W-League eyes bumper season without Kerr

The new season of the nine-team W-League campaign commences on November 14.
The new season of the nine-team W-League campaign commences on November 14.

After 11 seasons, the W-League is set to enter a new chapter: W-League AK - for those playing at home, that's After Kerr.

With Sam Kerr confirming she won't return this season in favour of a stint in Europe - with her destination widely expected to be English club Chelsea - Australia's national competition faces a year of transition.

After a breakthrough pay deal for the Matildas - and with Europe increasingly emerging as a potential destination - the pressure is on the W-League to deliver as both an entertaining, competitive league and as a development pathway for Australia's emerging talent.

With a year of change could come a reversion to a recent norm: Melbourne City's return to the top of the pecking order.

Stung by last season's fifth-placed finish - missing the finals for the first time in their brief W-League history - City made a statement by signing Matildas duo Emily van Egmond and Ellie Carpenter.

"We've recruited really well; we've got some signings that no one saw coming, so that's exciting to have Emily and Ellie on board," Matildas and City goalkeeper Lydia Williams said.

"We're just trying to go back to where we were, undefeated again, and just try and perform and progress the game in Australia that we want to."

Meanwhile, Sydney FC have retained the majority of their championship-winning squad, including Matildas Alanna Kennedy and Caitlin Foord, while snaring American sharpshooter Veronica Latsko.

But perhaps the greatest intrigue lies around Western Sydney.

For the first time, the Wanderers appear to have genuinely invested in their women's team in a bid to break their finals drought.

North Carolina Courage trio Lynn Williams, Denise O'Sullivan and Kristen Hamilton are the big-name recruits, while Matildas midfielder Amy Harrison has also arrived.

Add some very handy role players and new coach Dean Heffernan can be optimistic about their prospects this season.

"It's really exciting to see such high-quality players and calibre players are wanting to come over and that there has been enough support from the Australian W-League squads to bring them over," Williams said.

"I think that's been the hardest thing is actually finding that support and finding enough resources to bring players from overseas."

Melbourne Victory, too, should be strong once more.

They face an early test against champions Sydney FC in round one.

The losses of Emily Gielnik (Bayern Munich) and Julie Dolan Medallist Christine Nairn have been offset by some shrewd recruiting.

In come newly-capped Matildas defender Jenna McCormick, Portland Thorns stalwart Emily Menges and American up-and-comers Darian Jenkins and Haley Hanson.

Meanwhile, Brisbane Roar round out the probable top-four contenders, having lured Tameka Yallop and Elise Kellond-Knight back home under new coach Jake Goodship.

Adelaide have secured the coveted signature of young gun Mary Fowler, while Heather Garriock's Canberra will hope to spring up the table after another off-season of change.

It could be a tough season for Perth, having lost Kerr, while Newcastle's lack of internationals - combined with van Egmond's departure - makes Craig Deans' task a difficult one.

W-LEAGUE ROUND ONE

Thursday 7.30pm AEDT - Western Sydney Wanderers v Adelaide United, Marconi Stadium

Sunday 4pm AEDT - Canberra United v Perth Glory, McKellar Park

Sunday 4pm AEDT - Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory, Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

Sunday 6pm AEDT - Newcastle Jets v Melbourne City, No.2 Sportsground

Australian Associated Press