From Young Matildas to the AFLW: Jess Waterhouse has a rock star mullet and talent to burn

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Rising Adelaide forward Jess Waterhouse started their professional sporting career as the captain of the Young Matildas at 15, but has since became a self-declared obsessive with everything footy, after discovering their love for it in their late teens.

Waterhouse did a stint in a local soccer league, and ended up playing three seasons for Adelaide United in the W-League (now A-League Women) between 2012-14 while working in the Australian Defence Force, but then opportunities started to rise in women’s footy.

Adelaide Crows AFLW player Jess Waterhouse.Credit: Adelaide Football Club

When the AFL women’s competition came in, in 2016, and Adelaide were forming, a bunch of Waterhouse’s United teammates decided to make the switch and give AFL a whirl, including Marijana Rajcic, Ruth Wallace and Jenna McCormick.

Footy was also in Waterhouse’s blood as they are the niece of former No.1 AFL men’s draft pick Clive Waterhouse, who played for Fremantle.

But it wasn’t until last year that Waterhouse got their shot after being picked up by the Crows from South Adelaide’s SANFLW side as a replacement player for premiership utility Jasmyn Hewett, who was moved to the inactive list because of work opportunities with AirServices Australia.

Now that they’re in the AFLW system, they are “grabbing it with both hands” and just “bloody happy to be there”.

Jess Waterhouse (right) wins the ball for Adelaide United in the W-League.Credit: Getty Images

Adelaide are the most successful side in the AFLW’s short history with three premierships, and an experienced, star-studded line-up. Given this, Waterhouse said it hasn’t been easy to crack into the team.

They played just two games in their first season, but after a big off-season was picked for round two this year, going on to play in eight home-and-away games and the crushing semi-final win against Sydney.

“Trying to break into a premiership team, like, we just came off winning the flag [in season six], that’s tough,” they said.

“You either want to be the small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond. But I’m really happy with being just the small fish at the moment in a big team and just learning what I can,” adding they found more of their feet this year.

Waterhouse said there are still soccer traits in the way they play, including naturally preferring to use their feet, and learning to mark and not instinctively going to head the ball also took some time.

“I kick the ball of the ground a fair bit to try and get me out of trouble, [it’s] kind of second nature,” they said.

“And being able to kick with both my feet, playing as a centre midfielder for soccer, you had to be able to use both feet, so it’s transferable and then 360 [degree] game awareness, I think I do really well. Being able to read the play.”

However, they enjoy the physicality of AFL. “I was pretty physical in soccer. So I’m glad now that I’m actually able to tackle – properly tackle,” they said.

While it’s Waterhouse’s footy skills and crafty goals that have gotten them acclaim in AFLW circles, it would be amiss not to mention the hair.

They always had a long blonde straight look, but a gentle nudge from their wife had them trying – and now rocking – a mullet.

“She was like, that doesn’t really suit your persona, your androgynous type of like vibe. All you’re doing is just putting it up in a bun,” they said.

“I was really looking nervous about maybe what people would say [of the mullet] and that shock reaction of people going ‘Oh my god, you had a haircut’ or something. But it’s who I am now and I love it. It’s like my staple piece.”

That style will be on full display at Ikon Park on Sunday as Waterhouse plays in their first preliminary final when Adelaide clash with North Melbourne.

Intimidatingly for the Kangaroos, Waterhouse said the Crows are peaking at the right time, especially after their four-quarter effort resulting in a 67-point thrashing of the Swans, but they are expecting a close encounter against North.

“Hopefully, we can just build on that again this week,” said Waterhouse.

“North Melbourne’s team though, they almost had us when we played them not too long ago [the Crows claimed a three-point victory against them in round nine].

“And the stat sheet pretty much read that they should have won … So yeah, it’s going to be a tough contest.”

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