THEY attack, gather and dispose of the ball like so many kids raised on a strict diet of Aussie rules footy: with in-built toughness, natural poise and skills refined through repetition.
So it’s hard to believe that just two years ago, neither of these teenagers had even heard of our national football code.
Growing up in New Zealand, Brenda Mona-Taofinuu was a talented rugby player who also enjoyed a range of other games, including hockey, netball, volleyball and soccer.
Choney Meemusour, born in Thailand, didn’t take part in any organised sport because it wasn’t a high priority in her homeland.
But fate intervened and brought the pair to Australia, where they have developed into two of central Victoria’s most promising young female footballers.
Both girls represented Bendigo in inter-league matches this season and are part of the powerful Castlemaine youth girls line-up, which has already qualified for next weekend’s grand final.
They were also members of Castlemaine Secondary College’s side that beat Bendigo Senior Secondary College in their 2013 Calder Cup clash.
Choney, who is just 13 and lives with her grandmother and step-grandfather in Newstead, was fascinated by football when she arrived from Thailand in 2011.
“I saw people playing football when I came to Australia, but I didn’t know how to play or even what it was called,” she says. “Granddad told me it was AFL, or Aussie rules.
“I wanted to play, so granddad bought me a ball and taught me how to kick and bounce it.
“I practised a lot, then played my first season with the under-13 Newstead boys last year and really liked the experience.
“I love the fitness and skills and I am the kind of person who likes to tackle. It’s a really exciting game.”
Observers are amazed at Choney’s natural ability.
Krys Noonan, her coach at Castlemaine, says the centre half- back may be one of the Magpies’ youngest, but she’s also one of the fittest and has enormous potential.
“She has amazing skills for her age and when she backs herself, she can do anything.”
Choney is a natural left-footer, but practises often on her non-preferred side.
“I always use my right foot in every match I play,” she says.
“Granddad wants me to be skilled with both so I don’t get caught on my wrong side.”
Choney is also a talented cricketer and represented the Central Highlands region at the under-14 female state championships last summer.
She is again vying for selection in a regional cricket squad, and has been asked to try out for AFL Victoria’s North Ballarat-based Youth Girls Academy program.
It is difficult to imagine that until quite recently, she didn’t play sport.
“In Thailand, you don’t even go for a run or keep your fitness up as they are not into sport that much.”
But Choney says she was inspired to learn football and cricket so she could join in lunch-time games with the boys at Newstead Primary, where she was first enrolled.
Grandfather Ian James is very proud of his young prodigy.
“She came from school wanting to know how to play, so I showed her how to bowl,” he says. “Once we got her past throwing it, I realised she had a great action and a lot of skill.
“Then she wanted to play football and so I taught her how to kick.”
Though slightly built, Choney goes full steam ahead during her matches, even when taking on much bigger and older opponens.
“I told her, if you’re going to play football it is a hard, tough game,” Ian says. “But she’s a tough little cookie – she thinks she’s bigger and stronger than what she is!”
A Western Bulldogs fan, Choney admires the on-field work of tenacious young gun Luke Dahlhaus.
“He always goes hard for the ball, even though he is quite short,” she says. “He never gives up.”
She attended this year’s match between the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne at the MCG that also featured the first women’s AFL game played between league teams.
The Bulldogs and Demons had taken part in an AFL-sanctioned women’s draft to select the best female talent in the country.
“The girls did really well and I would like to be in a team like that one day,” Choney says.
“I have made a plan with my granddad that when I grow up I will play football in the winter and then in the summer I will play cricket for Australia.”
Fifteen-year-old Brenda, meanwhile, migrated to Australia from South Auckland with her parents just over a year ago and settled in Castlemaine, close to her mum’s brother.
Her boyfriend heard about the Magpies starting an under-18 girls’ football team and suggested the avid sports fan might like to give it a go.
“I had played rugby before, but I’d never seen or played or even watched AFL in my life,” she says.
But Brenda signed on at the start of the season and was there for the side’s debut match in April, which they lost to last year’s runner-up Huntly by just seven points.
“You should have seen me the first game we played,” she laughs.
“Every single rule you could think of in AFL, I got pulled up for breaking. I gave away a free kick every time I went near the ball. I think the only thing I did right was the running and the tackling.
“But I am absolutely loving it now and I never want to stop.”
Switching codes was tough going initially, but defender Brenda quickly found her footy feet.
“I found it really hard because it was so different to using my skills from rugby.
“Every time I got the ball, I would look like I was playing rugby instead of football.
“The transition was so hard and the rules are so complicated.
“Sticking to your opponent (in defence) is probably the hardest thing, and also the fitness.
“Instead of running back and forth like you do in rugby, it’s more about learning how to hold your ground.
“But it is better than rugby for me now – I definitely love footy more than anything I have ever played.”
Her Castlemaine coach describes Brenda as a “raging bull” on the field who lays tackles at every opportunity and never takes a backwards step.
Like Choney, she represented Bendigo in an inter-league match against Shepparton’s youth girls in June and was the best player in her team’s 25-point loss.
She hasn’t chosen an AFL team to follow yet, but says her school friends are trying to convince her to support Essendon.
Being part of a team comprised mostly of schoolmates has been a bonus.
“When I first went to Castlemaine Secondary, I knew absolutely nobody,” Brenda says.
“So to establish a bond and friendship with the girls I play with has been one of the best parts of the whole experience.
“There’s just no way I am going to stop playing football now.
“I’ve even played when I’ve been sick or with injuries... No matter how sick I am, I will still play. I want to take my football as far as I can.”