Melbourne midfielder Tyla Hanks wins the 2021 AFLW Rising Star Award after taking her game to another stratosphere

Melbourne midfielder Tyla Hanks had a break-out 2021 AFLW season and won the league’s Rising Star Award in convincing fashion, polling 48 votes to finish 16 votes ahead of Ellie McKenzie and set a new record for biggest winning margin, surpassing the previous record of 11 votes set by 2018 winner Chloe Molloy.

After being a first round draft pick at the 2018 NAB AFLW draft Hanks had played all 14 games across the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Hanks who turned 21 years old during the 2021 AFLW season wanted to take on a greater leadership role in her third season. On being able to lead and the benefits of having a pathway that allowed her to continue playing football throughout her teenage years Hanks told Melbourne.fc.com.au in December 2020 “Even though I am one of the younger girls in the team, we’re the age group who have probably played just as much, if not more, footy, than some of the girls above us because we got to play all the way through. The experience level, some of us girls do have more of that in some ways. So I just need to back my experience and knowledge of footy, and share that either vocally or by the way I play. I do feel like a bit more of a leader this year, so hopefully that starts to reflect on the others too.”1

The football journey for Hanks commenced with playing Auskick at about five years of age. Hanks then played in the Cora Lynn boys team until the under 13’s and she then started playing for the Beaconsfield Youth Girls team.

In an outstanding junior career Hanks played in four Hanks Australian Rules football Under 18’s National Championships from 2015 to 2018 and was selected in the All-Australian team in the latter two years, being named in the forward pocket in 2017 and as ruck-rover in 2018. During 2018 Hanks captained Gippsland Power in the NAB Girls league and she finished third in the league best and fairest.

Before Hanks had even played an AFLW game for Melbourne, head coach Mick Stinear was full of praise for her, commenting in an article ‘AFLW player profiles: Part Three’ published on Melbournefc.com.au on 30 January 2019 “Hanksy fit straight in the moment she came in the doors. She’s become a leader around the place in terms of her approach to training and instruction to others. She had an injury setback in the practice match against Casey, but it’ll be exciting to see her play. She’ll play through the midfield and forward and she’s ready to go at AFLW level.”2

During the 2019 and 2020 AFLW seasons Hanks rotated between the midfield and forward line and performed her role for Melbourne well with her strengths being composure, two-way running, skills and tackling. In 2020 Hanks ranked in the top three at Melbourne for tackles and clearances and finished equal fifth in Melbourne’s best and fairest.

On 16 December 2020 Hanks commented to Melbourne.fc.com.au “I think it’s probably taken me a little bit longer than some of those girls like (Maddy) Prespakis and what not, but I think I’ve got a really good pre-season behind me so far. Even over the off-season, I worked a lot mentally and physically to put myself in a good position. I feel like this year, if I can put all that into practice, I might be able to have a season like some of those other girls.”3

Against Richmond in Round 2, 2021 Hanks had a career-high 19 disposals and received a much anticipated Rising Star nomination. Hanks performed at a consistently high level throughout the season and polled votes in the AFL Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of The Year Award in the first seven rounds and finished 11th overall.

In 2021 Hanks was elevated into the Demons leadership group and flourished playing as a pure midfielder, increasing her disposals per game by 79.8% from 10.4 disposals per game in 2020 to 18.7 disposals per game in 2021. Hanks ranked in the top 25 of the league for disposals, contested possessions, clearances, tackles, handballs and AFL Fantasy points per game. 

On the 21 April 2021 episode of the ‘Outer Sanctum” podcast Hanks was interviewed by Lucy Race and Alicia Sometimes, Race said “Congratulations on winning the Rising Star Award, what does this award mean to you?” Hanks replied “Thank you. Obviously it is pretty special and I feel very privileged to have won the award. It is not something you play for but as a young player it is nice recognition to know that you are sort of heading in the right direction, it is good to win and I feel very honoured.”

The junior career of Tyla Hanks along with her first three AFLW seasons with the Melbourne Football Club is covered in more detail below:

Early life and junior career

 Tyla Hanks was born on 15 February 2000 and played Australian Rules football and basketball when she was growing up in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

Hanks was a special guest onEpisode 5, 2020 of the ‘Inside Melbourne’ podcast co-hosted by Ben Gibson and Lily Mithen. Gibson asked Hanks “Tyla let’s talk firstly a little bit about your footy background, obviously you are one of the ones that has been drafted as an 18 year-old. Where did your junior footy career start?” Hanks replied “I started out with the boys at Cora Lynn, a tiny little town out there and played all my juniors with my brother (Max), and dad was the coach so that was pretty fun at the time and then once I finished with the boys at Cora Lynn I went out to Beaconsfield with the girls team out there.”

