Finals system is hampering AFLW's credibility

Picture: Wayne Ludbey
Picture: Wayne Ludbey

IF the AFL's women's competition wants to grow its supporter base and widen its appeal, it must have the top four teams playing finals.

Unfortunately, AFLW's conference system means potentially two of the best-ranked teams in the 10-side competition will be relegated to the sidelines.

This could have a dire impact on crowds and TV ratings as the competition, in just its third season, has its critics.

The best way to turn those naysayers into followers is by showcasing the best talent - skill, footy nous and awareness - in the finals. Some of those traits are lacking in the struggling teams.

To be honest, it can make for hard viewing. This was to be expected given the expansion plan was implemented quickly and dialuted the talent pool.

In time, with the development of draftees in the state junior pathway programs, such as the popular NAB League, this will even up. The teenagers coming into the AFLW system - think Geelong's Nina Morrison, Fremantle's Sabreena Duffy and Carlton's Maddy Prespakis - have had access to high-end training from a young age and have stepped in seamlessly. They're taking the competition to a new level.

Some of the older players might be new to the sport or had extended breaks from football and therefore missed out on those opportunities. At present, this means the gap in skill is evident.

There is a gap when it comes to teams too - like any sport - and the ladder is evidence of this. Unfortunately the pool system means the best teams might miss out on finals.

At present four sides in conference A - Adelaide (16 points, 178 per cent), North Melbourne (16, 138), Fremantle (16, 118) and Melbourne (12, 160) - have better records than the top-two in conference B.

New side Geelong tops conference B with 12 points and 90 per cent. Carlton sits second with a lacklustre eight points and 89 per cent. This is not what AFLW envisaged when it adopted the pool system after the introduction of two new teams in the offseason.

But it now faces the task of promoting preliminary finals which, on paper, will be lopsided. The top side plays the second side in each pool, meaning the two stronger teams from conference A could yet still meet in the grand final.

This would be the desired result for the betterment of the league long term as it could help recruit new fans and keep them for life. But AFLW needs a system that ensures the best teams play finals to ensure the code's credibility.

Justine McCullagh-Beasy is an ACM journalist.