Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs – they were the very first two AFL women’s teams, playing biannual exhibition matches from 2013 to 2016. Those matches were effectively women’s ‘All‑Star’ games, and featured many of today’s best AFL Women’s players, including Daisy Pearce, Ellie Blackburn, Darcy Vescio, and Chelsea Randall.
The 2016 clash in particular drew a lot of national attention – along with high ratings – ahead of the inaugural AFL Women’s season last year. Perhaps in part due to the memory of that moment Melbourne and the Bulldogs were two of the most-fancied teams going into the 2017 season, even though many of the players who pulled on their colours for that match were going to be spread out across the eight AFL Women’s teams.
Well it took a season, but maybe Melbourne and the Bulldogs are once again the leaders of the pack. The Demons had a very strong five-goal win on the weekend against last year’s premiers the Adelaide Crows (more on them in a moment). And the Dogs accounted for the other of the grand finalists, the Brisbane Lions, with an impressive nine-point win up in Queensland. The Demons and Dogs are both undefeated after two matches, as is Carlton, but the Blues have had only small wins so far against lower-ranked sides.
Meanwhile 2017’s two best sides seem to have taken a step back, particularly the Crows. Adelaide has been savaged by the injury to co-captain Erin Phillips, who last year had possibly the most dominant AFL season ever, albeit in a season that lasted eight weeks. Phillips’ two-week absence, and the lack of output from last year’s star forward Sarah Perkins (11 goals in 2017, none so far this year), are some of the main reasons that – in a competition of only seven weeks and one final – the Crows’ chances of defending their title are already close to zero.