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AFLW players excited for 18-team era

AFLW stars are hoping the first season as an 18-team competition will solidify the push to become fully professional.

The seventh edition of AFLW will kick-off this week, just 138 days after Adelaide defeated Melbourne in last season’s grand final to claim their third premiership.

The shift from the heat of a summer competition to an August start means it is a quick turnaround, with expansion clubs scrambling to be ready.

Port Adelaide, Essendon, Hawthorn and the Sydney Swans finally have women’s teams, with the AFLW having increased from eight to all 18 clubs since 2017.

“I always thought that a competition like this should exist and would one day exist,” Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce told AAP at the AFLW captain’s day.

“Before (the AFL) made that announcement way back (in 2016) that we were going to get 2017 off the ground, I didn’t imagine it would be in my playing career.

“So to see it go from eight to 18 teams so quickly is pretty amazing and I’ve loved to see the appetite from all the clubs that didn’t have a licence (in 2017) to try and get in now, it’s been pretty satisfying to watch.”

Fellow AFLW icon Erin Phillips, who shifted from Adelaide to her spiritual home of Port Adelaide in the off-season, has been blown away by the transformation of the league.

“It’s a real pinch yourself moment just looking around and seeing 17 other strong, powerful athletes representing their clubs in the AFLW,” Phillips told AAP.

Pearce, who remains arguably the AFLW’s most famous face after being an inaugural marquee signing in 2017, is clear on what she wants to see happen next.

“I think more games is a big one so you can have a more even fixture,” Pearce said.

“I think to get to the point where there’s more games, you play every team once and have a really fair, legitimate competition.

“We’re also going to be playing footy at a time where there isn’t another comp going on, which is fine if you’re playing in the AFLW, but if you’re not you’re not getting to play and improve.”

Despite the addition of four teams, there will be just 10 home-and-away rounds with a top-eight system in place for finals.

Phillips, who at age 37 remains the AFLW’s most dangerous and damaging player, has moved on from three-time premiers Adelaide in a massive blow for the Crows.

Despite losing the league’s most decorated player, Adelaide will remain in serious premiership contention after hanging onto fellow stars Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff.

After reaching the grand final for the first time last season, Melbourne enter this year’s campaign as favourites after being tipped by eight of the 18 captains to qualify for their second decider of 2022.

Fellow inaugural AFLW club Brisbane escaped the clutches of expansion rivals, keeping league best-and-fairest winner Emily Bates amid strong interest from Hawthorn.

The Lions fell to Melbourne in last season’s preliminary final after breaking through for their first premiership in 2021.

Rivals Carlton and Collingwood get the season underway at the revamped Ikon Park on Thursday night.

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