Hanks’ history with the Melbourne Football Club commenced well before she was selected by the club with the 6th pick overall at the 2018 AFLW Draft. In September 2011 “For the first time in history, the Melbourne Football Club side was made up of 20 girls aged between nine and 13 years. After being selected from the South East Juniors League, the girls took part in rigorous training at Casey Fields before being presented with their official Melbourne playing kit.”4

Hanks and Georgia Gee who now plays in the AFLW for Carlton both represented the first Melbourne girls team in September 2011 against North Melbourne with distinction. “Georgia Gee was given the honour of captaining the Melbourne side, and Tyla Hanks was awarded with the title of Best Team Player for Melbourne. Both girls were commended for their efforts in front of their teammates and supporters.”5

On the influence Tyla’s family had on her decision to play Australian Rules Football she commented “I started playing because of my family – footy’s been a big thing for us. Dad played local senior footy and a bit of TAC Cup, and I have a younger brother as well who started Auskick at the same time. We’ve always watched footy on the weekends. Once the women’s league started the same thing happened and we went to a fair few games.”6

Tyla’s introduction to playing Australian Rules football was in the Auskick program at Nar Nar Goon at about five years of age and she played at club level in the Cora Lynn boys team up until the under 13’s but wasn’t allowed to continue playing in the boys team beyond that age-group. Hanks then joined the Beaconsfield Youth Girls team and played in four premierships including one where she won the medal for being best afield in the Grand Final. Beaconsfield is located 45 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. One of Hanks’ team-mates at Beaconsfield was Georgia Gee, later on they were joined by a duo of current St Kilda AFLW players in Tyanna Smith and Jessica Matin.

Hanks played basketball with the Dandenong Rangers until Under 16’s, then had to focus on one sport and chose Australian Rules Football. Hanks played in four Australian Rules football under 18 National Championships. initially representing Victoria Metro at the under 18 National Championships in 2015 and 2016. Due to a shift in boundaries in 2017 Hanks was then eligible to represent Victoria Country which she did at the 2017 and 2018 National Championships. Hank was selected in the forward pocket of the 2017 AFLW Under 18 All-Australian team and won the Eva Peers medal for being Vic Country’s best player. On 25 October 2017 Hanks was selected in the 29 player 2018 NAB AFL Academy Level 2 squad.

During 2018 Hanks captained Gippsland Power in the TAC Cup and polled 15 votes in the 2018 TAC Cup Girls best and fairest to finish third overall, one vote behind joint winners Madison Prespakis and Nina Morison. Hanks was named ruck-rover in the TAC Cup Girls Team of the Year and was the only Gippsland Power selected.

In the 2018 AFLW Under 18 National Championships Hanks impressed playing for Victoria Country and was selected as the rover in the All-Australian team, she was joined in the team by four of her Vic Country teammates in Nina Morrison, Sophie Van De Huevel, Jordyn Allen and Olivia Purcell.

The profile for Hanks in AFLW Prospectus 2019 said “Hanks excelled as an attacking midfielder for Vic Country at the NAB AFLW Under-18 Championships, averaging 117 Champion Data Ranking points, rated above average. Her scoreboard impact was phenomenal, recording five score involvements per game, the second-most of any midfielder, rated elite.”7

Hanks played for Carlton during the 2018 VFLW season and the experience of playing alongside and against women and bigger bodies assisted with the transition to playing in the AFLW the following year.

