For the entire (short) history of the AFLW competition, one of the prevailing narratives from the first round of play has been around scoring.
Or more accurately, the feeling by internet manbabies has been that there is a lack of it:
Staying at a total of 3 goals ,total goals 22goals unless style changes to attacking, AFLW will quickly lose fans
— anotherbloody.com (@AnotherBloody) February 4, 2017
— Kale barry (@kale_barry) February 4, 2017
— Mad Nord-White (@madnordwhite) February 4, 2017
Put in a game where you can kick more than 10 goals in a game and you might find men taking more interest in AFLW
— Dave (@Bigdavos68) February 4, 2018
— DAMIEN (@DamienDzanic) February 3, 2018
It would be great to report that this criticism was limited to the fringes of fragile masculinity in the corners of the web. It must also be noted these types of complaints from the Big Davos and Damiens of the world are mostly disingenuous trolling by people who wouldn’t be interested in the league anyway. However, last year year the AFL HQ itself was seemingly so worried that they issued a “directive” to try to increase scoring.
They probably didn’t need to.
In both 2017 and 2018, the opening round was the lowest scoring of the season, which triggered the aforementioned hand wringing about the level of scoring.
In the ensuring weeks games opened up, team fluency improved, and scores increased. In 2017, round 1 scores were 52 points per game in a season that saw 66 points per game. In 2018, a 61 point opening week gave way to a 70 point season.
If that post round 1 growth occurs again, AFLW 2019 will be clearly the highest scoring season to date. This year’s opening round saw an average of 64 points, meaning we might expect the season to end up at about 75 points per game.
With the women’s games shorter than the men’s, 75 points in a game is equivalent to about 130 points in a men’s AFL game, or 65 per team. That’s pretty good for the third season of a semi-professional competition taking place in the blazing summer heat.
This season’s first round of games was also marked by some inaccuracy which hid a larger increase in scoring shots compared to previous years. As HPN have written about previously, scoring shots are often a better sign of general scoring trends than actual points themselves, with accuracy largely levelling out over time.
Scoring was up 6% on last year’s first week, but scoring shots rose by 16% from 16.8 per game to 19 per game. The main culprit for the discrepancy was the Crows kicking 1.11 from a mountain of chances.
It should be remembered however that scoring doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Some teams lack forward power or just value defence more highly.
The Lions are the key example here, because with a tight and experienced defensive unit they have typically won by restricting teams moreso than by scoring heavily. Both their grand final losses were to the highest scoring sides of that season, Adelaide in 2017 and the Bulldogs in 2018. Both sides managed to utilise their plethora of attacking options to break through the stout Lions backline just enough to make the difference.
However, Brisbane are still the most successful team in regular season games across the two years and their performance needs to be respected in all the discussion of scoring. The goal of football is to outscore the opponent, and strong defence is a valid strategy for doing that.
The other variable is venue and weather. In the chart below, we can see that the lowest scores have occurred in Sydney. and Brisbane. Brisbane’s defence has played a role, but this isn’t the case for GWS, since their away games and games in Canberra have been higher scoring. Rather, a large number of Sydney based games, and some Brisbane ones, have been played in heavy rain. Sydney is the wettest major capital, and February and March are its wettest month. Brisbane’s peak rain period is also around this time.
It’s quite possible for big chunks of a seven week season to be heavily impacted by heavy summer rain. For example, round 4 last year saw multiple games played in torrential downpours, and only saw a slight uptick in scoring over round 1. That’s a particular hazard of the time of year and the short season. Games in Sydney, Brisbane and from 2020, Gold Coast, will regularly be drenched as long as games happen in February and March.
So, the next time someone tells you that the AFLW would be better if only there were more goals being scored, just provide them the receipts above.