Jade Pregelj is one of the players with the most to prove when the 2020 AFLW season rolls around.
The 28-year-old was one of Queensland’s most prodigious talents earlier this decade before stepping away from the game to focus on her career.
But her passion for football never waned, and Pregelj made her return earlier this year with the SUNS in the QW Winter Series where she would later win the Emerging Player of the Winter Series award.
Drafted to the SUNS in late October, Pregelj linked up with all of her teammates for the first time this week and said anticipation levels were at fever pitch.
“I think it’s just general excitement,” Pregelj told SUNS Media.
“I looked around the room last night and got really excited myself, I was just impressed with the quality of people we have and obviously the talent is through the roof.
“I’m sort of the new kid on the block this time around, I have played football before and then coming back into this environment where they are genuinely elite athletes – it’s pretty exciting and I feel like I’ve got a bit of catching up to do.”
In 2010 and 2011 Pregelj won the Queensland Women’s League Best & Fairest award back-to-back.
She had built a personal brand for herself – someone who hunted the football with relentless hunger and wasn’t afraid to use her body to do so.
Pregelj used to be a big fish in a small pond, but the game had changed when she returned almost eight years later through the SUNS in the QW Winter Series.
“I felt like an absolute fish out of water – I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she said.
“It was a bit of a mind-blowing occasion coming in and seeing the skill level and the speed and the athleticism that all the girls have now in comparison to when I was playing a long time ago.
“I felt very out of my depth but the girls got around me and helped me find my feet again so yeah it was an excellent experience.”
Now she’s back with a point to prove, starting with pre-season training on November 25.
“I’m trying to prepare myself for the worst,” Pregelj said of the upcoming pre-season.
“I expect it to be tough – a lot of the girls that have been around before have said that it’s at least six months of pain so I’m ready for that.
“But I’m hoping with that comes a lot of growth.
“I’m just excited to get into a routine with pre-season, understand the requirements and demands on the body and then try and adjust to that quickly so that then we can manage it all and get through the other side and have a ripper season.”
While you’d expect someone of Pregelj’s calibre to have a long list of goals and targets for next year, the midfielder said there was only one item at the top of her wish list.
“Get a game is the first one,” she said.
“And then performing - I just really want to play good footy.
“Back in the day I had a brand of footy attached to me which I was pretty proud of and I’d like to bring that back.
“I can only do that if I’m on the park and I want to do my best for the girls so first goal is to get a game and then we’ll go from there.”