Contributed by: Rod Shaw
As part of the AFL extravaganza happening in Wellington around the Anzac day clash between the St Kilda Saints and Carlton Blues the AFL Academy U17’s will tour playing their third annual game against NZ’s finest.
The Level One side (selected after the AFL U 16 Championships last year) include Ben Ainsworth who is a powerful small forward who leaps high, has a powerful burst of speed and can kick a goal from nothing.
Until this week, he has used those traits as a player for local club Morwell, TAC Cup team Gippsland Power and representative side Vic Country. Now he will face the New Zealand Hawks at Westpac Stadium in Wellington as part of the 100-year anniversary of Anzac Day.
The game is the centre point of the Academy's five-day tour of New Zealand, which has been moved to April for the first time this year after previously being held in January.
Ainsworth told AFL.com.au. "It should be a privilege to represent my country around Anzac Day and it will be a great experience."
Most AFL clubs will send a scout on the trip to get an early look at the 2016 draft pool, and Ainsworth is keen to follow others in recent years who have established themselves as strong prospects with standout games in New Zealand.
"I already knew it was a big match for us, but when I saw on the itinerary that we'd be having meetings with AFL clubs after the game I realised it's important," he said.
"There's a few big names like Jack Billings and Jarrod Pickett who have played well in these games, so if you impress recruiters it can get your name out there a little bit more for the upcoming draft."
The squad of 25 and coach Brenton Sanderson will also attend the St Kilda and Carlton clash at Westpac Stadium. Sanderson is assisted by AFL legends Brad Johnson, Glen Jakovich, Matthew Lloyd, Brad Ottens and Lenny Hayes.
Already several players in the squad, including Ainsworth, West Australian pair Sam Petrevski-Seton and Sam Powell-Pepper, and Victorians Will Brodie and Jarrod Berry, have shown excellent signs as bottom-aged draft hopefuls.
The Kiwis will certainly be a formidable team with many having played regularly for their country
The New Zealand Hawks last played the AFL Academy in January 2014, in a match going to the AFL Academy in the dying minutes of the game to snatch the lead back from the NZ Hawks.
The Hawks squad will blend youth and experience, and feature New Zealanders based both around the country and in Australia. Contingents of players are currently training in Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
Many of the named New Zealand Hawks have represented their country before, including in the 2014 fixture against the AIS AFL Academy and International Cup 2014.
There are seven new inclusions to the team from the 2014 International Cup team. Stan Chung of the Eastern Bulldogs, Wellington and the last six earning their first senior caps Utu Ah Kuoi of Wellington College, Masiu Vainikolo, head boy of Western Heights High School in Rotorua, Barclay Miller of Middleton Grange School Canterbury, Liam Beattie of University Blues FC Auckland, Jarred Percival of Bulldogs AFC Canterbury and Waylon Baker of North City Demons Wellington.
The presence of AFL International Scholarship players Siope Ngata, Joe Baker-Thomas and Barclay Miller will make for an intriguing contest with their AFL Academy peers. Baker-Thomas, Miller and Ngata of the St Kilda Football Club and the Hawthorn Football Club respectively, are seen as potential future professional AFL players. Their performance against the AIS AFL Academy will be a key measure of their progress.
New Zealand Hawks 2015
Head Coach: Andrew Congalton – Canterbury
Assistant Coach: Rob Malone – Auckland
Assistant Coach: Mark McKenzie – Hawthorn FC
Assistant Coach: Peta Searle – St Kilda FC
Runner: Te Kopa Tipene-Thomas – Northland
Manager: Ken Ah Kuoi – Wellington
Physio: Skye Renes – Northland
Michael Boyce, Mt Roskill, Auckland
Kyle Smith, Christchurch Bulldogs, Canterbury
Sam McKenzie, Mt Roskill, Auckland
Utusa’itoa Ah Kuoi, Wellington College, Wellington
Stan Chung, Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs, Wellington
Justin Clark, Mt Roskill, Auckland
Andrew Howison, Oakleigh Districts, Victoria
Tim Morton, Uni Blues, Auckland
Jarred Percival, Christchurch Bulldogs, Canterbury
Cam Lubransky, Melbourne
Jared Court, Eastern Blues, Canterbury
Liam Beattie, Uni Blues, Auckland
Levi Inglis, Eastern Blues, Canterbury
Siope Ngata, Uni Blues, Auckland
William Gregson, Waitakere, Auckland
Aaron Harris, Uni Blues, VAFA, Victoria
Masiu Vainikolo, Western Heights High School, Rotorua
Ty Smith, North Shore Tigers, Auckland
Brendan Clark, Maroochydore Roos, Queensland
Chris Mundell, Uni Blues, Auckland
Barclay Miller, Middleton Grange School, Canterbury
Michael Gregson, Waitakere Magpies, Auckland
Joe Baker-Thomas, Sandringham Zebras, Victoria,
Waylon Baker, North City Demons, Wellington
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