Contributed by: Brett Northey
Bayanda Sobetwa joined Greater Western Sydney in 2010, becoming the first player recruited to Australia from the AFL South Africa program, notionally to an AFL club (although GWS are yet to fully join the AFL). With FootyWILD in many ways the AFL's flagship international program there must also have been a degree of pressure for Sobetwa to perform.
It was a huge step up for a young South African with only a few years in the game, and his statistics playing for GWS in the Under 16 TAC Cup were modest. However he did manage 13 games which will have been invaluable experience, making the best players list twice. With an influx of Australia's best young talent into GWS for 2011 and again in 2012, it was always going to be difficult for the young trailblazer to maintain his spot.
Happily he has found a home with Port Melbourne and a position at the AFL, and will spend 2011 continuing to develop his game. worldfootynews.com spoke to the AFL's International Development manager, Tony Woods, about Bayanda Sobetwa's efforts to keep his dream alive.
Woods: Bayanda played with GWS last season as you know and it was really a successful year for him. Everyone has different measures of success but to put it in perspective he has really only been playing footy for three years. All the reports coming out of GWS were really positive, really good. He equipped himself well and was a good member of the team, but at the end of the season moving forward stepping up again to the next level with GWS, Bayanda wasn't yet at that level.
Off the back of that he decided to come to Melbourne and we welcome him into the development department at the AFL on a traineeship and he started a pre-season with Port Melbourne in the VFL. To his credit he had to adjust to a whole new environment, a new group of blokes, and it's been really positive. I'm really proud of him because he had to complete the pre-season and win a spot on their list in his own right. There was a lot of competition, I think there were about 60 spots and 75 people vying for that. It came down to the wire and Bayanda was successful. He has been list by Port Melbourne, contracted to them.
He'll play for Port Melbourne in the VFL, now he's also established a relationship as most players do in the VFL to have a feeder club. We've set him up with Avondale Heights, which is coached by Chris Johnson. We believe it'll be a really good fit for Bayanda.
WFN: So he'll be playing for them and pushing to get a game for Port Melbourne's reserves side?
Woods: As you know mate footy is about performance so I think he'll get an opportunity at Port Melbourne to play in their reserves side and then it comes down to performance and injuries. The Port Melbourne reserves won't play as many games as the seniors, so if he's not selected in either team then that's when he'll go back to Avondale Heights. He's settled in really well, he's a great young kid, he's a good member of the work team at the AFL. We'll focus on this year through to the end of October and reassess. Obviously it'll come down to what Bayanda wants to do, and we fully expect that one day he will want to go home to South Africa. But he's really motivated, really positive, wanting to set himself up so when he goes back to South Africa he can slot nicely into AFL South Africa and make a pretty strong contribution there.
WFN: What sort of areas were most important for him to improve when he came to Australia?
Woods: It's a combination, it's time in the middle. You've just got to play. He's got good skills, given the background he's come from, particularly when he's got time and space. He runs across the ground really well. He's improving his ability to read the play. It's like with anything when you're adapting to a new game, when there's a lot of traffic around, that's where he's probably challenged the most, but that just comes with time... a lot comes back to confidence and self-belief, and if you're within a group of grown men you've got to be able to assert yourself, demand the footy... have the confidence that you can do that, and I think that will just come with time.
I keep coming back to where he's come from, the really rapid transition from a South African township, to mainstream footy in Sydney and Melbourne.
World Footy News