Ready to make her mark: Helen Roden returns to AFL for women's league launch

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The inaugural AFL women's season is set to get underway and hoping for a start is Collingwood rookie Helen Roden. But success in the sport she loves almost didn't happen for the Fijian-Australian.

It was a game she was forced to give away as a teenager, but now 30-year-old Helen Roden is looking at a possible AFL debut as the inaugural season of the women's league launches this Friday.

The younger sister of Port Adelaide, Richmond and Melbourne legend David Rodan, Helen grew up speaking three languages - Fijian, English and Aussie Rules - but she admits she's better at some than others.

"We still speak Fijian in the household still," she said. "Well, I may not be able to speak it but I can definitely understand Fijian."

Roden Family
Roden Family
Facebook

Roden followed her brother into football, playing in local clubs through to her mid-teens.

But she said as David saw career prospects in the AFL, she hit a dead end.

"I played AFL football in a local club until I reached the under-16s and then moved over to basketball because girls couldn't play at a higher level in my club," she said.

Her skill on the court earned her a scholarship to play in Texas, starting at Odessa junior college before joining the starting line-up of Texas Christian University.

Helen Roden and David Rodan
Helen Roden and David Rodan
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She spent a decade in the United States playing and coaching, but as women's AFL gathered momentum in Australia she returned home to dust off the Sherrin.

Roden admits it's taken some time to get used to Aussie Rules again.

"It's definitely a lot more physical than basketball so it takes a few days for my body to recover, but agility work and things like that is pretty much the same," she said.

Her experience as a professional athlete giving her an edge.

Roden balances a hefty training schedule with a day job at Tiger Airways.

Coach Wayne Siekman
Coach Wayne Siekman
SBS


Collingwood women's coach Wayne Siekman said players like Roden, and former professional tennis player Kate Sheahan know what it takes to be a professional athlete.

"Helen, coming from college basketball in the States, and Kate, coming from a tennis background, they ticked all the boxes as professional athletes and that's helped both of them to be able to fast track to this level," he said.

The AFLW season opener between Collingwood and Carlton this Friday was scheduled to take place at the Pies training ground, Olympic Park.

But with at least 10,000 expected to attend the historic event, the venue has had to be changed.

Helen Roden and team mates
Helen Roden and team mates
SBS

Women's football operations manager Meg Hutchins said it's a good sign for the league.

"It's pretty significant that we've already out grown a venue and the challenge now is to see if we can fill that venue now and create as much noise and energy as possible," she said.

The Magpies are already setting course for finals action, but on a personal level, Roden said her aim this season is to increase the appeal of the sport across all cultures.

"That would definitely be a personal goal, encouraging a lot of cultures to come and just to try the sport out, get a lot of youth girls to come and get exposed to it," she said.

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