WHEN you are touted as the top pick in your AFLW Draft class, there is no doubt a lot of expectation and pressure that comes with it, but Peel Thunder‘s Ella Roberts is taking it all in her stride and enjoying her football. The top-age prospect comes with an accolade-filled junior career that features back-to-back Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards for Western Australia – and the 2021 AFLW Under 18 Championships MVP – along with All-Australian jumpers, as well as back-to-back flags for Peel Thunder in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) Women’s competition.
Despite those individual accolades at national level, Roberts said she loved representing Western Australia as a bottom-ager, and playing alongside so many quality players.
“That was so awesome, to be part of such a great team when everyone is so, so good, that much better than you and the same ability it’s so awesome,” Roberts said. “I feel you get to play your best footy when you’re surrounded by those people so I loved my experience in the state, and it was very honouring to win the medal bit of a surprise, but very honouring.”
Roberts’ footy journey is becoming more and more typical in the female footballing ranks. She started off playing Auskick as a child, and has had the opportunity to pursue her dream across various levels, from juniors to seniors. No doubt some of her best memories are from Peel Thunder’s meteoric rise to success. In 2019, the Thunder finished wooden spooners, but just a year later, held the premiership cup aloft in a COVID-19 impacted season.
A 15-year-old forward – who was only eligible to play in the WAFL Women’s by 14 days – was one of a number of Peel Thunder players who became household names in the rise to the top. In a remarkable finish to the year, Roberts stepped up in finals to boot two goals in both the Preliminary and Grand Finals, helping Peel to a 15-point low-scoring win over Subiaco.
It was very surreal. I still look back at it and I think it’s awesome,” Roberts said “A bit unbelievable, but so, so good. “I’ve been part of such a great team and I’m loving my time there.
“They were a bit fluky [of the goals she kicked in the grand final] but it was so awesome. “It definitely made me feel like I was part of the team, getting accepted by all the older girls so it was really good.”
In 2021, along with her national championships success, Roberts booted 14 goals in 14 games, and though this time none came in the finals, Roberts was still among the most impressive players as the Thunder ran out 21-point winners over Swan Districts. When asked which flag was more enjoyable, Roberts was indecisive and said they both had their special moments.
“I think they were both good in their ways,” Roberts said. “The second one was good because it meant that it wasn’t a one-time thing, we went back-to-back and we maintained consist form, but the first one was good because we came from last on the ladder and then first the year later. “It just proved that we had come a really long way and were a good team.”
Like any athlete, disaster in the form of injury can strike at any time, and Roberts was shooting some hoops during the off-season, when an awkward landing fractured her ankle and ruled her out of the Thunder’s preseason and indeed, the start of the WAFL Women’s year.
“I was just playing local basketball, just doing a simple layup and landed wrong and fractured,” Roberts said. “It was a pretty long time off running, walking, so it was quite hard because I’m a bit of an active person, I love running around. “But it definitely made me grow some resilience and I think it helped a lot.”
Roberts was still able to remain actively involved in the Thunder program, donning the pinks as a runner, able to bark onfield instructions to her teammates, whilst finishing off her recovery and getting ready for the AFLW Under 18 Championships.
“I was runner for Peel for the first couple of rounds before State started, and that was awesome to still be involved at Peel and I loved it, being around all the girls,” Roberts said.
In her first game back from injury, Roberts collected 13 disposals, three marks, four tackles and kicked 1.1, though it was not enough to get up against Claremont. Now set to return, Roberts is fit, firing and ready to have a big finish to the season.
As the top pick in the AFLW Draft class, there are no shortages of strengths, but what does the star teenager think are her best traits?
“Probably my groundballs and contested marking and unlike today normally goalkicking,” Roberts said speaking after the AFLW Academy’s win over the Under 23s All-Stars side.
In that victory, Roberts booted 1.3, and though she was still second best afield behind MVP Montana Ham, is always looking for areas to improve. They include goakicking under pressure, as well as tackling and defensive pressure. It goes to show how you are definitively your own harshest critic as even her improvements are a cut above most, particularly for such a dynamic forward.
The Perth-based Roberts travels about 50 minutes to Peel Thunder training and home games, which she does not mind, and thanked her mum who she named as her inspiration over her football journey.
“She does so much for me and she’s incredible and I wouldn’t be here today without her so I owe her a lot,” she said.
It is no surprise to see that getting drafted is on Roberts’ radar, with the AFLW Draft date yet to be set, but it seems a mere formality that the West Australian club with the top pick by the time the draft rolls around will be quick to read out her name.
“Hopefully get drafted (is the goal),” Roberts said. “Pretty soon hopefully, that would be the ultimate dream.”
Peel Thunder has somewhat struggled to regain its form of the past two seasons, currently sitting fourth and yet to beat any of the top three sides, East Fremantle, Claremont or Swan Districts. But with Roberts set to return, it is hoped Peel can recapture that form and spark a second half revival to add another chapter to the famed Thunder story.
“I really hope (to win another flag), Roberts said. “I’ve been waiting to get back to Peel for a little while now, so I’m looking to getting back, playing some consistent footy and hopefully get some wins on the board. “You know, could go three-peat and that would be awesome.”
As for what she continues to love about football, it is all about making friends and building your social circle whilst being competitive and having fun. Roberts said she made plenty of new friends representing both Western Australia and the AFLW Academy, whilst having a couple of close friends at the Thunder.
“I like this team (AFLW Academy), this was awesome,” Roberts said. “Girls like Montana Ham, Georgie Cleaver, girls that I normally don’t get to play with, so I really enjoyed making friends, getting along with them. “At Peel, there’s Gracie Fenton, Jaide Britton, really good mates of mine. “I love playing with people I get along with really well.”