Essendon, Port Adelaide, Hawthorn and Sydney will all enter the AFLW competition for the 2022/23 season. (Photo: AFL Photos/Supplied)

All four clubs who submitted an application for AFLW expansion - Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide, Sydney - will all compete in an 18-team 2022/23 season.

AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan today announced the landmark final expansion of the AFL Women’s competition.

All 18 teams will compete for premierships points in the 2022/23 season. The final four clubs left to join – Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney – all had their bids approved.

It was announced in May that the league would be taking applications from the four clubs for the 2022/23 season, with aims to have all four competing by 2023/24. This came alongside the announcement of the season beginning in December, to allow for more games played and less overlap with the men’s competition.

Essendon and Hawthorn have both competed in the VFL Women’s competition since 2018 and 2017 respectively. The Hawks took home the flag in 2019, while the Bombers reached the preliminary final this year.

Both clubs have had a plethora of players drafted through both their VFLW and NAB League pathways. The Bombers have a strong alignment with the Calder Cannons and Bendigo Pioneers, as do the Hawks with the Eastern Ranges.

Sydney and Port Adelaide, meanwhile, have both committed strongly to academies to grow female talent in their respective states.

The Swans Academy grew to include female footballers in 2018, and for the first time this year, includes programs for 16 to 19-year-olds. GWS selected Jessica Doyle in this year’s draft, a member of the Academy.

Port Adelaide, similarly, had four players selected who had come through its Academy pathway in the 2020 draft.

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McLachlan spoke on the decision at a press conference today.

“To accelerate the growth of the NAB AFLW Competition and to allow for greater opportunities for AFLW players, it is paramount that we engage all 18 AFL clubs and their supporter bases,” McLachlan said.

“The decision to expand the competition again, after the AFLW was expanded from eight teams to 10 teams in 2019 and then to 14 teams in 2020, comes as the number of women and girls playing football has grown to more than 600,000 nationally.

“With an additional four clubs entering the NAB AFL Women’s Competition in Season Seven, we will grow to 540 AFLW players across all 18 clubs, the largest employer of female athletes in the country, presenting further opportunities for women and girls involved in women’s football pathways, from NAB AFL Auskick to the elite competition.

“It has been often said that clubs haven’t felt whole if they didn’t have an AFLW team, and I am proud to say that the NAB AFL Women’s Competition will now be complete with the addition of the new four clubs.

“The entry into the competition is based on the clubs delivering on the key criteria within their submission, especially across resourcing, facilities, corporate support and investment into their AFLW program.”

Port Adelaide NGA products selected in AFLW draft.
Port Adelaide’s Next Generation Women’s Academy. (Photo: Port Adelaide FC)

General Manager of Women’s Football, Nicole Livingstone wasn’t present at the press conference, still in quarantine on return from Tokyo 2020. She further commented on the reasoning behind the decision.

“Our primary objective is to provide women and girls with an equal opportunity to play elite Australian Football and to increase the female participation and interest in our game,” Livingstone said.

“Through the growth of the NAB AFL Women’s Competition over the past five years, we have seen more women and girls picking up a footy across all levels of our game, and we can’t wait to build on that momentum with a new cohort of AFLW fans in Season Seven.

“As we welcome four new clubs to the Competition, we will continue to work with the AFLW players, the AFLPA and the clubs over the coming years to make AFLW the sport of choice for women and create legitimate career opportunities for women within our game.”

More to come.

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