Jess Rentsch in action during the U18 National Championships match between Vic Country and Western Australia on August 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

JESS Rentsch was attempting to get a quick kick away in the face of a lunging opponent on the GMHBA Stadium wing when she heard a horrible crack

It was a bitterly cold June day in Geelong last year, and Rentsch had been showing some nice signs in the AFLW Futures match between the best 17-year-olds in the country before the GWV Rebel's world turned upside down in a smother gone wrong.


The initial on-the-spot diagnosis (pre-scans) was actually the dreaded ACL, which two Rentsch siblings have already suffered, but a badly broken femur was the final judgement, with her knee intact.

The likely first-round draft selection is now well on the road to recovery, having returned to football and then taken another break late this year to have the eight screws and a plate removed from her leg.

"There was some movement (in the ACL test) … but it turns out they were just pulling the bone, which is 'urgh' to think about," Rentsch told

Jess Rentsch clutches her leg during the NAB Futures League match at GMHBA Stadium on June 5, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"It was no walking, no nothing, for two months. When I got back, I had the leg of a noodle, it was all skin. I had to teach myself how to walk, there was a strength component to that, which was painful. 

"There was resistance, and I just had to push through. It was the weirdest feeling. Your body knows how to do it (walk), but you just felt weak and couldn't walk for too long, because it'd blow up and be too swollen at times. 

"Then I got to running. I'd record myself running and I'd look completely uncoordinated, so I'd try to tweak my technique. I was back in contact (training) five or six months after. My fitness wasn't there. I tried my best, but it's hard coming back from building something from nothing."

Rentsch rattled off her favourite playing positions – inside midfielder, winger, half-back flanker – and all have one thing in common: lots and lots of running.

It meant the months of rehab, especially the two months on crutches, were particularly difficult. 

"I'm pretty aggressive, I like to rough it up and show my strength. I've got some speed and can burst out of the packs, get that overlap run happening," Rentsch said.


"I've got three siblings and then a big cousin group. I started playing just because I loved it. I've got an older brother and a younger brother, and I'm whack in the middle. 

"I was pushed around a little bit, but I always gave it back. I liked contact and rough sports. Netball, I was told, was not that.

"I'd crutch around the house, but I was also like, I can do it, there's nothing wrong with me, I can do it. But I did need help here and there, 'can you take my plate, I have a sore leg'. I did kind of use it, not as an excuse, but just to get things done around the house. 

"My little brother – who's 16 and taller than me, but he's still my little brother – he'd push me round in a wheely chair. I got callouses from being on crutches for so long."

Jess Rentsch in action during the Coates Talent League Girls testing day at Narrandjeri Stadium on March 5, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Rentsch, from Penshurst in Victoria's west, moved to Ballarat Grammar for year 12 – "it's not for the bad kids getting sent to boarding school" – to eliminate the four-hour round trip for training with the Rebels.

She's also part of the next generation of players who have grown up only ever knowing men's expansion sides Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney as permanent fixtures in the AFL.

"When I was younger, I was [vaguely supporting] Carlton, because Dad's crazy about Carlton, but I was like, I'm not going for Carlton, they're bottom of the ladder. Now, I love them," Rentsch said.

"But I actually chose to go for the Giants in the men's when they first came in, and then that carried over into the women's. 

"I was about five when I decided, and I was like, they're cool. I liked orange at the time. So I started going for them because of the orange. I didn't want to go for Essendon or Carlton, I wanted to be different in the family."

The AFLW Draft will be broadcast live on the AFL and AFLW websites and official apps from 7pm AEDT on Monday, December 18.