Why W-League is on 10-year high

IT’S a season of firsts and a season of change – the W-League kicks off tonight with more focus than ever, and with a Sydney derby that promises to set the tone.

For the first time every game will be screened live, and the league has its first marquee player in Sam Kerr. With a women’s World Cup just months away, it’s a season that matters.

“It’s huge, isn’t it?” said Sydney FC coach Ante Juric ahead of side’s opening outing against the Wanderers (and against a number of ex-Sydney players with something to prove).

“The Matildas’ success has given us a lot of attention, and we have some of the best players in the world coming here, Australian and overseas – it’s no wonder we have more media interest than ever.”

Leena Khamis of the Wanderers with Chloe Logarzo of Sydney FC will take part in the opening match of the W-League season. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images for The Star)Source:Getty Images

Amid significant turnover on just about every roster, no one dares to predict the winner. “It’s chalk and cheese from season one,” said Wanderers striker Leena Kharis. “I’ve been in every W-League season so far and it just keeps growing and getting better and better.

“I look at the teams now and you can’t pick a top four. I can’t even pick a winner each week.”

Kerr’s return to Perth, on a contract part funded by Football Federation Australia’s marquee fund, brings home Australian football’s biggest star, but she’s hardly alone, with just about all of the Matildas squad preparing for battle on home soil.

That’s one of the reasons that Matildas coach Alen Stajcic – who watches games globally to keep up with his players – believes it to be among the top two or three leagues in the world.

Sam Kerr has returned to Perth on contract partly funded by the FFA. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)Source:AAP

“There’s no doubt about that, and it’s why we attract so many good players,” he said. “It’s not just the quality but the depth too, it matches almost any women’s league anywhere.

“In 10 years we’ve come a very long way, starting with one free-to-air game then two, and now every game covered live. Overall perceptions of the league have changed enormously.”

In some ways the league is stepping out into uncharted territory thanks to the new broadcast arrangements, with a standalone game every Thursday night – traditionally a hard sell for any competition.

But as the new season kicks off exactly 10 years to the day from the inaugural game, it shows a certain self confidence that the W-League is prepared to take steps towards further growth that everyone knows are necessary but potentially could prove challenging.

The issue for coaches is the fly-in, fly-out nature of the women’s club calendar, as players move from league to league as the year goes on.

Sydney’s Lisa De Vanna is one of the stars of the W-League. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images

“It’s a nightmare for preparation, when three or four key foreigners come in two or three weeks before the season starts, and others coming from the NPL aren’t fit enough,” said Juric.

“But these aren’t excuses and as a league we’re making small steps.”

Stajcic agrees, noting that women’s football “is still a different vehicle in that respect. The big question for the W-League down the track is whether we want to be a standalone, longer competition and rely on domestic players.

“If we overlapped would the foreigners still come? Would we be the league of choice? It’s a great debate to have.”

In the short term the big questions are of a footballing nature, for a year that Fox Sports commentator Stephanie Brantz calls “the tightest year yet”, adding: “I’m fascinated to see how Western Sydney go, after a huge recruitment drive, and also how Melbourne City cope without (US star) Jess Fishlock.

“Melbourne Victory have recruited well too under Jeff Hopkins – it really is the hardest season to pick.”

Emily Gielnik will turn out for the Melbourne Victory this year. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images

Brantz nominates Victory signing Emily Gielnik as one to watch – “she tended to be used as a supersub at Brisbane, but her fitness could be a key weapon for Victory.

“Lisa De Vanna and Sam Kerr remain standouts, but I’m excited to see Denise O’Sullivan, the Irish international on a guest deal at Canberra – she was voted North Carolina Courage’s most valuable player after they won the NSWL.”

Stajcic is far too politically savvy to nominate a winner, but with the World Cup just months away, is viewing the competition as one giant audition.

“The W-League is important enough in its own right, but I think I’ve proved by now that players will be picked for the national team on form,” he said.

“There are definitely spots up for grabs for the World Cup and players will have to be at their best to impress. That’s why it’s such a tight and tough competition this year.”

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Originally published as Why W-League is on 10-year high

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