'I just thought I'd give it a shot': New Eagle's rapid rise from basketball to AFLW

WITH West Coast's final pick of the NAB AFLW Draft, and the second-last pick overall, it selected Chantella Perera from Hawthorn's VFLW side.

But come February 9 at Victoria Park when the Eagles play Collingwood in their first ever AFLW match, Perera could be the one holding the fort at full-back.

This year marked just the third football season for the 33-year-old, who was a decorated basketballer until deciding to give footy a shot.

The point guard has won four WNBL titles and played over 150 matches at a variety of clubs, had a stint in the US college system for Fresno State in California, and has represented Australia at under-21 level and in the newer 3x3 format.

Perera, who manages the sport wing of creative agency Kojo, had Hawthorn as one of her clients, and spotted an advertisement for a "come and try" day with affiliate Box Hill in late 2016.

"I was just keen to see what it was all about, footy was a bit of a new buzz a couple of years ago," Perera told womens.afl.

"I had zero expectations, it was just fairly close to me in location, so I just thought I'd give it a shot."

She slotted into the backline, initially as a relatively tall (174cm) defensive tagger.

"Having not ever played footy, it was just a really easy fit. My coach Paddy (Hill) thought it was probably a good role for me to transition to and to learn the rules.

"I've watched heaps of footy, but playing it was a little bit different, it was a steep learning curve. Initially I didn't have to worry about kicking too much, playing in defence, just focused on what I knew I could do and learnt the rest along the way."

Perera continued to play SEABL (now NBL1, a semi-professional second-tier competition slotting under the national league) with Kilsyth Cobras for two years while playing footy, before giving the game away this season.

"I nominated for the draft in 2017 just for the sake of it. Last year I wasn't going to, then right at the end I had a stronger finish to the VFLW season (Perera won the Lisa Hardeman medal for best on ground in the Hawks' premiership) and was encouraged to, so I was very, very late. 

"This year, I stopped basketball to give footy a bit more of a shot. It wasn't like I had to get drafted or anything, but it was definitely in the back of my mind a little bit. For me, it was just enjoying the moment."

Chantella Perera celebrates the Hawks VFLW win over Geelong

The Eagles – led by head of women's footy Adam Selwood and senior coach Luke Dwyer – made contact with Perera, and after some thinking time, she nominated for the Perth portion of the draft pool.

"It's not an easy move, I've got a job, a family, a house, my life is in Melbourne. There were definitely some conversations to be had. But I was really impressed with the club, it seems like they're building a great culture there," Perera said.

"I actually know the club pretty well because they're one of my clients and have been for a while, so it was nice to get to know the football side of the club. I've spent a lot of time in Perth for work, so I know the town well and absolutely love the place. It was quite an easy sell on that side. 

"I never joined football to play AFLW. I'm definitely older and I did footy essentially to just keep fit, really. I think I can bring my leadership skills to what is a new team and I think that's what they're after.

"Footy has definitely now expanded from just keeping fit."