Australian Rules about to make its mark on capital

Normally they share the black guernsey, but come Thursday two Wellington Aussie Rules fans will be facing off.

This Anzac Day, the St Kilda Saints will face the Sydney Swans at Westpac Stadium – the first time a premiership AFL game has been held outside Australia.


By Friday, about 19,500 tickets had been sold, and more than 4000 Australians are heading to Wellington for the game.

For James Terry and Sam McKenzie, it’s a chance for New Zealand to get a taste of the game they love.

They both play for the New Zealand Hawks, and will feature in the warmup game against South Pacific Nations.

But come the main event, they’ll be shedding their black guernseys and facing off – McKenzie is a solid St Kilda fan, while Terry is backing the Swans.

It will be McKenzie’s first time representing New Zealand in the game he picked up as a teenager after his father started playing to keep up fitness in the rugby off- season.

AFL was a “sleeper sport” in New Zealand, and it was a good chance for Kiwis to see the game up close, he said.

Terry, 31, has played for six years and also got into the sport for off- season fitness.

The atmosphere at games in Australia was amazing, he said, and he was excited to be part of it coming to Wellington.

The Hawks team members would be sitting together, but were pretty evenly divided in their loyalties to the Saints or Swans, he said. Once they were in the stands, team loyalty would be put aside and he was confident the Swans would win.

“Nice playing with you an hour ago, but now we’re enemies so watch out, because I’ll be giving it to him [McKenzie] when the Swans beat the Saints.”

McKenzie was equally confident the “home side” would prevail, saying Swans fans were going to be “a little bit disappointed”.

AFL international development manager Tony Woods said it was a great chance to showcase the game to Kiwis.

“You’ve never seen football like this before, and AFL really is best seen live.”

The Swans are the defending AFL champions, while St Kilda haven’t drunk from the well since 1966.

Wellington was embracing the chance to see football of a different kind, with strong ticket sales, he said. Hopes were high that it would become an annual event.

Positively Wellington Tourism chief executive David Perks said that based on similar events, the game could inject about $5 million into the city, with hotels “pretty much full”.

City councillor John Morrison, the sports and events portfolio leader, said the game would be great for the local economy, as well as providing a way to promote Wellington to the Australian market.

“It will be one of the most watched television events in Australia, and it will be direct from Wellington.”

This story was first published in the Dominion Post 21.04.2013


Contact Katie Chapman

Wellington reporter
Twitter: @katiechapman28