In just a little over two weeks’ time, the new NTFL season will get under way. The weekend of 5th and 6th October will see the eight Premier League teams back in action along with all other men’s, women’s and junior competitions.
It is arguably the most exciting time of the year for all fans as the beginning of a new season, where all teams start again at ground zero, and fans of all clubs can have their dreams and hopes for the next flag, next finals appearance, next win.
The opening round leaps straight into where last year’s story ended. The Grand Final replay between the Nightcliff Tigers and Southern Districts Crocs helps open the season as part of a TIO Stadium double-header on the Saturday night. The season opens with two of last season’s other finalists clashing with the Darwin Buffaloes up against the Tiwi Bombers.
The Cairns City Lions will play finals in 2019. To anyone outside of Cairns, that phrase could be met with little interest. However, in the Far North Queensland city, with a big local following of Australian Rules football, a return to finals football for the Lions is nothing short of remarkable.
Coach Aaron Davey, himself best known as a star player for the Melbourne Demons over 178 games between 2004 and 2013 for 174 goals and four International Rules games for Australia, has arrived at a club on the brink of extinction and saved it.
Admittedly, he hasn’t done it on his own. He has had the buy-in of the club committee, players, supporters and local community, scattered largely over the Cairns’ Northern Beaches and especially Holloways Beach where the club is based. It has been a genuine club effort to stare defeat in the face and laugh at it.
The kids came from everywhere, seemingly. From Gladstone to the south of Rockhampton, north to the Torres Strait and scattered inland towns and cities, school teams descended on the Barrier Reef Arena at Harrup Park in Mackay, North Queensland. It was a showcase of school talent – the North Queensland championships of the Queensland Schools Cup.
Queensland footy continues to grow – at grass roots and the highest level. The Brisbane Lions’ win over Geelong this weekend saw them go to the top of the AFL ladder with a round to go before finals. The Gold Coast Suns have had a horrid season, yet they boast four Cairns players in Jack Bowes, Jarrod Harbrow, Jacob Heron and Caleb Graham.
Next season, the AFLW will feature Cairns’ women Elisha King (North Melbourne) and Kitara Farrar-Whap (Gold Coast).
However, the championships played last week in Mackay featured the future beyond those players already mentioned. Amongst the teams of primary and secondary aged students who took the fields last Tuesday were the next breed – the next Jack Bowes or the next Elisha King.
It’s late July, which means it’s crunch time for footy teams all across Australia. As for the growing handful of American expats playing local footy in Melbourne and beyond, it’s also a chance to cement a spot in a side heading into the postseason.
As mentioned previously here on WFN, the number of Americans having a go has greatly increased, particularly in the women’s game. The Western Bulldogs recently made history by signing Dani Marshall from the Arizona Lady Hawks, making her the first US player to make it onto an AFLW list. Marshall, a versatile athlete, had a recent audition with the Bulldogs’ VFLW side in between a stint at Aberfeldie in the Essendon District Football League.
Meanwhile, the Darebin Falcons women’s team has gained a new American: Valerie Barber-Axthelm, who arrived in June. Ever since the 2017 International Cup, the former Seattle Grizzly had long hoped to pursue footy opportunities in Australia, and when her husband got approved for a visa to study for his PhD at the University of Melbourne, she decided to have a crack. A hard-working defender, Barber-Axthelm has been able to carve out a niche for the Falcons’ D1 side, which is currently standing at second on the ladder with a 9-2 record.
Legendary former Hawthorn superstar, Cyril Rioli, will return to the game in an assistant coaching role for the Tiwi Bombers in the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL). After his seemingly sudden retirement from the highest level of footy during the 2018 season.
Since then there has been wide speculation as to whether Rioli would return to Hawthorn, return to footy in Darwin or simply remain retired and use his experience behind the scenes. The Tiwi Bombers are delighted that Rioli has chosen to link with the club that hails from his home islands – the Tiwi Islands – north of Darwin.
Rioli, who remained on the islands until he was eight years old, moved to Darwin and then by age 14 was boarding at Scotch College in Melbourne until being drafted by Hawthorn in 2008. Since then, a legend grew – four premierships, a Norm Smith medal, three All-Australian selections, 189 games and 275 goals (some the most memorable in AFL history).
The following story by Hamish McLachlan, printed in the NT News this week, highlights the incredibly difficult journey of indigenous footballers, as recently as just 25 years ago.
In fact, in my own position coaching here in Cairns, North Queensland, I can say with certainty that the racism highlighted by former St Kilda star and media personality Gilbert McAdam, still exists amongst sections of communities. This story is important reading for the focus it brings to a topic that is too often treated with lip service, and at worst, ignored.
I was listening to David Letterman and Barack Obama talking about racism recently. Letterman said, “We can define racism. But we can’t explain it”.
The former US President responded with something like, “People come up with all sorts of reasons to try and put themselves over others, but biologically, there is no reality to racism — we made it up — but over time it manifests itself in very concrete ways and becomes a social reality, with very real impacts”.