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New to AFLW? What you need to know ahead of season 2022

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The ESPN Footy Podcast's big calls for the AFLW season (2:28)

The ESPN Footy Podcast's Marissa Lordanic, Anna Harrington, and Marnie Vinall run through their predictions for the upcoming AFLW season, (2:28)

Despite still being in its infancy, the AFLW is rapidly gaining momentum and new supporters.

As with each new season that rolls around, more fans are rocking up to games in team colours and yelling from the sidelines and stands.

The upcoming sixth season is set to be jam-packed, full of intensity and rivalry and expected to recruit more followers to the game. Given this, we thought we'd help any eager new fans wanting to join in on the fun with the low-down.

So, if you're new to the league, we've got you covered on everything you need to know before you head along to your first game (or two or 10).

Grab a scarf and let's go!

The fundamentals

Who's currently in the league?

The AFLW currently has 14 teams in the league as it heads into its sixth season, with the remaining four AFL clubs set to join the competition for the following 2023 season. The current clubs include Adelaide Crows, Brisbane Lions, Carlton Blues, Collingwood Magpies, Fremantle Dockers, Geelong Cats, Gold Coast Suns, Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants, Melbourne Demons, North Melbourne Kangaroos, Richmond Tigers, St Kilda Saints, West Coast Eagles and Western Bulldogs. In the next and final expansion, the Essendon Bombers, Hawthorn Hawks, Port Adelaide Power and Sydney Swans will join and complete the league.

How long do games go for?

AFLW games consist of four quarters, with each quarter going for 15 minutes plus time on -- which is accumulated during stoppages in the last two minutes of each term -- resulting in around 20-minute quarters. Matches are generally over in under two hours, meaning they're short and sweet and chock-full of action.

How long is the season?

The upcoming 2022 season will feature 10 home and away rounds with three subsequent weeks of finals. So, all up that's 13 weeks of footy fans can enjoy. The season opener takes place on the evening of January 7 between the Saints and Tigers at Skybus Stadium, down in Frankston. Other key rounds to look out for are Pride Round (Round 3) and Indigenous Round (Round 8).

Team make-up

On each team, you'll find 16 players per side with five interchange players on the bench. Due to playing in the summer heat, and unlike the men's season, there is no limit on the number of rotations a team can make during a game.

Ball size

Unlike the men who play with a size five, the women play with a size four ball. The smaller ball is understood to be easier for the women to mark, however, doesn't travel as far when kicked. (So, expect some varying opinions on this matter).

What are AFLW specific rules?

The rules of the sport do slightly differ between the men's and women's leagues. This is mostly due to smaller ball size, fewer on-field players and trying to stop congestion and stoppages to maximise action in the shorter quarters. Let's take a look.

Centre ball-up

Centre bounces are a traditional part of Aussie Rules footy, however, in the AFLW you'll find a centre ball-up in its place. To resume play at the beginning of quarters and after every goal, the ball is thrown up by an umpire in the centre of the ground. This is due to the smaller ball that is used not getting as much height if bounced.

Centre ball-up 5-6-5

At centre ball-up, each side must have five forwards and five defenders inside their respective 50-metre arcs. Then, four midfielders and the ruck will start in the middle of the ground with a winger required to be somewhere along the centre square wing.

Boundary throw-ins

All boundary throw-ins occur 10 metres in from the boundary line. This is so it's thrown deeper into the corridor, around 25 metres into the field of play, creating more space around the ruck contest and minimising second stoppages.

Last touch rule

Also known as the last disposal between the arcs, this rule applies when the ball goes out of bounds between the forward and defensive 50-metre arcs as a result of a handball or kick. If it's clear who touched the ball last, the opposing team will receive a free kick from where the ball crossed the line, otherwise, if it's contested, it's thrown in. This is to reduce congestion and minimise secondary stoppages.

New rules for 2022

There are also two new rules being implemented for the 2022 season that aim to encourage more open ball movement.

Stand rule

First implemented in the men's 2021 AFL season, the stand rule is where the defending player on the mark is unable to move laterally on their line prior to "play on" being called by the umpire. This means they can't move sideways but can jump on the spot. If they do move off their mark, a 50-metre penalty will apply.

Location of the mark at kick-ins

After a behind is scored, the player on the mark at kick-ins will brought back from 10 metres to 15 metres from the centre of the goal square's kick-off line.

Who to go for?

Anyone you want! Most fans choose teams based on location or their loyalty to an existing AFL club that's been passed down through family generations. However, there are no rules when it comes to who to follow, and that's the beauty of it. Like a team based on their colours or a particular player's tackling ability? Great! However, if you do want some intel on the sides, we've got you covered.

Who are the top sides going into 2022?

The Lions are heading into the sixth season as reigning premiers and will have a target on their backs as a team to beat. They have had significant list changes throughout the league's history but have still been able to remain a strong side since its inception. So, if you like Queenslanders, they're a good side to hitch your wagon to.

Another consistent top team is Adelaide, who were beaten in the 2021 decider by the Lions. The Crows are a foundation club and already have two premierships under their belt, including inaugural 2017 cup. Other strong contenders going into the upcoming season are Melbourne, led by trailblazer Daisy Pearce, and the Fremantle, who were favourites in 2020 before COVID cut the season short.

Who are the underdogs?

It can be a heartbreaking yet rewarding endeavour to follow a team that doesn't regularly hang out at the top of the ladder. So, if you are looking for an underdog, Gold Coast are a good bet. They took out the wooden spoon and were kept winless in the 2021 season, however, a slew of young players to build around in the long term bodes well for the up-and-coming Suns. Geelong secured themselves a single win in 2021 against the Suns and similarly to Gold Coast, will be looking to build competitiveness and a more solid grounding for the future.

Get excited, everyone!