In Part 2 of The Inner Sanctum‘s series with Ella Roberts, the teen sensation reflects on her MVP-awarded Under 19 State Championships, and looks ahead to the AFLW Draft in which she plans to stay in WA.
Western Australia’s Under 19s MVP
Western Australia would prepare for the under 19 Championships in April with a lead-in challenge match against South Australia in Adelaide.
Despite being the youngest player on the ground, Roberts was the visitors’ best as she lined up at centre half-forward for her state.
She could have ended the game with three or four to her name, but came off injured, before battling her way through the pain in the last quarter provide her side a spark. The bottom ager kept WA in the game with a genius snap from the boundary line; one of only two goals WA kicked on the day.
It was a tough result for the team, but a sign of things to come as the WA squad flew to Melbourne soon after.
“Melbourne was definitely an eye opening experience,” Roberts said.
“We had two AFLW Eagles players and we had the Fremantle women’s coach [talk to us].
“They were telling us what they were looking for in the transition from WAFL to AFLW footy, and how it’s a massive transition to handle, so I learned a lot just from that.”
In the first game of WA’s championships, the side came out firing against the Allies. Roberts lined up at centre half-forward once again and spent time in the middle of the ground for her side as it ran out convincing 33-point victors.
“I didn’t kick a goal, and they actually said I did on the report, so they got that wrong,” she laughed.
“I was running out on the wing and I passed it and it landed right in front of the goal square and one of the other girls kicked it through.
“Yeah I wasn’t really aiming [for the goals], I was aiming for her because she was clear in space so I tried to pass it to her.
“So one of the reports said I kicked a goal and another said I passed off a goal so I didn’t even know what I did!”
It was another sensational performance from Roberts, who was starting to create a name for herself as a big game player. She was named in the best players on the ground again for WA, but her best was yet to come.
“I’ve just had a bit of luck on my side and I’ve played good games
when I’ve needed to play good games.”
Vic Metro awaited in the second and final game of WA’s Championships. It was Roberts who once again stole the show, finishing the match with a game high 31 disposals as WA had a shot after the siren to win. The kick fell agonisingly short, and ended what would have been an incredible comeback.
“It was such a good game, I fully didn’t realise how well I was playing,” she admitted.
“I was so surprised when I saw I had 31 touches because I only played midfield for around a quarter, so when I saw 31 touches I was like ‘surely that’s a mistake’ honestly.
“I felt like I was doing alright, but there were plenty of other girls who I felt would have had more of the ball, but apparently not.”
In a scintillating performance, Roberts delivered the ball inside 50 on six occasions, using her speed and strength to burst away from stoppages when she was in the middle.
When lining up forward, her aerobic capabilities were on show as the 175cm tall talent worked up both wings to provide the link for a WA defence under immense pressure. In addition to her 31 touches, she would finish with two of WA’s four goals on the day.
It was a performance that Vic Metro knew Roberts was capable of, and they paid her considerable physical attention when she did move into the middle of the ground.
“They were physical with me in the middle,” she said.
“I had suspected that coming in, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared.
“I’d been getting a lot of bumps over here when I was playing WAFL, so I was thinking they’re going to be hitting me, but they weren’t too bad which was good.
“I was definitely fearing the worst though.”
While Vic Metro was physical with Roberts, she continued to play her own game and lead her side from the front. In the dying stages of the final term, WA was in desperate need of a goal to give itself a chance of victory.
Ella Roberts once again stepped up for the visitors and brought them back to life with a minute to go.
“The highlight was when I kicked my second goal,” she said.
“We had three minutes left to play so it was a goal we needed and it gave everyone that bit of hype and got us going, and we almost ended up getting another one.
“The shot after the siren just slightly drifted because there was a strong wind which took it, so we didn’t quite get there.”
Roberts was competing with a Vic Metro midfield unit including the likes of 2021 draft eligible players Georgie Prespakis (sister of AFLW Best and Fairest Madison) and Charlie Rowbottom (sister of AFLM Swans player James).
“[Vic Metro] has heaps of talent, I could clearly tell those girls were going to go far in football,” Roberts said of WA’s opposition.
Despite the loss, it was the Championships that Ella Roberts announced herself to the footy world; she was named WA’s MVP for the carnival, and had the AFLW community buzzing about her entry into the draft.
She is one of the new generation of women in Aussie Rules who have the opportunity to showcase their talents for years before being drafted.
However, fans will have to wait to see her on the big stage. To be draft eligible you must be turning at least 18 years of age in your draft year, which means her draft year is 2022.
Ella Roberts on the AFLW Draft
Despite being confident she could match it at the highest level, Roberts is content biding her time until the 2022 AFLW Draft, where she has scraped into draft eligibility with a December birthday and will once again be one of the youngest players in the competition.
“They all say that I could be [drafted this year], but I think I’m happy soaking up my time watching the girls who are going to get drafted, watching what they go through so I can get a bit of an idea of what I need to do to improve,” she said.
One such player is Peel Thunder and Western Australia teammate Courtney Rowley, who is draft eligible in 2021. Rowley won Peel’s League Best and Fairest in 2020 as a 16-year-old, and is in contention to be a first round pick this year.
“I look up to Courtney [Rowley] and I see what she does,” Robert said.
“I say ‘that’s what I’ve got to do, that’s what I need to improve on’, because she’s a very good footballer.
“It was good playing with her for WA because we play for Peel together and we know how each other play, so we work together well.”
It’s a conversation that has started at the earliest point in AFLW history, but Ella Roberts is already touted as the number one selection of a draft that is still 18 months away.
It’s a conversation she knows is going on, but right now is happy letting her play do the talking.
“I’m not sure about that [if I should be number one], but I do know there is so much talent coming through,” she acknowledged.
“I’ve just had a bit of luck on my side and I’ve played good games when I’ve needed to play good games.
“I obviously still have my bad ones but they don’t get as seen, so I’m sure there are definitely other girls who are just as good as me.”
More Women’s Aussie Rules News
Despite her humility about recent performances, Roberts has looked forward to her draft year and made a decision on where she wants to end up.
Under AFLW Draft rules, players can nominate for the state in which they want to be drafted to, so Ella Roberts can choose where she wants to player her senior footy.
In a huge coup for West Australian clubs West Coast and Fremantle, they will have priority access to the superstar in 2022.
“I’m definitely nominating to stay in WA,” Roberts told The Inner Sanctum.
“I just feel a little bit too young to just move across the country, so I’m going to nominate for WA.”
Despite being a Fremantle supporter, it won’t bother her where she ends up, so long as she can stay close to family and friends in her home state.
“I’m a Freo supporter, I’m the only one in a family of Eagles!,” Roberts laughed
“I honestly don’t mind where I go, even though I’m a Freo fan.
“So I really like watching the Eagles in the women’s competition, they haven’t been as good as the Freo team so far but I feel like they’d be a good team to play for as well.
“I really don’t mind where I end up but I’m happy I can stay in WA.”
Roberts has the potential to be a franchise-altering player for one of the WA-based clubs. It is not an overstatement to say she may already be the best footballer playing outside of the AFLW today.
Her accomplishments and ability to dominate every competition she has played in has created a sense of anticipation that hasn’t been seen in the AFLW since its first draft five seasons ago.
She’s only 16 years of age, but Ella Roberts is already a WAFLW Premiership player and MVP of her State whilst still being 18 months away from the AFLW Draft.
The sky is the limit for the teenage sensation, and the footballing world will be eagerly anticipating what’s next to come in her burgeoning career.
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