Talent searches and trial days are part and parcel of the VFLW experience. They represent a chance for teams to strengthen their squads by acquiring established talent, diamonds in the rough, or youngsters trying to crack the big time.
With so many players vying for so few places, it would be easy to assume there would be a degree of tension between the hopefuls. They are, after all, in competition with one another, vying to pull on the royal blue and white stripes of North Melbourne.
But new VFLW Kangaroos coach Steph Binder says there’s already evidence of a strong team spirit among the players hoping to earn a spot on her list.
“We don’t just want good footballers, but we also want really good people,” Binder told North Media.
“It’s been really great to see that across the board of our talent search sessions. Everyone’s acting like they’re already teammates and they’ve been playing together for months.”
“It’s still really early in terms of what the make-up of what the team will look like, but we’re already starting to build a really good culture out of the group of talent we have to pick from.”
After a 10th placed finish in its inaugural VFLW season, North’s program has experienced a high amount of turnover, from the coaches to the playing list.
Former captain and best-and-fairest winner Meagan Kiely was drafted into Richmond’s AFLW program, Airlie Runnalls headed to Fremantle, while Binder has arrived and is ready to embark on her first season as senior coach.
Alongside Binder, there have been further changes to the VFLW coaching staff, with Meg Lawrence, Nick Devereux, Lachlan Walker and Ange Dickson holding the posts of assistant coaches, while Hayley Gossow is on board as a development coach.
Lawrence played in the VFLW side last season, with her commitment to the program earning her the clubwoman of the year award.
Binder says having someone who was so recently involved in the side is a bonus for the coaching staff.
“Meg knows what the girls are going through and she can relate to them really well. She’ll be able to tell me if I’m pushing too hard, or not hard enough,” Binder said.
“She’ll be a really good sounding board for the players and for the coaching staff.
“I’m really excited and lucky to have a brilliant group of assistant coaches and staff here to support me. I’m really enjoying the challenge so far.”
While the AFLW and VFLW seasons are not aligned, the reserves competition offers AFLW-listed players the chance to gain experience playing open-age senior football, and push their cases for a call-up.
Last season, the likes of Brooke Brown, Amy Smith and Alice O’Loughlin impressed throughout the VFLW season, with Brown and O’Loughlin both earning call-ups to the senior side.
Binder says she’ll be looking to implement a similar game plan to AFLW coach Darren Crocker’s at the top level.
“Getting the experience with the AFLW team has been really good in terms of seeing how all the structures work and getting to know the club more broadly,” she said.
“We want to have a really streamlined process, purely because throughout the year we’ll have AFLW players playing in our VFLW team.
“We want it to be a really seamless transition between the two sides. We want our AFLW girls to know what their roles are when they come back and play with us.
“It’ll also help our VFLW girls get a feel for how these top-level teams want to play, and it will hopefully really push their development as well.”