The Westfield W-League is set to be more tightly contested than ever before. With a new team in the league and various stalwarts out for the season, the field is more level than ever before. Here is an overview of what to expect from the women’s competition this season.
Adelaide finally broke their lengthy winless streak last season and while victories were hard to come by, the developing squad under new coach Dave Edmondson made the opposition work hard for their points.
Now the Lady Reds are more settled and Edmondson has continued to build on what he started.
Defender Abby Erceg returns as Captain and brings with her fellow New Zealand internationals striker Sarah McLaughlin and midfielder Holly Patterson.
Returning to the side are Kristi Harvey, Ruth Wallace, Rachael Quigley, Grace Henry, Emma Checker and Georgia Macri and striker Marijana Rajcic, whose good season in Europe will only boost her chances for a Matildas berth.
Adding in the young local talent and four interstate players, Edmondson believes the squad has more balance than in the past and is hopeful of a return to the top half of the table.
With Jeff Hopkins moving to the A-League, the Roar have a new coach in Belinda Wilson, who arrives via a stint in Norway, and roles with FNSW, the AFC, and the FIFA technical committee.
Several key players will be missing for the season opener, though Elise Kellond-Knight will be back in Round 4 (knee) and Laura Alleway returns to Australia in time for Round 2. Goalkeeper Casey Dumont is unfortunately out for the season (groin) and midfielder Aivi Luik has crossed the country to join Perth Glory.
On a positive note, Katrina Gorry has found her way back up North from Melbourne and will add much needed experience to the midfield, while Wilson has also signed Hannah Beard- a forward with experience at both Liverpool and in the US College system.
Roar stalwarts Captain Clare Polkinghorne, Tameka Butt, Lana Harch, Amy Chapman, Vedrana Popovic and Emily Gielnik will all be back in orange, along with the new faces who step up from the Diamond League.
Facing a firing Canberra United is a tough way to start the season but Wilson is looking forward to the challenge. Having been overseas since before the league’s inception, she is keen to see the standard this year and how her side measures up.
Canberra look to have the one quality every club strives to achieve – consistency.
They have managed to retain the bulk of their Championship winning squad including Golden Boot winner Michelle Heyman, midfield general Sally Shipard and captain Ellie Brush.
The biggest loss for the team in green is their talismanic goalkeeper Lydia Williams (out for the season with injury). Mackenzie Arnold (Perth Glory) and Trudy Burke (Sydney FC/Illawarra Stingrays) have been recruited to battle for the keeper’s jersey and will be delighted to have Caitlin Cooper returning to the backline and German powerhouse Ariane Hingst (ex Newcastle) in the defensive midfield role.
With plenty of home-grown ACT talent in the ranks, Coach of the Year in Season 2011/2012, Jitka Klimkova, has scaled mountains in a solid pre-season and Canberra should prove once more, the team to beat as they go for back to back titles.
The Victory women have suffered perhaps the most disruptive preseason of all the teams in the league with the departure of coach Vicki Linton in September.
The reorganisation has left the club somewhat in limbo and losing experienced trio English Striker Jodie Taylor, midfielder Katrina Gorry (Brisbane) and American defender Kendall Fletcher has been a big blow for incoming boss Mike Mulvey.
Brianna Davey remains between the sticks, going from strength to strength after recently making her debut for the national side, while young guns Ashley Brown and Stephanie Catley will certainly make their presence felt and will now be two of the more experienced heads on the park.
Mulvey - who impressed in his brief stint in charge of former A-League outfit Gold Coast United, is still keen to sign some international talent, and remains hopeful that Fletcher may return in a Victory strip before the end of the season along with American defender Danielle Johnson.
Regardless, he is confident that with guidance, this young team will develop and find their feet as they settle into the season.
Once again the off-season has brought many changes for the Jets ladies this year with the departure of Ari Hingst to Canberra, Lisa De Vanna most likely to Perth and Melissa Barbieri on maternity leave.
A change of coach sees Wayne O’Sullivan return to take the reins and he’s been busy recruiting and shaping the new-look team from the Hunter.
Emily van Egmond’s time in the US proved fruitful for Newcastle in more ways than one, with the side now boasting two of her Western New York Flash teammates, midfielders Angela Salem and Tori Husters as well as Chicago Breeze midfielder Tiffany Boshers.
As well as Van Egmond, W-League veterans Tara Andrews, Stacey Day and Gema Simon return to action, joined by a good number of Novocastrians including Sammara Schmitzer, Gemma Pearce and former Jets captain Hayley Crawford as well as Queenslanders Eliza Campbell and Michaela Hatzirodos.
O’Sullivan is keen on a high tempo, technical style and believes he has a squad capable of delivering.
Perth Glory look to be the most resurgent side in the women’s competition this year.
Experienced Westfield Matilda Collette McCallum returns after a one-year break, to skipper the Glory women. She will have plenty of her national teammates to keep her company, with Kate Gill returning (after her season out due to injury), Aivi Luik (ex-Brisbane Roar) switching coasts to sign with Perth and (our mail says) the dynamic Lisa De Vanna due to return to the West.
With Chelsea Goalkeeper Carly Telford between the sticks the Glory women look in good shape to threaten for a finals finish this season.
Coach Jamie Harnwell had a baptism of fire in his initial season in charge, but says he is happy with the way the team has come together and is looking forward to repaying the faith of the Glory supporters.
Sydney are another side with a significantly changed squad. Danielle Brogan and Leena Khamis (injured), Heather Garriock (pregnant), Sarah Walsh and Servet Uzunlar (Western Sydney) are all unavailable, so Coach Alen Stajcic has had to remodel his starting side.
Matildas star Kyah Simon resisted the call to the new Western Sydney side and will captain the Sky Blues. She will be in good company in the attacking third with national teammate Sam Kerr moving over from Perth to join her.
Former Perth striker Emma Kete and fellow New Zealand internationals Hannah Bromley and Annalie Longo will also be in Sky Blue this season, as will Ellyse Perry (ex Canberra) - the dual international will juggle NSW cricket duties with her role in the Sydney backline.
While the side this year contains 12 teenagers and has less experience overall than in the past, teams should dismiss Sydney at their own peril.
Always competitive, expect the youngsters such as debutant Lorissa Crummer to step up on the big stage.
Western Sydney Wanderers
The new kids on the W-League block are raring to go. Steve Roche, formerly of Central Coast Mariners in the Hyundai A-League, has the reins as coach and has built a strong spine for the fledgling club.
Experienced striker Sarah Walsh will wear the captain’s armband for their inaugural season, ably supported by former Sydney FC teammates Teigen Allen, Servet Uzunlar and Catherine Cannuli (ex-Brisbane).
Roche has also recruited from the now defunct Mariners women’s side including Trudy Camilleri, Jessica Seaman, Sam Spackman and Jenna Kingsley, who has been prolific in front of goal at Premier League level.
With their international signings close to being confirmed and the likes of Alex Huynh(ex Newcastle), Rachael Soutar(Sydney FC) and Linda O’Neill(Newcastle) already with W-League experience, Roche expects the side to be highly competitive in their first year.