Auckland has won their first AFL New Zealand NPC since 2007, beating all comers to secure the trophy. Second place went to previous reigning champions Canterbury, who also fielded a strong team.
In conditions that offered a variety of challenges for all players, part of the success of the Auckland squad came through superior use of their bench and interchange players. With every squad member getting roughly equal playing time, it meant players were fresh at key moments.
The AFL New Zealand NPC was held at Westminster Park in Christchurch, over the 7th and 8th of December. Both Auckland and Canterbury started well on a hot and dry Saturday, beating Wellington and Otago respectively. The clash between the two North Island teams proved to be very close, with Auckland sneaking home with a 6.13:49-5.6:36 victory.
With Sunday came a change in the playing conditions. The sun was replaced by heavy cloud cover and variable winds. The wind made tactical decisions difficult, as the direction was constantly shifting no team could be sure of having the advantage throughout the game.
Wellington cruised to victory over Otago in the first match of the day, with their 7.7:49 – 4.4:28 win coming through tight defence. The stage was set for the two leading teams to face off in what would likely decide the championship.
The match between Auckland and Canterbury began with a pulsating intensity, with neither team able to gain a decisive advantage over the first quarter. After the interval however Auckland stormed into the lead, kicking 5 goals in the quarter to go into halftime 7.1:43-2.4:16.
Auckland never looked back from there, maintaining their high standards to eventually run out 14.6:90-6.4:40 winners. Siope Ngata was particularly influential in the match for Auckland, and was well backed up by Sam and James McKenzie who also made big contributions.
The fifth match saw Canterbury prove their class with a big win over Wellington, racking up 104 points, the highest score in the tournament. In the final match, Auckland needed to beat Otago to take the title, which they did comfortably. Three wins from three games meant Auckland were on top of the table.
Strong and consistent individual performances came from all teams across the AFL New Zealand NPC. Ben Miller from Otago had a dream tournament, securing the accolade of being the best player across the tournament.
From Canterbury, James Bowden had a typically strong tournament. Craig Morgan was a standout performer for Wellington, particularly in their close loss to Auckland. Siope Ngata was considered a key member of the Auckland squad, as well as James McKenzie. Ngata is also currently a holder of an AFL International Scholarship with the Hawthorn Football Club.
Each province featured one player who was awarded the MVP for their team over the tournament. David Rattenbury of the Waitakere Magpies won the award for Auckland. Jason Cox was honoured with the accolade for Wellington. Todd Andrews received the award for Canterbury and Bryce Cox was particularly impressive from Otago.
The success of those players, and others across the tournament, shows the progress that has been made through the AFL New Zealand High Performance programme in producing high quality footballers. Miller, Morgan, McKenzie and Ngata are all still young enough to have played in the recent Under 18 New Zealand Hawks series against the Victoria Amateur Football Association. Their involvement in the high performance programme has allowed them to excel through AFL.
Ben Miller in particular has become an incredibly valuable AFL player in New Zealand. He was both the captain and the youngest player in the Otago squad, is known for his intensity and skill in securing the ball on the field, and is expected to be a key part of future New Zealand Hawks teams.
Further young players from each region showed they had improved dramatically through their involvement with the AFL New Zealand High Performance programme. Taylor Alaelua from Auckland, Kade Riddell from Wellington and Alex Frew and Josh Robles-McGill from Canterbury are all players who are worth watching out for in future.
In all, from each province there were large contingents of players who have been through the AFL New Zealand High Performance programme at an age group level. Auckland had 6, Canterbury 11, Wellington 9 and Otago 3 players who have represented New Zealand at an age group level, an increase since last year.
Of course, veterans of AFL in New Zealand also played their parts admirably. Chris Mundell both played for and coached Auckland, leading from the front with 9 goals across the tournament. Jason Wozniak of Wellington also coached and played impressively.
The AFL New Zealand NPC is an important opportunity for players to earn selection into the senior New Zealand Hawks squad. 2014 will be a huge year for the New Zealand Hawks, with upcoming tour fixtures scheduled against the AIS AFL Academy in January, and the South Pacific in April.
These will lead into the 2014 International Cup, to be held in Melbourne in August. On the strength of the 2013 NPC New Zealand will have a good shot at winning their first international cup since 2005.
Without the support of match officials, coaches and management staff and of course the host province Canterbury, the AFL New Zealand NPC could not have gone ahead. Their contributions played a big part in the success of the tournament.
Canterbury 11.12:78 (Bowden 5, Murray 2, Inglis 2, Stevenson, Williams)
Otago 1.4:10 (O’Fee)
Auckland 6.13:49 (J McKenzie 2, Mundell, Morton, Leat, Crutchley)
Wellington 5.6:36 (Roselli 4, Ticklepenny)
Wellington 7.7:49 (Terry 2, Wozniak, Halstead, Riddell, Annand)
Otago 4.4:28 (Miller, Morgan, O’Fee, Toomer)
Canterbury 6.4:40 (Williams 3, Bowden, Andrews, Butler)
Auckland 14.6:90 (Mundell 4, J McKenzie 3, Ngata 2, Morton, Rougham, S McKenzie, Kemp)
Canterbury 15.14:104 (Williams 3, Murray 2, Sullivan 2, Fisher 2, Stevenson, Robles-McGill, Smith, Syke-Thomson, Frey, Kent)
Wellington 3.3:21(Clince, Wozniak)
Auckland 12.7:79 (Mundell 4, Morton 2, Ngata, Leat, Rougham, S McKenzie, Alaelua, Smith)
Otago 3.2:20 (Toomer 2, James)
Tournament MVP: Ben Miller
Wellington MVP: Jason Cox
Auckland MVP: David Rattenbury
Canterbury MVP: Todd Andrews
Otago MVP: Bryce Morgan