Women interested in playing AFL are being encouraged to get involved through the modified AFL 9s game, which is gaining traction in the Illawarra.

AFL 9s player Laura Russell said the sport, which runs during the AFL off-season, is a no-contact option that provides a good introduction to the basic rules of AFL for beginners.

“It’s great fitness and a lot of fun… it’s a bit more laid back,” said Ms Russell, who plays both AFL and AFL 9s for the Wollongong Saints women’s football club. “You make a lot of friends and get to know the girls before the regular comp starts.”

Modifications to the AFL game include a reduced playing field, a smaller ball and, as the name suggests, nine fielded players per team instead of the usual 18 players. The Illawarra runs a mixed AFL 9s program, meaning that males and females can play together.

The game has surged in popularity this year after the recent announcement that the AFL national women’s league will kick off in 2017.

Club President of the Wollongong Saints, Casey Moane, insists that the national endorsement of women’s AFL has inspired girls to take up the sport who had never previously considered it as an option.

“A lot of this is to do with… girls and women having a clear pathway of where the sport can take them in their lives,” she said.

“We continue to foster a culture and environment in which women can develop and play in the Sydney AFL competition… and beyond.”

The Saints have enjoyed prolific success since the club’s inception in 2010. This year, they are celebrating the drafting of player Kate Stanton, who will play for the GWS Giants in the 2017 national league.

The Wollongong AFL 9s competition runs on Monday evenings at North Dalton Park, and men and women who are interested in trying out the game are encouraged to attend. Individuals can register at any time during the season.