Former Matilda Rhali Dobson made an emotional farewell to her W-League career six weeks ago to focus on supporting partner Matt Stonham during his second battle with brain cancer.
But the desire to spend more time with Stonham has also led the 29-year-old to a challenge of a different kind come Wednesday night.
The two-time W-League championship winner with Melbourne City will take on the might of men's NPL side Lambton Jaffas as part of the Bolwarra-Lorn Bushrangers line-up in their FFA Cup at Victoria Road Complex.
"I'm keen for a run," Dobson said. "I mean, it's the FFA Cup. Normally I'm watching it so it's nice to be involved."
Dobson is playing this year in men's competition for the Stonham-coached Bushrangers in Zone Football League 2 and she was "loving every minute of it".
"I'm really happy out there. It's probably the happiest I've been at a local level for a long time," she said. "I needed it just for my mental health and well-being, and Matt was the one who suggested it, so I was more than happy to jump on board. It just means we get to spend more time with each other with everything going on."
After 109 games in the national women's league, the forward retired after scoring in a 2-1 win for City over Perth on March 25. Stonham, who had a second brain operation earlier that month, proposed on the pitch after fulltime. The East Maitland-based couple plan to wed in December 2022 after Stonham recovers from his treatment, which includes a year of chemotherapy.
Dobson said while coaching has been fantastic for Stonham, she was also "absolutely loving" the challenge of men's competition.
"If anything, it's funny, I've found it peaceful to be playing with the boys on the pitch," she said. "Whether that's because it's a quicker game and they are physical and demanding, I've been exceptionally happy.
"They're a great bunch, we all get along really well and respect each other. We have plenty of laughs and I couldn't have asked for more considering everything."
The Bushrangers include former Weston player Andrew Parkinson and young talent Caleb Walz. They could face former A-League talents Ben Kennedy and Michael Kantarovski and NPL player of the year winners Scott Pettit and Luke Remington.
"We've got a lot of players who have played in and around NPL and Northern League One, so the boys are raring to go," Dobson said.
"You don't get that opportunity often and a lot of these guys can't commit to playing and training at the top level so they are just excited to get out there and be playing them on their home pitch.
"It will be a good opportunity for all these boys to come up against quality players and what will be, will be. That's the magic of the cup. Jaffas have to come to lovely, cold Bolwarra on a Wednesday night. And I can tell you, we don't have hot water."
Competing against the boys is nothing new for Dobson. She played juniors against them from ages five to 13, then again in first grade at Wauchope when she was 17.
This year she has played three times in first grade after one game in reserves, and she was also part of their 3-1 cup win over Newcastle university.
She said she was enjoying the challenge.
"It's been funny," she said.
"I've been whacked a couple of times. I hit the deck or they bump me, and they actually spring away and say 'Oh, I'm so sorry'.
"I give them a filthy look half the time, like 'why are you being sorry, it's fine'. And I pick myself up or run away.
"It really hasn't been an issue. Growing up playing against the boys, you always give as good as you get."
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