Heritage Team shows pathway for future International AFL
16 May, 2014
The AFL New Zealand Heritage Team has been selected for 2014, showing the depth of involvement New Zealanders have in AFL at the highest level.
Selected by Simon Black, Warren Jones and Wayne Schwass, the 2014 Heritage team boasts an exciting mix of established AFL stars such as Heath Grundy of the Sydney Swans and Sam Mitchell of the Hawthorn Hawks, youthful talent and home grown New Zealand players.
Simon Black is well known as a stalwart of the Brisbane Lions, winning three Premierships during his glittering career. He is now an assistant coach with the Brisbane Lions.
Warren Jones was born in New Zealand, and was part of a fearsome Carlton team that won the 1982 Premiership. He also played 31 games for St Kilda.
New Zealand born Wayne Schwass played 282 games in his career, which included a Premiership with North Melbourne. Schwass came out of retirement in 2013 to play for the New Zealand Hawks against the AIS AFL Academy.
The selection panel had the job of selecting a team that they believe would be competitive in the international arena.
Schwass was looking forward to the possibility of the team one day playing matches.
“To see a New Zealand national team playing together would be a significant achievement and would be another step in the development of football in New Zealand. I would be very confident our team would be a tough opponent for any team.”
Simon Black agreed with the sentiment.
“I would like to see the team take the field in the future. I think this New Zealand team would be the 2nd strongest in the world if we were to put together a World Cup.”
AFL New Zealand CEO Robert Vanstam is confident that an International AFL test match between New Zealand and Australia would be successful, and would augment the current International Rules calendar.
“You can play against Ireland with a round ball, but you can also have a real game of footy against New Zealand.”
Vanstam sees international representation as a key facet of elite sport that would be a welcome addition to AFL, and one that New Zealand would be ideally placed to provide.
“The AFL Community is still learning about national representation, but for New Zealanders it is in their DNA. Every kid grows up dreaming of playing for New Zealand.”
Identifying with fellow New Zealanders playing at an elite level will greatly assist the growth of AFL in New Zealand. At the recent Wellington ANZAC Day match, New Zealander Shane Savage was a clear crowd favourite.
New Zealand is a sports mad nation of 4.5 million people, with a further 700,000 Kiwis living in Australia, maintaining close links to family and friends back home. As such, New Zealand is an ideal expansion market for AFL.
Vanstam believes the key to that expansion is through national representation.
“Representing New Zealand drives Kiwi interest in sport. New Zealanders will get behind any team or athlete representing them on the International stage.”
One of the most striking aspects of the AFL New Zealand Heritage Team for 2014 was the growth in the number of homegrown players who were selected, players who have come through the AFL New Zealand High Performance Programme.
Leading the group is Hawthorn’s pair of International Rookies, Kurt Heatherley and Shem Tatupu. Heatherley recently got his career underway with a string of strong performances in the NAB Challenge.
Joe Baker-Thomas was also selected. The St Kilda Scholarship holder has been improving rapidly, and has played a key role for the New Zealand Hawks in recent matches.
Rounding out the group are Andrew Howison and Ben Miller. Howison has been a leading New Zealand Hawk for many years, and plays for Collegians in Melbourne. Miller is a young man of 18 who has already notched up significant achievements, such as winning the Tournament Best and Fairest Award at the 2013 Senior National Provincial Championships.
Selector Warren Jones was impressed with the talent coming through the AFL New Zealand High Performance programme.
“After my visit to New Zealand, I’ve come away with a whole new perspective on how the game has developed there.”
2014 AFL New Zealand Heritage Team
BP: Jasper Pittard Ben Rutten Greg Broughton
HB: Kurt Heatherley Heath Grundy Jordan Russell
C: Shane Savage Andrew Howison Nathan Van Berlo
HF: Brent Renouf Beau Maister Aaron Edwards
FF: Cameron Ilett Shem Tatupu Jay Van Berlo
R: Khan Haretuku Dustin Martin Sam Mitchell
I/C: Karmichael Hunt Joe Baker-Thomas Ben Miller Max Gawn
For more information on the AFL New Zealand Heritage Team, please email AFL New Zealand at email@example.com.