In the testing at the 2018 AFLW Draft Combine Hanks finished first in the agility test and fifth in the Yo-Yo endurance test. During the lead-up to the 2018 Draft AFLW Talent manager Aasta O’Connor commented on Hanks “The way she goes about it is top-notch. She’s a different type of leader, which I think all clubs need. She can be quite unassuming and disarming in her approach, but her teammates absolutely adore her because she cares. I’ll watch with interest how her career progresses, because in my opinion, she’ll be the captain of an AFLW club one day and a real leader and influencer in our game going forward.”8 

Being drafted and 2019 AFLW season with Melbourne

Hanks lived at home in Pakenham and completed high school in 2017. During 2018 Hanks was studying exercise science at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. In the months before the draft Hanks started working at Bunnings and nominated the Melbourne Metropolitan region for the draft. The consensus was that Madison Prepspakis was the best player available from the Vic Metro region and would be selected by Carlton with pick 3. Other clubs from the Melbourne metro region that had picks in the first round were Collingwood (pick 5), Melbourne (6), Western Bulldogs (10) and Collingwood (11). The expectation was that Hanks would be selected by one oof these clubs with a first round pick.

The Melbourne Football Club selected Hanks with the number 6 pick overall at the 2018 NAB AFLW Draft. In a video interview with Melbourne AFLW player Lily Mithen after the 2018 AFLW Draft Melbourne’s AFLW head Coach Mick Stinear commented “Tyla Hanks with our first pick, very clean at ground level, knows where the goals are, executes really well.” Hank was drafted at 18 years of age and was the shortest player on Melbourne’s list, being 157 centimetres tall.

In the first two AFLW seasons in 2017 and 2018 three Melbourne midfielders – captain Daisy Pearce, Karen Paxman and Elise O’Dea were selected in the All-Australian team in both seasons. In the first two AFLW seasons with an eight team league there was no final series, just a stand alone Grand Final where the top placed team at the end of the home and away season hosted the second placed team. In both 2017 and 2018 Melbourne finished third, level on wins with the second placed team but missed out on a Grand Final berth due to having an inferior percentage to Adelaide in 2017 and Brisbane in 2018.

For the 2019 season Daisy Pearce was inactive as she was pregnant with twins. Elise O’Dea and forward Shelly Scott were appointed Melbourne’s co-captain’s for the 2019 season. 

In a Q and A published on aflplayers.com.au on 1st February 2019 Hanks was asked about her leadership “You captained Gippsland Power in your top-age year in the TAC Cup, do you see yourself as a leader and what can those leadership traits that you display bring to the AFLW?” Hanks respondedI think I never really saw myself as a leader so to get those acknowledgements was something that I was pretty proud of but at the same time I don’t traditionally lead by being loud or outspoken but rather by the way I play. Hopefully, I can use my work rate and my own leadership styles to earn the respect of the girls and work my way into the team.”9

For her debut AFLW season in 2019 Hanks wore jumper number 28. Playing for Melbourne’s AFLW side against VFLW affiliate Casey in a practice match during the 2019 pre-season Hanks suffered bone bruising to her knee in the final minute of the game. On the injury Hanks commented to melbournefc.com.au on when she expected to be able to play again, saying “We’re thinking possibly round two, but if everything goes well then round one (remains an option). I’ll start running and see how I go. If there’s no pain, I’ll keep progressing. Pretty much two bones hit together, but (there was) no muscle or ligament damage so that was the most important thing to hear.”10

Hanks rehabilitation from the bone bruising went well which enabled her to make her AFLW debut at the earliest opportunity, in Round 1 2019 against Fremantle in a home game at Casey Fields. Before the game Hanks received her Melbourne jumper from Daisy Pearce. Hanks was named on the interchange for her AFLW debut against Fremantle and had six kicks, one handball and laid two tackles in the four point loss played in difficult conditions with the temperature reaching 38 degrees.

On her debut game and the step up to AFLW Hanks commented to melbournefc.com.au “I think it took me a little bit to get used to. I ran out the first quarter and I thought I’m glad this one is done. But the rest of the game I thought I worked my way into it a little bit.”11

Against Collingwood at Victoria Park in Round 2 Hanks had 11 disposals comprised of five kicks and six handballs. In the 17 point victory Hanks also laid three tackles and kicked her first AFLW goal, taking an overhead mark and then kicking truly with the set-shot from 20 metres out five minutes into the last quarter. In the AFL Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of the Year Award Hanks polled one vote for her performance against Collingwood with team-mate O’Dea receiving the maximum 10 votes.  

Hanks kicking a goal against North Melbourne, Round 4 2019 at Casey Fields

In her debut AFLW season Hanks played all seven games for Melbourne and had more than 10 disposals in a game three times commencing with 11 disposals in Round 2 against Collingwood and followed by 12 disposals in both Round 3 against Brisbane and Round 4 against North Melbourne.

