Contributed by: Aaron Richard
2005 saw the New Zealand Aussie Rules community assert itself as the pre-eminent footy nation outside Australia, the senior Falcons winning every match at the International Cup by an average margin of 55 points, footy played in more cities around New Zealand than ever before, two young NZAFL players attending the AIS-AFL draft camp and the national team being invited to join the Australian Country Football Championships.
World Footy News takes a look at NZ's domestic leagues and development programs and how they shaped up in 2005.
2005 saw 15,000 school children attend NZAFL Development programs at 147 Primary, Intermediate and Seconday schools throughout NZ - an increase of 3,500 children from 2004 whilst retaining the current staff structure. 14 school tournaments were held, six each in Auckland and Wellington and two in Canterbury. There are now 14 established Auskick centres around New Zealand.
The Auckland AFL continued as the strongest league in New Zealand, with a tight, competitive finals series. The Grand Final was won by the Mt Roskill Saints, defeating the North Shore Tigers by seven points 9.7.61 to 7.12.54 at Beecroft Park on Sunday December 4th. The win came after hammering the Manurewa Raiders in the previous weekend's preliminary final by 78 points, 17.10.112 to 5.4.34.
Mt Roskill haven't won a flag since 1997, recent years being largely dominated by the Auckland University Blues.
The Wellington AFL had a rebuilding year off the field, with a rejuventated administration and its fantastic final series. Sunday December 11th saw their grand final played, with the Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs narrowly defeating the Hutt Valley Eagles 9.13.67 to 10.4.64, after the Eagles came back from a 33-point first quarter deficit. The match was held at Galloway Park, with one of the biggest crowds in recent memory attending, including Minister for Sport & Recreation Trevor Mallard.
The four-team Wellington league has solidified considerably in recent years, with the Hutt Valley Eagles resurrecting after coming close to collapsing only a season or two ago.
The Canterbury AFL grand final at QEII on November 22nd saw the University Cougars defeat traditional power club the Eastern Blues 10.12.72 to 7.3.45. The season had been fairly lopsided, with a significant gap in standard between the Cougars and Blues and the two weaker clubs, the University Bulldogs and the Mid-Canterbury Eagles. The Eagles, based in Ashburton are the only club in the league from outside Christchurch and like many expansion teams around the world have struggled with travel and numbers at times.
The Canterbury AFL also made the news recently after AFL club Hawthorn reneged on its agreement to hold training clinics in Christchurch as part of their pre-season training visit to the South Island.
The Waikato AFL, based in Hamilton, consolidated a regular 2 team (18 per team) competition on a Saturday afternoon, with Auskick sessions held prior to senior matches. The two teams, nicknamed the Tuis and the Mavericks combined players to compete in the National Provincial Championships in Christchurch as the Waikato Thunder.
National Provincial Championships
With the International Cup held in Melbourne in 2005, the National Provincial Championships took a year's hiatus. The 2006 NPC will be played in Auckland on the weekend of the 11th and 12th of February 2006 at Mountfort Park, Manurewa.
The defending champions, Auckland, will be out to retain their title they won at the September 2004 NPC in Christchurch.
While Auckland would still enter the tournament as favourites, the other three sides shouldn't be taken lightly. The Wellington team has already been training for some time and both the Canterbury and Waikato teams are expected to be much improved.
The tournament will include both Kiwi and Australian born players, with a squad of 40 players to be chosen on conclusion of the NPC for the NZ Falcons touring team to compete at the Australian Country Championships on the Gold Coast in July 2006.
World Footy News