From novice to All-Australian squad in three years: Docker's wild rise

JANELLE Cuthbertson had no background in footy before she made the decision to switch from tennis.

She didn't watch the game and neither did her parents, but after spending five years in the US college system playing the individual sport, she was eager for a change.

Cuthbertson didn't have any friends playing in the WAFLW, so searched online for her nearest club and joined the Perth Angels, who played in the reserves division.

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She was selected with pick No.81 in the 2019 NAB AFLW Draft after that one season of footy.

Now, the newly minted All-Australian squad member is set to lead Fremantle's backline into finals in the 30-year-old's second year of AFLW and third season of footy overall.

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"For me, it's just the awareness and understanding of the game (behind her rise in form)," Cuthbertson told womens.afl.

"Last year, I was pretty raw, I'd literally had one season of WAFLW under my belt coming in, whereas this year I had one AFLW season and a full pre-season.

"I have a better understanding and awareness of what I'm doing and how to play my role. It's probably allowed me to have a bit more confidence in knowing when to impact the game and taking calculated risks, so I think it's probably just a combination of those things."

After dominating the early portion of the season, Fremantle has struggled somewhat in recent weeks, dropping two close games to Melbourne and North Melbourne and just scraping over the line against Carlton.

On Saturday, they'll face Melbourne once again, this time at Casey Fields, in a sudden-death qualifying final.

"We're all super excited. It's been an interesting season, pretty topsy-turvy and it's hard to believe we're in finals after all the uncertainty as to what the season was going to look like," she said.

"We probably haven't played our brand of footy consistently for all four quarters in a couple of those games.

"We lost to Melbourne by five points and North Melbourne by one, so we were right there in those games, so we'll reflect on those and look to really apply the pressure for four quarters then we can really bring it to each team."

The match against the Demons was just two weeks ago, meaning the five-point loss is fresh in the Dockers' minds.

"Last time we played them, we played a pretty good second half, but we probably didn't play our brand of footy for the first two quarters. I think we were three goals down in the first five or 10 minutes," Cuthbertson said.

"The slow starts are something we've talked about and addressed, we're not going to go into panic stations about that.

"It's all or nothing now for every team, we have to come out hot and firing and take it up to them."