It’s been a busy few days of announcements in Australia as the APL announce expansion for the W-League, and a joint men’s and women’s clubs championship table. If that’s not enough, the Matildas have just confirmed their first post-Olympics friendly and there’s yet more W-League signing news.
Just eight months after the APL confirmed their control of the A-League and W-League, and as part of a strategic expansion plan, APL have announced the planned addition of three teams – Wellington Phoenix, Central Coast Mariners and Western United FC – to the competition ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023.
The timetable for expansion will be finalised and announced in the coming weeks and will mean the W-League will provide more games and more opportunities for the nations’ elite female footballers, with the addition of the first new women’s teams since Melbourne City FC joined in 2015.
The W-League Finals Series will be expanded with the addition of a Preliminary Final – rewarding the teams that finish first and second on the league table with an extra chance to reach the Grand Final, as well as giving fans more drama-filled finals football.
A brand new ‘Club Championship’ has also been launched by APL – meaning that the club (not the team) with the most combined points at the end of the men’s and women’s seasons wins the Club Championship. The new trophy is designed to bring together fans of the men’s and women’s games, and ally the club teams in partnership.
Meanwhile, a long-term collective bargaining agreement is being finalised by APL and Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) to drive up standards across the game and provide for an immediate and significant investment by the clubs in their players.
Danny Townsend, MD of APL, said: “This is just the beginning of a sustained investment programme in women’s football – we announced unbundling just eight months ago, and are already bringing more games, more players, better broadcast, improved employment conditions and enhanced footballing pathways.
“We want to unleash football’s potential in Australia and this is a significant step forward in delivering the future that the game deserves.”
Kate Gill, Co-CEO of PFA was delighted about the changes: “The expansion of the competition is an important step forward and illustrates the confidence in the women’s game and the solid foundations that have been built.
“The players have been vocal advocates for the growth of the competition and positively APL’s women’s football strategy will not only provide additional employment opportunities and match minutes for our talented players but delivers a healthy boost to the W-League in the lead up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.”
Sarah Walsh, Head of Women’s Football, Football Australia, saw wider benefits as a result of the news: “Women and girls now have more choice than ever when it comes to selecting a sport to play in Australia. It’s imperative that Football continues to progress and evolve when it comes to providing greater access and opportunity for women and girls in football.
“With the W-League entering its 14th season and a commitment to broader expansion of the league, I am confident that we are taking the right steps forward as a game to ensure that football is the number one sport of choice for women and girls as we strive for 50:50 gender balance by 2027.”
“Football has always provided women in football with a clear and accessible pathway to play for the Commonwealth Bank Matildas and junior women’s national teams. W-League expansion not only broadens these existing pathway opportunities, it additionally strengthens our national team aspirations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023™ and beyond.”
Matildas Back In Action:
Australia will face the Republic of Ireland at Tallaght Stadium as they return to action following a history making campaign in Tokyo.
Set down for 22 September 2021, with a 7pm kick off in Dublin, the international friendly will be the first meeting between the two nations in a women’s international fixture.
Head Coach Tony Gustavsson conveyed his eagerness to re-unite the team following the conclusion of the Games.
“Like the rest of the country, I was proud of the way the team represented the nation in Japan,” said Gustavsson.
“The level of motivation and commitment displayed by the players over the campaign really excites me for what lies ahead, as we work towards the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023TM.
“Every time we play an international match, it is an opportunity for this team to reinforce our foundations and truly become one day better. We made a lot of positive strides in our last assembly, and I can’t wait to come together once again.
“The last couple of years have demonstrated the impressive growth of women’s football internationally and that every nation presents a different challenge that we can learn from. It’s vital that we continue to focus on our own progression as a team and every match is key to that mission.”
The Republic of Ireland will be Australia’s 12th international match this year, with opponents spanning four different FIFA confederations.
With a roster of high quality nations already secured for home matches, Football Australia is continuing detailed discussions with Federal and State Governments to complete the remainder of the Commonwealth Bank Matildas 2021 international fixtures on home soil for the first time in 18 months.
Melbourne City Announce Pollicina and Davidson:
Rhianna Pollicina has signed for Melbourne City ahead of the upcoming W-League season.
A former Young Matilda, Pollicina has made 16 W-League appearances. She played all but one game for the Newcastle Jets last season and scored twice on her way to being named the club’s Player of the Year.
The playmaking midfielder will add experience in the middle of the park and can also provide an attacking threat in the front third, adept at getting in behind defenders.
Speaking about his new signing, head Coach Rado Vidosic said: “We’re looking forward to welcoming Rhianna to the Club this season.
“She’s a competitive midfielder and strong with both feet. I expect her to fit well into our playing style and play an important role for us.”
Rhianna Pollicina was hugely excited about the move: “I’ve heard great things about City and how professional the environment is at the Club. It’s something that I’m really excited to be a part of.
“I’m looking forward to getting over to Melbourne and meeting all the girls. Hopefully I can score a few goals and excite the fans this season.”
The Sky Blues have also announced that they have re-signed Leah Davidson until the end of the 2022/23 season.
Davidson made the move from Brisbane Roar in 2020 and didn’t take long to make her mark in Melbourne.
The hard-working midfielder played all but four minutes of City’s 2020/21 season, and was one of the club’s most important players, showing great instincts and positioning throughout the campaign.
