- *Australia national women’s league drawing major overseas interest *
- *The new campaign features significantly enhanced player benefits *
- *Tenth season of competition propelled by national team success *
Australia’s W-League kicks off on Friday celebrating a tenth campaign and boosted by a variety of landmarks off the field. Launched in the wake of Australia’s breakthrough showing at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup™, the W-League has slowly gathered momentum each season.
That impetus is set to be further bolstered following the spectacular success of the national team in recent months.
The Matildas have knocked over the world champions USA, 2015 Women’s World Cup runners-up Japan, new European holders the Netherlands and South American queens Brazil in this calendar year alone. That success was rewarded with significant media coverage and two record home crowds for last month’s matches against Brazil.
There is also tangible evidence of off-field growth for the coming W-League campaign. There will be significantly enhanced player pay and employment conditions.
Extra matches will also be televised, with two matches shown nationally per round for the first time. A significant number of double-headers with A-League matches are another feature indicating greater willingness from clubs to engage with their female teams.
It all comes at a time of a greatly increased competiveness in Australia’s female sporting market, notably with the launch of a women's Australian Rules football competition last year. It is the world game, however, which remains massive at grassroots level and growing with each passing year.
*Americans fly south for winter *
Reigning champions Melbourne City will perhaps start as favourites having once again recruited heavily during the off-season. Interest will also be on a strong-looking Canberra United who this season will be coached by Heather Garriock - the first ex-Australian female full international to manage a team in the competition.
Perhaps the most focus, however, will be on new local heroine Sam Kerr following a stellar season for club and country, culminating in recently winning the NWSL’s best player award. Kerr played a major role in helping her Perth Glory side reach last season’s decider.
"It's right up there," Kerr said, when asked to compare the W-League with the NWSL. "The only difference is that everyone is full-time professional in the US which obviously gives the quality a bit of a boost.
"But I think the quality here is right there. I always say the teams that make the top four would compete in the NWSL.”
Played over the Australian summer, the W-League is perfectly timed to coincide with the off-season in the NWSL. A host of highly-regarded Americans are heading Down Under including NWSL Rookie of the Year Ashley Hatch (Melbourne City), USA international Emily Sonnett (Sydney FC) and promising youngster Rachel Hill (Perth Glory).
Last season saw eight nations represented in the competition, and the level of diversity will further increase this term. Jeon Gaeul and Raquel Rodriguez will become the first players from Korea Republic and Costa Rica to represent their respective nations in the league.
"In the first few years people came out for a little bit of a holiday to come see Australia,” said Kerr. "But I know that a lot of the girls in the US now are fighting for spots here - there's only four [available at each club].”