2022 was one of the most chaotic off-season’s in recent years, and so 2023 looked quiet in comparison. Yet, some of the best talent in the league has moved on, exciting youngsters have changed clubs, and a new team has joined the WNPL. Another spectacular 21-games season is upon us, and the ushering of a new era in Women’s football in the Capital. Jeremy Magan takes a look at what we can expect this campaign.
Head Coach: Rob Illingworth
Last Season: Premier and Champion in State League 1
The announcement of the inclusion of ANU WFC in the 2023 Women’s Premier League was one of the most exciting news of the off-season. The group coached by Rob Illingworth dominated the State League in the past few seasons, even placing their two squads at the top of the ladder and in the Grand Final in 2022. The University based club has a large pool of players to pick from and will be one of the underdogs to watch this year. The jump to NPL is no easy feat, and undoubtedly, we will witness an adaptation period, but the talent in ANU WFC ranks is undeniable. For added experience, they welcome South-American forward Sofia Chaverra, back in the competition after her breakthrough season in 2021 with the West Canberra Wanderers. Chaverra left lasting memories at Melrose and should be play an important part with her new club. They kick off 2023 with a clash against CUA, and a Federation Cup tie with Gungahlin United.
Head Coach: Scott Conlon
Last Season: 3rd
Scott Conlon’s first season at the helm with the Blue Devils can only be seen as successful. After losing half of his starting line-up in the off season, Belconnen United seemed in rebuild mode. Appointing Conlon, a youth coach at the club, proved just the right move. Allowing new leaders to emerge while slowly integrating youngsters was a daunting task, masterfully executed, with two finals as a reward for a group in need of experience. The challenge in 2023 might be even greater for the club that ended last season third on the table: can Talia Backhouse and her troops confirm their ability now that they have a new status? A couple of experienced players and some young talents, goalkeeper Jayla Murphy one of them, have departed, leaving big shoes to fill. Sealing the signing of three of the best prospects of the NPL in Hattie Cram, Isabella Hindmarsh and Bessie Riethmuller in the summer however is a testimony to the work done at McKellar Park. The new signings will test their ability to adapt early, with the Blue Devils facing Gungahlin United, Canberra Olympic and Canberra Croatia to start the season. Conlon has his work cut out for him, but the talent to succeed.
Head Coach: Zoran GLAVINIC
Last Season: 1st
Canberra Croatia were crowned Premiers for the third year running, after dominating the competition in 2022. They will however be remembered for ending on the wrong end of two of the most entertaining game in recent history in the capital, failing to secure a berth for the Grand Final. To add to the disappointment, Grace Gill and Krista Hagen pulled the curtain on their exceptional careers at Deakin. Undoubtedly Zoran Glavinic and his team will be as scarred as they will be motivated by the unfolding of these two games in September. The success early this month in the Charity Shield was the best way to start the season. This was the first of three early duels with Canberra Olympic, the teams also facing each other in game one and the Federation Cup Quarter Finals. It was also a confirmation that despite losing two of their best players, talent lies aplenty in Deakin, from the experienced core of the squad to the new additions on the wings and upfront. Charli Mitchell looks a force to reckon with upfront in case Canberra Croatia needed some more firepower next to three-time Golden Boot Brittany Palombi.
Head Coach: Nicole BEGG
Last Season: 2nd
The expectations were not small for Canberra Olympic in 2022. In her 2nd season at the helm, Nicole Begg had put together an experienced squad of trophy winners, and trophies they kept winning. The 2023 WNPL and Federation Cup champions are now facing an even bigger challenge, staying at the top. The loss to Canberra Croatia in the Charity Shield early this month was a good reminder of the hard work ahead. This off-season was much quieter than 2022 in terms of player movement, although in the departing Ashleigh Sykes, her goal scoring ability and leadership will be sorely missed. There is still talent and experience aplenty in the blue outfit, and they are kicking off 2023 as the favourites in the competition. Begg has a chance to write the history of Olympic a bit more this year, with a first Premiership title in her sight. Bringing the trophy back to O’Connor would end a 13-year Belconnen-Canberra Croatia domination, a tour de force no one would have imagined before Begg took over at Olympic.
