Born to be a GIANT?
She was born to be a GIANT. She just didn’t know it.
Growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, Haneen Zreika didn’t understand the rules of AFL.
The NSW/ACT under-18 representative, who is aiming to be picked at the NAB AFL Women’s Draft in Melbourne on October 18, played rugby league with boys until she was 12.
With no youth girls’ rugby league competition at the time, Zreika was limited playing sport at school.
A chance run-in with a teacher in the corridor at Strathmore South High School in Sydney’s inner west, while an AFL clinic identifying multicultural talent was being held outside, was Zreika’s first introduction to the game.
“I told my teacher I didn’t know what AFL was, and he said, ‘Just catch and kick and tackle and you’ll be fine,'” Zreika said.
“I was the only girl out there, and when I told the organiser I hadn’t played, he set me up with a local team, which was the Auburn GIANTS.
“Then I went down to a training session and ended up loving it, but I was too young to play for them [at 15]”.
The tough inside midfielder has played for the GIANTS in the premier division of AFL Sydney women’s competition for the past two years, developing her hard-tackling game as a teenager playing against adults.
The 18-year-old has an infectious personality and her love for the game is evident by the big smile she wears when she talks about it.
“I love tackling and getting the ball. See the ball, get the ball. That’s my mindset,” she said.
“I like to think I’m physical and fearless. I just love to be involved all the time; even if I’m tired, I just have to get to the next contest.
“It takes you to another place, to be honest. People have their happy place; that’s my happy place. Playing with people you love makes it even better. The friendships you build and being part of a team give you confidence.”
Zreika was part of this year’s NAB AFL Women’s Academy squad, and came away from the second of two camps with a feedback sheet from the AFL’s women’s talent operations manager (and Western Bulldogs player) Aasta O’Connor.
“She gave me a whole list, and I’ve been focusing on improving each part of my game. My kicking either goes straight, or it goes…” she trailed off with a laugh.
“So, I need to work on that, and trying to read the ball a bit better.”
Off the field, Zreika is a teacher’s aide at Casula Public School, a primary school in Sydney’s west. It’s a job she didn’t see herself in after finishing school herself, but she enjoys working with kids.
“I love it, it’s not a job. One of the staff members asked why I never sat with them in the staffroom at recess and lunch. It’s because I love the kids and I go play with them at breaks,” she said.
“One of the boys got suspended, and when his mum came to have a meeting with the deputy principal, she asked if she could meet ‘Miss Haneen’.
“She told me her son used to never want to go to school, but now wants to attend every day because of me, which is really nice.”
NSW/ACT under-18 and former GIANTS women’s coach Tim Schmidt described Zreika as one of the best one-on-one players in the side.
“She wins her own footy really well and she’s got great speed and agility,” Schmidt said.
As the GIANTS are the only AFLW club in New South Wales, if drafted, Zreika will be moving from the Auburn GIANTS to the GWS GIANTS. She’d become the player first to do so.
With the GIANTS struggling at the clearances last season, despite the dominance of young ruck Erin McKinnon, Zreika would relieve the pressure on Jess Dal Pos and Amanda Farrugia around the ball.
“Definitely one of her strengths is winning the inside football. She also beats her player to the footy,” Schmidt said.
The NAB AFL Women’s Draft will be held in Melbourne on 18 October from 12pm and will be streamed LIVE on the AFL Women’s Facebook page.