Talented athletes from around the North Island have been provided with the opportunity to test their skills and push for places in the AFL New Zealand High Performance programme, through the AFL New Zealand Regional Combine programme.
The AFL New Zealand Combine programme is one of the first steps in the AFL New Zealand High Performance pathway. From the Combine testing, the best athletes are invited to trial for selection into New Zealand age grade representative teams.
Hawthorn Football Club talent scouts Mark McKenzie and Greg Boxall were in attendance, looking at athletes with a view to signing them to an AFL International Scholarship.
A precedent for this exists, with New Zealanders currently on AFL International Scholarships at three different clubs, including the Hawthorn Hawks. Former International Scholarship holders Shem Tatupu and Kurt Heatherley have been offered full time contracts at the club, and Aorere College student Siope Ngata was awarded an International Scholarship last year. Siope Ngata was one of the participants in various tests.
Combine participants are tested in a range of athletic skills, with each test measuring a different aspect of their performance. Some tests are for AFL specific skills, including the drop punt and handball. Other tests, including vertical leap, 20metre sprint, an agility test and the beep test can be applied to a wide variety of sports.
The athletes who attended the Combine came from a wide range of sporting backgrounds. Some have already participated in the AFL New Zealand High Performance programme, and were measuring their scores against those from last year. Current members of the AFL New Zealand High Performance Programme who attended a Regional Combine included Maia Pene and Gray Samuels, who recently represented New Zealand with the U-18 New Zealand Hawks.
Others had been invited through the Hawks Cup interschool competition, or from other AFL Secondary School programmes. Following strong performances in the Hawks Cup, students from prestigious sporting schools such as Westlake Boys High School, Rosmini College, St Paul’s College, Aorere College and Wellington College attended Regional Combines. Athletes also came from schools such as Auckland Grammer, Whangarei Boys High School and Albany Junior High School also attended.
Each year an AFL New Zealand National Combine is held on January 23rd Wellington Indoor Stadium. Those who score highly in the regional combines are invited to test themselves against the best athletes from around the country where they will be watched by scouts from a variety of AFL clubs, eager to capitalise on the ever growing New Zealand talent pool.