Covid chaos won’t ruin long-awaited debut of AFLW’s No.1 pick

She’s ready to do what she came to the Gold Coast for, and that’s helping the Suns win soccer games. Hailed as one of the most ready to come out of the AFLW draft, the 2021 No.1 squad will make their Mackay debut on Sunday when the Suns host GWS at Great Barrier Reef Arena. “I don’t think nerves are going to kick in until I’m out there. Right now it’s just pure excitement, ”Rowbottom told News Corp. The long-waited 178cm midfielder, who was ranked first overall by the Suns last July, sent shock waves through the league. The Victorian had to apply to stay in her home country, but instead chose Queensland as her preferred destination and the Suns didn’t need to be briefed twice. But the 18-year-old had to wait to meet her new teammates. Queensland’s tough border meant isolating yourself in northern New South Wales for a month and using a border pass to cross for training. Once the border opened on December 13, Rowbottom moved in with the family of Suns CEO Mark Evans to help him with his transition to Queensland. “Obviously my trip here was a bit disrupted because of Covid at first, but after landing on the Gold Coast it was so good,” Rowbottom said. “It’s really exciting to be here playing soccer and being surrounded by such amazing people and living such a great lifestyle.” The full-bodied midfielder has already turned heads during his short stint at the club, with his contest physique and overhead marking a hallmark. She is emerging as a key cog in first-year coach Cameron Joyce’s new midfielder and a strong supporter of her favorite high-pressure game plan. The development of that game plan ran into a problem last week, when five players tested positive for Covid-19, forcing the entire playgroup to self-isolate. But Rowbottom says it “barely disrupted” the Suns’ first-round preparations and the five have since joined the main group ahead of Sunday’s opener at Mackay. Rowbottom is expected to start mid-Sunday and advance if necessary. The former Oakleigh Chargers skipper scored 10 goals in his 11 NAB League games last season, averaging 20.5 eliminations and 4.5 clearances for Vic Metro at the AFLW U19 Championships. His ability to hit the scoreboard going forward will be important for the Suns, who have averaged less than 20 points per game in a 2021 campaign without a win. “For me, I just hope the team can get the best of our ability and show all the hard work we did to be better than last season and win a few games,” Rowbottom said. Key forwards Tara Bohanna and Jacqueline Dupuy will also make their AFLW debuts on Sunday. Bohanna finished third in VFLW 2021 goal kicks with 19 goals in 16 games en route to winning the Best and Fairest Southern Saints. Maroochydore Roos rookie Dupuy, the QAFLW’s best and fairest finalist, has joined the Suns as a replacement in place of the Levi sisters who left for rugby out of season. Both start on Sunday, with Dupuy playing the backup ruck role left vacant by outgoing Maddison Levi. The first bounce is 5:10 p.m. local time.

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