Brisbane Roar finally find form, but W-League's silence on January 26 is deafening

Mata: Footballers should use their position to make society fairer (2:04)

Juan Mata feels players should not just stick to playing football and instead follow the lead of figures like Megan Rapinoe. (2:04)

The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less

Adelaide opened the round with their first ever win over Melbourne City 2-0, Brisbane kicked into gear with a 6-0 thrashing of Melbourne Victory, Newcastle exacted revenge with 4-1 win over Western Sydney, and Perth earned their first point of the season after a 1-1 draw against Canberra.

Here's the tea

It's become as common a sight as empty terraces and masks worn on the sideline: footballers kneeling in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. A homage to NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick who knelt during the American national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and violence against Black communities, this gesture was swiftly adopted (and, some might argue, co-opted) by many other athletes and leagues around the world as the movement grew.

Australia, with its own history of violence and oppression of Black communities, is deeply implicated in this global movement. From the British invasion in 1788, to the Stolen Generations, to the ongoing crisis of Aboriginal deaths in custody, Australia has been a country at war with itself throughout its entire colonial history. There are many parallels between the moments that both Australia and America find themselves in now: two nations that are unable (or unwilling) to confront our past and reckon with the racism that has shaped our national psyche.

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Football is caught within this cultural and historical matrix. Although it was one of the first organised sports in Australia to welcome First Nations athletes (as documented in Professor John Maynard's book "The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe"), there remains a shocking lack of representation of Aboriginal men and women in Australia's professional leagues.

This past weekend of games in both the A-League and W-League preceded one of the most confronting and sorrowful days on our national calendar, one that fewer and fewer people are keen to celebrate given its origins in violence and oppression. Australian sport is part of that group, slowly recognising the role that they have played in helping write and reinforce the racist history of Australia.

Cricket Australia, for example, took a stand last week against the celebratory expectations of January 26, deciding to remove references to "Australia Day" in its Big Bash League promotions, while three teams will wear Indigenous-inspired uniforms on national television instead. As cricketer Dan Christian tweeted: "Read the room Mr Prime Minister. Cricket Australia are leading the way because your government won't. There'll be millions of kids watching our BBL games on the 26th January, and they'll see us taking a knee against racism, and promoting inclusion for all. Take note."

Similarly, both the NRL and AFL have included Indigenous Rounds and worn jerseys designed by Indigenous artists for several years, while the Wallabies wore their Indigenous jersey for the first time at a Rugby World Cup in 2019, before becoming the first Australian side to sing a version of the anthem the local Indigenous language in December 2020.

The dropping of names, the wearing of jerseys, or kneeling before games may seem like empty symbolic gestures, but they are still important in the broader optics and political messaging that a sport sends to its community: we see you, we hear you, you matter.

It is baffling, then, that professional footballers in the A-League and the W-League are not taking part in these same gestures that are galvanising and uniting other areas of domestic and international sport. There are no official Indigenous rounds in either of Australia's top domestic football competitions, nor any Aboriginal-designed jerseys for its top national teams. Indeed, there remains an alarming lack of representation of First Nations people at the top levels of the Australian game, whether in the leagues or on the national teams.

I don't know who decides these things at an operational level; I don't know who asks the question or who gives permission or how it works behind the scenes. All I know is that silence is itself a message; standing by and doing nothing is its own political stance. If football really is the world game -- if its mandate is that it's a sport that is accessible and welcoming of everybody -- it must recognise the wider responsibilities it has to the Black communities it has kept at arm's length for almost a century. Australian football does not exist in a cultural or political vacuum -- when will we stop acting like it?


The underdogs

Let's face it: the W-League has become, over the past couple of seasons, quite predictable. With the exception of a few "Leicester City" moments -- Newcastle Jets finishing third in 2017-18, Western Sydney finishing fourth in 2019-20 -- the makeup of the top four and the general shake-out of the rest of the league has been fairly similar for several years.

One of the more unexpected and enjoyable silver linings of the 2020-21 Chaos Season has been the sheer unpredictability of it all. As we near the halfway stage of the competition, the top seven teams are separated by just five points. Adelaide United, who have never made finals before, are currently second on the ladder and equal-first for goals scored, while the usually-dominant Melbourne City are third from bottom and have conceded the most goals across the league so far (12).

Round 5 really epitomised the unpredictability of the current season as three of the four "underdog" sides -- Adelaide, Newcastle, and Perth -- earned points against arguably more fancied opponents. Adelaide and Newcastle were particularly good for their convincing wins over Melbourne City and Western Sydney, respectively, while Perth stood firm against the green wave that was Canberra United to snatch their first point.

