Ben Gilby focuses in on the new W League season ahead of kick-off on 30th December with a team by team preview. The new season will be harder to predict with so many new and young players in the competition. One thing is sure – it’s going to be a thrilling ride.
Here’s our team by team guide to the new campaign:
Adelaide United: The South Australian side had a frustrating time of it last season with only two wins from their twelve games – however, they developed a reputation as a tough nut to crack, only conceding twenty-four goals.
This season, they have a new head coach with Adrian Stenta taking over from Ivan Karlovic and nine players renewing their contracts, including 20 year-old striker Chelsie Dawber who was named the Westfield W League Rising Star last season. United have brought in two new goalkeepers, Sian Fryer-McLaren and Annalee Grove. We predict a better time of it for Adelaide this season and would not be surprised if they at least double their win rate for this campaign.
Brisbane Roar: The Queenslanders were disappointed to miss out on the finals (the play-offs for the title among the top four) last season and have assembled a star-studded squad for 2020/21 which is a major signal of intent.
Matildas stars Emily Gielnik, Tameka Yallop, Katrina Gorry and Clare Polkinghorne are back in orange with another high profile new signing in W League legend Kim Carroll. Another notable arrival is Young Matildas goalkeeper Morgan Aquino who made her competition debut for Perth Glory last season at the age of 18. Among their list of departed players is Indiah-Paige Riley, a W League Young Player of the Year nominee for 2019/20. The hugely talented 18 year-old has moved to Danish side Fortuna Hjorring.
We believe that the Roar are certs for a place in the top four and from there will be serious contenders to win the 2021 Grand Final.
Canberra United: The league’s sole stand-alone club were in with a chance of a top four finish last season for much of 2019/20 before finishing sixth. The Greens have put together a fascinating looking squad for this season.
The headline arrival is the return of club legend and sixty-one cap Matildas star Michelle Heyman who is the W League’s second highest all-time scorer behind Sam Kerr. At the age of 32, Heyman still retains a huge desire for the club in what will be her ninth season in the capital city. Since last appearing in Canberra in 2018, Heyman has played for Brondby IF in Denmark and Western New York Flash.
Another notable signing is New Zealand international Paige Satchell. The 22 year-old played in the 2019 World Cup for the Football Ferns and has come in from the German Bundesliga side SC Sand.
On the other side of the ledger, United have lost the experience of Karly Roestbakken who spent four years in the capital. The six cap Matilda is now at LSK Kvinner in Norway.
We expect that Canberra will be within the top six this season.
Melbourne City: The reigning champions were decimated in the close season with the vast majority of their Matildas moving to Europe, specifically England. However, a recent run of impressive player announcements, including the headline late arrival of star defender and icon of Australian women’s sport Jenna McCormick who returned home from a spell at Real Betis in Spain.
The signing of McCormick is, arguably the biggest by any W League side ahead of the kick-off – as the majority of other returning Matildas are in the later stages of their careers. McCormick had spent three years playing elite level Australian Rules Football and soccer at the top level concurrently, winning two AFLW Grand Finals for Adelaide Crows before turning full time to soccer in 2019. She has played 115 games of club soccer and holds four caps for the Matildas.
Just two days ago, City announced the arrival of two further internationals. First, another player with Matildas experience in their mid-20s – Emma Checker. Checker made her international debut in 2012 at the age of 16 and returns Down Under from a spell at FC Fleury in France’s top level. She made her W League debut at the age of 15 for Adelaide United and famously played in an U18s game with men for West Torrens Birkalla against White City in South Australia back in 2013.
Checker was joined in the sky blue half of Melbourne by Japanese international Chinatsu Kira. Kira has scored five goals in 12 appearances for Japan and won the 2014 AFC Asian Women’s Cup with her country, and joins City after ten years at Urawa Reds.
Another important new member of the City roster is defender Tegan Allen. The forty cap Matilda won the W League with Melbourne City in 2017 as well as winning the competition with Sydney FC in 2009 and Melbourne Victory in 2019.
Goalkeeper Teagan Micah who has represented both the Junior Matildas and Young Matildas as well as attending the prestigious UCLA in Los Angeles has also signed.
We expect City to be a permanent presence in the top four this season with a top two finish likely. They may find Brisbane Roar a tough nut to crack though.
Melbourne Victory: Jeff Hopkins’ headline signing ahead of the campaign is the return to the W League of Australian women’s football legend Lisa de Vanna.
The Matildas record goalscorer with 47 goals in 150 appearances returns to Victory at the age of 36 having previously won the W League with them in 2014. De Vanna has also won the W League with Brisbane Roar (2011), Melbourne City (2016) and Sydney FC (2019). She played for Fiorentina in Serie A last season.
Other notable arrivals include the 2020 New Zealand Women’s Footballer of the Year, Claudia Bunge and Kyra Cooney-Cross who, at the age of 18 returns to the club after a hugely successful season at Western Sydney Wanderers last time round. Add in Angie Beard’s contract extension and Victory look to have some real talent in their ranks.
