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Michito goes semi-pro in Australia

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Japan Samurai player Michito Sakaki has been recruited by the Wodonga Raiders from the Ovens and Murray Football League, around three hours north of Melbourne and generally regarded to be the strongest footy league outside Australia's capital cities. Sakaki has signed a contract with the Raiders that nets him a few hundred dollars a week, plus free accomodation, car and petrol. He is also teaching Japanese at a local high school and has helped create one of the biggest pre-footy-season buzzes the area has seen in recent times.

The following article is from Melbourne newspaper The Age.

Japan's Michito wows the bush
By Geoff McClure
March 22, 2006

The bush playing fields of Wodonga in the Ovens and Murray Football League may be far removed, especially in a cultural sense, from the busy city lights of Tokyo but it doesn't seem to have fazed Japan's Australian football convert Michito Sakaki.

The 22-year-old, who has been training with Essendon and even represented the Bombers in an exhibition match against Sydney last month, continues to take giant steps towards his dream of one day playing at AFL senior level. In fact, now he's even making a living from the game, the Wodonga Raiders, coached by former Carlton star Adrian Whitehead, having signed him to a one-year deal that not only includes a salary of a few hundred bucks a week but also provides him with free accommodation, a car and all his petrol.

"A few clubs showed interest in him, so it's great that we have him on board," said Whitehead, who watched his new charge play his first practice match last weekend and was delighted to see him among the best players. "It will probably take him a while to really find his feet but already he's got footy smarts a long way advanced on a lot of blokes up here. He may be small (166 centimetres) but is very quick and really knows how to find the footy."

A crumbing forward, Michito first came to notice in this country when he represented the Sumurais, Japan's national Australian football team, at last year's international carnival and, along with teammate Tsuyoshi Kase, was then invited to the AFL's draft camp in Canberra. Said Whitehead: "He's made no secret of what he wants to do and that's play for an AFL club. Well, if determination and attitude is anything to go by, he's definitely on the right track and will certainly be in our team for the season opener against the Bulldogs (on April 8)."

In the meantime, Sakaki is already making quite an impact in his new environment. Not only is he a big hit at the local high school, where he teaches Japanese twice a week, but he also has helped create a pre-season buzz that the Ovens and Murray league has not experienced in years. In fact, the Wodonga Raiders have embraced Sakaki's arrival in town so much that club officials plan to have a Japanese interpreter on hand every week in case he has difficulty deciphering any of Whitehead's instructions. Said the coach: "I don't think we will have any troubles, though. He seems to understand most things that are said, in particular all the footy slang words."

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