The AFL New Zealand National Provincial Championships are set to begin in Christchurch. The competition will be held at Westminster Park on the 7th and 8th of December.
Canterbury, the current champions, will be keen to use home advantage to retain their title. In 2012 they won their third National Provincial Championship in a row. With a strong squad in 2013, Canterbury has an excellent chance to beat the other three leagues sending teams.
Auckland, Wellington and Otago will all be competing at the National Provincial Championship. Otago is the newest team at the competition, and could be the surprise package of the weekend. Wellington and Auckland will both be tough to beat, with squads filled with experienced and tough players.
The success of the AFL New Zealand High Performance programme can be seen on many levels throughout the squads competing at the National Provincial Championships.
Each squad has junior members who have represented New Zealand at age group level, notably in the recent Under 18 New Zealand Hawks series against the Victorian Amateur Football Association. From Wellington, Kade Riddell, Craig Morgan and Waylon Baker were part of that team, and will take the experience into the NPC. Wellington will also be boosted by the presence of Joe Baker-Thomas, a current International Scholarship player with the St Kilda Football Club.
Auckland are packed full of international representatives, at both age grade and open grade level. From Siope Ngata, James McKenzie, Taylor Alealua and Gray Samuels who were part of the recent Under 18 New Zealand Hawks, to international veterans like Michael Gregson, Shane Leat and David Rattenbury, Auckland will have a wealth of international experience to draw on.
Local Canterbury players have also been part of New Zealand teams. Young players like Kyle Smith, Alex Frew and Levi Ingliss, will all have the opportunity to continue their development against experienced players, and are expected to acquit themselves well. International players James Bowden and Todd Andrews will also boost Canterbury.
The Otago team, while lacking in international experience relative to their rivals, still feature players who could be among the best at the tournament. Coach Warwick Kain expects all players to pull their weight on the field, and has confidence that the players he selected will show the form that got them into the provincial squad.
The AFL New Zealand High Performance pathway isn’t limited to players. Auckland coach Chris Mundell has represented New Zealand as a player for a number of years, and is now making an impression as a coach with both the Under 18 New Zealand Hawks and University Club in Auckland. Warwick Kain has also coached regularly at international level, in particular as the assistant coach of the Under 16 and Under 18 New Zealand Hawks.
Competing in the National Provincial Championship is highly recommended for any players who wish to represent New Zealand, and with the International Cup approaching in August 2014, competition for spots will be fierce. The New Zealand Hawks will also play home fixtures next year, against touring teams from the AIS AFL Academy in January, and the South Pacific Invitational XVIII in April.
With the success of AFL New Zealand Secondary School programmes and the AFL New Zealand High Performance programme, the standard of AFL being played in New Zealand is always increasing. The 2013 National Provincial Championships are expected to be some of the highest quality AFL seen in New Zealand.