Erin Phillips is probably the most ubiquitous AFLW player. She won three Premierships with the Adelaide Crows, winning the Best and Fairest medal (the most prestigious AFLW award) twice. This offseason, she decided to join Adelaide’s neighboring rival team Port Adelaide for their inaugural season. She was a captain at Adelaide since its first season and will be the first captain at Port. Phillips also played elite-level basketball until 2018, earning a silver medal with Australia at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and winning two WNBA titles, one with the Indiana Fever in 2012 and the other with Phoenix Mercury in 2014. She’s deserving of her own article entirely, but perhaps this taste will make you understand how much of a legend she is.

Ashleigh Woodland

Ashleigh Woodland, left, tries to get past Brid Stack, right, at the Manuka Oval on February 19, 2022. Photo: AFL Photos

Woodland was the AFLW’s leading goalkicker last season with the Adelaide Crows. Before that, however, she was a relatively unknown player, having been signed as an undrafted free agent with Melbourne in 2019. She didn't play in 2020 at all. She was picked up by Adelaide in 2021 and had a stellar season in 2022. Woodland looks to continue to be a key offensive weapon for the defending Premiers Adelaide this season, especially with Phillips gone.

Emily Bates

Emily Bates prepares to kick. Photo: Brisbane Lions

Bates, who plays for the Brisbane Lions, was voted the Best and Fairest of last season despite their defeat in the semifinals. She is also the second player to ever win all three major awards (Best and Fairest, Coaches’ Association Player of the Year, and Players’ Association MVP) in a single season. Phillips is the only other player to accomplish this feat. A leader from the midfield, Bates’ quiet persistence has blossomed into a new star. Look to her to continue driving her team’s offense and score some goals herself.

Why You Should Watch

You, dear reader, clicked on this article to be convinced to start watching (or at least following) the AFLW. Now that you’re familiar with the league and the sport itself, let’s get to the fun part: what makes it great.

Aussie rules football is incredibly exciting to watch. Much like soccer, hockey, or basketball, the action is almost non-stop. Insane kicks, dramatic tackles, and impossible catches are guaranteed every match. Also, players are allowed to use each other as springboards to catch high balls, which is as thrilling and acrobatic as it seems. Here’s some highlights from one of the playoff games from last season so you can see how dynamic the game is for yourself:

There’s something extremely sincere about the AFLW. It’s a semi-professional league, so the players are truly there out of passion and love of the game. In addition, Australian rules football is a family affair. Many former AFL players are now cheering on their daughters in the AFLW. The most heartwarming example of this is former Port Adelaide captain Greg Phillips finding out his daughter Erin Phillips will be the first ever captain for Port’s women’s team. Please enjoy the wholesome content:

My personal favorite part about Aussie rules culture is the team theme songs. Every team has a song that is written exclusively for them that is played after a win. Many times the players sing it after a win too! It’s impossible not to smile when listening to these songs. Some of my favorites (warning: these will get stuck in your head):

Americans will notice many team theme songs borrow American traditional melodies, such as “Yankee Doodle” (Hawthorn) and “You’re a Grand Old Flag” (Melbourne.) There are no clear reasons why multiple teams use American melodies, other than it being a charming quirk of a very Australian league. As an American, however, it is a delight to hear something familiar in such a different context.

Furthermore, watching the AFLW is getting a window into true Australian culture. Australia is a sporting nation at its core. Many men’s footy fans are supportive of their AFLW teams because to them, football is football. It doesn’t matter who plays it, as long as they play for the flag of their favorite team. Of course there are people who try to claim that nobody cares enough to come to the games. These people are wrong. Hawthorn’s first AFLW game against Essendon on August 27 is such a hot ticket that it had to be moved to a larger stadium… and then promptly sold out again.

Much like many other women’s sports around the world at the moment, the AFLW could be on the precipice of something great. Now that all 18 men’s teams have AFLW counterparts, many fans will experience the league for the first time. The games are quite accessible at $10 a ticket for adults and free for anyone under 18 years old, which should be a draw for those new fans to keep coming back. In addition to the new teams, a new documentary about the AFLW is set to stream on Australian Disney+ ahead of the upcoming season. This level of exposure will drive even more interest. The quality of game product is stellar, it just needs more people to see it. This season may be the breakthrough.

For non-Aussie viewers, the best way to access live games is to get an international membership with a team, which gives you access to Watch AFL, the international AFL/AFLW streaming service. Even if you can’t stay up late or wake up early to watch the games, the highlights on each team’s social media channels are a great way to stay up to date on all things AFLW.

Australian rules football (and by extension the AFLW) is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Get ahead of the rest of the world and become a fan now so you can enjoy the season to the fullest.


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