RETURNING to the region where she spent the best part of a decade as a volunteer, incoming GWV Rebels Talent Operations Lead Brooke Brown is excited to return home. Though she admits it was hard to leave the Bendigo Pioneers, she was happy to be “home”, with equal love for both regions. In speaking to Rookie Me Central at the NAB League Girls Preseason Testing Day, Brown said she was excited for what the future held.
“It’s been a wonderful change getting back to family and friends in Ballarat, and probably getting back to a program that I cut my teeth in,” Brown said. “As a volunteer for nine years at the Rebels it was good to come home. “But in saying that, it was hard to leave the Pioneers program that Danny (O’Bree, Bendigo Pioneers coach) and I built over the year. “It’s been a good change, but it’s even difficult seeing the Pioneers girls here today. “In love with both regions at the moment.”
Though the regions are different, they have similar challenges, with travel being a major factor for any regional team. In some cases, upwards of five hours of transportation is required to get to games or training. It is always a tricky balance in trying to get the most out of each Rebels player, but a balance the club work out with each individual.
“Even this morning, so we had a girl leave her home at 4:45 to be on the bus at 8 and be down here by 10 o’clock. We do what’s best for the player, so if the player needs to stay at home and study, or we have satellite bases at Hamilton, Horsham and Warrnambool,” Brown said.
“So they can train there once a week and only come into Ballarat once a week as well. “We try to limit their travel as much as possible, because we know the program is huge for family and friends and it’s really important to have that balance.”
Speaking of time, there has been a lot less of it for preseason, with the first round kicking off on January 22. When asked how the preseason has gone, Brown said “very, very quickly”.
“The preseason program is a quick transition,” she said. “But the girls have been fantastic, we’ve got some wonderful futures girls coming through as well, and the program’s built up as well. “They only had 38 girls play at the Rebels last year, and we’ve got 33 on the list and then 25 on the futures girls. “So the program is building and building, and women’s football over the NAB League and the beyond is just going to go from strength to strength.”
Looking at the GWV Rebels list this year, Paige Scott is a member of the AFL Women’s Academy. The leading goalkicker for Vic Country in her bottom-age year last year, Scott impressed enough through the AFLW Under 19s Championships and NAB League to be invited to the elite program. Brown said whilst Scott still had areas to work on, she was a naturally gifted footballer.
“Paige has got some wonderful football ability,” Brown said. “She’s got a fair bit to work on both on and off the field. “But that’s a thing that we’ll do throughout the year to help her along. “She’s got a wonderful football brain. “We’ll just continue to work with her throughout the year. “Hopefully she can achieve what she wants to achieve in her footy both this year and beyond.”
Ruck Kalani Scoullar is another one who represented Vic Country last year and earned a spot in the Country hub this preseason. Some of the players that Brown identified as tearing up the track early were Hamilton-region players, Jedah Huf and Jessica Rentsch.
“They’re both very athletic girls who can go and get the footy,” Brown said. “They’re the two from the Hamilton side of things. “We’ve got some Ballarat girls, they’re just trying their best. “Some of them here are new and wouldn’t have even known what an agility test is, so it’s just about having a go and having some fun today (testing day).”
Each year over-age players return to try and add extra strings to their bow and put their hand up to be drafted after missing out. In 2021, they include Tahlia Meier and Lilli Condon. Both players represented the Western Bulldogs in the VFLW last season, with Meier now training with North Melbourne, and Condon weighing up her options. Brown said it was fantastic to have them both back at the club.
“Tahlia’s been playing a few practice games at North Melbourne, so I think her footy will go from strength to strength having had those practice games at North Melbourne, so she’ll be roaring to go Round 1, so will Lilli,” she said. “They’ve certainly been outstanding for our program from a leadership point of view, but also a football point of view.”
As for the NAB League Girls season, the Rebels take on Gippsland Power at LaTrobe University, Bundoora on Saturday, January 22. Brown said she, the staff and the players were excited to get back out and play some competitive matches a little earlier than last year.
“I think it’s exciting for our NAB League program, that come the end of the school holidays we’ll be playing Round 1 and Round 2 of footy,” she said. “The girls are excited to play, we’re excited to have the season up and going and hopefully we’ll get a full season without interruptions this year.”