15/04/2024

Simone Nalder, with her proud Dad, Bill and husband Jackson, at her jumper presentation for St.Kilda. (Picture: saints.com.au)

Having had the desire to play elite-level sport for so long, Simone Nalder is as close as she has ever been, on the verge of her debut for St Kilda in the AFLW.

Her story of perseverance, desire and want to be passionate about what she does is one that gives hope to all athletes, regardless of sport or age.

The Inner Sanctum spoke to Nalder to reflect on her journey to finally reach the top level.

Competitiveness in her veins

As the youngest of four growing up in Shepparton, life was always going to be competitive. Her two older brothers were keen footballers, and she would find herself kicking the footy with them almost every day in the park next door.

Dad Bill Nalder was a former footballer himself, having played 14 games for Richmond in the VFL in 1972-73, as well as stints with Preston in the VAFA and with SANFL clubs Norwood and Central District.

He coached Nalder and her siblings in various sports as they grew up, with his love for sport and competitiveness rubbing off on the young aspiring sportswoman.

Throughout high school, Nalder found herself kicking the footy with the boys on the oval, whilst also playing local netball for both the Shepparton Swans and Kyabram on weekends, before earning a netball scholarship with the AIS.

Happiness in pursuit of her netball dream

Nalder’s 18-month scholarship at the AIS helped develop her skills at a high level. She played in the Australian Netball League (the league just below the elite level) as a goal shooter and went on international tours to Singapore and New Zealand.

She was in both the under 19 and under 21 state teams and was named in the under 19 Australian team, but unfortunately, there was no tour. Nalder was also named in the under-21 Australian squad, but just missed out on being a part of the touring party.

The joy of playing netball meant her dream of playing at the elite level was always close to the front of her mind. She came back to Melbourne and played for the Victorian Fury and North-East Blaze, with a short stint also with the Canberra Darters.

In 2017, Nalder was not enjoying netball as she had always done.

“If you can’t love the sport you play, then you need to ask yourself why you are doing it,” Nalder told The Inner Sanctum.

Nalder in action for the Canberra Darters.

The love for footy

Coaxed by a friend from netball, Nalder went to a ‘rookie me’ day run by the AFL – a day designed to get women in other sports over to footy.

The day involved a few skills and some fitness testing, and from there, she was invited to be a part of the VFLW development academy and played Division 1 women’s football for the Darebin Falcons.

“I fell in love with the game instantly. It was a lot of fun,” Nalder reflected.

“It brought back my love of competitive sport. I have always wanted to see how far I could go – I love a challenge!”

In 2018, a friend asked if she wanted to trial for Essendon’s inaugural VFLW side. Despite it being so far off, the desire to play at the highest level and the pure enjoyment football was bringing her meant she had no hesitation in taking up the offer.

Nalder playing for Essendon in the VFLW.

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Essendon VFLW football

It was a steep learning curve for both Nalder and the team. The side won just one game in its inaugural 2018 season, but slowly improved year on year.

“I loved being a part of the growth of the program,” Nalder said.

“The coaches, in particular Brendan Major, were a huge influence on so many, including myself, getting the opportunity.”

Each year, the hope was always there for Essendon to be awarded an AFLW licence, a hope that spurred Nalder to continue pursuing her dream in the game she now loved.

At the start of the 2022 season, when the licence finally came, there was a lot of excitement around the club. This excitement helped spur on the Essendon VFLW side to the premiership, winning the decider in emphatic style as part of an undefeated season.

Essendon’s premiership winning VFLW side.

“It was super special. It was five years of time and effort,” Nalder said.

“Just to be able to finish that way – it was the perfect finish to what had been a massive journey.”

Nalder herself had a great season, finishing second in the best and fairest and kicking the first goal of the grand final.

A life-changing offer

Following the Grand Final success, Nalder nominated for the draft, but unfortunately did not get picked up.

Things quickly changed, however. Following the grand final success, Nalder was offered a train-on position with St Kilda.

By the Friday, five days after the grand final, she had signed a contract with the Saints.

“I was very emotional,” she reflected.

“I felt very grateful to be given the opportunity when I thought I had missed out.”

So close to fulfilling a life-long dream

The Saints instantly made Nalder feel at home.

“I already feel like a St Kilda person,” she said.

It is hard for Nalder not to be excited, given that her opportunity to fulfil a life-long dream of playing sport at the elite level is so close.

She was picked in the practice matches against Carlton and Brisbane, yet is trying not to think what might be.

Nalder poses in her new jumper. (Photo: St Kilda FC)

“I’m trying to not think too far ahead. I’m just enjoying it. Whatever comes, comes,” she said.

“I just want to embrace the opportunity. I have wanted to play at the top level for so long. To be in this elite environment, I just want to tap into as much as possible. 

“But also as a mature age player, I want to be able to give back as much as I can to the group, particularly having been involved in top-end sport for so long, just like those did for me when I was younger.”

With St Kilda’s season kicking off against Sydney on August 27, Nalder will hopefully not have to wait too much longer to realise her dream.

Regardless of if or when she gets a game, she will no doubt be enjoying the ride to come.

Nalder takes a mark in the practice match against the Blues. (Photo: St Kilda FC)

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