CANBERRA UNITED ACADEMY
Head Coach: Matty MOORE
Last Season: 6th
The only coaching change this off-season was at the Academy, where Matty Moore, in charge of youth teams at the club in the past, and Assistant Coach at Belconnen United last season, took over from Sarah West. Moore will be at the helm of a fairly renewed team. Six players, including 2022 breakthrough youngsters Isabella Hindmarsh and Bessie Riethmuller, have left the green outfit behind them. In the meantime, two of the most coveted talents in our capital, Maddison Sawkins and Nina Zarevac, have joined the Hawker based club. All this off the field movement promises a season of transition for the Academy. Moore will be able to count on youth international Goalkeeper Chloe Lincoln again this year, with all her talent and Liberty A-League experience, to help through this phase. 2022 had been a complicated season at Hawker, with only five successes in 21 games, and Moore is tasked with bringing the Academy back in contention with the best team in the NPLW.
Head Coach: Andrew WOODMAN
Last Season: 5th
Andrew Woodman’s appointment halfway through the 2022 season proved the right call for Gungahlin United. The Gunners turned the tide under Woodman and ended only three points behind 4th place West Canberra Wanderers. A full off-season and some interesting signings later, the former Olympic coach is ready to lead his team through a full season, with the ambition to capitalise on the talent available in the North to see the Gunners back in post-season football. In a fairly similar team, the added experience of Karen Clarke will be an undeniable asset in a sector Gungahlin showed a bit of fragility last year. Upfront, Ginger Oliver and Jade Brown will also be two players to look out for. Oliver is expected to confirm her great performances of 2022 with the Wanderers, and Brown is back from College football in the United States, bringing her acute sense of finishing back to Gungahlin Enclosed. Woodman and Diego Iglesias have been building a successful program in the North, and 2023 could see them finally reaping the rewards.
Head Coach: Paulo ROMERO
Last Season: 7th
Paulo Romero had teased us in 2021 with some promising performances, and he confirmed in 2022 with a solid game plan week-in, week-out and some commendable results despite the seventh spot in the end. The draw at the tail-end of the season against Canberra Croatia was a boost of confidence for team beaten fourteen times last year. Tuggeranong United is seeing some important players changing club in 2023, and Romero’s challenge will be to replace them without impacting the system and performances of his club. Still present at Kambah this season, Sammy Emms, Jade Emms, and Lara Mustaine, to name a few, should frustrate a few teams again and be a defensive force to reckon with, but an area of their game that cost them some points last season, their goal scoring, needs improving. After finding the back of the net only once in their first four games, Romero’s team finished with less than one goal scored per game. Stepping up their finishing is the main hurdle to get over for Tuggeranong, if they want to finally challenge for a better spot on the table.
WEST CANBERRA WANDERERS
Head Coach: Rey CASTRO
Last Season: 4th
The stunning start of 2022 for the Wanderers – six wins in eight games, only two losses in their first 11 encounters – allowed Rey Castor to lead his team to a much deserved post season appearance. The emergence of young talent, the defensive solidity, and the tactical nous of Castro finally offered West Canberra a spot in the finals. The downside of such success is that some of their best players have now moved on, either for studies, or simply picked up by the competition. Half of Castro’s starting line-up, including the three players who had scored 20 of the Wanderers’ 28 goals, have departed. 2023 looks like a time for rebuilding at Melrose, and the signings of the summer clearly show the West Canberra coach is in no mood to waste time. Lauren Hall, Eliza-Jane Norris, and Nikita Perry have already proved they belong in the NPLW, and the return of Sabrina Toufexis and Alyse Jensen offer some always needed experience. The Wanderers are, each year, a tough match-up for anyone in the capital, and this season should be no different.