Following the 2017 AFLW season then Adelaide forward Sarah Perkins was on top of the football world.
Just six months after being overlooked in the inaugural AFLW draft she had become an All Australian and premiership player with the Crows, with her outstanding performances transforming her into one of the league’s marquee players.
With the weight of high expectations now firmly planted on her shoulders, Perkins would return to West Lakes for her second season.
Speaking with The Inner Sanctum she details how that 2018 campaign did not go to plan for the reigning premiers.
“I think it’s just that the game got quicker,” Perkins said.
“We maybe thought it was going to be a little bit easier than it was and a couple of decisions just didn’t go our way.
“I don’t really know why we didn’t make the finals and I think the first three years of the competition have been so close, so the way it all works is that you have to be on your game all the time and if you’re not one slip up could cost you that spot.
“That is unfortunately what happened to us [in 2018].”
From a personal perspective, the 2018 season would be a hard toil for Perkins with the improvement of defensive standards and greater access to research on her game minimising her impact on games.
“By 2018 every team had seen me play and had greater access to footage of my games,” she said.
“I definitely could of worked harder to improve my game and play a different position and become harder to play against.
“I learnt the hard way that eight games of footy is not the be all and end all and when you do have some good games you are going to get some attention as a forward.”
Kicking just the one goal for the 2018 season, Perkins would return to the Crows for her third campaign with the club looking to rebound and her career again sitting at the crossroads.
With high hopes of a resurgence, the All-Australian forward’s struggles would continue as a slow start to the season would see her dropped after round three and unable to work her way back into the side.
She describes watching on from the sidelines as her teammates went about climbing the mountain for a second time.
“It was tough,” she said.
“I went through some battles off the field that I have never really spoke about but I am not making any excuses, I wasn’t where I should be.
“Sitting back and watching some of my best mates play in another flag, it’s hard to swallow that you aren’t there but it was through no fault of my own, I didn’t work hard enough to be better.
“I am so proud of the girls and how they went about that season and although I may not have been on the field I believe squads win premierships and I played my part that season but not the part I or the club wanted me to play.”
Following that historic second premiership, Perkins was given the unfortunate news that her time at the Crows would be coming to an end with the club opting to not offer her a contract for the 2020 season.
Dejected and again looking to prove herself as an AFLW calibre player, she would return to Victoria to play for Hawthorn’s VFLW team and put together another impressive season.
This would result in her being given a second opportunity at the top level, with Melbourne asking her to be a top up player heading into the league’s fourth season.
“It was certainly not something I thought would come about,” she said.
“I didn’t really have plans to play in the 2020 AFLW season with my sole focus being getting my body right for the upcoming VFLW.
“When the Demons called and asked whether I’d like to become a train-on player I jumped at it as I thought there’d be no better preparation for the VFLW being in that professional environment.”
Going in with no expectations, Perkins would put in the hard work across the season with the welcoming and positive nature of the group seeing her game improve dramatically and opportunities at the top level begin to present themselves.
“The girls were so welcoming and lovely and they really helped me enjoy my footy again,” she said.
“Being apart of the experience and knowing that I was training and if I played it was going to be a long shot so I didn’t have to worry about selection or anything like that.
“So to be able to work my way into the team and play towards the back end of the season was so special.
“It was a really unique and special experience and I’ve come out of it on the other side with some great friends and improvement in my game.”
Playing the final two home and away games along with the team’s first final, it would be an abrupt ending to the 2020 season with the initial COVID-19 outbreak resulting in the AFL shutting down the competition with no premiership awarded.
“Like most of the girls playing in that season, we’ve got some definite unfinished business,” she said.
“It gave me a sense of there being more to life than footy, with a global pandemic going on it gives you that bit of perspective that footy is not always going to be there.
“Sometimes things are going to stop and there are going to be challenges, you just need to keep working whether that be going for runs by yourself or just kicking a footy into a wall.”
Following the 2020 season, Perkins again found herself in a position of uncertainty with no AFL contract for 2021 and the VFLW season cancelled due to the pandemic.
Unsure of her future in the game she would receive another life changing phone call, this time from the up and coming Gold Coast Suns.
“It was an interesting process,” she said.
“They basically just called my manager and asked if I was willing to have a chat and that point there were no rules around Melbourne signing me or having to re-enter the draft.
“I had some conversations with coach David Lake and the Suns about the process of what would happen if I came up and what it would look like with me in the side.
“It was a tough decision but at the end of the day I had to make the right call for me going forward as I person, I moved up here to challenge myself in the off field perspective and have another lifestyle change given it had worked for me before going to Adelaide.”
Walking into her third AFLW club, Perkins quickly went about forming connections with her new teammates and coaches, with her bubbly personality and desire to succeed resulting in her immediate selection to the club’s leadership group.
“It is really humbling [being selected in the leadership group],” She said.
“I had to go through two weeks of hotel quarantine and came really shy and unsure what to expect.
“So to be in this position already is really exciting and I am so thankful for the girls for trusting me to be in their leadership group.
“I have made some really strong connections with the group and only hope that comes out on the field as well and we can play some good footy.”
In terms of her expectations for the season ahead, she is excited to get back out on the park and contribute to her new team in any way possible.
“I am really thankful to still be here,” she said.
“The whole process has been exciting, it’s been surreal and I’m really lucky I’m around a great group of girls who have become my family over the last couple of months.
“Personally for me I am happy if I get at least one game and get a kick, as a team the girls showed they can be really competitive last year so we want to just improve on that and become more consistent as the season develops.”