Days 3 and 4 of the AFL South Pacific Cup played out yesterday (Wednesday) and today (Thursday) at the Tony Ireland Stadium in Townsville. The Papua New Guinea Binatangs lived up to pre tournament favouratism and completed an unbeaten run through the tournament to take out the title. Unbeaten by a whisker though after the draw against Oceania on Tuesday.
Upon the completion of the last match on Thursday, the 30 player squad was selected to take on the Kickstart Flying Boomerangs at 9 am tomorrow (Friday) morning. This initial squad will be reduced further to 25 to compete in the NAB AFL U/16 national championships to be held in Sydney in July. See separate article for the squad.
Sydney born Mick Byrne's playing past in Aussie Rules helps him fit neatly into the Rugby Union Super 15’s Blues co-coaching jigsaw. Like many Sydney youngsters Mick Byrne began his sporting life on the league field. Then one of his schoolmates persuaded him to bring his teenage 2m frame to Aussie Rules training.
"I really liked it because of the freedom of running and the kicking that was involved," Byrne said. So in his last year at school, Byrne ended up playing rugby on Thursday, Aussie Rules on Saturday and Rugby League on Sunday.
He made an Aussie Rules rep side as a ruckman and centre half forward and signed a contract as an interstate player and headed off to Melbourne. Byrne went to the Melbourne Demons, subsequently Hawthorn where he won a Grand Final winner's medal, and the Sydney Swans in a 167 game career over a 13-year career.
Tuesday was day 2 of the AFL South Pacific Cup tournament at Tony Ireland Stadium in Townsville (QLD); pitting PNG, NZ and the Oceania Squads against each other. The game on Tuesday saw PNG play Oceania in an extremely close encounter that finished in a draw. The polish of the PNG side was evident all day but the spirited work ethic of the Oceania side pressured PNG into mistakes and Oceania were good enough to capitalize. Observers rating this as the game of the carnival so far.
Players representing the South Pacific in the curtain raiser against the NZ Hawks will participate in an AFL Combine on Wednesday 23rd April. AFL Combines are underpinned by an exciting testing format that provides participants with the opportunity to compete in a number of skills and athletic testing.
Each of the events within the programme has a focus on fun and looks to provide those involved with motivation to improve themselves in varying facets of skill and fitness.
A variety of talent scouts will watch carefully as the South Pacific players are put through their paces.
The first ever AFL New Zealand High Performance awards will be held on April 24th at Macs Function Centre in Wellington on the eve of the ANZAC Day Clash between the Sydney Swans and St Kilda.
The awards night is an annual celebration of the performance and efforts of those involved in New Zealand representative teams as well as recognizing the success of those with New Zealand heritage in the sport of AFL.
With the new AFL South Pacific and Oceania junior talent pathway structure now seeing first the Oceania tournament held last December (for Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomons, Fiji and Nauru) ; and the next step being the South Pacific Cup where the Oceania combine takes on the regional powers of PNG and NZ; it is a watershed moment now that the inaugural South Pacific Cup has kicked off on Monday at the Tony Ireland Stadium in Townsville
Monday (April 8): Day 1 started today with 3 terrific games of football between PNG, NZ & Oceania (Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Nauru). PNG were in control of both of their games and look like the team to beat!
The New Zealand Hawks senior team will take part in a two match series against a South Pacific selection. The first game will be the curtain raiser to the AFL match at Westpac Stadium and commence at 4.30pm.
The NZ Hawks team last played in January at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium against the Australian AFL AIS Academy team. The New Zealanders performed well against the elite youth of Australia but were defeated by 41 points.
The South Pacific team will feature several International Scholarship recipients that no doubt have the talent but will need to overcome the seasoned experience of the New Zealand Hawks contingent.
The second game will be at the Wellington AFL’s home ground of Hutt Park at 12.00pm on April 28th. This will be a great opportunity for locals to view the game up close and from the boundary line.
The Papua New Guinea U16 Binatangs arrived in Cairns for two footy matches this weekend en route to their appointment this week in Townsville for the South Pacific Cup, and if the show they put on today is any indication, the New Zealand and Oceania teams will be in for a torrid time.
Their visit to Cairns started on Saturday 6th April with a scratch match against the North Cairns Tigers U18 team. Binatangs coach, Murray Bird, admitted “We didn’t really keep score…but I’m told it was about 17 goals to 3.” The Tigers are no mugs, but they got a taste of what this PNG side has to offer.
Having had the great good fortune to be in Wellington as a foundation member of the NZAFL Board, formed when the AFL decided to support international football financially rather than in a tokenistic fashion, for the three pre-season games held there from 1998-2001 it is fair to say I have some good memories of football development at that time.
Having been at the coalface of player recruitment and development during this period as a local Club President, a Wellington player and League President at The Basin in 1998 and coach of the victorious Wellington team at the two Stadium Games’ curtain raisers I think that gives some real perspective on what the Anzac Day game may mean for future game development.
That said, things change. Since the last Stadium game so many initiatives have developed for NZ and International footy. The AFL has seen international development as a key development area. They have supported this not just through various funding arrangements but through the support of competitions at junior and open age level.
The International Cups grew from the pioneers at Arafura’s efforts, running of events such as the South Pacific Cups and the inclusion of South Pacific and World representative teams at the Australian Championships. This list continues to grow and I realise is not exhaustive.
Representatives from St Kilda were in Auckland this week, checking out potential crossover players. A key member of the visitors is Hawthorn’s former list manager Chris Pelchen. Hawthorn have done it in the past, most notably with Kurt Heatherley who plays for a Hawthorn feeder team in the TAC Cup and has transitioned from an International Scholarship player to an International Rookie.
Club bosses see rich athletic potential to mine in Auckland, a point emphasised by chief executive of AFL New Zealand Robert Vanstam. "We're not looking to steal athletes from the NZRU or NRL," Vanstam said in reference to the recent spate of code-hopping by Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt. "We're more interested in giving kids here another option."