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AFLW: Combine star looms as club captain

Tyla Hanks has all the qualities to be an AFLW club captain, according to those in the know - AFLW
Tyla Hanks has all the qualities to be an AFLW club captain, according to those in the know

AFLW talent manager Aasta O'Connor believes Vic Country's Tyla Hanks has all the qualities to be an AFLW club captain.

The 18-year-old midfielder has been a star for several years now, playing for Vic Metro in 2015 and '16, before shifting boundaries meant she qualified for Vic Country in 2017 and '18. 

Hanks tested extremely well at the recent NAB AFLW Draft Combine, finishing first in the agility test and fifth in the Yo-Yo endurance test. 

"The way she goes about it is top-notch. She's a different type of leader, which I think all clubs need," O'Connor said.

"She can be quite unassuming and disarming in her approach, but her teammates absolutely adore her because she cares.

"I'll watch with interest how her career progresses, because in my opinion, she'll be the captain of an AFLW club one day and a real leader and influencer in our game going forward." 

Hanks started playing footy when she was "four or five", running around at Nar Nar Goon Auskick in Melbourne's outer south-east, before playing with boys at nearby Cora Lynn.

Once graduating from the under-13s, Hanks played at youth girls' level at Beaconsfield and spent this year with Carlton in the VFLW competition. 

"It was a good experience playing with those girls and even just training, being around the club and getting to know the AFLW girls," Hanks said.

"[Carlton AFLW captain] Brianna Davey was awesome for me from the start, but there was always someone at the club to have a conversation with. 

"Sarah Hosking was great as well, sending messages and checking in, and even before the Combine, I got a couple of messages from her wishing me luck." 

Footy's always been important for the Essendon-supporting Hanks family.

"I started playing because of my family – footy's been a big thing for us. Dad played local senior footy and a bit of TAC Cup, and I have a younger brother as well who started Auskick at the same time," Hanks said. 

"We've always watched footy on the weekends. Once the women's league started the same thing happened and we went to a fair few games."

Having completed high school last year, Hanks has spent this year studying exercise science at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. Her course has helped her find a balance between her extensive football commitments (AFLW Academy, under-18 championships and VFLW) and everyday life. 

She lives at home in Pakenham, on the outskirts of Melbourne's south-east, and will nominate for the Melbourne metro zone of the draft, ruling her out of Geelong's draft reach.

"Being in uni this year has made training a lot easier as I didn't have as much on my plate as some of the other girls do," Hanks said. 

"Getting through first year will be good and I'll look to do osteopathy subjects where I can in the future.

"I've had a lot of time off and I've been able to choose where I work as well. I spend a lot of time with friends and family and I think that's been good for me. I've been able to learn about balance a bit before I get to an AFLW club," she said. 

"Footy's a big part of my life, but it's not everything and you do need a break occasionally."

Hanks used to work part-time at an indoor rock climbing and high ropes facility, but has recently made the switch to the paint department at a Bunnings store. 

"It's actually enjoyable. There's a lot to learn but it's fun," she said with a laugh. 

"You learn so much about things people should know, like painting a house and DIY skills."

The 157cm Hanks is powerful midfielder, quick off the mark and capable of bursting away from packs. She's smart enough to avoid stationary one-on-one battles with taller players and says her height has never been a big issue. 

O'Connor, who runs the AFLW Academy and has worked extensively with Hanks, agrees. 

"She's someone who could go into the midfield and dominate at AFLW level, simply because she reads the play three times quicker than anyone else out there," O'Connor said. 

"Her football brain is far beyond her age. 

"I had a really open conversation with her early in the year and she said to me, 'I don't care what anyone says or writes about me, good or bad, I've unfollowed everything on social media'," she said.

"'It's not what I want my year to be centred around. I want to play footy and I want to get better'."