Tarni White admits she’s had “tunnel vision” for the better part of six months, and not just on getting back to RSEA Park in anticipation of the season ahead.
Instead, the 20-year-old has had her attention fixed on breaking into St Kilda’s engine room in 2022, potentially shifting from her well-settled position across half-back into more of a combative inside role.
The possibility of a move was first floated at the end of Season 2021 following a conversation with former coach Peta Searle and recently departed Head of Women’s Football Jamie Cox. All you have to do, they said, was ‘put your head down, bum up, get really fit’.
White has since run with it, quite literally. The young Queenslander completed a demanding bulk of running sessions during the off-season, and shaving 34-seconds off her previous best two-kilometre time was the first indicator of her hard work paying off.
“It was pretty simple to be honest,” White told saints.com.au about putting in the work required over the past six months.
“Playing at AFLW level, you have to be extremely fit to run out a game and I don’t think I had that in me last year.
“I was chucked in the midfield (last year) for experience and just to get my head around it, but this year I’m looking for more minutes, that’s for sure.”
White got her first taste of midfield action for the Saints in the final game of 2021 against West Coast. She lined up for 10 of the first 12 centre bounces before a bump from Bella Lewis slowed her down late in the contest.
But the No. 29 is far from a stranger from playing on-ball. The majority of her time for QAFL side Coorparoo was spent through the middle of the ground, after beginning her junior career at Wynnum as a half-back.
“It does feel like I’d be going back home in a way,” White said.
“I’ve played midfield my entire life except for the last maybe few years I’ve played off half-back. I know what it takes and I think I can add something to the team and to the midfield because of my aggression and just the way I attack the footy.”
Tarni White just doing Tarni White things ?? pic.twitter.com/bALuUYHXAv— St Kilda FCW (@stkildafcw) February 13, 2021
Despite White’s skillset and consecutive top-10 finishes at the club's Best & Fairest, it will be a tough task to crack into St Kilda’s midfield on a permanent basis in Season 2022.
Two-time Best & Fairest Georgia Patrikios won’t be budging off the back of her maiden All-Australian season, Rosie Dillon has eyes on another solid campaign and Tyanna Smith is set to be a midfield staple for years to come.
Although Claudia Whitfort’s trade to Gold Coast has opened the door slightly, there’s still Olivia Vesely (calf), Nat Exon (shoulder) and Nicola Xenos (knee) slated to return in 2022, while Alice Burke and draftee Ash Richards – both of whom recorded time-trial PBs – are placing themselves in the frame for promising pre-seasons.
“There's really good talent running through there, so I know it’ll be tough week-in week-out trying to get games, but whatever Nick (Dal Santo) decides, it’s what’s best for the team,” White said.
“If I can put my best foot forward – which I have so far – and be consistent through pre-season, then I’ll be pretty happy with how I’m going.
“I feel like I’m ready for it. After doing an ACL I wasn’t sure and it took some time finding my feet again, but I’m ready to go now.”