W-League rewarding consistency at midway point of disorderly season|Samantha Lewis
9 seconds into Sydney FC’s video game against Newcastle on Sunday afternoon, veteran Jets striker Tara Andrews signed up the video game’s very first shot on target. Seventeen seconds later, young Sydney forward Remy Siemsen zipped a cross through Newcastle’s penalty area that colleague Clare Wheeler, who had made a run from deep in midfield, simply missed. In less than a minute, the Jets were up the other end, on the attack once again.
This chaotic start to round six’s last match was intensified by components mainly beyond the players’ control, especially Cromer Park’s bouncy artificial pitch – the only non-grass pitch being used this season – which had been made slicker still by a weekend’s worth of rain. All the players could do was adjust and adjust to things in the minute: the subtle differences in ball speed and spin, the method the wind captured or brought a pass just too close or simply too far.
These opening few out of breath moments appeared to epitomise the 2020-21 W-League season more broadly: an unpredictability produced by the events of the broader world, which the league’s primary actors have had to shape and re-shape themselves around as the world continues to change.
The reality that the league has reached its notional halfway point with some teams having actually played half their allotted games while others have just played a quarter talks to this unpredictability. And as if to show the point, Western Australia has announced an immediate five-day lockdown, most likely overthrowing the next round’s worth of video games, too.
These larger chaotic forces have meant that, maybe more than ever, consistency is essential for W-League sides trying to weather them. Indeed, it is a kind of long-term consistency that is being rewarded as the present season stumbles towards its second half. At the conclusion of round six, the ladder shows the clubs that have, in one method or another, prioritised multi-season squad consistency over the past 3 projects.
Sydney FC, who go into round 7 at the top of the table, are one of simply two clubs to have carried 10 or more players from last season into their current one, as well as eight or more from the season prior (2018-19). The other club to do so is Adelaide United, who have kept 11 of in 2015’s squad and 12 from the year before that. The Reds, as it happens, go into the midway point of the current season in 4th spot and are playing the kind of football that makes them most likely to remain there.
Behind Sydney and Adelaide on the squad consistency chart is Brisbane Roar, who have actually kept nine gamers from last season and currently sit third. Only second-placed Canberra United appear to be the abnormality here with simply 5 carry-over players – however, considering the return of veterans such as Michelle Heyman, Kendall Fletcher, Chantel Jones and Grace Maher after a few seasons somewhere else, along with the promo of train-on and academy items, United’s position on the ladder through this prism starts to make sense.
This theory filters down the rest of the ladder, too, with Melbourne Triumph and Newcastle Jets, who are separated by simply one point, separated by simply one carry-over player too (seven v 8). Further down, Melbourne City have retained just 4 gamers, while Western Sydney have 6. Perth, with 8, are likewise anomalous to Canberra, but their own last-minute consultations and pre-season difficulties add an extra disorderly measurement to the 3 video games they have actually handled to play so far.
Even in a season as unpredictable as this one, there are still some conclusions and themes that we can tentatively begin to draw. Simply as Sydney FC managed the controllables on that unknown, oily pitch in Manly to eventually (and naturally) leave 2-0 winners, so too are clubs who have actually managed what they can – namely, the stability of their teams in the W-League’s uncertain off-season – now beginning to reap the advantages of their commitment. Conversely, clubs that have experienced larger turnovers are struggling to maintain.
And while it is too early to predict who will secure the premiership prize, there would be a neat type of poetry if Sydney FC were to do it. Although they have actually been the most constant side in the W-League, having finished in the leading four every season considering that the league began, it has been ten years because they called themselves premiers. That was, coincidentally, the first season that Teresa Polias signed up with the club; a gamer who has since become synonymous with stability, reaching her historical 150-game turning point earlier this month while ushering in the next generation of Sky Blue stars.
But if this W-League season has actually taught us anything, it is that we must anticipate mayhem. For all the trends and styles that the first half has actually presented, there is no knowing whether the second half will validate or deny them. That is its only – and most interesting – assurance.