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Rowbottom’s rollicking first season rewarded with Best First Year Player

Gold Coast’s Charlie Rowbottom has won the Best First Year Player award, proudly presented by KPMG. Gold Coast coach Cameron Joyce discusses Rowbottom’s impressive first season and where her promising career is headed.

Great anticipation comes with being selected as the number one draft pick.

Averaging 15.7 disposals – the most of any first-year player – along with 6.3 tackles and 3.4 clearances each game, Charlie Rowbottom reached every expectation of the number one pick, to lead the Suns to their best season (from a win-loss standpoint) in the AFLW. 

The campaign saw Rowbottom deservedly crowned the AFLPA’s Best First-Year Player as voted by her peers, thanks to KPMG.

If there’s one thing guaranteed from Gold Coast young gun Charlie Rowbottom, who had relocated across the country in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that she won’t be resting on her laurels.

However, you wouldn’t blame an 18-year-old who had relocated across the country in the midst of a pandemic for taking some extra time to reach those lofty expectations.

Having coached against her in the NAB League Girls competition, Rowbottom’s talent came as no surprise to Suns’ Senior AFLW Coach Cameron Joyce.

“I knew her talent, but one thing that you’re never quite sure of with a player when they come in is how they’re going to adapt to the environment and how much drive they have for wanting to improve,” Joyce said.

Perhaps even more impressive than Rowbottom’s natural talent has been her thirst for knowledge and improvement. A student of the game, Rowbottom pushed the part-time nature of being an AFLW player to its limits, dedicating any time outside of her university study to her football craft.

“I was super, super impressed with her competitiveness and her drive to want to get better. In particular the stuff she did off the field, (watching) extra vision, [studying] opposition players before she played them, extra recovery, extra conditioning that she did away from the club, extra skills – it’s just a credit to her,” he said.

“The majority of it is her self-drive. We’re here to help and facilitate everything that she needs but the girls still need to want to take that up. She certainly wanted to take that up and be a professional footballer.”

The Oakleigh Chargers’ premiership captain was set to be taken with one of the first Victorian picks, but instead nominated Queensland as her state of choice, lured by several factors including family connections in the state, as well as the beach for the keen surf lifesaver.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, initially locked out of the Sunshine State due to COVID-19 protocols, which restricted her to remote pre-season duties.

Eventually, she was able to move to northern New South Wales, where she could complete the 60-minute drive to Carrara for training as part of the Queensland-NSW ‘border bubble’.

“It took her a while to get up here, she was restricted a bit in terms of access, and she was able to handle that while moving away from home at 18 years of age,” Joyce said.

“The season that she had off the back of that was a real credit to her.”

Despite the initial hiccup, Rowbottom hit the ground running with a Rising Star nomination in Round 2 against the Eagles for her 17 disposal, 12 tackles and five clearances.

She then built to a performance against the Bulldogs which may not necessarily have been her “breakout” game, but certainly provided reward for an enormous amount of effort.

Remaining unfazed by the expectations placed upon her, the 18-year-old picked up a career-best 24 disposals and kicked the first goal of her career.

“I think that (performance) gave her great confidence going into the remaining three or four games we had, the Bulldogs have some really good midfielders – Ellie Blackburn, Kirsty Lamb – she was doing it on really good players, and I think that gave her a world of confidence” Joyce said.

“Whether you call it a breakout game, it’s a culmination of the work behind the scenes. I think that was really good validation and reward for the effort she was putting in off the ground and it was able to show on the field.”

The concern for opposition clubs? There’s still plenty of upside.

“We’ve played her forward for small periods of games, rotating a little bit and I think her marking is another phase of her game that we’ve spoken about in her review that she can take to another level,” Joyce said.

“I think she’s laid such a really good platform with her contested work and tackling that I think the ability to help her outside game and round her game out a little bit will only increase her possession rate and help her become a really hard midfielder to stop. Her running capacity and those sorts of things that are normal for girls her age, that will only improve her game holistically.”