Melbourne had four wins and three losses during the 2019 home and away season to finish fourth out of five teams in Division A with the top two teams in each Division progressing to a preliminary final. Playing in the forward line and the midfield during 2019 Hanks averaged 5.3 kicks, 3.0 handballs, 1.3 marks, 2.1 tackles per game. Hanks kicked three goals, ranked equal fourth for Melbourne, Tegan Cunningham led the club in this category with eight goals.

The profile for Hanks in AFLW Prospectus 2020 said “Hanks’ ability to impact the scoreboard in her first year at the top-level was profound, recording the equal most score assists and third-most scoreboard impact points of any Melbourne player. She was proficient when she found the ball in space, rating above average for metres gained and uncontested possessions.”12

2020 AFLW season with Melbourne

After giving birth to twins Sylvie and Roy in February 2019 Daisy Pearce returned to play for Melbourne in 2020 and was voted in as club captain, however had a positional change moving from the midfield to defence.

During 2020 Hanks continued to play as a midfielder/forward but spent more time in the midfield than she had during her debut 2019 season. On 21st February 2020 Hanks told womens.afl “I played midfield in juniors, but it’s a whole new level now. Playing on girls like (Ellie) Blackburn and (Kirsty) Lamb is a good experience, so I’ll take a lot from that. It’s great to learn from our own midfield too, I’m really enjoying it. Every opponent is a little bit different. You might get someone who likes to be on the move, you kind of see how well they can get going and run onto the ball, or they might have good tools to get you out of their space and working onto it that way. There’s just little things you pick up and learn along the way.”13

In relation to the benefits of already having an AFLW season under her belt Hanks told womens.afl “Last year was a bit of a whirlwind. It was a great experience, but this year, I feel a little more settled within my place in the team and my own ability. I’m a bit more at ease this year. The intensity of training the first year was something I really struggled to handle, I probably didn’t come in fit enough. I did a fair bit of work over the pre-pre-season, as I called it, and it meant conditioning, running and doing all that extra work wasn’t something I had to really worry or be anxious about at training.”14

At Marvel Stadium in Round 4, 2020 on 28 February against Collingwood Hanks had a then career-best 15 disposals comprised of seven kicks and eight handballs, she also laid an equal team-high five tackles in the 20 point victory.

As a result of the corona virus and the impact it was having on society including restrictions on inter-state travel the last two rounds of the AFLW home and away season were abandoned, reducing the home and away season from eight rounds to six rounds. At the end of the six Round home and away season Melbourne were third in Conference B with four wins and two losses, one game behind the top two teams in Conference B, Fremantle and Melbourne. The finals structure was modified which increased the number of teams qualifying for finals in each conference from three to four.

In a semi-final Melbourne travelled to Giants Stadium to play GWS who had finished second in Conference A. In the club’s first-ever AFLW final on 21 March Melbourne fought back from a 14 point deficit at three quarter time to kick the final three goals of the match and won by three points to progress to a preliminary final. In the semi final victory Hanks had nine kicks, three handballs, laid three tackles and took a game-high six marks.

With the number of COVID cases escalating and the Australian Government announcing that restrictions would be placed on travel AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan announced on 22 March, 2020 “Today’s AFLW semi-final between Carlton and Brisbane Lions will be the last NAB AFL Women’s match to be played with the 2020 season ending today. Given the twin conference structure and that the finals series was not completed, the AFL Commission has determined no premiership will be awarded for this season, following a recommendation from the AFL Executive.”15

The two AFLW preliminary finals that were unable to be played on the weekend of 28 and 29 March  were Fremantle vs Melbourne and North Melbourne vs Carlton, resulting in the seasons of these four clubs coming to a sudden halt.

Hanks was named in the 2020 22 under 22 squad but missed out on selection in the final team, two Demons were included in the final 22 player team with Libby Birch selected in defense and Eden Zanker named on the interchange.

During the 2020 season Hanks played all seven games for Melbourne, averaging 6.3 kicks, 4.1 handballs 1.3 marks and 4.7 tackles per game. Hanks led Melbourne for total tackles and ranked equal third for clearances.   

Hanks polled 35 votes in Melbourne’s 2020 AFLW best and fairest to finish equal fifth with defender Libby Birch, behind Shelly Scott (46 votes), Karen Paxman (44), Kate Hore (43) and captain Daisy Pearce (39).

