A decade ago, Haneen Zreika had never seen nor touched a footy. 

Growing up in the rugby league stronghold of western Sydney meant that interactions with the AFL were limited and though a newly established club was growing, just a few kilometres up the road from her home in Strathfield South, league was the only football code that had ever had her heart.

"My teacher came to me in school and said there was a coach for the area team there recruiting the boys and said, 'Do you want to go and play?" Zreika recalls of her first interaction with the sport. 

"I said, 'Nah sir, I don't know what AFL is.'"

Convinced of her potential abilities from the crossover skills inherited from league, Zreika was persuaded, more so from an eagerness to skip a day's school than learn a new code.

A day missing school has turned into a career in the game. 

"From there the Auburn GIANTS picked me up and I went and met these girls who were probably about 10 years older than me that were just playing for the love of it," Zreika says. 

"I didn't really know that girls could continue to play sport out of high school at that point. That environment just made me fall in love with the game. 

"If you'd asked me 10 years ago would I be playing, I wouldn't have known what the sport was let alone where I'd be."

ecently, Zreika oversaw more than 150 high school-aged, majority Islamic girls contest for the inaugural Haneen Zreika Cup. 

Representing more than 10 schools, 13 teams across two divisions played modified AFL matches, a day that Zreika had been ideating for over a year. 

"Last year I sat down with (Haneen's mentor) Amna and I said I really want to do a gala day," Zreika says. 

"The idea was just to get girls involved, to promote AFL in Western Sydney and give the diverse population a go, just really to show them what AFL is. 

"But today I feel so privileged and proud to see people from my culture and background playing and embracing AFL. 

"When I was their age, 15, 16 there was nothing like this. You don't get girls, from Islamic schools especially, playing AFL as the sport is still growing in western Sydney. It's such a great outlet for young women though and another choice where there's always been rugby league and soccer."

Two Islamic-teaching focused schools were the victors on the day, with AIA Strathfield and Malek Fahd the junior and senior champions, respectively. Zreika's alma mater Strathfield South finished semi-finalists. 

For Zreika, the first Muslim AFLW athlete, what started as an intent to grow awareness of her sport has now reimagined itself as a talent pathway.

"I've been so surprised with the skills," she says. 

"A lot of these girls haven't played AFL before but because they've grown up playing other ball sports more so than ever, a lot of the skills just come in naturally. 

"There's going to be a lot more diverse girls coming through elite pathways and changing things up around here. I hope that eventually there will be a lot more Muslim women playing the game."

Zreika's GIANTS teammate Georgia Garnett, herself also a western Sydney product, was on hand to provide coaching advice to the young teams, with GIANT Bec Beeson also adding some AFLW muscle to the event.

"Playing for the GIANTS is a great honour," Zreika says.

"I'm a proud western Sydney girl so playing for the GIANTS means a lot and having this in western Sydney, establishing more pathways is so important to growing the game out here. 

"Girls really can be the difference in growing the sport."