THE Optus WAFL Women's competition has grown tremendously and in exciting fashion over the last two years, and now in 2021 it will be starting earlier to be more in line with the national AFLW competition.
The 2021 WAFLW season begins this weekend, six weeks before men's WAFL season gets underway, and it will open up avenues for AFLW players to come back to play but also for players to play in the local competition and push for higher honours.
That new approach will create another new sense of excitement around a competition that already has enjoyed tremendous growth over the past two seasons.
Last year despite the complications of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the inaugural five clubs of Subiaco, Swan Districts, East Fremantle, Claremont and Peel Thunder were joined by South Fremantle.
It turned out to be a tremendous season that culminated in the fairytale finish for Peel Thunder who rose from wooden spooners in that first season in 2019 to premiers in 2020 on a brilliant Grand Final day held at Joondalup's Provident Financial Oval.
Now the 2021 season is shaping as seeing the WAFLW competition go to another level again and it all gets underway this weekend.
The opening match is on Saturday February 20 when reigning premiers Peel Thunder take on East Fremantle at David Grays Arena. That will be a memorable occasion as they unfurl their premiership flag from 2020.
There will then be two matches on Sunday afternoon with South Fremantle hosting Subiaco and Swan Districts taking on Claremont.
One aspect of the 2021 season to keep an eye out for will be the opportunity for AFLW listed players to drop back to play in the WAFLW competition should they not be selected to play that given weekend with either the West Coast Eagles or Fremantle Dockers.
With the WAFLW season then running longer than the AFLW season, there will be the chance for some players to return to their home clubs to finish out the season too.
Not only that, but the benefit of having an earlier run WAFLW season will open up potential AFLW opportunities for the future for the players taking the field.
With the AFLW Combine and AFLW Draft being brought forward to July this year, the players will be able to push their case by playing in the WAFLW season to be then noticed and selected for future national league honours.
There is plenty to look forward to across all six clubs for this 2021 WAFLW season with Peel Thunder looking to defend their premiership, Subiaco trying to make up for being so close once again, Swan Districts out to get back into the mix, Claremont trying to leap up, East Fremantle to get back into the flag hunt and then South Fremantle to rapidly improve in their season.
After Abby Barnden and Krystal Carter led Peel to the premiership last year as co-captains, they will step back into roles as vice-captain in 2021 with Cassey Davidson appointed the sole captain at the Thunder.
It was the Peel playing group who voted to make Davidson captain for 2021 and she couldn’t be more proud to take on the role.
"To be voted in as captain of your club by your peers and then to get the tick of approval by your coaching staff is something that is very special to me and something that I'm obviously very proud of, but humble about too," Davidson said.
"I think aspirations for any club that's fortunate enough to have won a premiership is obviously to go back-to-back the following season, which isn’t an easy thing to do.
"Ultimately the goal for us would be to continue to play some really good footy and make it a consistent season, which will give us every chance to go all the way again."
Subiaco has been a force the past two WAFLW seasons finishing as minor premiers back in 2019 and then reaching the Grand Final last year, and now new coach Michael Farmer is hoping to take them one step further in 2021.
It was a tough initiation to the WAFLW competition in 2020 on limited preparation for South Fremantle, but by the end of the season the Bulldogs were starting to be much more competitive than they were at the start.
"Making the Grand Final last year under Amy Lavell, who did an amazing job, obviously hurt but it's a new year and season, and we will definitely be looking to go as far as we can in 2021," Farmer said.
"Kia Buckley and Abbey Dowrick are currently working through some injuries but should be pushing to play in the early rounds of the season while Lara Filocamo has progressed really well from her broken leg she sustained last year.
"Jayme Harken and Caitlin Walker have been outstanding since day one but I think Charlie Thomas will be the one to watch. At 17, she's a natural footballer who uses the ball extremely well and makes reliable decisions."
Their last game was a competitive showing against Subiaco and now ahead of her second season, new vice-captain Tahlia Holtze has high hopes for how much further the Bulldogs can improve in 2021.
"That last game was such a good confidence booster for us. We just wanted the season to keep going because we were improving each week, but now that the girls know what we are in for, we are all just working hard to be better and fitter, and get ourselves up to that standard," Holtze said.
"I think we all learned a lot from last year. It was definitely a step up but the girls are up for a challenge and the standard is so high. But even at training now, our levels have improved and things are more structured.
"It's been a step up from everyone, including the coaches, and we are all developing and learning, and working hard to get ourselves up to that standard of football. It is a massive challenge and the girls are so ready for it I reckon.
"Winning is No. 1 for any team but we are just looking to learn and develop in every game we play. We are now much better prepared for this season and everyone is gelling so well.
"We have 19 new players this year and that's massive, and each one of those girls has brought so much with different strengths. It's a good different to last year because we are growing as a group."