Break-out 2021 AFL season with Melbourne

In the off-season several of Melbourne’s experienced players joined rival AFLW clubs with players in this category being Elise O’Dea (Carlton), Bianca Jakobsson (St Kilda), Harriet Cordner (Richmond) and Aliesha Newman (Collingwood). The departure of O’Dea provided Hanks with an opportunity to spend more time in the midfield and she was also O’Dea’s successor in the No. 5 Demons jumper.

Daisy Pearce continued as Melbourne’s captain in 2021 with Karen Paxman vice-captain. Hanks was one of six other players included in the Demons eight player leadership group along with Libby Birch, Lily Mithen, Kate Hore, Maddi Gay and Sarah Lampard. On the inclusion of emerging leaders in the leadership group Melbourne AFLW head coach Mick Stinear commented “The time is right to invest in our future leaders and our leadership group this year reflects that. We have selected six players that possess leadership qualities and have established themselves as consistent performers on and off the field. These players will support and learn from our captain and vice-captain, while developing their own leadership style and skills.”16

Hanks was the youngest player included in the leadership group at 20 years of age (turned 21 during the season on 15 February). Stinear commented “Hanksy’s skill and knowledge exceeds her age. She’s had an excellent off-season, increasing speed, power, skill and belief, and is ready to influence others and have a significant impact on the competition.”17

In Melbourne’s Round 1 team Hanks was named in the centre and she predominantly played in the midfield throughout 2021. In Round 1 against Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium Hanks set a new personal best for disposals in a game with 18 comprised of nine kicks and nine handballs, she also had three marks, laid four tackles and polled three votes in the AFL Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of The Year Award in the 21 point victory.

Against Richmond in a 28 point victory at Casey Fields in Round 2 Hanks had 13 kicks, six handballs, four marks, laid six tackles and polled a game-high eight votes in the AFL Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of the Year Award ahead of Richmond midfielder Monique Conti with seven votes. Hanks also received a Rising Star nomination for her impressive Round 2 performance.

On receiving the Rising Star nomination Hanks commented to Berwick.starcommunity.com.au “You don’t play for those types of recognition, but it is something that’s always been in the back of my mind a little bit. I was more focused on it in my first year, but coming into my third I’ve just wanted to play my role for the team and contribute each week. It’s definitely somewhat of a proud moment for me to tick that over, so I’m lucky to have received the nomination.”18

The following game against North Melbourne Hanks in her 17th (AFLW game) received votes in the league best and fairest for the first time, polling two votes. Hanks also polled an equal game-high eight coaches association votes along with North Melbourne’s Jasmine Garner. In the nine point Melbourne victory at Casey Fields Hanks starred in the midfield with 12 kicks, 11 handballs, two marks and a team-high nine tackles.

Appearing on Episode 7, 2021 of the Lil and Ben Podcast on 2 March, 2021 Hanks was asked by Ben Gibson “You’ve had a very impressive start to the year, you must be feeling at least confident in your own game, you’ve come a long way in 12 months.” Hanks responded “Yeah, definitely. A big improvement, but I think even just my position in the team, I just feel a bit more comfortable and have great people like Lily around me and the mid’s, they have all been really good, so yeah just feeling more comfortable in my role.”

Bunnings is one of the AFL’s commercial partners and in 2020 and 2021 Hanks has featured in  commercials for her former workplace Bunnings.

Entering the 2021 season Hanks career-best for disposals in a game was 15, she exceeded this mark in her first seven games of the 2021 season including having 22 disposals against St Kilda in Round 6 and earning the maximum three votes in the league best and fairest. At Casey Fields against the Saints Hanks had 10 kicks, 12 handballs, two marks and laid four tackles in the 44 point victory.

