Season two of the AFLW is now only days away, and the 2018 instalment is set to see a strong European presence taking the field amongst the best 242 female footballers who will be strutting their stuff over the next eight weeks.

The inaugural AFLW season was set to be a roaring success from the moment AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan stepped onto the Princes Park concourse prior to the first match between Carlton and Collingwood to announce a lockout to the hundreds of fans waiting outside, and the final euphoric image of Adelaide Co-Captains Erin Phillips & Chelsea Randall lifting the premiership cup alongside coach Bec Goddard capped off a momentous first year for the competition.

Across the eight AFLW clubs in 2018 there are five currently listed players with a connection to AFL in Europe, and will be keeping a close eye on all their progress throughout the new season. Stay tuned each week for updates on how the ladies and their clubs are tracking as the season unfolds.

Lauren Spark – #11 – Western Bulldogs – Wimbledon Hawks (2015/16)

Spark was taken with pick 76 in the inaugural AFLW draft by the Bulldogs and went on to play in all seven of the sides regular season matches after making her debut against Fremantle in round one.

Having previously plied her trade for Melbourne University in the VFL Women’s competition as well as a two-year stint with the Wimbledon Hawks in London, Lauren also represented Australia in beach volleyball at the 2007 Asian Championships and worked as an assistant coach for the Great Britain Swans throughout their 2017 International Cup campaign, where they were only narrowly beaten by the eventual winners Ireland in a pulsating semi-final.

The versatile key defender and ruck produced a strong first season in 2017 and was duly rewarded with her selection to play for Victoria in the State of Origin match against the Allies, and you can expect her to go from strength to strength in 2018 as a pillar of the Dogs line-up once again.

Her season will kick off on Sunday afternoon AEDT (5:35am GMT) against Fremantle at the Whitten Oval just as it did last year, with the Bulldogs desperately hoping for a similar result that will get them on track to improve on their sixth-place finish in 2017.

Kate Shierlaw – #25 – Carlton Blues – Wimbledon Hawks (2016)

Kate Shierlaw is another product of the Wimbledon Hawks in London who remains relatively new to the game of Australian Rules after taking it up in February 2016, but she is now set for her second season at the elite level with Carlton after playing six games in 2017.

The former South Australian basketballer and national junior javelin thrower caught the attention of the Blues prior the inaugural AFLW season courtesy of a five-minute highlights tape from her best and fairest winning season with Wimbledon that was posted to YouTube, with Carlton securing the 186cm ruck/forward as a rookie pick.

After making her debut in round two last season against GWS, Shierlaw played all six of the Blues remaining games and can be expected to hold down a spot in the side again this season, starting with the round one match-up against arch-rivals Collingwood at Princes Park on Friday Night.

Laura Duryea – #11 – Melbourne Demons – Irish Banshees Co-Captain (2017 International Cup)

Laura Duryea will be a familiar name to many readers after the second-year Demon co-captained the Irish Banshees to their thrilling International Cup victory back in August, which was just one of many honours bestowed upon the key defender in 2017.

After being taken as a free agent by Melbourne and making history as the first Irish woman selected to play in the AFLW, Duryea featured in all seven of her sides matches before embarking on the Irish International Cup campaign where she proved a rock in defence as the Banshees went through the tournament undefeated. Her performances were recoginised with selection in the World Team, and she fell only just short of capping off the season in perfect fashion as her Diamond Creek side was defeated narrowly in the VFLW Grand Final by Darebin.

Expect the tenacious defender to continue to make waves in 2018, as the highly-fancied Demons line-up look to improve after missing out on last year’s Grand Final to the eventual premiers Adelaide on percentage. The Dee’s face GWS in the first game of the new season this Saturday at 5:05pm (6:05am GMT).

Cora Staunton – Greater Western Sydney Giants – Recruited from GAA

A legend of the Gaelic game back in Ireland, Cora Staunton heads into her first season with the Giants on the back of significant successes in her native country where she has won four All-Ireland titles and been selected in ten Ladies Gaelic Football All Star sides after making her debut for Mayo as a fifteen-year-old back in 1995.

Having also played Rugby Union and Soccer throughout her career, Staunton was selected with pick 46 in the 2017 draft by GWS despite never having played Australian rules previously, though given her elite pedigree the Giants are expecting that she can make an immediate impact as a marking forward in 2018.

Fans will be able to get their first glimpse at Staunton as the Giants face Melbourne at Casey Fields on Saturday afternoon (AEDT), with the side looking to improve on a disappointing first season where they won just the single game and claimed the wooden spoon by finishing on the bottom of the ladder.

Lauren Tesoriero – #7 – Collingwood Magpies – Wandsworth Demons (2017)

On the other side of that Friday night blockbuster is the Magpies hard-nosed midfielder Lauren Tesoriero, who embarks on her second season in the black and white after making her debut in the historic round one lockout game against the Blues in 2017.

Tesoriero was considering retirement prior to being selected with pick 107 by Collingwood in October 2016, having played her football for the Eastern Devils in the VFLW, but after five games for the Pies in her debut season she will be keen to consolidate a spot in the side as the Magpies look to improve on their fifth-place finish in 2017. Tesoriero spent some of her 2017 off-season assisting the two Wandsworth Demons women’s sides in London passing on a lot of knowledge and experience.

Tesoriero and Collingwood will be eager to even the ledger against their biggest rivals on Friday night after the Blues took the honours convincingly in the corresponding fixture last year, with kick-off at Princes Park at 7:45pm AEDT (8:45am GMT).