Steph Catley has never been afraid to embrace the responsibility of leadership during her football career.
Despite being only 22, Catley has represented the Matildas 53 times since 2012, and most recently played in front of an intimidating crowd of 60,000 at the Rio Olympics against host nation Brazil.
That’s no mean feat. Coupled with her experience in the Westfield W-League – where she has previously donned the armband for City’s rival Melbourne Victory – and the United States Women’s National League (NAWSL) with Portland Thorns FC and Orlando Pride, she’s well equipped to lead Melbourne City into its title defence.
“It’s something that I love doing,” Catley says. “I love being a leader and I feel like it’s a big role for me and something I have grown into from a young age, captaining state teams and various other teams.
“I just can’t wait. I love this club and I love the girls and I’m really proud to be leading them this season.”
The responsibility of captaining a City outfit packed with international stars and exciting young talent provides Catley with yet another crowning addition to her rapidly burgeoning football CV.
But her first campaign in City colours – where she was the Club’s vice-captain – was defined by a period of education and development, rather than leadership.
“Being vice-captain at City last season was an interesting role for me, because I came from being a captain at Victory and I’d been the captain there since a young age,” Catley said.
“To come to City and take a back seat and watch the likes of Jess Fishlock, Kim Little and Jen Beattie, who are real leaders on and off the field, it was interesting to see how they went about it and learn more a bit about leadership in that role. It’s one of the biggest reasons I came to the club.
“Jess is the ultimate leader for me. She’s incredible, she’s outspoken but she cares so deeply about the relationships within the club and around the team. I’ve learned so much from her over the years and hopefully I can be even a little bit like her.
Catley played 13 matches during City’s inaugural W-League season, helping lead the team to a 100 per cent record as Joe Montemurro’s side won 14 games and secured a coveted Premiership and Championship double.
Now as City prepares to defend its W-League title, the new skipper is determined to use last season’s historic achievement as a springboard to continue an astonishing winning streak.
“It was unreal,” she said. “I feel like as every game passed it was just something so special and you had to kind of keep pinching yourself going ‘we haven’t lost yet’. We kept rolling on and kept making higher standards for ourselves and adjusted our goals.
“This year we need to start fresh. All the teams in the W-League have amped it up and they are going to have some incredible players and really be ready for this season.
“We want to keep our standards as high as they were last year and aim to win every game. I think every team does that, but we did it last year and there is no reason why we can’t do it again.
“Obviously it’s a fresh group of players but we will go into every game wanting to do our best, wanting to win and play a good brand of football just like last year.”
Although a left-back by trade, Catley etched herself into the history books at the other end of the pitch during her latest stint in the United States, scoring Orlando Pride’s first ever goal against none other than her former side, Portland.
A foundation player for the NAWSL newcomers, her experience as a member of City’s inaugural W-League squad proved valuable ahead of another historic season.
“It was good to have the experience of being in a league in the first time with Melbourne City and then going to Orlando,” Catley said. “It didn’t really freak me out at all because I know it could go as smoothly as it did in the W-League.”
“There was a huge buzz in Orlando and we nearly sold out the stadium in the first game. The club itself was welcoming just like City was and the other teams got a bit of a buzz coming to a new place, so it was really exciting.
Catley’s first home game for the Pride was an experience she will never forget, with a record NASWL crowd of 23,403 flocking to the Citrus Bowl to witness Orlando triumph 3-1 over Houston Dash in the club’s first ever home match.
To share that moment with City teammate and close friend Laura Alleway made it even more special.
“It was awesome. I’ve been in America for a couple of years before and never played in the same team as another Aussie, so it was really nice to play with Laura,” she said.
“We lived together and got to experience a lot of America together through that, and we ended up doing a little trip to New York after the Olympics which was awesome.
“Just having someone that I’ve grown up with and is more like family over there was just amazing.”
Catley was ever present in the Pride side until going to the Rio Olympics, where she suffered a left metatarsal fracture and right hamstring strain as the Matildas reached the quarter finals, only to lose to hosts Brazil in a heart-breaking penalty shootout.
It was a frustrating end to her first Olympic campaign, but now the aim is to be fit and firing for City’s W-League season opener against Newcastle Jets on November 6.
“It’s going really well [her recovery],” Catley said. “I am rehabbing a lot with Rebecca Stott at the moment as she has a similar foot injury. I have a rehab buddy there and we’re progressing really well and doing a lot of work every single day.
“We are aiming to be fit for Round 1, and everything is going to plan at the moment.”