IT HAS been a long pre-season for West Coast Eagles vice-captain Dana Hooker, who is on the verge of returning to the AFLW field almost a year after a freak accident saw her miss the bulk of the 2021 season.
"I've had more time training than I've ever had in the lead up to a season, so there's obviously anticipation for this season. I'm just really excited," Hooker said.
"I think for me, the stage of my career that I'm really just focused on team performance and I want our team to be as successful as possible."
"But the way I feel about it, and the level of excitement is still the same as the first season that I played."
That excitement also extends to the improvement of their list depth, with injuries and player availability a constant challenge in 2021 testing coaches every round at team selection.
"We're still building our list and trying to build the depth into our list, but then it really hurt when we had so many injuries," Hooker explained.
"But I guess the silver lining to that is more games and more responsibility on some of our youngest players, so that's actually going to hold them in really good stead for the years to come."
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Hooker cites young trio Bella Lewis, Mikayla Bowen and Charlie Thomas as leading that charge, describing them as "three future leaders of the club".
"All three of them are quite different, the styles that they play, but all equally important," she said.
The Eagles' transition into the forward line is something they are looking to improve, and their fresh draftees aren't the only players set to assist. Niamh Kelly is "peaking", Aimee Schmidt has arrived from GWS, and Andrea Gilmore is fit and firing.
As a forward group, Hooker trusts that "they're able to make more out of the delivery forward, and they're working really well as a unit".
While their round one matchup against neighbours Fremantle is the Eagles' fiercest rivalry, Hooker believes the nature of the derby has changed over the last three years.
"When it was all really fresh in the sign and trade period and the player movement we had a little bit more heat within the players," she said.
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"But now that was three years on, and we've played that many games against each other. It's not just another round, but for us we approach them the same way that we do any team."
"But we're actually just genuinely excited that we get round one playing in front of all our supporters, our friends and our family. That's a nice way to kick off the season for us."