TALENTED forward Jade Halfpenny never thought of herself as following her father Warren into Australian rules football, but her switch from basketball to Australian rules football enabled her to become one of a number of special family ties in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s competition.
A number of players made their debuts in Round 1 of 2020 donning the colours that their famous fathers did such as Bek Rasheed (North Adelaide) and Shelby Smith (Central District). But then 17-years-old Halfpenny was the youngest of the trio and she could hardly believe her luck at being selected.
It was pretty exciting,” Halfpenny said. “It’s not something I really expected or ever really considered until the past year or so but it was always kind of assumed that my younger brother would be the one to go on and do that so it was pretty exciting and hopefully he can get up there too.”
Her journey through football has been relatively recent compared to many other South Australian State Under 18s Academy members, having only played for a few years, but made a rapid rise through the pathway.
“I started in 2017 at Golden Grove Football Club,” Halfpenny said. “I played in the Under 16s there for a couple years and then I started playing in the A-Grade and then through that I was doing the Under 17s Development Squad at Norwood. “Then last year was my third year in the development squad and they asked me to come out for the senior side so I started with them and then played every round this season in the SANFL and from that went into the Under 18s State squad.”
Naming North Adelaide and Crows star Anne Hatchard as her toughest opponent this season, Halfpenny admitted it was “pretty intimidating” knowing some of the players she would come up against in the SANFL Women’s competition.
“You know some of the legacies that were in there, but I guess everyone is there for a reason and I just had to keep reminding myself that I could do it and I can put it up to them and it’s really an honour with and against them,” she said.
Not expecting to play a game, Halfpenny instead did not miss one, playing all 11 games including the cutthroat finals loss to West Adelaide. In those games, the strong marking forward was able to roam between midfield and the forward 50, rarely losing a one-on-one contest. Along with her football, Halfpenny has always been an active basketball player, something she believes helps lend itself to the game of Aussie rules.
“I’ve been playing basketball since I was six I think, so a long time,” she said. “It has always been the plan to kind of see as far as I can go with that and then footy came into the picture. “I still play basketball but footy’s more of the priority now. “Basketball has obviously helped footy with the athleticism and contact and the body strength has been really helpful with footy.
“I think one major thing is handling the ball,” she said. “I’ve been told that I look like a basketballer when I go for a mark. “That’s just the ability to take a mark and grab the ball and intercept and stuff like that has come from basketball. “As well as just the body strength, just holding an opponent and using your body to defend.”
Halfpenny’s strength is her marking, though she said she is always looking to improve even further, but her ability to read the ball in flight and position herself well also helps. As for what she is looking to improve on, the Norwood teenager was blunt.
“Everything honestly,” Halfpenny said. “I’d like to get fitter which obviously that aids with everything. Just getting a bit more precise with my kicking. “A bit further kicks, shorter kicks, body strength, yeah everything.”
While she might be keen to build a more consistent game, Halfpenny has been regarded as one to watch for the future given her rapid improvement in a short space of time. She is also not the first player to cross from basketball to football, and an inspiration of hers is an elite player who made the same transition.
“I never really followed football specifically a lot growing up but I looked up a lot to Erin Phillips more in basketball when I was younger because she was obviously a big basketballer and now she’s gone over to footy,” Halfpenny said. “But also my dad as well. “Looking at what he’s done and just seeing what he’s been able to do.”
Unlike other State Academy members, Halfpenny is a relatively newcomer to the squad, named in the Under 18s squad that would have played at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships if it had gone ahead. While it did not, Halfpenny said it was still “pretty humbling” to be included with so many other talented players.
“Pretty exciting,” Halfpenny said. “It wasn’t until then that I sort of realised maybe what I could achieve and what I could do and some of the girls that were in that were obviously incredible footballers and being able to train alongside them was a pretty humbling experience but a great learning opportunity.”
Like most people around the country, Halfpenny’s top-age year was suddenly thrown into uncertainty, with the COVID-19 pandemic postponing the SANFL Women’s season for a few months. It did not stop the teenager – who turned 18 during the postponed period – from training and making sure she did not miss a beat.
“I was running a lot,” Halfpenny said. “Up the hills and that kind of thing. “I also had a program from the state team that they wanted us to follow so that was a lot of fitness, ball skills and that kind of stuff. “I was mostly going out and training with my brother – my younger brother – and my dad. “So it was good to have them to help me out. “It was tough, but it was tough for everyone.”
Norwood has undergone plenty of chance over the last 12 to 18 months, with Halfpenny one of a number of new players joining the side. With so many fresh faces it might have been difficult to gel at first, but Halfpenny said it made the transition easier for her.
“It was good because obviously I was new, but I wasn’t the only new person,” she said. “Being one of the youngest I was a bit nervous and a bit intimidated but having that new group as well as some of the older players to pull it all together was really helpful. “All the older girls were really lovely and the team was one big family now, and it’s a very inclusive environment and I’m very happy to be.”
Running out at the SANFL Women’s All-Stars clash, Halfpenny is among the top up and coming talents in South Australia. Whilst she might have less experience than some others, she has already made great strides in her development. Like many of her peers, she dreams of playing at the elite level, but is still amazed at her accomplishments thus far, and will just take it all in her stride. She said she wanted to be “the best version” of herself and that was all that mattered.
“I never thought I’d be able to do what I’ve already done and so if this was as far as I got then I would be happy with that,” Halfpenny said. “But to get the furthest I can and maybe if I can have a shot at AFLW would be a dream, but at the end of the day I’m happy with what I’ve done and if that’s as far as I get, then that’s as far as I get.”