‘The competition is now whole’: full AFLW expansion confirmed for 2022-23 season

All 18 AFL clubs will have an AFLW team for the start of the 2022-23 season after the league awarded licences to Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan confirmed the women’s competition would be expanded to 18 teams, in what he described as a “defining day in the history of Australian football”.

“All four remaining clubs, Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and the Sydney Swans will join the AFLW competition in 2022 ready for season seven,” McLachlan told reporters on Thursday. “Simply, the competition is now whole.

“To have 18 AFLW clubs is to send a message to every female playing footy that they can play for any one of our 18 teams.”

The league has taken a staggered approach to expansion throughout its history, starting with an eight-team competition in 2017, which expanded to 10 teams ahead of 2019 and 14 ahead of 2020.

Plans for further expansions were announced in May and all four of the Hawks, Bombers, Swans and Power had to present their cases for an AFLW team.

Hawthorn and Essendon, who didn’t apply for a licence ahead of the inaugural season then missed out in the 2019 and 2020 intakes, have been particularly vocal in their desire for women’s teams in recent years.

The Bombers and Hawks both field teams in the VFLW competition while the Swans and Power have academy programs.

The 2021-22 season, which has been brought forward to an early-December start, will be a 14-team competition with 10 home and away rounds plus finals.