NPLW Season Preview

Finally, Victoria’s National Premier Leagues family will be made whole this weekend, as the NPLW Victoria competition prepares to stage its triumphant 2022 return. 

Across the coming 21 weeks – plus finals – some of the best and brightest talent that Victoria has to offer will make their long-anticipated return to the field; competing not just for the right to bring acclaim and silverware to their club but also to demonstrate their ability to step up to national level competition and, possibly, beyond. 

Commencing when long-standing NPLW powers Calder United travel to face historic heavyweights Box Hill United this Friday, 2022 will see NPLW Victoria, like its male counterpart, attempt to complete its first full season since 2019. 

The grim spectre of COVID has forced the cancellation of back-to-back seasons but, with wide-spread vaccination and a new ‘COVID-normal’ in place, hopes are high that this will finally be the year in which Victoria crowns a champion for the first time since Alycia Eicke’s lone goal lifted Calder over FC Bulleen Lions in the 2019 decider. 

Unlike in 2020, though, in which not a single round was able to be played before the competition was locked down, there are some hints of form to extrapolate from the 2021 campaign; in which twelve games were able to be played before the season, once again, was shuttered. 

At the time of this cessation, it was South Melbourne that sat alone atop the top tier’s table; winners of eleven of twelve, five points clear of second-placed Bulleen and with an astonishing goal difference of +40 from their dozen fixtures. 

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South Melbourne FC held a commanding lead at the top of the table in 2021.

Nonetheless, despite their dynamic regular season form, South was unable to lift the lone piece of silverware awarded in 2021: feeling the bite of number of A-League Women-enforced absences as they went down 3-0 in the final of the Nike FC Cup to Calder, who themselves secured a record-setting fourth knockout Cup win in a row. 

As mentioned, Calder, still technically the defending premiers and champions, will open their season away to Box Hill on Friday evening, followed by meetings between Heidelberg United and Bayside and South and Bulleen on Saturday. FV Emerging, last year’s surprise packet before the season’s cancellation, will host Alamein FC in the round’s final game on Sunday.

The full fixture for the 2022 NPLW Victoria season can be found here. 

Club glory is not the only thing on the line in 2021, though.

Seven of the last ten A-League Women championships have been lifted by either Melbourne City or Melbourne Victory, and Western United’s stated intention to enter the national women’s top-flight as soon as possible will introduce even further opportunities for local players to make the leap to the top of the Australian pyramid. 

But while Victory’s commitment to local talent has formed the bedrock of their back-to-back titles, City’s director of football Michael Petrillo has gone on the record with a desire to foster more local talent at the club, and Western are making inroads in the state’s west, they do not represent the only options available to players from Victoria. 

A record-setting number of NPLW Victoria players made their way to interstate A-League Women teams for the 2021-22 season, with the likes of Reona Omiya at Adelaide United, Sofia Sakalis, Alana Jancevski, and Claudia Mihocic at Perth Glory, and Annabel Haffenden and Nia Stamatopoulos at Brisbane Roar flying the flag for Victoria at interstate clubs. 

After making 12 appearances for Roar in 2021-22, Alamein’s Haffenden promptly found herself signing with Swedish side Vaxjo and commencing her first overseas adventure; a demonstration of how quickly a youngster plying their trade on parks and grounds across suburban Melbourne can suddenly find themselves stepping up the next level. 

Inevitably, these players leave a void that needs to be filled at their former NPLW Victoria clubs when they leave the nest but therein lies the beauty of the process: another youngster able to step up, plug the hole and start a journey of their own. 

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Box Hill United will host Calder FC in tomorrow's season opener.

But it is not just opportunities for progression in club careers that are potentially on the line in this year’s NPLW Victoria campaign. 

In mid-March, the Young Matildas were confirmed as one of the Asian Football Confederation’s three representatives at the 2022 Women's U20 World Cup in Costa Rica, set to run from August 10 to 28 across the cities of San José and Alajuela. 

Australia last took part in this showcase event for the planet’s best U20 players in 2006 – when current Young Matildas boss Leah Blayney was a member of the squad – and with a home senior World Cup on the horizon, the platform that the tournament will offer its participants could, in a word, be life changing.  

Blayney is a regular viewer of NPLW Victoria streams and, with the easing of border restrictions and lockdowns, the opportunity is now there for Victoria’s best young talent to put their best foot forward and demand inclusion in a World Cup bound Young Matildas squad. 

And if that’s not enough, opportunities for progression by individuals is not the only form of advancement in the pipeline for the coming months and years. After 2021 forced the cancellation of the campaign, promotion to the NPLW from VPLW will exist in 2022, with relegation then becoming a part of the competition from 2023.

In housekeeping matters, NPLW Victoria clubs will have similar expectations to their male equivalents with regards to COVID interruptions to playing rosters throughout the 2022 season: teams expected to attempt to plug the gaps in their senior squads with players from their U19 teams before postponements can be considered. Similar flexibility will be required from coaching staffs, with their absence from the dugout not enough to request a delay to a fixture. 

Likewise, staging a full regular season will be the priority for Football Victoria; flexibility built into this year’s fixture to ensure that, if nothing else, 21 weeks of football are logged and a new Premier is crowned. However, as is the case in NPLM Victoria, if the season is forced to be cancelled for the third-straight year, the premiership and promotion from the Victorian Premier League Women’s competition will be determined via ladder position on the condition that at least 50% of the league’s fixtures have been played. 

If all teams have played the same amount of games it’s a pretty easy determination, but in the event that there is an uneven spread then a points per game basis will be used, followed by average goal difference per game, and then average goals for per game. 

Fans, as ever, are highly encouraged to get down to grounds and cheer on teams in person this season – you never know, you just might spot a wild Jeff Hopkins or Rado Vidošić to boot – but if that’s not practical, every match of the 2022 NPLW Victoria season, as well as the NPLM Victoria season, NPLM Under 21 season, select NPLM2 and NPLM3 games, Nike FC Cup, and Dockerty Cup fixtures will be available globally and free on the new NPL.TV service. 

The new platform is available via dedicated iOS and Android mobile applications; Apple TV and Android TV applications; and web browsers.

An Introduction to NPL.TV