Why the fire in the belly still burns for injury-hit Crows ruck

Coming into 2021, the NAB AFL Women's competition has Unfinished Business. Following the abrupt cancellation of the 2020 season at the end of March as COVID-19 restrictions hit the country, players are keen to make up for lost time. As well as the competition as a whole, each player has their own personal Unfinished Business. In a video and text series, womens.afl will speak to a variety of players about their aims for the upcoming season. 

A LOT HAS been made of Adelaide leaders Chelsea Randall and (a now-fully fit) Erin Phillips strengthening the side in 2021, but there's another premiership star raring to go.

Inaugural ruck Rhiannon Metcalfe has endured a frustrating few seasons since rupturing her left ACL during a practice match in 2019.

WATCH IT LIVE How to catch every AFLW match in 2021

She eventually made her return in round four last year but was omitted for what turned out to be the final game of the season in round six.

"[Doing] the injury in a trial match gave me pretty much 12 months on the dot to really to make it back to the following season, so it meant that we had to be very strict with our timelines and goals," Metcalfe told womens.afl.

Unfinished Business: Rhiannon Metcalfe

01:46 Jan 29. 2021. 3:30 PM

Crows ruck fit and ready to fire in 2021

"It was a bit disappointing, I guess, to have done a 12-month rehab cycle, to work hard to get back to a particular standard in order to be picked to play, and then I played one or two games before the season was unfortunately cancelled. 

"I felt like I didn't really have an opportunity to pretty much get out of second gear. 

"But at the same time, I'm thankful that I was able to get those games under the belt before the season was cancelled, so I guess a lot of things just come down perspective."

Metcalfe back with a bang

00:40 Mar 1. 2020. 1:25 PM

Rhiannon Metcalfe kicks a goal late in the first term in her return from a ruptured ACL

SIDELINE FLAG VIEWING

After Metcalfe's injury in January 2019, the Crows went on to record the most dominant season in the short history of the AFLW, ultimately winning the Grand Final by 45 points.

GET YOUR TICKETS Why you must secure your seat in advance

She was stuck on the sidelines, watching on as former WNBL player Jess Foley (who retired at the end of 2020) slotted seamlessly into the ruck role.

"Looking back, it's quite bittersweet. I think it's hard knowing that if I hadn't sustained that injury, I potentially would have been on the field for, you know, such a big part of the AFLW with that (record crowd) Grand Final that year," Metcalfe said.

Rhiannon Metcalfe in action for the Crows against Carlton in her comeback game last season. Picture: AFL Photos

"It was hard to sit on the sideline, but I was so proud of the girls and what they achieved in that year. You still have a part to play if you're on the sideline doing your rehab, there's still things you can do to make a difference to the team. 

"I'm a bit disappointed I didn't actually ever really get an opportunity to play alongside Jess. You know, I think the first game I actually made it back, I made onto the field and then she hurt herself (foot) in the same game. 

"There still is that ruck spot available between myself, 'Gouldy' and 'Monty' (Caitlin Gould and Montana McKinnon) as well, so we've definitely got a good spread there of girls and we will have our own strengths."

COMEBACK 2.0

Metcalfe has effectively wiped the 2020 season off the books, wanting to reset her mind to this year.

Back in 2017, Metcalfe was one of the premier rucks in the competition, averaging third overall for hitouts and third for disposals among the first-choice rucks.

AFLW FIXTURE Check it out here

"Because it has been – what feels like – such a big gap between coming back and playing proper footy, I don't really consider last year as my comeback because of how it all ended," she said.

"This is the fifth pre-season that I've now completed, but I've only really played two seasons (2017 and 2018), so I feel like it's been a very long time between games. 

"If anything, it's just kind of brought the fire in the belly a bit more to get back into the field and just play footy again."