THE NAB AFLW competition is now whole, with the AFL Commission throwing the door open for Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney to join in the 2022/23 season.
It means all 18 clubs will now have an AFLW side after beginning as an eight-team competition in 2017.
Port Adelaide and Sydney had not previously applied for a licence, while Essendon and Hawthorn first submitted applications ahead of the 2019 intake.
As previously decided by the Commission, the upcoming 2021/22 season will stay at 14 teams, giving the new sides around 16 months to prepare for their debut.
Currently, Hawthorn and Essendon field sides in the VFLW competition (coached by Bec Goddard and Brendan Major respectively), while Port Adelaide and Sydney run junior academy programs (led by Naomi Maidment and Jared Crouch).
Rules around list builds are yet to be confirmed, but in expansions prior, existing teams saw a certain number of players walk to the new clubs, with any additional players over that maximum resulting in compensation.
For fans eager to see just who will join their new AFLW side, list builds won't commence until the conclusion of the upcoming 2021/22 season.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said the competition was "changing forever and changing for the better".
"I'm incredibly proud of all who have been involved and been part of the first five seasons. Our players, coaches, umpires, administrators and particularly our supporters," McLachlan said.
"In 2015, there were 318,000 women and girls playing our game. Today, there are more than 600,000 women and girls playing around the country.
"Before we announce the final teams into the competition, I want to acknowledge those who have been driving women's football since the first organised match was played over 100 years ago in 1915.
"The contribution and persistence of pioneering individuals who pushed and pushed for women to play football should never be forgotten. So for all those pioneering women, we're here today because of your hard work. Thank you."
McLachlan said all four applications met the criteria around resourcing, facilities, list strategies, fan engagement and commercialisation and investment into AFLW.
The details around extending the season length (set to be 10 rounds in the 2021/22 season) has not been confirmed, with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire in October 2022.
McLachlan would not be drawn on whether the controversial conference system would be back, describing them as "suspended" rather than dead and buried.
"Season length and player pay are ongoing discussions. I don't believe, per say, there is any greater integrity or commitment to the season playing each other once," McLachlan said.
"That's where many of the players are, certainly. I believe that sustainable growth is the path forward. We will get there at some point, but it needs to be sustainably."
On the complete absence of women holding senior coaching roles for the 2021/22 season, McLachlan said AFLW was also about boosting underrepresentation in coaching ranks.
"Depth is a key part of broader representation and those who are willing and able to get to those positions can. It's clearly also a commitment from clubs to give them an opportunity," he said.
"[Quotas] have been raised. I won't comment on that other than to say I think clubs are clear that we need greater female representation in the coaching ranks. The discussion is not going away."