We expect to see Melbourne Victory in the top four, but may find it hard to make a grand final this time round.
Newcastle Jets: The New South Wales side had a tough time of it last season finishing bottom with only two wins.
Things do not look like improving markedly this time round. The Jets will be pleased to have retained both their talented goalkeepers Claire Coelho and Nicole Simonsen along with defender Gema Simon and forward Tara Andrews.
Overall though, this is a squad who will find it tough and lacking the necessary strength in depth to avoid a bottom two finish.
Perth Glory: The Western Australians, for so long one of the competition’s top teams through the influence of local girl made good Sam Kerr, experienced a transitional season last time round.
Many have concerns that the departure of key players including Kim Carroll and head coach Bobby Despotovski, the W League coach of the year in 2017, who led the club for five years and to two Grand Finals, plus a lack of signing announcements meant that Perth would struggle badly this time round. However, a late flurry of arrivals has helped to alleviate those concerns slightly.
Among the young Western Australian developed players that they will be fielding this season are Rebecca Bennett, Gemma Craine and Tijan McKenna. Bennett joins after a fantastic season in goal for Perth SC with Craine winning the 2019 Western Australian Premier Women’s Gold Medal during a great campaign with Fremantle City. Tijan McKenna is a hugely promising 16 year-old midfielder who has played for the Young Matildas already and is the younger sister of former Glory star Leticia McKenna.
As well as these Western Australian developed players, Perth Glory can point to the belated arrival of quartet Sarah Carroll, Patricia Charalambous, Caitlin Doeglas and Jamie-Lee Gale.
Carroll first played for the Glory in 2012 and returns to the club after a year playing Western Australian State League football for the Northern Redbacks. Charalambous can point to two previous years with the club in the bank along with spells at Apollon Limassol in Cyprus and Canberra United, which will stand her and Glory in good stead. Home town girl Doeglas is a late confirmed returner to the club after playing in every game last season, scoring three goals in the process. Gale has also belatedly announced her third successive season with the club.
The arrival of these four players is not going to solve all of the problems though. Perth Glory are suffering badly from coronavirus restrictions. Given the extremely late arrival of the vast majority of their coaching staff and squad, five players and an assistant coach are still in quarantine meaning that new head coach Alex Epakis has still not been able to hold a training session for his whole squad as yet. With just days until the W League kicks off, what was already going to be a difficult transitional season for the Glory has got a whole heap tougher.
Realistically, a successful season for Perth would be to avoid the bottom two.
Sydney FC: One of the most successful sides in the competition, last season’s beaten Grand Finalists Sydney have lost a number of key players to Europe.
On the plus side, they have kept hold of key players such as Ellie Brush, Princess Ibini and Remy Siemsen.
In addition to this, Sydney have raided rivals Western Sydney Wanderers to bring in quality such as Courtney Vine, Rachel Lowe and the outstanding young goalkeeper Jada Mathyssen-Whyman.
Sydney will more than likely be part of the top four, but could well find it hard to match Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar come the finals.
Western Sydney Wanderers: There’s no doubt that the big achievement of last season was Western Sydney Wanderers’ maiden appearance in the finals. However, the downside of that is the news that a number of the most talented players from their 2019/20 squad have departed – with cross-city rivals Sydney FC being the destination for some of the biggest Wanderers success stories.
Jada Mathyssen-Whyman, Courtney Vine and Rachel Lowe have all moved to the Sky Blue side of the Harbour City with Ella Mastrantonio and Amy Harrison also gone which leaves a large hole in the black and reds’ talent pool.
Wanderers will be buoyed by contract extensions for the likes of defender Courtney Nevin and the arrival of new players such as Sarah Willacy, Teigan Collister and Libby Copus-Brown.
However, it is tough to see the Parramatta based side competing in the finals again this season. Indeed finishing in the top six would probably be a positive outcome.
After the recent outbreak of coronavirus in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney which has impacts on state borders, the W League has pushed back its start date by three days to 30th December and rescheduled some early fixtures.
The season opener will be the new blockbuster double header at Dolphin Stadium where Brisbane Roar will host Melbourne City in both W League and A-League (men’s top division) action.
The new outbreak cluster in NSW means that Melbourne Victory are now not able to travel to Sydney for another opening day double header but instead there will be a cross-city derby as Western Sydney Wanderers face Sydney FC at the 30,000 capacity Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta on 30th December. This match will take on added spice given Sydney have signed some of the star players that propelled the Wanderers to the finals last season. It will be played as a double header with the men’s A-League derby between Western Sydney Wanderers and Macarthur FC.
For at least the first month of the season, all New South Wales (NSW) based W League clubs (Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers and Newcastle Jets) will continue with their games whilst the six non-NSW sides will play against each other.