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."
Two stories have recently been in the New Zealand news celebrating junior talent identification and development.
Firstly, this weekend sees a National U 16 tournament to be held in Wellington. Usually such events are run as province against province and seem the natural apex tournament as a result of local area Hawks Cup events. This is not the case with this weekend’s event.
Rather, the cream of New Zealand’s under 16 talent, identified by AFLNZ talent scouts, have been organised into regional teams to contest this inaugural event. The three teams are: North Suns, Metro Eagles and Central Giants.
From this event, a New Zealand under 16 side will be chosen to compete in the South Pacific tournament involving Papua New Guinea and an Oceania team in Townsville, Queensland, Australia this April. From there, players can be selected to play for the South Pacific team to compete in the Australian Under 16 Championship.
The following transcript is AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou's speech delivered tonight in Melbourne to launch the 2013 AFL season.
Tonight marks the tenth occasion I have been privileged to launch the season as Chief Executive of the AFL. This season also marks the tenth anniversary of the appointment of our chairman, Mike Fitzpatrick to the AFL Commission.
Ten is an important number, not just a milestone, but a fork in the road that allows for reflection, for analysis and for anticipation. Events over the past few months have made that audit trail even more important.
One key indicator for whether AFL football games will continue to be played in Wellington will be the attendance at the Anzac Day game between the Sydney Swans and St Kilda.
The 3 pre-season games played between 1998-2001 had attendances within the range of 8,000 - 12,000 people. When reflecting on some of the attendances in the AFL last year this probably doesn't compare too badly, at times.
It has been reported that major hotels in Wellington are already full with 2 night minimum stays being required in some cases over the Anzac Day break. Certainly trying to book an airfare to Wellington late last month meant this correspondent had to travel for over 6 hours to get there via Sydney at rather an inflated cost!
However all this bodes extremely well with the Wellington Stadium seating over 30,000 and some predicting a sell out with the influx of international visitors as well as the locals keen to attend the game.
Certainly it is an historic occasion for the AFL and the code in general and those interested in AFL being played internationally can only hope it is a massive success.
The AFL today announced the finalisation of international broadcast rights into New Zealand for the 2013 Toyota AFL Premiership Season that will see unprecedented television coverage of the code across the Tasman Sea.
Sommet Sports and SKY Television will showcase AFL content throughout the year with increased coverage across the Premiership Season, Finals Series, Grand Final and weekly highlights program. Both networks will broadcast the Anzac Day match, St Kilda v Sydney Swans at Westpac Stadium, live nationally from 7.30pm local time – in what will be a significant event for the code.
In season 2013 AFL fans in Australia and New Zealand will have the option of streaming a single match for AU$5 , a monthly subscription for $14.99 (NZ$17.99 through iTunes) , or a season pass for $89.99 (NZ$109.99 through iTunes). This provides access to a live video stream of every AFL match in 2013. For Google Play subscription the cost is calculated on the exchange rate from the Australian dollar amount at the time of subscription.
The official AFL Live App can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play marketplaces.
This is a separate service to AFLTV which provides live online match streaming to international AFL fans outside Australia and New Zealand.
We hope there will also be an announcement of of a TV deal in NZ by the end of the month with feedback from the AFL stating "We do have great things in store for the Premiership Season in terms of TV broadcast rights...(but we) cannot provide any further details at this time, but a media release is set to go out in coming fortnight."
AFL PNG has been building consistantly in recent years and 2013 sees potential further growth in the senior competition which given the numbers participating in junior footy in PNG - it is good to see the Port Moresby senior league consolidating upon that. The following is a press release from AFL PNG.
Preparations have commenced for the 2013 BSP AFLPNG Premiership, and two new teams are on track to join the competition. AFLPNG Senior Football Manager Connie Papau announced today that: “Taurama Diggers and Gulf Isapeas have commenced training and expressed interest in joining the eight team BSP Port Moresby AFL Competition. If all clubs return in 2013, we may have a 10 team competition”.
Melbourne are the latest AFL club to sign a Kiwi kid after Maia Westrupp impressed the Demons at the AFLNZ combine held last month in Wellington. Westrupp has been signed as an International Scholarship player and measures up at 185cm and 87kg.
Westrupp said it was “pretty exciting” joining the Demons. “It’s something new for me, but it’s been a real good experience [already]. The past 24 hours have been pretty surreal, especially in the short timeframe that it’s happened. Now, I’m just looking forward to it. I’ve seen a little bit of the professionalism around the facilities and it’s great to be here. I started playing about two weeks ago, so that’s why it’s been a bit of a whirlwind for me. I had a few trainings – and I’ve [already] been put in my place –and they’ve said my aerobic has got a bit to work on.”
Westrupp will remain in NZ for 2013 where he will be studying at the Unviersity of Auckland and will carry out a development program created for him by the Melbourne Football Club.
The inaugural New Zealand Hawks AFL Combine was held last week at the ASB Sports Centre in Wellington. Boys aged from 14-18 were flown into Wellington from around the country with the intention of impressing recruiters from the AFL.
The boys were given a taste of the AFL as they were put through speed, agility, endurance and skills testing.
St Kilda helped run the combine with their staff instrumental in setup, showing their experience and professionalism. The Saints players were highly involved and quick to aid participants and pass on their knowledge and experience.
Recruiters were impressed by several of the attendees and it shouldn’t be long before we hear about more New Zealand talent being signed on to AFL scholarships.
Those to shine included Maia Westrupp, Alex Frew from Canterbury aged 16, 183cm and 83kg, Seth Going from Northland aged 17, 179 cms and 70kgs, Brock Messenger from Auckland, aged 17, 182 cms and 70kgs, Hugo Phillips from Wellington, aged 16 187 cms and 76 kgs and Fletcher Barclay from Wellington, aged 17, 186 cms and 75kgs.