For the many of us who dream of Australian football expanding more rapidly internationally there can be no doubt what would most accelerate the growth in any given country - having their own AFL club. So it was unexpected music to our ears to hear (or in fact read) the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key declare that his country should have an AFL side.
The comment came at an official function prior to the St Kilda - Sydney match in Wellington. Key said the unique relationship between the countries, coupled with a fierce mutual sporting rivalry, made the concept a perfect platform for the Australian game.
''Let's get real,'' he said. ''We've got to get a New Zealand side in the AFL. We've got the Breakers and we've got the Warriors - well, they've been struggling a bit lately - we need our own AFL team.''
The AFL Anzac Day clash was not all about the Swans and the Saints. A crowd which grew from around 100 to 2000 spectators saw a very good game of running football played between the NZ Hawks and the South Pacific Academy U18's.
Predictably the Hawks won, with an average age of 22 against a younger and far less experienced team. Many of the Hawks had been part of the game against the AIS in January so had experience of the venue and experience playing together.
With nine of the younger Hawks part of the South Pacific team, it gave a chance for a further group of players to represent their country for the first time. NZ coaching team member Justin Davies said that "In the end this allows another group of players to get used to our systems and practices and then return to their home areas and implement these there".
Rod Shaw is World Footy News' New Zealand correspondent but now based in Victoria. In a bold move for a volunteers-based website we sent him to Wellington for the first AFL regular season match to be played outside of Australia. Rod has had a long involvement in footy in Wellington and was New Zealand's senior coach at the 2002 International Cup.
Last night saw the historic first game for Premiership points played in Wellington. The Sydney Swans went on to win in a hard fought game over the St Kilda Saints. Brodie Murdoch on debut for the Saints kicked long into the forward line and Justin Koschitzke, playing his first game for the year, clutched a strong grab and converted. He has the honour of scoring the first goal on an international field in an AFL game that really matters (i.e. not pre-season or exhibition).
For me it was a coming home in a sense, having spent over ten years in Wellington I had the good fortune to participate in all three pre-season games in various ways held between 1998-2002.
Without a doubt this game has been set up for success far better in so many ways than the earlier pre-season games.
With the addition of the Gold Coast Suns and the Great Western Sydney Giants the drafts were compromised severely affecting the other 16 AFL Clubs from accessing the best young talent. Visionary clubs such as Hawthorn stepped out to get players of a suitable standard from elsewhere. They set up a Memorandum of Understanding with AFLNZ and the AFL to set up talent identification programs such as the Hawks Cup that also helps NZ football to build a base of players and real awareness of the game.
Meanwhile St Kilda used a different approach. They have held a couple of community camps in NZ and once they got permission to play the Anzac game they have drip fed a variety of players, coaches and administrators to Wellington in the months preceding the game. This has helped them gain great media coverage. I have been assured by my many friends and contacts in Wellington that this game has been a source of discussion in many workplaces around and about the capital.
In the week preceding the game the amount of coverage in all forms of media has been sensational and is a direct result of the preparation put into the game by all the stakeholders inclusive of the AFL, St Kilda, Sydney, AFLNZ and not least the Wellington City Council.
The historic first match for AFL premiership points on foreign soil was a great success with relatively good conditions, New Zealand winning the curtain raiser, a great deal of publicity for the sport, and 22,546 people coming out to see a tight game of footy. Obviously a lot of match reports in the mainstream media, and articles about the whole week from our man on the ground Rod Shaw, but here's a quick wrap of some of the other interesting points around the game.
Not widely discussed was that the Saints wore a specially designed jumper for the occasion (pictured left). Prior to the match the Saints' website reported that the guernsey acknowledges New Zealand’s heritage with Maori art patterns, and reflects our shared history across the Tasman.
"Given the historic occasion, we were keen to appropriately recognise New Zealand on our iconic Saints playing uniform," St Kilda CEO Michael Nettlefold said.
The following is the run down for the historic Australian football ANZAC Day event today (April 25th) at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand.
New Zealand Hawks v South Pacific Academy
Samantha Jade and Stan Walker perform
Joint cheers squad banner display
Match footballs delivered by children of NZ veterans
Sydney Swans enter arena
St Kilda Saints enter arena
- Observance Ceremony Guard turns outward and rest on arms
- The Ode to the fallen in Te Reo recited by Warrant Officer Dave Lark, RNZAK and in English recited by RSA National President, Lieutenant General, Don McIver
- The Last Post
- Minute silence
- The Rouse – flags raised
- The Australian national anthem will be performed by Samantha Jade and the NZ national anthem will be performed in Te Reo and English by Stan Walker
Presentation of the Anzac Medal and the Simpsons-Henderson Trophy
The historic Anzac Day match between the St Kilda Saints v Sydney Swans is the first AFL premiership match to be played outside Australia. The match will be exclusively broadcast live in New Zealand from 7.30pm local time on SKY Television, Wellington 1503AM, Auckland 1332AM & On-Line at radiosport.co.nz ‘Listen Live Sport Extra’. In Australia it is live on pay TV provider Foxtel.
With the AFL’s first internationally staged match for 4 points set for Thursday (Anzac Day) in Wellington in New Zealand – the Australian media in particular has had their focus upon New Zealand and the South Pacific for a change. Certainly a change from tanking, drugs, coaches, Buddy’s contract, Melbourne FC in general, etc etc.
With the focus there has come some nice reports around junior development in the region. In the Age Peter Hanlon writes about Vanuatu’s Kilip Andrew (
South Pacific sings a new tune ) who will represent the South Pacific against the NZ Hawks in the curtain raiser on tomorrow.
And from TV last night came a report on ABC’s 7:30 AFL contests possession in All Blacks country looking at footy in New Zealand with a focus on Siope Ngata who is in the squad to be reduced to 25 to represent South Pacific in Sydney in July in the NAB U/16 national championships.
The journey of Hawthorn's rookie listed Kiwi, Kurt Heatherley, is explored in depth in an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald this week. He has already travelled extensively in the Pacific and Europe as a player so new to the game.
Mike Pyke, the Canadian ruckman who helped lead the Sydney Swans to a Premiership in 2012 is remembered in New Zealand for different reasons. Before his amazing code swap to AFL he was a rugby union international for Canada. In a country as obsessed with rugby as the Kiwis are with their All Blacks the sight of a player the size of Pyke scoring a runaway try down the wing against the pride of New Zealand leaves a memory etched in the minds of many.
AFL New Zealand's website has become a great resource for all the latest footy news in New Zealand. Here's a pointer to more positive news.
As a result of the the Hawks Cup initiative developed jointly by the Hawthorn Football Club and AFL NZ many talented athletes are being drawn to participating in footy throughout more and more of NZ.
Some of the most talented young athletes from Northland to Otago have been identified through the Hawks Cup Secondary School competitions as well as testing combines conducted through out the country and will participate in two days of fixtures at the picturesque Hutt park.
Those who compete have the opportunity to progress in the AFL talent pathway.
From this tournament an initial Under 18 New Zealand Hawks squad will be selected in preparation for fixtures against Victoria to be played in Auckland in October 2013.
Representatives from several AFL Clubs will be on hand in the hope of signing talented individuals on an International Scholarship that could lead to a professional AFL career.