Steph Cain has had a less than smooth journey through the AFLW. Drafted at pick 109 in the inaugural draft, delisted at the end of the 2017 season before being the Club’s first selection in the draft of that same year, she has had to work hard to maintain her spot in the Fremantle Dockers’ first 21. 

When we jump on the phone, Cain is taking a short break at her job in construction project management.

“It is a full on job, going from one kind of intense industry to the other when we’re rolling through footy. But I’m enjoying it still… it is hard to balance sometimes,” Cain confesses, and I don’t blame her.

Work all day, footy training in the evenings, and during the summer - this is all happening in 30+ degree heat.

“Sleep is tough… just the amount of hours that you’re doing and your brain not switching off because you’re always thinking about either work or footy is probably one of the toughest things.”

FEATURED PART ONE | With Ange Stannett
FEATURED PART TWO | With Roxy Roux
FEATURED PART THREE | With Janelle Cuthbertson

But every time I ask about something that might be perceived negatively, Cain immediately takes the positive outlook.

With the heat, it’s “we probably get more excited about it to know that we’ve got that advantage to prepare in the heat.”

With the early season start, it’s “I know I’d rather be playing games in the heat or over Christmas than just train.”

So when we get on the topic of Cain’s ACL tear that kept her out for effectively the whole 2020 season, and her successful return this year, her perspective is fascinating.

Cain played round one on the same ground where the injury occurred, and didn’t look out of place.

“Funnily enough, I was back playing at Freo Oval and I was wearing the same pair of boots. People usually say that’s a curse to try and do, but I didn’t want mental barriers, like a pair of boots to hold me up.”

- Steph Cain

“From a health and well-being perspective, the high performance staff wouldn’t have ticked me off to play round one if they didn’t think I was mentally ready as much as physically ready as well.”

Cain played all ten games in 2021, and was a key cog to Fremantle’s game style. She was second at the club for average metres gained (284.3 per game) and averaged the equal-most inside 50s each week with 2.9 alongside Kiara Bowers.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 07: Stephanie Cain of the Dockers in action during the round six AFLW match between the West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers at Optus Stadium on March 07, 2021 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images via AFL Photos)

Integral to the outside run and uncontested ball, she is noticing her wing position develop in the AFLW.

“It's great to see that there's an evolution of wingers in the competition, even you know, from a team perspective from when I first started vs now, the level of detail that wingers get, and that is reciprocated to the whole team as well, has massively improved.”

A key part of that role is a connection to the forward line, and with a different look inside 50 this year, that chemistry is something Cain has been working on this preseason.

“Last year we probably didn’t do it as well as we would have liked to, but this preseason everyone’s getting on the same page a little bit more… just that recognition of what the wing is doing, and then the forwards can understand those patterns and then potentially change their lead to suit or to help out as well,” she explains.

“How we’re going to deliver the ball forward this year is going to be massive in the way that we play.”

She also namechecks Makaela Tuhakaraina as an exciting addition to the forward group.

“Her speed is ridiculous, and her sidestepping kind of reminds me of the way Courtney Hodder plays.”

An ominous sign for any opposition, and a note of reassurance for any Fremantle fans worried about the absence of Sabreena Duffy.

FEATURED PART FOUR | With Mim Strom
FEATURED PART FIVE | With Emma O'Driscoll
FEATURED PART SIX | With Bianca Webb

When asked about challenges through her AFLW career, Cain briefly cites last year’s knee injury, and being delisted at the end of the inaugural season, but also her experience of being redrafted.

“It was hard, ‘cause I also went number one in the WA draft so there was a bit of expectation there. You’re coming into a team where you know all of the players essentially and you kind of feel a little bit weird coming back in, feeling like you’ve just been an outsider and now coming back into the environment,” then Cain adds “and then I lost my mum that year as well.”

The strength and drive Cain possesses starts to make a little bit more sense, having experienced such pressure and pain from multiple angles at just 21 years old. An ACL injury in comparison almost seems trivial.

“Mum didn’t get to see me play after being re-drafted, so I always play with her in mind.”

Don’t expect Steph Cain to slow down, and this season, maybe keep an eye on how much unrewarded running she is doing out on the wing. A vital member of the Fremantle Dockers’ side, she’s only getting better.

Gemma Bastiani is the co-founder of Siren Sport, a collective of Australian women’s sports advocates, content creators and fans providing coverage to women's sport across the country. To read more of Gemma Bastiani's work, head here.

42:24 Mins
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PODCAST | Kickin' Back with Steph Cain

Recorded from our hotel lobby in Adelaide the girls catch up with the one and only Caino. But, watch out for Emma O'Driscoll, she's in a bit of a mood...

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