Kahu make huge improvement against Woomeras

The U18 New Zealand Kahu have made a dramatic improvement against the AFL Indigenous Woomeras, showing remarkable development given their relative inexperience.

Between the first and second matches of the series, the Kahu reduced their margin of defeat by almost half.

While that was in part down to a better defensive effort, they also cleverly controlled possession for long periods, playing sensible marking oriented football.

The leadership shown by senior players Hope Schuster, Setareh Brown and Kayla Paniora was immense, as they marshalled their troops through the match played in tough conditions.

The Woomeras were again classy when given opportunities, running excellent lines and playing skilfully with the wet ball.

However, the Kahu started the match with the best quarter in the team’s history, in patches outplaying their high quality opposition. Playing with composure and structure, the Kahu held the Woomeras to just 1.4 for the quarter.

On defence, three Kahu in particular stood out. Tegan Cooper played her best ever AFL match to date, hitting the contact area hard. Jessie Parr was another star, chasing furiously and never giving up on regaining possession. Setareh Brown was a wrecking ball, and sought out fierce contests against the most physical of the Woomeras, the strong Desiree Atkinson.

Paige Baksh starred for the Woomeras, playing another excellent match. She was versatile and classy in her skill execution in the wind and rain.

Shaleise Fisher was again phenomenal, playing as a small forward she kicked four goals. Her defensive efforts were particularly noticable, running players down to make covering tackles. Courtney Hodder also earned plaudits, playing hard at the football and clearing it away from congestion, giving her team plenty of useful possession.

Head Coach Lisa Roper was rapt with the performance of her team, describing their performance as awesome and skilled given the conditions.

“We talked before the game about wet weather football, but at times today I forgot it was raining because they took mark after mark after mark. You don’t often see that in the wet.”

She also noted the rapid improvement of the Kahu, both in skill and in mental fortitude.

“I’m almost speechless by how you stepped up today. You played with heart, spirit, and I’m absolutely proud of what you did.”

For the Woomeras, the match capped off a ten day tour of New Zealand, which tested them physically and mentally. Woomeras Head Coach Jason Mifsud praised the strength of his team at the conclusion of their tour.

” We’ve spoken a lot as a team about adversity. I think it’s really easy on days like this to not want to play sport, but AFL in particular is about character, and the character I’ve seen from both teams today is really strong.”

AFL New Zealand CEO Robert Vanstam noted the spirit the series had been played in.

“The most important element of the series for me has been the respect the two teams have shown for each other. Sometimes when we play football it can get heated and frustrating, and of course we should be trying to achieve wins. But there was a lot of respect here, and you should be very proud of that. What I saw in the two games was people who were very excited to be playing football.”

He also thanked the parents of the New Zealand Kahu for being open minded in providing their children with the opportunity to play a new sport.

With the tour concluded, the AFL Indigenous Woomeras will return to Australia, where they will be able to share their experiences with their communities and fellow football players. Robert Vanstam paid tribute to the burgeoning leadership skills of the Woomeras players, and to their coaching staff who had pulled the tour together.

“If we look at what the Woomeras tour is about, which is leadership, the biggest success to date has been the leadership you have been provided by your coaching staff and those who run the Indigenous Programme. That’s a stepping stone for you to showcase you leadership skills in your communities, where you will make the choices about what sort of football environment you want to be in.”

The final word went to player Woomeras co-captain Leashay Warburton who summed up the experience of the Woomeras tour.

“We made so many friendships between everyone here, and it’s been an amazing trip. It’s opened our eyes to a different country and we’ve experienced your culture, and we’ve really enjoyed that. To our girls, we’re all family now, and to the New Zealand girls, we’re family too.”

U18 New Zealand Kahu vs AFL Indigenous Woomeras

AFL Indigenous Woomeras: 15.14:104 (Shaleise Fisher 4, Kiara Cooper 3, Caitlyn Wonaeamirri 3, Leashay Warburton 2, Tashina Ketchup, Courtney Hodder, Paige Baksh)

U18 NZ Kahu: 0.0:0

Best on Ground Awards:

Presented by U18 NZ Kahu: Jessie Parr (Kahu) and Shaleise Fisher (Woomeras)

Presented by AFL Indigenous Woomeras: Hope Schuster (Kahu) and Paige Baksh (Woomeras)

Photography provided by Jun Tanlayco.