'Fire Starters' is a series of in-depth feature stories on some of our top prospects in 2022, exploring their junior careers, their upbringing, their Dragons journey and aspirations for the future, written by Nathan Sepe and Dylan Bolch.
By Nathan Sepe
If you’re looking for a player that embodies courage, toughness, and aggressiveness on the football field, look no further than Emma Stuber.
Whilst Emma has been an integral part of the Dragons for three years, her football journey began at the age of twelve, she was able to start her development in the junior leagues.
“I started off at Glen Eira Saints and they lost their team and I went to St Peters, who also lost their team. After that, I went and finished juniors at Oakleigh.”
The junior experience for Emma was strongly characterised by her dad and the confidence he had in her from the start to reach the higher levels.
Stuber commented on the matter, highlighting that her dad “really wanted” from the start, for her to play at a “higher level” to reach the ultimate goal of AFLW football.
Some notable influences for Emma along the way include current Collingwood AFLW young star Eliza James, who was a major contributor to helping Emma ramp up her work ethic in order to stamp her authority throughout her time at the Dragons.
Emma showcased her ability early on in her career due to the versatility she possessed as a multi-positional player across the ground.
Juniors started Emma off as a midfielder, giving her the opportunity to dominate as an on-baller. Those skills were transferred into her first year at the Dragons where she was also able to spend time within the midfield against highly talented opposition.
This season brought upon new positional changes for Stuber, with the switch from midfield to defence the prominent choice for Sandringham Dragons Coach Wayne Cripps.
Cripps commented on Emma’s versatility, stating that the coaching staff “feel comfortable” and “rely on” Emma’s ability to play across “all 3 lines on the ground”.
“Part of it has also been to try and help Emma find her identity as a footballer and where her best position is on the ground,” Cripps said.
The learning experience for Emma has stood out for her this season, giving her the opportunity to express her capabilities on multiple occasions this season.
Amounting 18 games across her time at the Dragons, Emma averaged 11.7 disposals per game and an average of 2.3 tackles per game.
Emma also spent the last few weeks at the Dragons trialling the forward role, which ultimately increased her disposal rate, averaging 13 disposals per game after the positional change compared to an average of seven disposals per game before the change.
Cripps commented on Emma’s openness to change and commended her for the consistency in the effort she puts in on a weekly basis.
“She has played multiple roles for us this year, which can be frustrating for a player, but she has embraced it every time, which is a sign of her character.”
The defensive side of her game has definitely improved throughout the last two years, with the opportunity at the Southern Saints at the VFLW a major influence on Emma’s tactical development.
“I’ve been learning more roles in the backline in the VFLW. I think it’s really good learning backline structure, it makes me more versatile”
When the opportunity came about for Emma to join the Southern Saints in 2021, it was an opportunity she simply couldn’t miss.
“At the Saints, I learned more structure, it’s much harder at the Saints, a lot bigger girls, most of them eight to ten years older than me.”
“I think my game has improved a lot there, playing against bigger bodies which is what you need to do in AFLW”
Emma has also been collecting valuable experience through the Saints stage of her career, setting up her future in football in more ways than one.
One of these experiences was last year was the Southern Saints two VFLW finals where Emma featured in both of those games.
“They were really good games and good finals, the crowd was amazing. We were obviously disappointed we didn’t make the grand final, but it was still a really good experience”
Emma spoke on the key differences between NAB League and VFLW level, mentioning the key difference in body size and structure.
Since Emma was invited to join the Southern Saints, Senior Coach Dale Robinson has been a significant mentor for Emma moving in to the senior part of her career.
Robinson had a lot of praise for Emma, commenting on the presence she brought to the club right from day one.
“Emma has a great work ethic and is a sponge in terms of learning and wanting to grow as a player. She has a wonderful ability of being really physical for her smaller stature.”
“Playing against the bigger bodies, she thrives on still getting herself into the contest and focusing on winning the ball or defending it”
The physicality of Emma was captured perfectly this season against Oakleigh in Round 2, where under a pack of 5-6 players, courageously backed into a pack to take a contested mark.
Her willingness to win the contested footy that day left her injured and out for a week, however that spirit definitely stood out to Cripps post-match.
“Not many girls have the courage to do that. She is very underrated when it comes to winning contested footy. She rarely has a day where she hasn’t found plenty of the ball,” Cripps said.
Emma is a serious prospect heading into the 2022 AFLW draft, with her tenacity and physicality on the ball being both key factors in determining the flow of a game and even the result.
Both Cripps and Robinson have high expectations of Emma going into this next stage and have great belief she’s heading on the right track.
“I believe Emma has a great football future ahead of her and I’m very happy that I get to be a part of helping her get ready for that next level of senior football,” said Robinson.
The journey for Emma continues at the Southern Saints for the remainder of the 2022 season VFLW season, adding to her six games in the red, white and black ahead of the 2022 AFLW Draft.