By Nick Creely
She’s come from humble beginnings at Holm Park to the big stage of the AFL Women’s.
And Beaconsfield product Tyla Hanks has capped off a truly extraordinary season for Melbourne in the AFLW, capturing the league’s prestigious AFLW Rising Star Award recently, as well as Melbourne’s best and fairest.
The 21-year-old explosive midfield star pipped Richmond’s Ellie McKenzie and West Coast’s Mikayla Bowen for the Rising Star gong, in what was an eye-catching season for the Dees.
Hanks polled 48 votes, 16 best than the second-placed McKenzie.
In what was an exciting season of football, Hanks racked up 18.7 disposals per match this season, up from 10.4 in 2020, showcasing elite fitness and core strength to be a major player through the centre for the Demons.
She then tied with Karen Paxman for Melbourne’s AFLW Best and Fairest Award with 64 votes on Friday night.
Hanks started her footballing journey playing Auskick at Nar Nar Goon, and then playing with the boys at Cora Lynn, before making the move across to Beaconsfield’s revered female football program.
She was the drafted with pick no.6 in the 2018 AFLW draft, and has steadily built into arguably the most exciting prospect in the competition.
Speaking to Melbourne Media after her AFLW Rising Star award, she said was honoured to receive the recognition.
“I was hoping I was in the mix…I was pretty sure Ellie McKenzie was going to get it, but the camera guy kept floating between myself and Ellie so I wasn’t really sure until the end,” she said.
“It’s definitely not what you play for, but it’s some good recognition, and something you sort of have at the back of your mind.”
After playing as a forward across her first two seasons, Hanks took her game to a new level after moving to the midfield and becoming part of the club’s leadership group.
“I definitely felt comfortable in the league, but also in the team – I knew my role, and I knew it was part of my game,” she said.
“I’m a young player in there with some great names – I just took that as an opportunity to learn, and keep developing.”
Standing at just 157cm, Hanks may be small in stature but she’s been a colossal force through the midfield with her speed, ability to weave through traffic and her footy smarts.
“You’ve still just got to know what your strengths are, and trying to wrestle or outmuscle any of them is not going to work for me,” she said.
“Just trying to find new ways to get around them, and use my pace where I can.
“I’m lucky I’ve played footy for a long time, and that’s something I learnt from a very young age.”
In an interview with the Gazette earlier this season, Hanks praised her junior club for everything its done to promote female football and create an environment to foster the next wave of talent coming through the ranks.
“There’s been a lot of girls that have come through that Beacy program,” Hanks glowingly said of her junior football club.
“You see Ellie Blackburn, Georgia Gee, Tyanna Smith, so there’s a long list there that are doing some great things in the AFLW.
“With the girls’ program, they started with girls like Ellie, and when players were looking for a team to go to, it’s enticed a lot of players to join the club because of its success rate.
“Once you’re there at the club, the investment from guys like Troy Robinson and all of the coaching staff has been great.”
Hanks was also highly rated by the coaches, with the youngster finishing 11th in the AFLW Coaches Association Award, the highest placed Melbourne player, while also being selected on the half-forward flank in the 2021 AFLW 22Under22 Team and being an initial squad member in the All-Australian squad.