15/04/2024
Ella Roberts Peel Thunder

Ella Roberts playing for WAFLW club Peel Thunder. Supplied: Ella Roberts

For draft hopeful Ella Roberts, travelling six hours for training and games is just a small obstacle in the pursuit of the ultimate dream.

In 2018, Ella Roberts was playing in the Under 13’s boys competition in her hometown of Margaret River, a three hour drive south of Perth.

Just three short years later, the 16-year-old starlet has a WAFLW Premiership to her name and last week won Western Australia’s Most Valuable Player award at the Under 19 Championships in Melbourne. She was the youngest player in WA’s squad.

In part one of The Inner Sanctum’s series with the teenage sensation, Ella Roberts reflects on her meteoric rise to a WAFLW Premiership with Peel Thunder.

“In Margaret River it was all boys all the way through under 13s,” she said.

“I had one girl in my team for a year, and then a different girl in another year, but that was it. That was all the girls and the majority of the time I was just with the boys.

“I think year eight [of high school] was the last year of playing with all boys, so that was three years ago.

“That’s a little crazy to think about actually.”

It’s a pathway Roberts has taken that elite AFLW footballers are all too familiar with. No opportunity to play in a women’s competition growing up sees Aussie Rules losing girls to other sports before they can fall in love with the game.

The alternative is to compete with the boys at their age level.

“They hadn’t hit puberty

anyway so it wasn’t too bad!”

“I played footy since Auskick and my younger childhood, but I quit and played soccer for a year which I’m now really embarrassed about,” Roberts laughed.

“I played [soccer] for a year and realised ‘nah, I want to play footy’.

“Mum liked me playing soccer, she wanted me to have a change up and try different sports, but thankfully I got brought back to footy and it’s definitely the one for me.”

It was at that Under 13s level that Roberts started to turn heads, and a brilliant Under 15s Championships for Western Australia had WAFLW clubs lining up for the then 14-year-old.

“I had done state 15s and I was good friends with one of the girls at Peel, and she was telling me ‘Ella you need to come to a training, it’s the closest WAFL club to Margaret River’,” Roberts said.

“So I was really interested but I just thought I’d think about it, then the coach contacted me and said ‘you need to come up for a training,’ so I did.

“Now I absolutely love it here.”

Ella Roberts was a standout from her League debut in round four. Supplied: Ella Roberts

For Roberts, training and games are a three hour drive each way from her home in Margaret River. When she made the decision to join Peel Thunder it was a huge life commitment – individually and for her family. The future would entail six hours of driving, multiple days a week, while she completed year 11.

However, it was a commitment she needed to make in order to pursue her dream.

“I just wanted to see what I could do,” Roberts said.

“I didn’t think I’d do anything too special so I just thought ‘well this will be a good start for a footy career, I can get a few people watching at least’.”

Ella Roberts didn’t think the heads she’d be turning would be those of every AFLW club in the country.

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Peel Thunder was coming off a 2019 season to forget in the WAFLW, winning just a solitary game for the whole year.

The following season would be Roberts’ first at the top level of WA footy, and it was a daunting experience for the 15-year-old. She would be stepping into an open-age competition for the first time in her career.

“I was super nervous,” she admitted.

“I was used to playing with girls my age, and I’m quite tall for my age so I was used to playing with girls a bit smaller than me.

“And also playing with boys, I was always comfortable playing with the boys when I was younger.

“They hadn’t hit puberty anyway so it wasn’t too bad!,” Roberts laughed.

“So playing WAFL was a huge step up because they’re a lot stronger and quicker and I definitely wasn’t expecting it. But I think I’ve got [sic] used to it now.”

Peel would go on to win the competition and Roberts starred for the side after debuting in round four.

She helped carry Peel through the Preliminary Final and into a maiden Grand Final berth. With a kick the difference in the final term against reigning Premiers East Fremantle, Roberts took control of the game. Her first goal was a booming kick from 40 metres for Peel to extend its slim margin.

Roberts wasn’t done there. Just minutes after her first goal, the starlet swooped on the ball at the forward flank, before snapping across her body from just inside the 50 metre arc under immense pressure. The ball curled through the big sticks and her teammates erupted in celebration.

It was a five minute period of play that the 15-year-old completely dominated. When the game was on the line, she stepped up for her side.

One of Ella Roberts’ two goals in the final term. Supplied: Ella Roberts

After suffering a slim 6-point defeat to Subiaco in the qualifying final, the teams would meet again in the Grand Final.

This time, Peel was out for redemption. And once again, it was Roberts who would deliver a stunning sequence in the second quarter to shock the minor premiers.

Subiaco had only lost one game for the 2020 season, but containing Roberts proved a bridge too far in the Grand Final.

“I felt like I was making a big impact on the game, which was really good, and it just made me love footy even more,” she said.

“Playing forward was good for me, I’m not too bad of a mark and it helped when it was a contested ball so I could bring it to the ground if I didn’t mark it.

“Plus I’m not too bad of a set shot as well.”

Ella Roberts’ purple patch of two calmly taken set shots from 40 metres out was the catalyst for Peel’s underdog victory.

Lining up at centre-half forward for the day, she was the only multiple goal-kicker for the Thunder. Once her job up forward was done, she moved into the middle to ice the game in the last quarter. Multiple smothers and goal-saving tackles from one of the youngest players on the field helped Peel hold on to record a memorable 15-point victory.

Peel’s fairy-tale run from wooden spooners to premiers in 12 months had come to fruition.

“That was probably when I worked out I could do it,” Roberts said.

Peel Thunder enjoyed a fairy-tale run to the flag in 2020. Photo: Peel Thunder FC

Stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum for part two of our interview with Ella Roberts.

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