With 12 clearances and 16 interceptions – along with nine key passes – Davidson consistently made her presence felt all over the pitch.
Having made a strong impression on the coaching staff during her first season in City blue, she claimed the Coaches Award at the 2020/21 Player of the Year Awards.
The 20-year-old has amassed 23 W-League appearances already and having signed on for the next two seasons, City fans will no doubt be excited to see Davidson continue to develop and help the team move back up the W-League ladder.
Head Coach Rado Vidosic was pleased with Leah’s re-signing: “We’re very happy to have Leah return to the Club and sign on for the next two seasons.
“She had a strong first season with us and I’m looking forward to watching her continue to improve and refine her game.
“Leah will again be an important player for us this season and no doubt will be motivated to take her game to the next level.”
Leah Davidson revealed that she had no hesitation in signing again: “I don’t really see myself playing anywhere else and I can’t wait to play in front of our fans again.
“I loved my time at Melbourne City last season, so it was quite an easy decision to return and I’m just so excited to be a part of such an amazing Club for another two years.
“We’ll be striving for a better result than last season. I think that having that core group back means we will jell more on the pitch and I think that will reflect in our results.”
Hughes Extends Stay With Canberra United:
Canberra United announced the re-signing of Laura Hughes for the upcoming W-League season.
The fan favourite has committed to her fifth season in green, and is the third player to be announced for Canberra United.
In 2016, 15-year-old Hughes began her W-League career with Canberra, going on to be named the club’s University of Canberra Rising Star the following season.
After playing with Thróttur Reykjavík FC in Iceland during the W-League off season in 2020, Hughes returned to Australia’s capital with fire in her belly and more experience under her belt.
The midfielder made a huge opening statement in the first match of the 2020/21 season, scoring the match winner in extra time, much to the jubilation of her teammates and fans. From there, she continued her solid form, playing an influential role in every match.
Hughes then became a step closer to realising her dream of representing Australia, selected for a Matildas Talent Identification Camp in May.
“I’m so excited to be returning to Canberra United this season,” Hughes said.
“I love playing for my hometown and more importantly for a club that has nurtured and supported my football career from the start. I cannot wait to get preseason started and kick off the season with a bang!”
Head Coach Vicki Linton said she is “glad to re-sign Laura for another season for Canberra.”
“I look forward to seeing how she builds on that this season and will enjoy having the positive energy and exuberance that she brings to the group.”
Wanderers Add Hunt:
Western Sydney Wanderers FC have confirmed the signing of defender Clare Hunt for the upcoming W-League season.
Hunt returned to the W-League last season with Canberra United after a two-season lay-off due to injuries.
The 22-year-old had a breakout first two seasons with Canberra prior to that and comes to the Wanderers with a point to prove and stronger than ever.
The defender has 12 W-League matches to her name and will be looking to add on more in her first season at the Red & Black.
Head coach Catherine Cannuli welcomed Hunt to the club: “It is great to have Clare with us. It has been a very difficult couple of years for her career,” said Cannuli.
“It was fantastic to see Clare return to the pitch in the W-League last season and we are so excited to see her don the Red & Black hoops for the upcoming season.”
Hunt said she was ready to immerse herself in a positive and intense training environment at the Wanderers. “I am extremely excited to have my first season at the Western Sydney Wanderers.”
“I was drawn to the Wanderers knowing of the professionalism of the club and the dedication of coaching staff to offer strong support and resources.
“Being at the Wanderers this season will give me an opportunity to pursue work and study, while immersing myself in a positive and intense training environment.
“This season I want to develop as a footballer and take in as much of this experience as I possibly can. For me, this looks like consistency in performance and utilising the endless resources to develop myself and players around me.”
Norrie Returns To Brisbane:
Brisbane Roar have made midfielder Ayesha Norrie its ninth confirmed W-League squad member for the 2021/22 campaign.
The Queenslander returns to the Roar for a fifth season in orange, bringing almost 50 games worth of top-flight experience into Garrath McPherson’s side.
“I’m pretty stoked about it,” Norrie said. “It’s my hometown, so it’s good to get back to where it started. With the majority of Matildas away at the moment it’s going to be a different league, but I think that’s a positive thing as well. “For the young ones coming through and myself coming back, it will be a challenge to step up.”
Norrie made her original Roar debut as a 16-year-old in November 2013, playing alongside the likes of Clare Polkinghorne, Katrina Gorry, Tameka Yallop and Kim Carroll. She started for Brisbane in that season’s Grand Final and was also part of the team that won the Premiership in 2017/18.
“When I was younger, playing with those big names was definitely a highlight,” the former Young Matilda said, “It was a daunting time starting so young, but they took me under their wing and prepared me for the W-League.”
With six NPL Queensland goals for Gold Coast United this term, Roar Head Coach Garrath McPherson said Norrie had been a “standout performer” in the local competition.
“It’s wonderful to have Ayesha back in orange for the upcoming W-League season,” McPherson said. “Ayesha is a Queensland NTC graduate whose quality has been recognised by her involvement in junior and youth national team environments.
“She has a winning mentality that will allow her to compete against any opponent she comes up against and has shown all season an ability to score goals from midfield. Ayesha is another example of the pathway to the W-League that our state competition provides and I encourage the community to get along to an NPL Women’s game to see her in action.”