Against Adelaide in Round 7 at Casey Fields Hanks received the three votes in the AFLW best and fairest for the second game in a row for a performance in which she had a career-best 25 disposals comprised of 16 kicks and nine handballs to set equal team-highs in both categories. Hanks also had four marks, five tackles and kicked one goal although many people at the ground and watching at home thought she should have been credited with two goals. Early in the second quarter Hanks ran between two Adelaide players to intercept a handball and a snaped a right-foot goal from 25 metres out in a congested Melbourne forward line to extend the Demons lead to seven points. Early in the third quarter Hanks had a shot at the goal on the run from a tight angle 15 metres out from goal which looked like it narrowly avoided the left-hand goal post and should have been awarded a goal, at least that was the consensus from commentators, fans watching and Melbourne players. The goal umpired signalled that the ball hit the post and awarded a behind. Unlike the men’s competition there is no goal review in AFLW so the goal umpire’s initial decision on Hanks’ shot stood. On the controversial decision Hanks commented in a post-game interview “I thought it was pretty close. Some of the girls had already started celebrating, so I thought it was in.”

Many fans and players were saying that it was time to introduce a score-review in AFLW. On the April 21 ‘Outer Sanctum’ episode Hanks was asked by Alicia Sometimes “That score review technology has been a big issue in the papers what’s your thoughts on that?” Hanks responded “I don’t mind the fact that it comes down to the goal umpire at the time, I think that’s how it always used to be. If we could get it in it would be great, it can be at really pivotal moments of a game whether it’s a point or a goal whichever way it goes it can be really vital to the game at that time. It would be amazing if we got it in but at the same time the goal umpires do the best they can, he made the right call on the day as well.”

Between Round 7 and Round 8 Hanks was interviewed on RSN Breakfast Club on 16 March 2021. On Melbourne’s list changes after the 2020 season Daniel Harford asked Hanks “How did you see it all unfold, were you a bit concerned?” Hanks replied “I think we were all a little bit (concerned) at the time. Probably some moves that we didn’t expect but that sort of happens in footy. I think the best thing about it is that it has just opened up opportunities for other players and younger girls to step up and probably take on a bit more responsibility rather than sitting back and sort of letting those bigger names do it. With opportunity it has been a good chance for us all even though we were sad to see some of them go.”

Jimmy Bartel followed up with “One of those opportunities was moving you from the forward line in to the midfield this year, was that something that you always wanted to do or was it put on you by the coaches?” Hanks responded “Yeah, I think I have always wanted to be a midfielder, played most of my junior footy as a midfielder. I spent probably 50/50 last year and even my first year which I found a little bit hard changing so much, but it has definitely been beneficial for my game and something that has just been easier for me to know that that was my one role for the day and more time in the mids has definitely been good.”

On her improved form in 2021 Hanks told ‘RSN Breakfast Club’ “I think it is probably a number of factors, fitness is probably the main thing. I have worked hard to try and get my body right and my running fitness right and there is still areas for that to improve. Even within myself, a bit of belief, building that confidence, that probably took me a little longer than it has with some other players. I feel like I know and understand my role in the team now and it is good to be able to do that so far.”

In the ‘Credit to the Girls’ podcast between Rounds 8 and 9 Melbourne AFLW ruck Lauren Pearce was asked by Lucy Watkin “You get to ruck to a lot of very good midfielders but it must be handy having Tyla Hanks who has improved out of sight this year. Where has that come from for Tyla?” Pearce responded “Tyla’s always had it and I know she has sort of flown under the radar a little bit over the past couple of years. We knew that the skills and the smarts that she has but she is really starting to flourish this year. I think she has been given the reins a bit more to get a bit more midfield time, she’s been instilled with confidence, not by just the coaches but by us as teammates. We want her to have the ball, she has got an amazing kick, it is so good, her smarts, even though she’s young she is very clever with her positioning, with the choices that she makes, I think with all of that she’s starting to mature and see how much of an impact she can have. Loved seeing her perform really well this year, it has been nice.”

Melbourne had seven wins, two losses and a percentage of 130.4% at the end of the home and away to finish in fourth position, level on wins with the top three but with an inferior percentage to Adelaide 208.4%, Brisbane (195%) and Collingwood (190.5%). Fremantle and North Melbourne each had six wins and three losses to finish in fifth and sixth position respectively. The top six teams in the 14 team league made finals with the top teams Adelaide and Brisbane going straight through to the preliminary final and the teams that finished third through to sixth playing sudden death finals with the two winners to progress to the preliminary final. 

In the first week of the finals Melbourne played their first final at Casey Fields, hosting the Fremantle Dockers in a qualifying final. In very windy conditions Melbourne kicked one goal against the wind in the first quarter, added another two in the second quarter and kept Fremantle goalless in the first half to lead by 19 points at the main break. Fremantle kicked three goals with the wind in the third quarter to reduce the margin to four points at three quarter time. Melbourne kicked the only two goals of the last quarter to win by 17 points.

