Glory star aims to emulate Football Ferns icon after position change & World Cup frustration

Alex Epakis | Round 4 Press Conference | Perth Glory v Adelaide United

Perth Glory star Grace Jale speaks to’s Matt Comito after a stellar start to the Liberty A-League season.

Grace Jale is tired of hearing the word “potential.”

The New Zealand international is a World Cup Football Fern and a player of genuine star power in the Liberty A-League. But despite thriving in the early throes of her first season at Perth Glory, it remains one of the top descriptive words used in discussions about the 24-year-old with freakish athletic ability and a keen eye for goal.

Now, Jale is ready to shed the skin of a player with room to grow. 

Extremely motivated after a World Cup campaign that fell short of expectations and thriving after a positional change at her new club, Jale speaks to with the air of a rejuvenated and driven player with an ambitious aim: to replicate the feats of one of the best players to ever do it in a Football Ferns shirt.

Jale’s zest for the season ahead in purple and orange is clear as she reflects on her reasons for leaving Canberra United after just one season in Australia’s capital.

“Canberra was an option,” she says. “They were kind of disappointed that I didn’t stay. I was in a plus-one contract. But honestly, I just wanted a bit of a change.

“My rough plan was following the World Cup was: I would go to Europe, to America, something like that, but that didn’t happen.

“I did actually have a lot of options (including) most of the teams in the A-League. It was a tough decision to weigh up the pros and cons of places.

GLORY ON TOP: Surprise leaders’ combo that can ‘take this team anywhere’ as ‘star of the future’ mounts Tillies case

Grace Jale at Canberra last season.

“It was tempting to go home, back to New Zealand (and Wellington Phoenix), and I think some of the Melbourne teams were on my case as well. But honestly, it was the feeling Perth gave me – and I just went with it.

“After the World Cup, which was tough for me, I was like: ‘Okay, what do I need right now? I’ve experienced the World Cup. I’ve experienced football not going well for me. But I need to enjoy it when I’m not on the pitch. So what do I need? I need to learn’. 

“I’m like a sponge at this age and I really, really want to reach this potential people say I have.”

Jale signed for Perth after a World Cup campaign spent battling the reality of lack of opportunity. That reality did not sit well with a player who had hoped for so much more.

The 2023 Women’s World Cup took place across host nations Australia and New Zealand; in the Football Ferns’ three group games on home soil, Jale made two late bench appearances, accruing just 49 minutes of game time and sitting out the third game completely as an unused substitute. 

It was in that game, against the much-fancied Norway that striker Hannah Wilkinson scored the only goal of New Zealand’s World Cup campaign in a 1-0 victory. Jale, all the while, watched on from the bench with mixed emotions.

In recent years, Wilkinson has been tasked with leading the Football Ferns’ line in the absence of Amber Hearn; capped 125 times by her country, Hearn is one of the all-time New Zealand greats. With 54 international goals, Hearn is the only player to have ever cracked the 50-goal mark in New Zealand’s international history.

Jale sees the void Hearn left in the national ranks as one she can fill in the coming years thanks to her recent transition from winger to striker, a process accelerated by the coaching of Perth Glory boss Alex Epakis. 



“I had built up expectations of the World Cup, and how it would go,” reflects Jale. “I think the amount of minutes I got was tough to accept, even though I was doing all that I could control. It was exhausting; there’s only so much you can do – and at the end of the day, it’s the coaches who make the decisions on starters and impact players. 

“I found that really tough. Especially because in the lead-up I had gotten a lot of minutes and thought I had solidified my spot. But it was tough. I support whatever is best for the team, but the thing was, I wanted to be out there, I wanted to be helping.

“I think we didn’t reach our potential – and that was the best opportunity we had to leave the group, really. A home World Cup is a dream come true.

“My journey towards the World Cup was scattered with injuries. It took a year or two to kind of pass, and it had been a rollercoaster leading up to the start of the year and the end of 2022.

“I was getting more minutes and impacting the team more, I was really proud of myself. Then it was a bit of a struggle. All the work was for that opportunity, and then not getting it on the day was tough.

“At the end of the day, it is what it is. I hate that phrase – but I couldn’t change it. And that’s sport – it’s brutal. Any professional sport is brutal. It’s just controlling the controllables – if I really want to be out there, I need to be irresistible. I’m going to do what I can do be irresistible.”

This is what Jale has been working on in Perth with her new head coach Epakis, who she credits for helping her begin to transform into the type of player she believes is needed in the Football Ferns ranks.

“Being under Alex, I’ve changed my position. I’m a striker now,” Jale adds.

“He’s really good at putting me in my place and pointing out errors, or learning possibilities. I think it’s good. I’ve learned a lot already since I’ve been here, and I will continue to. Hopefully, I can bring a different angle than I did out on the wing and do that up front.

“I think New Zealand needs a goal scorer. We’ve been missing Amber Hearn for a couple of years now, and I would love to fill those boots.

“But I just need to remember to enjoy it. I know this sport is brutal, but I started it for a reason: to inspire. It’s something I fell in love with at a young age, so I’ve just got to keep enjoying it.”

Jale has scored two goals in three games in a terrific start to life in Perth. She lives in a share house with three of Glory’s international recruits: Quinley Quezada, Jessika Cowart and Millie Farrow.

But Jale will tell you she lives on the beach.

In Perth she’s found “a piece of me” – and she’s learned to appreciate the little things that her new life outside of football provides after a life-changing trip to Fiji which followed the World Cup, and ultimately led her to her new club.

Jale is Fijian on her father’s side and in July became the first player of Fijian origin to represent the nation at a World Cup. After the tournament, she was invited by Tourism Fiji to visit the island nation.

“It opened up my eyes a little bit,” she says. “Coming from New Zealand, I’m Fijian but I’ve also got the Māori side as well, the Indigenous side in New Zealand.

“Sometimes it gets a bit lost but when I did see that (becoming the first Fijian to represent New Zealand at a World Cup), it made me really proud. It’s a big deal. 

“On the first day of the World Cup, I got a video from my cousins in Fiji, all the little cousins, my aunties, nephews and nieces I never knew I had saying: ‘Good luck, we are so proud of you!’ Honestly, it made me cry like a baby. I hadn’t met these people before and they were saying how much they love me and support me – it was amazing.

“I think it was really good to sit and self-reflect. A lot of time to think when you’re lying on the beach. It was good for me, and I’m so, so grateful. 

“Even though not everything went as I thought at the World Cup, something amazing came from it.”

You can catch Jale in action next on Saturday, November 11 as Perth Glory host Adelaide United at Macedonia Park at 7pm AWST.


INS & OUTS: Jets star returns in time to face former side
PHOENIX: Wellington Phoenix dealt major blow after ‘heart-breaking’ injury news