Nelson teenager taking a punt on AFL

Story by Natalie Cyra of the Nelson Mail

MacKenzie Haugh is within kicking distance of realising his dream of becoming a professional athlete.

The 17-year-old Nelson College student was named in the New Zealand under-18 AFL squad of 30 to play a Victorian side in October.

The squad will start regional training later this month ahead of the two games in Auckland.

The 17-year-old said that signing for a club in the elite Australian Football League would be his “top goal”.

The keen sportsman, who also plays rugby and touch football, was selected only months after a friend in his home town of Dunedin introduced him to the sport.

“I got talking to him then I got invited to [a trial] game in Auckland at the start of February. I did quite well and kept in contact with him,” Haugh said.

The teenager was then invited to play in the national under-18 AFL New Zealand tournament in Wellington on Anzac Day.

It was his performance at that tournament that saw him named as the most valuable player for his team – and national selection.

Having represented New Zealand in his age group in a mixed touch team, Haugh said he liked the different concepts and freedom of Aussie Rules.

“You have to be quite fit with the field being massive.

“You need to have speed, jumping and kicking and you use a whole different set of skills,” he said.

Haugh said he looked forward to the games as a chance to “try something different, have fun and take my mind off other sports for a while”.

Haugh says his position is that of a follower [ruck, rover or ruck-rover] whose job is to follow the ball around the ground rather than remain based in just one part of the field.

“You follow the ball and have to be a workhorse, but once the game starts, everyone just goes everywhere,” he said.

Haugh said he had an interest in studying sports should he go to university.

“I’ll probably take a year off next year to weigh up the options and assess everything.

“A trade like building would also be quite cool,” Haugh said.