Melbourne travelled to play Adelaide in a preliminary final at Adelaide Final. Whilst Melbourne had the confidence of defeating Adelaide by 28 points in their Round 7 encounter at Casey Fields playing Adelaide at home is a different proposition. Adelaide kicked the only two goals of the first half in the preliminary final and inaccuracy hurt the Demons who were defeated by 18 points, kicking one goal nine behinds to Adelaide’s five goals, three behinds. Hanks was one of Melbourne’s best players, having 12 kicks, a team-high 11 handballs, two marks and laid three tackles.

During the first seven rounds of the 2021 AFLW season Hanks was one of the most consistent players in the AFLW and polled votes in the AFL Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of The Year Award in all seven games, including three games where she received eight votes, the latter two games were Round 3 against North Melbourne and Round 7 versus Adelaide. Hanks polled 42 votes to finish 11th overall and be ranked first for Melbourne, two votes ahead of fellow midfielder Karen Paxman.

During 2021 Hanks played all 11 games for Melbourne, averaging 9.9 kicks, 8.8 handballs, 2.5 marks and 4.7 tackles per game. Hanks increased her disposals per game by 79.8% from 10.4 disposals per game in 2020 to 18.7 disposals per game in 2021. Hanks led Melbourne for handballs per game, ranked second for disposals, contested possessions and tackles, equal second for clearances, fourth for kicks and metres gained, equal fourth for inside 50’s, fifth for score involvements and sixth for marks.

In the 2021 AFLW 22 Under 22 team Hanks was selected as a half-forward and Melbourne team-mate Eden Zanker was named in the ruck. Hanks was recognised for her outstanding season with selection in the 2021 AFLW All-Australian squad of 40 players and was joined in the squad by three Melbourne team-mates – fellow midfielder Karen Paxman, ruck Lauren Pearce and forward Kate Hore. Paxman was the only Demon named in the final 21 player team, being named on the interchange. Paxman is one of only two players along with North Melbourne midfielder Emma Kearney that has been selected in the All-Australian team in all five seasons. 

Hanks tackling Western Bulldogs captain Ellie Blackburn in Round 4, 2021 at Whitten Oval and earning a free kick

At the AFLW Awards on Tuesday 20 April Hanks won the 2021 AFLW Rising Star in convincing fashion, polling 48 of a possible 50 votes to finish ahead 16 votes ahead of Ellie McKenzie (Richmond) with Mikayla Bowen (West Coast Eagles) third on 22 votes. The top five was completed by Hanks’ former Beaconsfield team-mate Tyanna Smith (St Kilda) and Natalie Grider (Brisbane) on 19 and 10 votes respectively.

Hanks became the third player from the Melbourne Football Club to win a Rising Star Award following defender Jared Rivers and forward Jesse Hogan winning the RS Award in the men’s competition in 2004 and 2015 respectively.

In the first three AFLW seasons a first-year player won the AFLW Rising Star Award with the winners being Ebony Marinoff (2017), Chloe Molloy (2018) and Madison Prespakis (2019). The past two winners have been in their third season, with Hanks joining 2020 winner Isabel Huntington in this category.

After receiving the 2021 AFLW Rising Star Award Hanks was asked by host Sarah Jones “The pathways now for young girls are just so fabulous, they are certainly better that what they were and your work through the AFL Academy, how has that shaped your journey?” Hanks responded “Yeah definitely, the AFL Academy was great in preparing us girls to come in to the league but also Gippsland Power who I played NAB League for, Cora Lynn, Beaconsfield, all those junior clubs that I had definitely held me in good stead.”

For the ‘thank yous’ In her acceptance speech Hanks said “As I said before, definitely my junior clubs, coming in Gippsland Power (were) really great for me and Beaconsfield and even Cora Lynn when I played with them too. My team, they are amazing and especially everyone on the coaches, all the people behind the scene, Todd, Jessie, everyone that you know works tirelessly to get us up and about every week. Yeah really privileged you know to be a part of the club and obviously mum and dad, I might get emotional here. They have been amazing for me throughout my whole career and driving me around through basketball and footy and my siblings as well so I couldn’t be here without them so thank you.”

