The A-League Women’s competition returns in the bright afterglow of the Women’s World Cup this Saturday with the newly revived Central Coast Mariners hosting the Newcastle Jets in an F3 Derby, that will kick off the longest and, hopefully, keenly observed season to date.
The return of the Mariners twelve seasons after the folded brings the competition up to twelve teams, allowing for the first time a full home and away season of 22 matches and finals. It’s a far cry from the 14 game burst of years gone by, and brings a level of legitimacy clearly justified by the hunger for the game that was on display during the Matildas World Cup run.
‘I used to call it the blink-and-you-miss-it season, so it’s wonderful to be able to say we now have a legitimate season, which I don’t think you could when each team wasn’t playing each other home and away’, ESPN’s Stephanie Brantz told Box2Box.
‘I also think that the new expansion club in the Central Coast… they’ve been out of the competition for too long. There’s a buzz on the coast and Gosford is ready to embrace their women. That Kyah Simon is coming back to where it all began, I also think there’s huge excitement around that, too.’
Sydney FC’s record as reigning Champions is the envy of any professional sporting club in Australia, across any code: Grand Final berths in seven of the last eight deciders for four total Championships, including last year’s 4-0 thumping of Western United that ended the anguish of three-consecutive Grand Final losses.
Manager Ante Juric remains and has retained overnight poster girl Cortnee Vine, but otherwise faces the greatest degree of turnover in club history. Mackenzie Hawkesby, Rachel Lowe and Sarah Hunter, his starting midfield from the Grand Final, headline a long list of those to depart since that day.
‘This is the first season they’ve had to make a significant amount of signings, and is the biggest turnover they’ve seen as a club. They still know how to win games and Fiona Worts (Adelaide United) is a fantastic signing, but they’re going to have much more assimilation into the season than they’ve had before.
‘I’ve always said they surprise and delight by re-signing most of their players before the end of the previous season. This will be a real test of what they’ve got as a club, to see if they can bring these women together to have that consistent style we’ve seen.’
The Sky Blues still find themselves in a position of relative solidity when compared to main rival and first-up opponent Western Sydney, who threw the season’s first spanner in sacking manager Kat Smith last week, just ten days out from their opener.
It now appears another season of woe is in store for the Wanderers, who have reached the finals just once in eleven completed seasons and are now handing the reins to an eighth separate manager in that time.
‘The big shame about this is if they were going to part ways with Kat, I’d have hoped just from a pure planning perspective that it would have happened in the off-season. For players Kat’s brought in for the picture she saw, there must be a lot of uncertainty, and for the fans as a whole.
‘Robbie Hooker is a great coach who will do a good job with what he’s got. Coaching isn’t the most stable employment in the world, but I do feel for her and the team, and I hope they can regroup and get it together within the next few days.’