Montana Ham poses during Sydney's 2023 team photo day at Sydney Swans HQ. Picture: AFL Photos

AFTER a difficult season managing injury in 2023, former No.1 draft pick Montana Ham is taking every footy opportunity she can this year.

Sydney, and cross-town rival Greater Western Sydney, have been added to the VFLW for five weeks this year in order to help the NSW sides develop during the AFLW off-season.

Ham, who captained her side, was one of 18 Swans to play in the side's first VFLW match of the season on Saturday, kicking five goals from 20 disposals in a commanding 62-point win.

"I was very surprised myself, to be honest," Ham told the State of Play podcast about her best-on-ground performance.

"It was good just to get back out there. Obviously, we have been lucky enough to be able to have these games in the VFL … we were just happy we were able to dish out a pretty good performance as our base and we'll hit the track again."

Participating in the VFLW is an opportunity to continue to improve for Ham, whose Swans won their first AFLW final last year.

It is something that, last year, Ham would not have been able to participate in. Only recently turning 20, she spent her second season managing a stress injury as she continued to grow.

Largely unable to train with her teammates, she was managed through the year, ultimately playing nine of a possible 12 games with little physical preparation during the week.

"I think anyone says that when you get an injury, it really changes your perspective on how you see things. It was a very challenging season, last year, for me, but I was one of the lucky ones. I got to still play games," Ham said.

"I just spent every moment grateful for what I could do, and yeah, it sucks missing out on training, but I think if you take a step back and realised that it's a short-term injury and I had a really good support network around me managing it."

A positive spin on the injury, however, was growing taller.

"I have finally reached the '180 Club'," Ham said proudly.

Listed in 2023 as standing 179cm tall, that will change this year, much to Ham's appreciation.

"I've been 179cm for three, four years, and then I just reached up, got a 180," she laughed.

Montana Ham tackles Anne Hatchard during the semi-final match between Adelaide and Sydney at Norwood Oval on November 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

But for Ham, and her teammates, this off-season stint in the Victorian state league is a chance to build connection with one-another on the field with the aim of going deeper in finals in this year's AFLW season.

Part of that is the addition of new players including Holly Cooper, Sarah Grunden, Lara Hausegger, Kiara Hillier, and Giselle Davies who all joined the club in December.

Ham is particularly excited about what Cooper can bring to the Swans this year, after the teenager kicked three goals in Saturday's win.

"She's an incredible human and (an) even better player. She comes into training each week with just wanting to learn and absorb as much knowledge as she can, and I think she is a very powerful player," Ham said.

"She's only young, but just her speed and her ability to be very aware around the contest, and as soon as it gets into her hands, and she bursts through a pack she can be very dangerous."

Sydney will close out round four of the rebel VFLW this weekend, hosting North Melbourne at Henson Park from 1:05pm on Saturday.