Partners star in back-up role

They play a vital behind-the-scenes support role through the ups and downs of AFL life, while focusing on their own successful careers.

And after making the most of the off-season, the partners of the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers are ready for another action-packed year.

The demanding schedule of AFL clubs means wives and girlfriends often play second fiddle to the beloved game, but they would not change it for the world.

"You have to be very accommodating and you often have to drop everything for them, but we're all happy to do it," Cameron Sutcliffe's partner Kate Lower said.

"You really cherish your time with them …"

Kate, who works in communications at the City of Perth, moved to WA from Adelaide after Sutcliffe was drafted to the Dockers.

She has since formed a close friendship with Zac Dawson's wife Sheena, who is also from interstate.

"It was quite scary moving over (from Melbourne), but we've made some gorgeous friends and we have a really good life here," Mrs Dawson said.

Perth lawyer Ellie Nagle and Eagles defender Eric Mackenzie were among the couples to go on an overseas holiday during the off-season.

Over three weeks, they went on an "adventure-style" trip through the US and Canada.

Ms Nagle met Mackenzie nine years ago during leavers' week on Rottnest Island, and said it was rewarding to watch him grow as a player.

"Those first few years are the hardest on them physically," she said. "It's a massive challenge to get used to the training and the pressure of getting selected for games."

Josh Kennedy and his partner Lauren Atkinson, 25, spent part of the off-season at a health retreat in Ubud in Bali.

They went to high school together in Geraldton and have been a couple since 2008.

"Being with him at the start was a bit of an eye-opener as I didn't follow football and realise that it's like a religion to some people," Ms Atkinson said.

She is busy working on her new clothing label Asuar and hopes to show at the Perth Fashion Festival this year.

She said Kennedy and his teammates were feeling really positive about this season, which begins against the Bulldogs on Sunday.

'It was quite scary moving over, but we've made some gorgeous friends.'"

* Sheena Dawson *

The West Australian

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