AFLW players bracing for COVID chaos
'Dodging COVID' will be the theme of the 2022 AFLW season as clubs prepare to lose up to half of their playing squad on any given day.
Brisbane's bid to defend their flag will be put to the test against the talent-laden squads of Fremantle, North Melbourne, Melbourne, Brisbane, Collingwood, and Adelaide.
But luck is set to play a huge part in this year's premiership race, with teams bracing themselves to be ravaged by COVID-19 setbacks.
Under the AFLW's rules, games will continue to be played if 16 of each club's 30 primary-listed players plus five train-on players are available for selection.
If the minimum 21 players aren't available, AFLW officials will seek to reschedule the game for another time in that round or later in the season.
It means the teams who can avoid COVID cases the best are likely to flourish against their virus-hit counterparts.
"It comes down to the team that can best field a team and keep everyone fit and healthy and out of positive cases and close contacts," said Lions skipper Breanna Koenen.
"It will be the team who can roll with it the best that will come out on top at the end of the year.
"It's pretty stressful and everybody is a little bit anxious at the moment, but we're doing everything we can to stay fit and healthy and stay isolated as much as we can.
"But we all work, we all have jobs. You can only control what you can control."
Koenen said she was doing everything possible to steer clear of COVID-19.
"I'm a hermit at the moment, just sticking to myself and my family and my friends and people who I know who are doing the right thing," she said.
"But I'm a physio, so I see multiple people all day every day, and I have no idea what they've been doing. It's going to be difficult."
The Lions upset the Crows by 18 points at Adelaide Oval in last year's grand final to snare their maiden flag.
Koenen, who took over as captain from the retired Emma Zielke, is confident the Lions won't suffer from a premiership hangover.
"The girls are hungrier than ever," she said.
"They're wanting to improve. I've been really impressed with the work everyone has put in.
"I think everyone is fitter, faster, stronger, and more determined. Hopefully that translates onto the field."
One of the big player moves during the off-season was Tayla Harris' switch from Carlton to Melbourne.
Harris booted just four goals from eight games last season but is desperate to regain the form that saw her named in the 2017 and 2018 All-Australian sides.
The 2022 season will feature 10 rounds before finals, up from nine rounds last year.
The vast majority of AFLW players are desperate for a fuller schedule in future years in which they play each team at least once.
The 14-team competition will expand to a full 18 teams from 2023 in a move that will initially stretch the talent pool before bearing fruit in years to come.