Tuesday, February 28 2012 @ 01:25 pm ACDT
Contributed by: Rod Shaw
AFL New Zealand is attempting to increase the number of teams in schools, at the same time as the leading Australian clubs are starting to look across the Tasman for new talent.
"The Australian clubs originally looked to Ireland – because of the similarity to gaelic football – for their international talent but finally are seeing see the merits of searching closer to home [in New Zealand]," AFL NZ national youth coach James Terry said.
According to Terry, four New Zealand boys were signed up for AFL scholarships last year and nine Australian clubs had observers at a training camp and game in Wellington last month. So far there has not been a Wellingtonian signed to an AFL scholarship and they have also not had much of a presence in the national sides recently.
Terry agrees to the widely held belief of those with experience of NZ football that "The games we play here – rugby, soccer, league and basketball – produce the type of athletic kids the AFL clubs are after and it can be a pathway to a very lucrative career."
Australian Rules is pitched as a summer game in New Zealand, so it is seen as an adjunct to rugby, soccer and league, rather than a competitor.
Five Wellington secondary schools fielded teams in AFL competitions last year and Terry hopes a bigger number will be involved in the senior Hawks Cup, a schools tournament that will be staged in Wellington in March, with a North Island schools tournament scheduled in late March.
Wellington schoolboys have already made an impression in AFL with Kade Riddell (Hutt Valley), Hugo Phillips (Wellington College), Fletcher Barclay (Paraparaumu), Jordan Mueller (Hutt Valley), Craig Morgan (Hutt Valley), Josh Thompson (St Pat's Town) and Mitchell Purvis (HIBS) all selected for the New Zealand under-16 side.
In addition, Riddell, Phillips and Barclay are in the Oceania under-16 squad that will play in Sydney at Easter at the Australian U16 Championships.
For more, see Aussie Rules scouts at Wellington schools.