MORE THAN 30 athletes from around New Zealand will take part in an International Combine on Thursday in a bid to impress AFL clubs.
The attending group will be put through a full range of tests also undertaken at the NAB AFL Draft Combine, with sprint, agility, endurance, jumping and skills tests on the agenda.
Recruiters from at least 16 AFL clubs will be in attendance for the screening at the Trusts Arena in Auckland, where the level one NAB AFL Academy is holding its camp over the next five days.
Kurt Heatherley and Shem Tatupu (Hawthorn), Joe Baker-Thomas (St Kilda) and Maia Westrupp (Melbourne) are among the players to have graduated to AFL lists from New Zealand in recent years as the League continues to dig for talent in new markets.
The group of New Zealand athletes at the talent combine will be aged between 13 and 18, and come from a variety of backgrounds including soccer, rugby, volleyball and athletics.
The AFL’s national and international talent manager Kevin Sheehan said the trip to New Zealand – the Academy departs on Thursday and returns on Monday – was important for the locals as well as the AFL draft hopefuls, who will be eligible to clubs in 2017.
“It’s a pathway for the New Zealanders to play football and have a connection to our game. There’s boys coming from all different parts of New Zealand to the combine, and there’s significant uptake of the game across the country with more than 25,000 playing our game there,” Sheehan said.
“The clubs will come across to that session and about five of the kids testing will also play against the national academy on Sunday, in what will predominantly be an open-age side with a few younger guys in it.
“And the game certainly gives us a very good hit-out. We love the fact New Zealanders are very parochial about their footy and they love to play for their country. The contests have been terrific in the past few years.”
This will be the fifth time the Academy has played in New Zealand around the Anzac Day period, with the first game in 2012 when Jack Billings, Josh Kelly and Billy Hartung featured for the Academy.
In recent seasons the Academy’s game has been played at the ‘Caketin’ Westpac Stadium in Wellington, but the camp has this year been moved to Auckland for the first time with no AFL game being played in the region this weekend.