Caveats Aplenty – The AFLW Priority Signing Period

We have ourselves a bit of an interesting spot in the AFLW realms as the men’s season begins its road to round one.

It was revealed by the competition on Monday about the plans for player movement ahead of the new season, including something called the Priority Signing Period – which will happen before the more traditional Sign and Trade period.

The Priority Signing Period officially starts on the 1st of March and goes for a week, ending on the 8th of March. This is followed by the sign and trade period, which goes for 10 days – from the 10th March to the 20th.

There are some complexities behind the Priority Signing Period, but my first reaction to this is that this is proof that Nicole Livingstone and the AFL got the expansion horribly wrong. Because all this does is favour all four of the newly brought in expansion sides – all of them will be allowed to sign players from other clubs.
These players must have played three or more seasons in the AFLW. Meaning players like Georgie Prespakis or Charlie Rowbottom – who have played two seasons – cannot be poached, or players like Montana Ham, Ella Roberts or Hannah Ewings cannot be poached, either. Only protecting the teenagers who made their debut across either season of 2022.

Three of these four sides finished inside the bottom four and won four games between them. Meanwhile, Essendon, who finished 10th and with four wins for the season are also getting a handout by the league.

However, the number of players they’re allowed to sign varies on their finishing position.

Sydney – in addition to being granted two additional list spots for season eight – will be allowed to sign up to five players. They went through season seven winless and finished up as wooden spooners.

Port Adelaide and Hawthorn will both be allowed to sign up to three players for the new season. The Power however will be granted two additional list spots, after finishing the year just above the Swans – with one win from 10 games; ironically it was against Sydney.

Essendon will be allowed to sign two players, despite having a list that is far more advanced than that of any of the other three expansion sides.

However, there are caveats for these clubs that go out and sign players. This Priority Signing Period is also designed to target the bigger clubs. Those that finished in the final four can lose up to five players. Meaning that Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne will most likely be the ones worst hit. North Melbourne, who finished eighth in the home and away season, will also lose five players.

Clubs that were knocked out of the semi finals and the elimination finals – Collingwood, Geelong, Richmond and Western Bulldogs – can lose no more than two players.

Given that the Pies and the Bulldogs have been historically bashed by expansion over the years, it’s no certainty that they’ll get off scot-free. Collingwood already have been in the news – with Chloe Molloy set to be picked up by the Swans, as well as Jaimee Lambert and their captain Steph Chiocci both being linked to a move to the Saints – they’re already on the verge of getting smacked by the off-season again.

Meanwhile, clubs who finished outside the eight (excluding the expansion clubs, of course) can lose just one player.

Thought that was it? No – there are more caveats.

Port Adelaide are allowed to sign one underage player during the Priority Supplemental Period. Initially, this was seen as something for the Power to lure over wonderkid Lauren Young or even a player like Shineah Goody – both of which will be eligible to be drafted in 2023.
Both would be elite pick ups for the Power and would dominate in the long-term. Before sustaining a knee injury that forced her to miss all of 2022, Young was a force to be reckoned with as a 15-year old representing South Australia in the under-18s carnival against girls older than her. Top that off with an MVP for South Australia and a spot in the All-Australian side, you can immediately tell that this kid is going to go places.

She made her return to the game on the weekend in the SANFLW and featured with 1.3 from 15 disposals and seven marks.

Goody is no slouch either, averaging over 20 disposals and five marks per game for Woodville-West Torrens in the SANFLW last season, and was solid in her first game of the season, with 18 disposals, six tackles and four inside 50s.

However, the AFL have clarified these rules for Port, stating that they can only select an underage player who must have turned 18 on or before April 30, as well as having finished school.

…Well, it doesn’t leave them with many options, does it? Young and Goody don’t turn 18 until further into the year.

So what’s the point of this rule then? Only two players from South Australia’s under 18 side fall into the age eligibility bracket – that being Matilda Scholz – who will most likely be taken up as ruck depth, given Port don’t have much of that – and Lily Whitcombe, who didn’t average many disposals in either the under-18 championships or the SANFLW league last year.

The Swans can offer longer-term contracts to players. For two players only, they can offer an additional two seasons more than that which is allowed in season eight and can offer longer-term contracts with an additional one season more than allowed in season eight.

Might explain why Molloy, who has preached loyalty to her club over the past few seasons, has decided to pack her bags and head up to Sydney. That’s not me giving her a whack on the way out. In truth, I don’t blame her – she’s just signed a five-year contract!

In the AFLW there are still just one and two season-long contracts and if we’re attempting to attract the casuals with this kind of nonsense like the Priority Signing Period, then who are we kidding trying to get the competition to move forward?

No wonder fans of the game are disengaging with it. Fans of sides like West Coast and St Kilda, who have struggled since their introduction into the league, have every right to be disheartened by this development.

GWS fans, who have struggled to access quality talent the way Sydney have managed to poach Molloy, have every right to feel disgruntled about how the league has basically treated them as a second thought. In a state where women’s football is scarce in comparison to the states surrounding, the Giants would’ve loved some extra handouts in the earlier seasons.

It truly is a frustrating time to be a fan of the AFLW right now. As the saying goes; the fish rots from the head and the league needs someone who will actually treat this competition with a bit of respect.

Because right now, Nicole Livingstone does not seem to have respect for this competition.


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