Claudia Whitfort poses during Gold Coast's 2023 official team photo day at Heritage Bank Stadium. Picture: AFL Photos

REIGNING Gold Coast best and fairest winner Claudia Whitfort has signed a contract extension tying her to the club until at least 2027.

It is a deal that the side's co-vice-captain is enthusiastic about, allowing her to set up her life in Queensland, while also showing loyalty to the club that has brought out her best footy.

"Considering I've moved away from home to be up here; I'm settled up here. It's great that we're able to sign those longer-term deals and really set yourself up with life," Whitfort told

With the advent of the 2023 Collective Bargaining Agreement, AFLW players are now able to sign long-term deals for the first time since the competition began in 2017. Between 2017 and 2019 players could only sign rolling one-year contracts, increased to two years in the 2020-2022 CBA.

"I've been in the competition since we were only allowed to sign one-year deals, and even when it jumped from one year to two years was really exciting," Whitfort said.

But now, after three seasons with the Suns, Whitfort is pleased to be settling in for the long haul. The decision to move north, following stints at both Melbourne and St Kilda, was not the initial plan for the midfielder, but has been a positive move both on and off the field.

Claudia Whitfort (left) and Darcie Davies celebrate a win during round two, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

After Whitfort's fourth AFLW season, and second with the Saints, in 2021 she was unexpectedly told to put out some feelers for opportunity elsewhere.

"At the start of the trade period they were like 'Oh no, we're going to sign you' and I was like 'yeah, cool, sounds good'. Then it kind of got to the point and they were like 'Maybe you should start looking somewhere else'," Whitfort said of her final weeks at the Saints.

"The decision wasn't really in my hands by the end of it, but it's turned out really well, so (I'm) really happy."

A year earlier Whitfort's parents had made their own move north, relocating to the Sunshine Coast, so a move that placed her a little closer to her family motivated her decision to choose the Suns.

The lifestyle that Gold Coast brought with it was also appealing for a kid that grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, participating in surf lifesaving and enjoying time on the beach.

"Surf lifesaving, it's super useful," Whitfort said.

"You go through life, growing up next to the beach, and especially now living up on the Gold Coast, I'm so thankful that I've grown up with these surf skills… as well as loving the sport, it definitely came with extra perks."

Claudia Whitfort in action during round two, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Given plenty of her teammates "live and breathe the beach", that love for the water was a handy way to develop new relationships after that initial move.

Those relationships forged early in her time at the Suns helped to soothe her unease about what she could, or couldn't, offer on the field.

"When I first got here I had very, very little confidence in my playing ability," Whitfort admitted.

"I think the club as a whole, but especially our coaches, they just backed me from day one. They let me develop into the player I am now and really guided me through that. They're so supportive, and it's showing out on the footy field, how much work they put into me and I'm just really thankful for the opportunity they gave me."


In reality, the playing ability was always there, but getting into the right mindset was what would bring that out consistently.

"It was a really big battle for me in my first four years in the competition. I didn't think I'd be able to get out of it, but now, with the help of the club, it's been great to be confident in myself again," she said.

Along with that confidence has come plenty of internal and external recognition. Made an official leader at the club ahead of the 2023 season, Whitfort finished the year as Gold Coast's best and fairest winner, and was named the equal-runner up in the competition-wide count in November.

"I was pretty blown away if I'm honest. I'd set a lot of goals at the start of preseason last year (about) 'how do I be the best player that I can be?'" Whitfort said.

"And then at the W Awards I was just stoked to be invited, and then to have my name on the screen at the end of the night, I was like 'What the heck is going on here?' I almost fell off my chair."

Her willingness to apply herself wholeheartedly to improving her footy also extends to her studies. Already armed with a science degree focused on genetics, she is now studying a masters of cybersecurity.

"I finished my undergrad, I did genetics … then I was trying to work out what I wanted to do from there and it really interests me still, that kind of biology career. But I had a chat to a few people, and they were like 'you have to be studying for the rest of your career' and that didn't really sound like my cup of tea," Whitfort said.

"Then one of my partner's best friends, he was in a similar situation to me a few years ago … he's in cybersecurity now and he said the demand for women is astronomical at the moment. So, I had a look into it and tried out a few different coding courses because it's something I'm very, very new to, and ended up really liking it."

It is a career-path that seems in direct contrast to the sun-loving, beach-going footy player.

"Yeah, it's like this footy girl who goes to the beach, but I'm actually usually at home trying to work out some kind of code, banging my head against a laptop," Whitfort laughs.

"If you're not focused you just feel like your laptop's going to melt, so you really have to take your mind off footy for a bit, which is really great."


Soon enough, though, focus will shift back toward footy as Whitfort's Suns look to improve on their elimination final exit of last year.

According to the 24-year-old there is no ceiling on what the side can achieve this year.

"I was really happy with how the club handled the sign and trade period, and we've got some really great young talent coming through … we were really happy to make finals last year, but we're really striving for that premiership in the next few years, and I really think that's possible," Whitfort said.

But if anything's for sure, Whitfort will prove to be a key piece as the Suns strive for that first premiership. And she's in for the long haul.