Given the league is largely more equal this season due to the lack of international-level players, it feels as though the trend we usually witness -- teams heaving with recognisable names galloping ahead while underdog sides find form too late -- is being reversed. Instead, it's the underdogs who have come out firing in the first half of 2020-21, while some of the league's bigger teams are struggling to find a rhythm. The competition, you'd have to say, is all the more exciting for it.

Brisbane Roar/NPLW Queensland

When the full-time whistle blew to end Brisbane's game against Melbourne Victory on Saturday night, there was one word that swept across my mind: finally. The Roar took their time finding their feet -- recording an historic four draws in their opening four games -- but you always felt it was only a matter of time before the floodgates opened.

Melbourne Victory, as it happened, were the unlucky victims to be swept away when the Roar came crashing through on Thursday night. The return of Tameka Yallop to the Roar's starting XI and a debut start for Kiwi international Olivia Chance were crucial in upping the overall energy and fight that Brisbane showed across the 90+ minutes, while Emily Gielnik's move into the centre of the park in the absence of Rosie Sutton gave both her and the team a dynamic and a target that they'd been missing. Gielnik repaid the favour with two goals and an assist -- her best contribution in a Roar shirt so far this season.

But it wasn't just Brisbane's international-level players who shone this week. The game also saw debut W-League goals for three of the team's NPLW recruits: Sharn Freier, Mariel Hecher and Winonah Heatley. There were big wraps around Frier and Hecher in particular heading into this season, having been stand-out attackers in Queensland's NPLW competition, while 19-year old Winonah Heatley continues to fly under the radar as one of the league's best young full-backs.

Brisbane now find themselves confronting two big questions. First: can they continue the form that saw them wallop a team many (including this writer) had pegged for a title challenge? And secondly, perhaps the most important question of all: has it come too late?


The Melbourne teams

While unpredictability works out well for some teams, it doesn't work out well for others. The two Melbourne clubs suffered from their topsy-turvy start again this week, both losing their games against teams that they were more favoured to beat. In fact, the past 4-5 games of Victory and City have been some of the most inconsistent in each club's history. The only three points that both clubs have won so far have come against each other -- Victory's in that 6-0 thrashing in the first derby, City in the 3-2 response win in the second -- while their only other point came in 0-0 draws against Brisbane Roar.

On paper, Victory seemed to have the squad capable of hitting the ground running, which they did in their first two games. However, the losses of veteran internationals Lisa De Vanna and Annalie Longo -- both of whom were crucial in that dominant 6-0 win over City -- have affected the team dynamics more significantly than we expected. Indeed, their 6-0 loss to Brisbane on Saturday was the worst defeat the club has ever experienced in the W-League, with both senior players were a glaring absence against the Matildas-stacked Roar side.

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Likewise, although City didn't look like much on paper, there was always an inkling that they would come good as the new-look squad began to gel. And they certainly seemed to in that 3-2 win over Victory, but their follow-up game against Adelaide on Thursday afternoon saw them slump back into mediocrity. They take on Brisbane next week and, based on the Roar's performance against Victory on Thursday, you'd expect City to face a similar uphill battle to what their cross-town rivals did.

Victory and City now sit sixth and seventh on the ladder, each with just four points from a possible 12 to 15 based on the number of games played. If they continue to rollercoaster their way through the rest of the season, it's not hard to imagine them both missing finals together for the first time ever -- quite a slide from their 1-2 finish last season.

Canberra United

There's just something about Canberra United hosting Perth Glory at home that guarantees drama. Never before have these two teams played out a 0-0 draw across their entire 13-season history in the league, but on Sunday afternoon, that record looked set to break as Perth bunkered down and withstood a barrage of Canberra attacks.

At the 75th-minute mark, Canberra had 73% of the territory, 11 shots to Perth's 3, 30 balls into the area versus 5, and 10 corners to none. By the end of the game, Canberra had recorded almost twice as many shots as their opponents as well as almost 10 times as many crosses. And yet Perth stood like a stoic break-wall in storm-ravaged seas before snatching a goal from nowhere in the 85th minute. They held onto their precious lead for a grand total of 50 seconds before Canberra substitute Hayley Taylor-Young drew them level again.

While it continues United's trend of late-game goals, a draw against bottom-placed Perth who have scored just one goal in three games won't sit comfortably with Canberra head coach Vicki Linton, nor the players who probably expected to leapfrog both Adelaide and Sydney to enter round 6 on top. They now sit third on the ladder, one point ahead of Brisbane and one behind the aforementioned leaders. Let's see if -- or for how long -- they'll stay there.

Is there a gif of that?

She may have committed a few errors that led to goals conceded, but Western Sydney goalkeeper Courtney Newbon may have produced the save of the season with this incredible diving hand to tip Tara Andrews' free kick onto the crossbar. You absolutely love to see it.