Under the lights on a beautiful, mild Townsville night, the 2016 National Diversity Championships got under way with an opening ceremony at Tony Ireland Stadium. With a cooling light breeze to welcome the event, an enthusiastic crowd, many having travelled from all points of the nation, watched on as the cream of national indigenous and multicultural talent marched onto the field.
With MC for the night, Ms Beth Kempe, welcoming firstly the umpires and then the Kickstart and All Nations Under 15 players to Townsville, the assembled competitors and spectators were treated to a small but focused program of speakers and local entertainment.
Following on from the national anthem, Randall Ross, elder of the local Bindil people, gave the welcome to country on behalf of both the Bindil and Wulgurukaba people on who’s lands the tournament is taking place.
The AFL today announced three Women’s Exhibition Matches will be television broadcast in 2016. Matches will be broadcast by FOX SPORTS and will be aired live nationally. All three matches will be made available live on afl.com.au and the AFL Live App on mobile and tablet.
Footy in tropical North Queensland has been growing solidly now for many years and AFL Cairns will welcome their newest addition, and most compelling piece of recent evidence of that growth, on the weekend when they see the Pyramid Power club run out in a reserve grade match for the first time.
One of the best measures of growth is the ability of a code to not only sustain numbers, but tap new player markets and increase participation in the game. AFL Cairns has worked hard to ensure that junior growth has translated into growth at the senior club levels as well. Pyramid Power is a club that has followed that model as it moves from the sphere of junior football to the ranks of senior adult football.
The club commenced in 2005, almost as a phoenix of past district clubs the Babinda Magpies and the Centrals Aloomba Bulldogs. By the 1980’s both of those entities had vanished leaving a football void in the vast areas south of Cairns from Gordonvale to Innisfail, west to the Atherton Tablelands and east to the aboriginal community of Yarrabah.
In excerpts from the media release from the AFL, the push has already begun to attract the biggest and best crowd possible for the annual AFL Premiership Match in the Tropical North Queensland city. The match this year will be a highlight of the Round 17 fixture, being played in Cairns on Saturday 16th July. Already this match is shaping as a super contest. After the first round of the 2016 AFL season, the Bulldogs sit atop the ladder after hammering Fremantle, whilst the Suns are third after doing the same to Essendon. Whilst things will change, both clubs seem set for bigger and better seasons…and a tropical battle could be a highlight of the season.
In Cairns with player Roarke Smith to help launch tickets going on sale, Western Bulldogs CEO David Stevenson said the club was looking forward to hosting a match at Cazalys Stadium for a third consecutive year.
“The Club is proud to return to Cairns for the third consecutive year to showcase AFL football in North Queensland.
The 2016 National Diversity Championships get under way at Tony Ireland Stadium in Townsville next Sunday 3rd April. The tournament will again feature both the U15 Kickstart and the U15 All Nations Cup. Each year the event attracts the best indigenous and multicultural talent from across Australia, with all players vying to impress on their journey towards AFL stardom.
Past players that have come through this important component of the AFL talent pathway over the years include current players Steve May (Gold Coast Suns), Curtly Hampton (Adelaide), Callum Ah Chee (Gold Coast), Jade Gresham (St Kilda), Jay Kennedy-Harris (Melbourne), Karl Amon (Port Adelaide), Jarman Impey (Port Adelaide), Jake Long (Essendon) and a host of others across the AFL.
AFL Queensland Regional Manager, Kathleen Newman, stated in 2013 when Townsville last hosted the event that “there is every chance spectators will see the next Cyril Rioli, Lewis Jetta, or Chris Yarran, running around.”
With so many games decided by less than a goal throughout the 2015/16 NTFL season, most involving Wanderers, it was fitting that the biggest day of the season follow the same script. At TIO Stadium in Darwin last night, the St Mary’s Saints held on in a staggeringly breathless final quarter to win the premiership by two points in one of the tightest finales in recent years.
The opening quarter was a matter of which team would calm their Grand Final nerves the quickest. After a willing start by both teams, where a soccer score was threatening, Saints managed the only goal of the quarter courtesy of a free kick and 50 metre penalty and held the lead at the first break by seven points. Quarter time: St Mary’s 1 2 8 v Wanderers 0 1 1
The second quarter belonged to the Eagles, and after a tight defensive first stanza, Wanderers found some extra space to run and set up play. Their four goals for the quarter had their fans ecstatic and momentum going their way. Wanderers reversed the quarter time advantage, going in to the main break with a six point lead. Half Time: Wanderers 4 1 25 v St Mary’s 2 7 19
As the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Such is the case with the NTFL season. Despite Southern Districts dominating the home and away season, their Preliminary Final loss to St Mary’s will see the Saints and Wanderers play off in their third consecutive Grand Final.
Over the three seasons other teams have peaked, only to drop off at the business end of the season. The 2015/16 season saw a rejuvenated Darwin Buffaloes, a rampant young Nightcliff Tigers and the Crocs throw their hats into the ring to change the status quo and kick off their own dynasty. But at the end the perennial Saints and the fast finishing Eagles kept the balance the same.
In 2014 St Mary’s won by 21 points. In 2015 it was Wanderers turning the tables to down the Saints by 34 points. This latest rivalry will be decided as a “best of three” on Saturday night at TIO Stadium as the best performed teams of the past three years meet again.
With the NAB Challenge coming to a close this weekend, most teams chose to use the hit-outs as a chance to play closer to full strength teams. As a result less international players were on show across the weekend’s matches.
Richmond’s Sudanese rookie Mabior Chol gathered another five possessions with his 87% game time in the team’s torrid encounter with Port Adelaide. Chol enjoyed his NAB Challenge, exciting Tiger fans and showing enough skill to suggest a useful AFL career is ahead of him. He still has much to learn but the signs are promising and his efforts to date will see him debut sooner rather than later.
Zach Tuohy (pictured) was his usual assured self in the Carlton defence against the Sydney Swans. His 24 possessions at an 83% disposal efficiency, including 6 rebounds from the defensive 50, showed he will again be a key part of the Blues’ defence this season.
Power Park in Gordonvale, Far North Queensland, always reverberates to the sounds of kids squealing, shouting and laughing whenever training or matches are taking place. Being one of the most picturesque football grounds in Australia with Walsh’s Pyramid towering behind the southern goal posts, watching over the town like some benevolent parent, it’s as if the kids are trying to impress and the majestic “mountain” smiles down on their happiness.
That’s on a normal day.
But when, as happened last Sunday, you add in a legend of AFL football, Adam Goodes, those squeals of delight find a higher octave – a louder and more raucous level of happiness, fun and joy.
With just five matches played over the course of the third weekend of NAB Challenge games there was less international talent on show. Maybe the tempo went up a notch, or opposition teams had put their homework into the internationals, but overall it was a quieter output across the board.
The washout of the Mackay match between the Lions and the Saints robbed fans of seeing the likes of Pearce Hanley (Brisbane) and Jason Holmes (St Kilda). A massive 200mm of rain, courtesy of ex-Tropical Cyclone Winston, fell leading up to the game forcing the AFL to abandon the match.
Perhaps the North Melbourne coaches had already put homework into Collingwood’s Mason Cox. After an impressive debut, Cox was quieter this weekend, though hardly inactive. He still managed to hurl his massive frame about Collingwood’s forward zone to collect five possessions, a couple of marks, four hitouts and five tackles to give the Kangaroos’ defenders enough anxious moments.