Photos: Liz Vagg & AFL Photos

Western Bulldogs key forward Gabby Newton coached a raw hockey convert by the name of Rylie Wilcox at under-18 Coates Talent League side Northern Knights.

Six months later, the pair were teammates at Whitten Oval.

Still only 21, Newton already has a few years of coaching under her belt, this year taking the reins as senior coach of the Knights' under-16 girls side, a team that didn't exist when she was making her way through the program in the north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

Serious injuries to both shoulders across the second half of 2021 and the first half of 2022 meant coaching proved to be a beneficial outlet for the former No.1 pick. 

"I returned straight away, right after I was drafted. I didn't have a formal role, I just liked going down and seeing the girls that I played with, like Jess Fitzgerald, Alyssa Bannan and Ellie McKenzie," Newton said.

"As soon as I got injured, that's when I started going down there regularly doing some development coaching, then assistant coaching. It's such a sisterhood. Everyone says it about their clubs, but all our players return.

"They haven't got rid of me yet, so I'll keep going back till they do."

Newton was midfield coach in 2022, working closely with Wilcox, who had represented Victoria in hockey until a COVID-enforced break in 2020.

Sitting down with the duo at the club's Whitten Oval headquarters, they bounced off each other with ease.

"It was cool to have someone who you looked up to as a midfield coach. I learnt a lot from her, the wing position, she kind of threw me in there. She was great," Wilcox said.

"We were talking about this on pre-season camp [last week], we felt like our age gap was like 10 years apart, but now we've been drafted, it feels like the two years it actually is. It was so cool to be coached by someone I now play with.

"When I started playing footy in 2018, I just got thrown in there. I didn't really know how to tackle, I didn't know how to play at all.

"Because Gabby was around my age, I just would ask her questions. I wanted to learn as much as I could."

"You probably got sick of me, I'm not going to lie," Wilcox said, turning to Newton with a grin.

Newton was surprised how quickly she caught the coaching bug, having previously been fairly ambivalent towards the idea of such a role.

"I've always been like 'I will never coach, I hate coaching', I didn't see why I would do it. But as soon as I got injured – going back to the Knights, there was a sense of wanting to give back to the program because it did so much for me," Newton said.

"Once I got to know the girls, Rylie and all her teammates, there was a sense of 'I want to give these girls every single little bit of knowledge I wish I had when I was in under 18s and 19s. I think the passion was just giving back and helping however I could.

"Nat Grindal (talent operations lead) is honestly just one of my friends now, she's such a great chick. Allana Dickie, the coach there now, she was awesome, and my mum (Natascha) is the wellbeing manager there, so it was also a great chance to just hang out with my mum."


Wilcox stands at 158cm and plays on the wing, a position which can attract its fair share of tall players – like Melbourne's Bannan (177cm) – but she played 10 of 11 games in her debut season.

"It was a tough season. I obviously had year 12 (at Northcote High), and I look back and go, 'how the hell did I do that?'. In the moment, I just rolled with it. It was no different to Knights, because you'd go to training after school, but it was professional sport," Wilcox said.

"I'm not going to lie, my size meant it was tough going up against women. I was scared out there. But 'Burkey' (coach Nathan Burke) said to play to my strengths, and I'd be fine.

"I loved every bit of it. I've learnt a lot about myself on and off the field, the way that I play and to back myself. It was scary and new, but I loved it to bits.

Newton interjected, quick to offer support to her younger teammate.

"You wouldn't know it though, because you (Wilcox) go out there with no fear. There's this clip of Rylie trying to tackle someone, and she fully bear-hugs them, wraps her legs around them to try and bring them down. It was hilarious, we played it in review just on repeat because it was so funny," Newton.

"You say you were scared, but you wouldn't know watching you. Even at Knights, you just went for it. Your natural ability was insane, that natural arch of the back and run to get away from your defender, it's great.

"When you first start playing together, it's hard. I assume for you, because you couldn't be at most trainings (because of school) to work out your connection and where you fit in with the team.

"There'll be a big change with that connection this season. Getting to know each other more off-field – we were roommates on camp. The conversations we're having now, we would not have had a year ago.

"It's crazy, I felt like I was so much older than you when I was coaching. It was a coach-player relationship, and now we're little besties."


There are now three women in the 18 senior coaching roles at AFLW level, and a quickly growing number of assistant coaches as players retire and move to the next stage of their football.

"As women, we have this constant need to underestimate ourselves. I know myself, I was thinking what can I teach young players? I know I play, but I don't really have anything important to say," Newton said.

"But you can't underestimate how good of a role model you can be for young people, especially as a woman. Representation is so important, especially in our sport.

"I think you've got to go for it, and if it doesn't work out, it doesn’t work out. But the relationships you can build with young people and what you can teach them as strong powerful women is really important and can be really significant."