It started as a bit of fun.
But now the Saints and Lions women’s teams will stand on one of AFL South Coast’s biggest stages.
In a significant boost for the female game, Saturday’s clash between the Wollongong rivals is part of double-header, playing straight after the Swans-Giants’ NEAFL derby.
And it will have important ramifications for the AFL South Coast Women’s top four, with the Saints one game behind the Lions on the ladder.
Ilijana Babic convinced her sister Andriana to come along to Lions pre-season training after seeing a Facebook post calling for players.
They admit some of their family still have little understanding of Australian football, with a Serbian soccer-loving heritage.
“I watched my first game of AFL last year,” Andriana said. “We’ve got Serbian background, so we’ve watched a lot of tennis and football, like soccer. So this was like, ‘what are you doing?’. My mum didn’t really know what the game was.”
Manly of the Lions girls had the added advantage of starting the pre-season earlier than other clubs, while the Saints have two teams, including the top-of-the-ladder and defending AFL Sydney Women’s division one champions.
The Lions opened the inaugural women’s league with a 10.8 (68) to 3.4 (22) victory over the Saints in April.
“We started the season strong, but all the other teams are getting stronger,” Ilijana said.
“At the start were just trying to learn the game, but now it’s more about strategy.”
Atkins said the Lions men’s teams have been very welcoming.
“It’s been fantastic, our club is the best,” she said.
“They’ve been such gentlemen in teaching us the game and been very patient and supportive.”
NORTH EAST AFL
Saturday at North Dalton Park
SYDNEY SWANS v GWS GIANTS (12pm)
AFL SOUTH COAST WOMEN’S
WOLLONGONG LIONS v WOLLONGONG SAINTS (3pm)