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By Anthony Wingard (www.aflq.com.au)
The excitement of women’s football is set to reach new destinations this weekend with the commencement of the inaugural Wide Bay Women’s Competition on Saturday, February 10.
Despite forming just three months ago, interest in the league was significant and will rival the area’s men’s competition with six teams contending for a place in the Grand Final to be played on March 24.
Teams from the Fraser Coast – Bay Power, Hervey Bay Bombers and Maryborough Bears, form the majority of the league’s teams. Across The Waves Eagles and Brothers Bulldogs, both Bundaberg, and Gympie Cats, Sunshine Coast, make up the remaining three teams.
Formed by outgoing Wide Bay President Mark Mason, as one of his final enactments in the roles; in conjunction with AFL Queensland, excitement for the competition hit fever fitch in December with the season launch in Childers.
The launch provided the opportunity for all six club captains to mingle with the local media and anticipation has since continued with the success of last weekend’s Women’s Lightning Carnival at Port City Park in Maryborough.
Currently, the league boasts over 120 registered players across the six teams – a number expected to grow across the preliminary weeks of the season.
AFL Queensland’s Sunshine Coast & Wide Bay Competitions Manager, Dean Wicks, noted his surprise at the high participation levels just a few months into the competition’s tenure.
“It has blown all of my expectations,” Wicks said.
“It certainly caught me by surprise. I think the buzz around this newly established competition has it in great stead for many years to come as women’s football continues to evolve.”
Australian Rules football continued to grow in the Wide Bay region, with over 1000 Auskick participants in 2017 – approximately one third of which were females.
Wide Bay was also represented in the Queensland School Sport Under-12s Girls State Carnival for the first time, with over 50 girls turning up to trial for the team.
Since 2015, participation among females in school footballing competitions has increased by 324 per cent, with nearly 900 girls now involved.
Over the summer, Brisbane Lions AFLW captain and former Bundaberg junior, Emma Zielke, returned to the Wide Bay region to direct a training session for the region’s players.
Wicks said Zielke’s involvement in the area in the lead up to the Wide Bay Women’s competition was highly beneficial to new players of the sport.
“It was a fantastic opportunity for some of the girls who are brand new to the sport to get some tips from a local girl who is playing at the elite level,” he said.
“I think it was also was fantastic in showing the girls, particularly the younger ones, that if you show some potential there is a pathway to make it to the elite.”
Round 1 of the Wide Bay Women’s competition kicks off this weekend with matches being hosted by the Gympie Cats, Across The Waves Eagles and Hervey Bay Bombers.
The seven-week season will culminate with the Grand Final contested between the first and second placed teams as a curtain raiser for Round 1 of the Wide Bay Senior Men’s competition.