The other game of the round in the AFL New Zealand Premiership will see the Western Crows take on the Northern Suns (Kick off 1.45pm).
It is the first time AFL New Zealand has run a national competition like this and means that the talent pool has increased across the four teams which will provide top quality football.
The Western Crows feature strong depth throughout the whole squad and is coached by former AFL Player Rob Malone.
Coach: Rob Malone
Australian born Malone, has a lengthy history with the game in New Zealand. His composure, knowledge and experience is an asset to the developing sport and this was never more evident than with his efforts as Assistant Coach through the victorious 2005 International Cup campaign where New Zealand secured their best result in the Cups thirteen year history.
Recently Rob has continued with the Assistant Coaching role with the New Zealand Senior team and 2014 senior campaigns against AFL Academy and the 2014 International Cup. He is well noted for an eye to spot talent and currently assists in this capacity to support AFL recruitment.
A playing career that commenced in the West Australian Football League, netting over 125 games and 3 Premierships with the Claremont and West Perth Football clubs, reached its greatest heights when Malone was listed with the St Kilda Football Club for the 1992 / 93 seasons.
Captain: Jared Court
The 27 year old Court made his senior debut for Canterbury Club Eastern Blues in 2005 and has been a solid representative within New Zealand teams since 2011.
Four National Provincial Championship victories with the Canterbury Cobras as well as four Canterbury AFL Grand Final victories with local club Eastern Blues, make Court the perfect leader for the fledgling team. A coaching role within the New Zealand Under 18’s team over the past three year has also provided balance to his leadership qualities.
Players to watch:
18 year old Te Kopa Tipene-Thomas is best known for his aerobic capacity and elusiveness with ball in hand. From the small town of Moerewa in Northland, Tipene-Thomas was first discovered through talent identification at Bay of Island College and is one of the youngest players to represent the Senior NZ Hawks team when he was selected in the 2014 International Cup squad. In 2014, Te Kopa was the U16 Player of Year at the annual High Performance awards and backed up his achievements in 2015 when he was named U18 Player of the Year.
Ty Smith has only had a short time in the game commencing his AFL career only three seasons ago. The lean 25 year old is a disciplined player with a great leap and a strong defensive running capacity. Recently he has played a forward line role for the Tigers and so it will be interesting as to where he will be positioned once allocated his team from the upcoming AFL New Zealand National Draft.
Waitakere Magpies leader Shane Leat was first unearthed as an unknown 16 year old school boy from Kelston Boys High in 2009 and represented Magpies in their AAFL Grand Final victory in 2010. Since then the 21 year old has gone on to represent New Zealand at Under 18 and Senior levels. With five years of senior football under his belt, Leat is well known for his silky skills that can find a target with either hand or foot.
The Northern Suns bring a youthful side to the AFL New Zealand Premiership which coach Chris Mundell is cherishing.
Coach: Chris Mundell
Initially entering into the AFL New Zealand High Performance Programme in an assistant coaching capacity, Chris has progressed to take on the head coaching role for the New Zealand Under 18 team, the Auckland Buccaneers at a National Provincial level and currently the reigning AAFL Premiership coach with the University Blues. He also acts as mentor for St Kilda’s International Scholarship recruit Giovanni Mountain-Silbery.
In a playing capacity Chris has represented New Zealand at the 2011 and 2014 International Cups as well campaigns against the AFL Academy.
Captain: James Kusel
Currently player coach with the Hutt Valley Eagles based in the Wellington AFL competition, Kusel has a playing career that stretches back over a ten year period. Debuting for New Zealand in 2006, Kusel faced a baptism of fire at the Australian Country Championships as a young key forward at only 17 years of age. His success in rugby at both the traditional format and sevens within the Wellington region, has resulted from his abilities to transition skills from the two codes.
A career with several severe injuries has not phased Kusels passion to maintain a connection and excellence with both sports. His return to the New Zealand team against the AFL Academy in 2013 showcased strength and power, mixed with a great skill base.
Players to watch:
Currently attending the Tai Wānanga Ki Ruakura in Hamilton, Jackson Rolleston was first identified at a Regional Testing Combine in 2013. The U16 and U18 New Zealand representative knows how to get himself into the correct position and moves the ball around the field with accuracy. “Jackson is only one of a group of very talented young athletes that will make an impact on the AFL New Zealand Premiership in February.” Mick Coultard, AFL New Zealand High Performance Manager.
After kicking 5 goals on his debut for Auckland at the 2013 National Provincial Championships, James McKenzie quickly made a name for himself in the AFL community. The roving forward knows how to kick a goal and will be sitting close to the top of the Goal Kicking leader board come the end of the competition.
Southen Smith from Northland attends Bay of Islands College. One of the standouts in the 2015 AFL New Zealand Academy, hard running Smith has represented the New Zealand Hawks at U16 level and would one day, relish the opportunity to debut for the senior team.