In a video interview on melbournefc.com.au the day after winning the AFLW’s 2021 Rising Star Award Hanks was asked “Hanksy, I think heading into last night most people thought you would be taking home the Rising Star but what were your expectations?” Hanks responded “I was hoping that I was in the mix but I was pretty sure that Ellie McKenzie was gonna get it, part of me was definitely I hope you read my name but the camera guy kept sort of floating between me and Ellie so I wasn’t sure until the end. It’s not really what you play for but it is definitely some good recognition and something that you sort of have in the back of your mind.”

Later in the interview Hanks was asked “At just 157 centimetres you are thrown up against some bigger bodies, how do you go lining up against them?” Hanks replied “Yeah, I think you still just gotta know what your strengths are and trying to wrestle or outmuscle them is not going to work for me but just keep finding new ways to get around them and use my pace where I can.”

During the interview on the 21 April 2021 episode of the ‘Outer Sanctum’ podcast Lucy Race asked “Tyla, your game in particular just really went up a notch, your fitness I think and I think we saw that in the numbers of your disposals and just your impact on the game. Did you do something differently in your pre-season?” Hanks responded “Not really, I definitely with COVID took advantage of being able to be at home and train and spend a lot more time learning and focussing on nutrition and whatnot so I think that was probably one aspect of it that was quite different. I think it just came with experience and sort of believing in myself, I think I had to take on the responsibility of if I play my best footy it is actually going to help the team. That was something I had to acknowledge was part of my role in the team and it wasn’t me being selfish or anything like that but it’s what my teammates and coaches wanted me to do so I think that was probably the biggest aspect of it.”

Hanks polled eight votes in the league best and fairest comprised of two votes North Melbourne in Round 3 and back to best afield performances against St Kilda in Round 6 and Adelaide in Round 7. Hanks ranked second at Melbourne behind Karen Paxman who finished equal fifth overall with 13 votes, Lily Mithen was the third ranked Demon with five votes.  

During the 2021 season Tyla Hanks was one of the most improved players in the AFLW, relishing the responsibility of playing in the midfield and being a member of Melbourne’s leadership group. During 2021 Hanks took her game to another stratosphere and impressed with her composure, ball-winning, tackling, consistency, clearance work and leadership to be a worthy winner of the AFLW’s 2021 Rising Star Award.

Article and photographs by Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

Updated References for Tyla Hanks 2021 Rising Star article

1 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/844896/time-to-rise-hanks-ready-for-the-next-step

2 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/244779/aflw-player-profiles-part-three

3 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/844896/time-to-rise-hanks-ready-for-the-next-step

4 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/150754/mfc-history-made-with-all-girls-team

5 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/150754/mfc-history-made-with-all-girls-team

6 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/269155/aflw-hanks-looms-as-future-leader

7 Champion Data, AFLW Prospectus – the essential number-cruncher for season 2019, 2nd Edition, page 100

8 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/269155/aflw-hanks-looms-as-future-leader

9 https://www.aflplayers.com.au/news-feed/stories/qa-tyla-hanks

10 https://womens.afl/news/15626/around-the-clubs-dee-in-doubt-roo-blow

11 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/71029/aflw-hanks-comfortable-at-the-top-level

12 Champion Data, AFLW Prospectus – the essential number-cruncher for season 2020, 3rd Edition, page 114

13 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/566368/hanks-hits-her-strides-in-year-two-at-the-demons

14 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/566368/hanks-hits-her-strides-in-year-two-at-the-demons

15 https://womens.afl/news/49993/no-premiership-in-2020-aflw-season-ends-immediately

16 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/849648/pearce-paxman-to-continue-in-new-look-aflw-leadership-group

17 https://www.melbournefc.com.au/news/849648/pearce-paxman-to-continue-in-new-look-aflw-leadership-group

18 https://berwick.starcommunity.com.au/sport/2021-02-24/tylas-star-is-on-the-rise/

Milestones and Misses

Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in Australian Rules Football (AFL and AFLW) and the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). In sport as with life in general it is common that milestones are only achieved after overcoming adversity, so whilst the articles on the Milestones and Misses website celebrate sportspeople achieving milestones they also cover the misses along the journey, such as a player having minimal game-time or spending a prolonged period on the sidelines due to injury. The aim of the articles is to enable readers to gain a greater appreciation of the journey the sportspeople have had during their career.

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