A former netballer with just 11 games of football experience is shaping as the "surprise packet" of the Western Bulldogs' women's team, coach Paul Groves says.
Libby Birch, 18, is doing everything right in her quest to earn a berth in the Bulldogs' first NAB AFL Women's clash against competition favourite Fremantle at Whitten Oval on February 4.
"Libby's just taken to the training side of things like a duck to water," Groves said.
"It's the game-sense stuff that we're working with her on, but she's getting better and better and she could be a real surprise packet for our team."
Birch, signed as a rookie, only took up football last June after representing Victoria in netball at under-17, under-19 and under-21 levels.
She initially knocked back a request from Daisy Pearce to attend a talent search earlier in the year.
Pearce, last week named Melbourne captain, was working at the AFL at the time and helped run several female talent search sessions.
But after not being selected for the Australian Netball World Youth Cup squad, Birch got back in contact with Pearce and decided to train with her Darebin Falcons.
Birch, who attended Maribyrnong Sports Academy, impressed primarily off half-back for the Falcons, but Groves said her overall athletic profile meant she could play in any position.
Birch has also played high-level hockey.
"The weights room's not foreign to her and she understands the demands of the sport," Groves said.
"She's been educated really strongly about what's going to make her a good athlete, which puts her ahead of the curve."
Groves said the early stages of the club's AFLW pre-season program had been designed to fast-track relationships and get players acquainted with one another quickly.
The squad took part in a weekend training camp in Ballarat in late November to help in that pursuit.
"The camp opened a lot of eyes in terms of the values we're going to hold," Groves said.
"We've got a little teams competition, which we really pushed in Ballarat, that we're running at the moment, and we're really trying to let the girls' competitive spirit shine out."
Groves has a strong rapport with AFL premiership coach Luke Beveridge. The 34-year-old played under Beveridge at Victorian amateur club St Bedes/Mentone and has made the most of that connection in applying some of Beveridge's principles to the women's program.
The club's assistant coaches and players have also been big supporters of the women's team, according to Groves.
The two squads held a joint training session in sweltering conditions at Whitten Oval on Tuesday afternoon.
"We had Jake Stringer roll up to training the other night with his little daughter (Milla) because she was keen to get down to have a kick," Groves said.
"It's great to see guys really supporting the girls and that will increase once the competition is up and running."
Groves is confident his side has the capacity to take home the inaugural title.
"We think we've got great depth and we think our top eight to 10 players are among the best - if not the best – in the competition," he said.
"But we'll soon find out, won't we?"