Four-time WNBL championship player Chantella Perera made a name for herself shooting hoops in the national competition.
Now she’s kicking new goals, having made the transition to the oval ball in her quest to be drafted by an AFLW side for the 2018 season.
Yet it was only due to her other career – working as a senior digital producer with the Hawthorn Football Club – that Perera even considered switching codes, following the announcement that the club would field a VFLW side with Box Hill this season.
Speaking with Peter Holden on the Girls Play Footy Podcast during the week, Perera opened up about her life-changing decision.
“I definitely had a keen interest in [the AFLW],” Perera said.
“I guess I just love watching women’s sport in general and I’m a big activist in that area and I think it’s great what they’ve been doing, so I’d been following it pretty closely just from a fan’s perspective.
“When I saw the opportunity come up, it seemed to make sense, as you kind of think about what you want to do after you’ve been in one career for a long time.”
Knowing that her place in the side was far from a given, the champion athlete admitted to how intimidating the tryout process was.
Not only would the 31-year-old have to compete against another 140 women all vying for a spot in the squad of 40, but most would be a lot younger than herself.
Added to this pressure, and despite her sporting prowess, Perera had barely picked up a football before then.
“I guess I’ve always been entrenched in the basketball world, so from [the age of] four or five I’ve always had a basketball in hand.
“I think I just kind of jumped on the trend and I thought I’d give it a go.
“I guess I’ve had a good run with basketball and achieved lots of things, and I just thought it looked like a good opportunity.
“I love watching the game, but I’m probably different to the other girls. I haven’t grown up playing it, but thought I had something to offer the team.”
Her instincts proved to be true, and this season Perera has shown unprecedented progress and has become a prominent lock-down defender in the Hawks’ backline, which has been constantly under siege throughout the year.
Against Cranbourne, Perera managed to keep recent Melbourne acquisition Bianca Jakobsson goalless, and later against Darebin held her Jakobsson’s former Carlton teammate, superstar Darcy Vescio, to just one major.
“To get asked to play a role like that was pretty surprising, but I think [Box Hill coach, Patrick Hill] found a strength of mine, and I could go out there and I knew that was what I could do for the team, so I think giving me a task like that probably takes the pressure off, because I know that’s what I can do,” Perera said.
“You feel pretty honoured to take on a role like that.
“All of those girls are amazing athletes and amazing footballers, so it’s been a hard task each week, but hopefully I’ve been learning each week and getting better.”
It’s been a tough season for the Hawks, who finally notched their first victory of the season against the winless Seaford in a bottom of the table clash last round.
“It was good for us to see that, and we know that there was a chance that we could win, so going into Seaford we had a lot of positive energy, which was started by the coaches and the leadership group.
“As soon as that siren went off, I think I almost had tears of relief.
“We’ve been working pretty hard since November so it’s been a really long time and it was just a really nice feeling because I know how much the club and the community have got behind us.”
Yet despite what could have been a demoralising start to the season, Perera had nothing but praise for her teammates, whose spirit has been galvanised by coach Patrick Hill.
“Everything has been upbeat and we’ve been improving each week so I think [Patrick has] done a really good job in making sure we focused on how much we improved, and not getting down about just seeing the win or loss on the scoreboard.
“As a young team into the competition for the first time… it’s really good that he’s helping us see the bigger picture, and I think there’s a lot of talent there and a lot of opportunity and [a strong] future.
“It takes a lot to put up a brand new VFL team, there’s a lot of people involved – more than the 22 on the ground – so it was a really nice feeling.
“Of all the things I’ve achieved in my career in the sporting field, it was a really special moment and I’m pretty grateful to be a part of it.”
There’s no doubt that Perera will present herself as an intriguing and valuable option in the AFLW draft period ahead, and if successful, will join the likes of former Boomer-turned-Adelaide Crows premiership player Erin Phillips’ recent evolution.
The 2018 NAB AFL Women’s Draft kicks off in mid-October.
You can listen to Peter Holden’s full interview with Chantella Perera below, or by searching ‘Girls Play Footy’ on iTunes.
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