The New Zealand side returns to Melbourne in a few days with high hopes of lifting the 2017 International Cup.
The squad is made up of players from five regions across Aotearoa and includes nine Kiwi’s who are now playing in Australia based teams in Brisbane and Melbourne.
Fourteen players from the 2014 International Cup squad return with Captain Andrew Howison, who will once again lead the side.
“I’m really excited to get into camp and put into work all of the preparation over the last 3 years. We have a lot more experience in the group this time around and the previous campaigns will hopefully hold us in good stead. A slightly different format this year which should create a more competitive tournament and a lot more excitement for the fans.
The squad is looking forward to facing some new teams we haven’t played against before in Nauru and Fiji. The last time we met Canada in 2011 they really gave us a good crack and we were lucky to get away with the win so no doubt they will be pushing us hard again and of course the big match up with Ireland. You always want to test yourself against the best and these guys will certainly be in contention for top honours again this tournament so will be a good test for the boys.
If we can start well and slowly build throughout the tournament then we will be right in the mix come the pointy end.” Andrew Howison.
The annual ANZAC fixture in Wellington against the Australian Under 17 Academy side and a rigorous training programme has the squad well prepared for this year’s Cup. Midfielders, Will Dickinson and Te Kopa Tipene-Thomas along with defender Andriu Sucu will be amongst those to play a significant role during the tournament.
AFL continues to grow in Aotearoa with the implementation of the Regional Youth Competition, the AFL New Zealand Academy and Youth Girls programme.
With over 20 players with New Zealand heritage playing in the AFL, the hope is that International football continues to grow in its relevancy to sporting mad New Zealanders and they are provided the opportunity to support their national team and its growing player list, on a regular basis at the highest levels.
New Zealand Head Coach Rob Malone has been impressed with the team’s build up to date. “The NZ team will present in good shape physically and ready to go. As for the character of the players, we have an exceptional group and standards / team values are set high, from our Captain through the playing roster. We have tweaked the game style and the way we want to move the ball and the boys will be committed to any contested ball situation.
We have reviewed the draw and the new competition format and believe it provides the NZ team with a really good opportunity to build throughout the tournament, however we will not be taking our first opponent (Nauru) lightly as they play a very quick style with a lot of creativity and flair.
The team’s preparation has been very solid with the playing group having applied themselves well in preparing for the tournament. Logistically it is always a challenge to disseminate information and conduct group training sessions as we have a number of players based in various regions in both NZ and Australia. To mitigate against this, we have benefited from very good regional coaches in NZ and have liaised closely with our Australian based contingent.
The challenge will be to ensure structures, running patterns and ball movement is well understood by the collective group once we meet in Melbourne. In saying this, it will be no different for other teams who have the same logistical issues with their preparation.”
All Round 1 (August 6th), Round 4 (August 15th) and Finals (August 18th or 19th) matches will be streamed via the International Cup Website www.afl.com.au/internationalcup
Live Twitter updates of every game will be on the AFL New Zealand Twitter page (@aflnz) and quarter by quarter updates, photos and up to date news will be published on Facebook and Instagram along with our website aflnz.co.nz
Tune in to Radio Sport at 2.40pm (NZT) on Wednesday the 2nd of August to hear NZ Captain Andy Howison have a chat with Daniel McHardy on the afternoon show.
AFL New Zealand Player to watch
From Wellington, Misilifi Faimalo is AFL New Zealand’s best up and coming talent. He made his New Zealand Senior representative debut at the age of 16 and now the midfielder will embark on Melbourne for his first International Cup. First introduced to the game through the AFL New Zeland Secondary Schools competition, Misilifi’s pace, skills and evasiveness shows why he will be a standout at this year’s tournament.
Round 1 – Sunday 6th of August
New Zealand vs Nauru
Venue: Ransford Oval, Royal Park
Round 2 – Wednesday 9th of August
New Zealand vs Fiji
Venue: Linen House, Seaford
Round 3 – Saturday 12th of August
New Zealand vs Canada
Venue: Waverley Blues Football Club
Round 4 – Tuesday 15th of August
New Zealand vs Ireland
Venue: Ransford Oval, Royal Park