A LITTLE-KNOWN expansion club player signing rule is set to shake up the next AFLW Draft, which will be held in December.
There's a chance some of the very top talent – including Lauren Young, Shineah Goody, Laura Stone and Alyssia Pisano – could skip the draft entirely, eligible for pre-signing by expansion clubs.
The four most recent AFLW teams – Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney – were given the option of pre-signing three players from their women's Academies prior to the draft, over a two-year period.
The wording has since been slightly tweaked to three drafts, to accommodate the supplementary draft earlier in the year that was for mature-age players only.
Players have to agree to skip the draft and join the club directly. None of the four clubs either wanted to use the mechanism for the 2022 draft, or failed to convince players to sign on.
The AFL confirmed on Thursday that the expansion club pre-signing period would run from November 13-17, with the Trade Period to run from December 7-14.
The 2023 AFLW Draft will be held on Monday, December 18.
Key forward Young (West Adelaide) and versatile midfielder Goody (Woodville-West Torrens) fall under Port Adelaide's Next Generation Academy, and were named player of the under-18 championships in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
SANFLW clubs Norwood and South Adelaide are also zoned to the Power.
Midfielder Stone and lightning small forward Pisano both play for Eastern Ranges, which is in Hawthorn's academy zone. They are regarded as two of the most talented 18-year-old players in Victoria.
Key defender Ava Campbell captained Vic Metro this year, and is also a Ranges player.
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Essendon's zone encompasses the Calder Cannons, who have under-18 All-Australian midfielder Kayley Kavanagh on their books.
Sydney has a much geographically larger zone, including inner Sydney, the northern beaches, Illawarra, Central Coast, Hunter and the northern coast.
It's not the first time expansion clubs have been able to pre-sign young Academy players.
A similar rule ahead of the 2020 season saw West Coast pre-sign Mikayla Bowen, St Kilda bring in Molly McDonald and Isabella Shannon, and Gold Coast add Ellie Hampson, Charlotte Hammans and Kitara Whap-Farrar, with Richmond opting not to utilise the signing pathway.