BRITTANY Bonnici calls herself one of the "lucky ones".
At 20, she's one of the few playing in the inaugural NAB AFL Women's competition who's had a clear playing pathway to the top level.
The Collingwood midfielder has played football since junior level, only taking a forced break after a string of concussions limited her 2016 season.
"I started playing under-11s with the Wallan Magpies (in Melbourne's outer north) and worked my way right up through youth girls (St Albans Spurs, in Melbourne's west) and I play my senior footy for St Kilda Sharks in the VFL Women's," Bonnici said.
After losing its first three matches, Collingwood's 36-point thumping of Greater Western Sydney last Sunday was its third win in a row. Bonnici puts the impressive turnaround down to the team's away trip to Brisbane in round three.
"A lot of people were starting to doubt us and weren't jelling as a team, but after spending some time together on that weekend away we really started to bond,” Bonnici said.
Bonnici's 18-disposal, five-tackle game against the Giants was her best game of the season and resulted in a NAB AFLW Rising Star nomination.
"It goes to show the amount of effort the coaches have put into us," she said.
"They had a lot of faith in me and they've given me the opportunity to play that (style of) game. I'd like to think I did them proud.
"Running is one of the strengths of my game, as well as my tackling. I like to be known as a ferocious player, and because I am little (163cm), I know I need to make my presence felt, otherwise I'll be pushed around."
Bonnici is one of many AFLW players juggling footy, university and work. She's studying social work at Victoria University and is a customer service officer at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in her spare time.
"I'm pretty lucky … my boss is amazing and understands if I need to take time off for footy. It's a short season and she wants me to get the most out of it.
"The coaches understand we do have a life outside of football that we need to balance."
Collingwood coach Wayne Siekman worked with Bonnici when she played for Vic Metro. She captained the team to a national title in 2015 when Siekman was head coach, and he had no hesitation drafting her to Collingwood with pick No.27.
"Her leadership and ability to win the footy and make good decisions are evident,” he said.