The rankings agree – the new AFLW conferences are about as lop-sided as most people think they are.
This year, somewhat controversially, the AFL has split the AFLW teams into two conferences. Ostensibly this is because, following the introduction of two new teams, it is no longer the case that all of the teams will play each other during the course of the season (a decision that was itself controversial). Critics may of course note that all of the teams in the men’s AFL do not play each other the same amount of times, and conferences have not been introduced for that (yet).
Even before the season started some people noted that one conference – Conference A – looked to be stronger than the other. First, all of the odd-placed teams from last year (first, third, etc.) were placed in one conference, and all of the even-placed teams were placed in the other. Second, the stronger of the two new teams – North Melbourne/the Kangaroos – was placed in Conference A. Third, two of the Conference B teams – Brisbane, and particularly Collingwood – were significantly weakened by losing players to the Roos.
After the first two rounds, including the first round of ‘cross-conference’ matches, there is now a spate of commentary about how uneven the conferences appear to be. As noted in The Age:
“Melbourne sit bottom of Conference A with one win and a percentage of 119.1. The Brisbane Lions, with one win but a vastly inferior percentage of 73.4, are atop Conference B.”
And since the top two teams in each conference will play off in the finals:
“It doesn’t take too deep an inspection to see how this is an issue, with an increasing likelihood that mediocre Conference B teams will take finals spots ahead of better Conference A sides.”
Are the two conferences really as uneven as they seem?
It’s probably not just the fixture
Particularly early in the season, the fixture can somewhat mask the ‘true’ strength of teams. Results obviously in part depend upon who you play and where you play them.
It’s not hard to see that it’s probably not just the fixture causing the disparity so far though. Every team in Conference A is well ahead of every team in Conference B following the first round of ‘cross-conference’ matches, and home ground advantage seems unlikely to be large enough to explain the difference. The five Conference A teams beat the five Conference B teams by an average of 20 points on the weekend, and none won by less than 13 points.
The rankings put 46 per cent of their weight on the results of the most recent two matches. Accordingly, Conference A sides now occupy five of the top seven positions in the rankings. Further, the two Conference B sides in the top seven – Brisbane and Collingwood – who as mentioned above were weakened by player movements, are falling faster than anyone.
It may well be that a significant test of the relative strength of the conferences comes in the final cross-conference match of this weekend. If Melbourne, the last-placed team in Conference A, can win away against Brisbane, the first-placed team in Conference B, then the comments that the sixth and seventh ‘best’ teams could get into the finals may gain even more momentum.