IT'S SAFE to say Melbourne midfielder Tyla Hanks is one of the most improved players in the competition.
The 21-year-old has taken an enormous step forward this year, now playing on the ball in a full-time capacity, and her numbers have risen as a consequence.
Hanks is averaging 19.1 disposals, 5.1 tackles and 2.4 inside 50s this year, up from 10.4, 4.7 and 1.4 in 2020.
"I think the last few weeks have been a pretty big learning curve, playing on girls like Bowers and the bigger names of the competition has been really good," Hanks told womens.afl.
"Even though my numbers have been little bit lower in probably the last two weeks, getting a little more disposal before that has been pretty nice, I don't think anyone can deny that.
"But I think it's just credit to the team and we've all bought in, so I'm really enjoying footy at the moment and really excited for the next few weeks, actually."
Hanks was a star junior and high draft pick, selected with No.6 in the 2018 NAB AFLW Draft, but played mostly forward in her first year, before splitting time between the two lines last season.
"I think it definitely took me a little bit to get used to – even just the difference in the game from an under-18 level, the speed and the physicality," Hanks said.
"Now that I've had time to get my body right, that's probably been the biggest step, and then the experience gives you that belief and confidence.
"It probably did take me a little bit longer than some others but that's OK and I think it will continue to improve as the years go on."
Hanks, who stands at 157cm, focused on building her core strength and her running capacity in order to match it with some of the premier midfielders in the competition.
Recently named in the All-Australian squad of 40, taking on one of the very best in Kiara Bowers two weeks ago was eye-opening.
With Melbourne and Fremantle set to meet in a sudden-death qualifying final on Saturday, it's a match-up that could once again take place.
"I just have an immense respect for her. I think she's an absolute workhorse and I just admire how she goes about her foot. She's tough, her tackle numbers are always really high and I think that's just shows how hard she works for a team," she said.
"It's tough to play on her. It was scary at the start but it's actually a really great experience and just even learning within a game.
"I think I'll keep taking keep taking those opportunities when I can, that's for sure."
Having played the Dockers just two weeks ago, triumphing by five points, the match-up is fresh in the minds of the Demons.
"Their tackle pressure – that first person to the ball – is really strong and I noticed that straightaway. It felt like as soon as you picked up that ball, the first tackle was really hard and quick, you didn't have much time with the footy," Hanks said.
"They're very versatile up forward, (Sabreena) Duffy, (Gemma) Houghton, all those girls they've got up there, they're very quick and they love the ball out the back.
"If we don't pair off quickly (in defence), they can move the ball fast and they've got multiple avenues to goal. That's what makes them really dangerous."