NZ Hawks too good in curtain raiser

The AFL Anzac Day clash was not all about the Swans and the Saints. A crowd which grew from around 100 to 2000 spectators saw a very good game of running football played between the NZ Hawks and the South Pacific Academy U18’s.

Predictably the Hawks won, with an average age of 22 against a younger and far less experienced team. Many of the Hawks had been part of the game against the AIS in January so had experience of the venue and experience playing together.

With nine of the younger Hawks part of the South Pacific team, it gave a chance for a further group of players to represent their country for the first time. NZ coaching team member Justin Davies said that “In the end this allows another group of players to get used to our systems and practices and then return to their home areas and implement these there”.

The bounce waited while the Kiwis did their traditional haka which as always is impressive to witness.

The first quarter saw things fairly tight with an early goal to Sam Mackenzie for the Hawks being matched by the South Pacific’s Fletcher Barclay. Both were to prove to be their team’s main avenue to goal throughout the game. The Hawks went forward again after a fair bit of play within the arcs. Mackenzie put in a big tackle and was rewarded in front of goal with the opportunity converted. GWS’s rookie listed Nauruan Yoshi Harris was proving very strong in defence for the South Pacific but eventually a free was awarded to Howison before being gifted a 50 m penalty. The siren sounded and he slotted it straight through with the scores:-

NZ Hawks 3.1 (18) to South Pacific 1.0 (6)

The second quarter saw the South Pacific defending steadfastly but simply unable to move the ball any further than the wing. With the Hawks constantly pumping it in a strong lead and mark saw Mackenzie slot his third for the evening. PNG’s Chris Mong was giving the South Pacific some real toe through the centre but the game was being played between the arcs.

Canterbury’s Aaron Harris was dominating in the air for NZ consistently winning the ball with his clean grabs and sending it forward. During this period Melbourne’s rookie Maia Westrupp was doing a bit with some strong tackling for the South Pacific and the influence of the Hawthorn international rookie Ben Miller started to become very noticeable with his strong marking, clear thinking and effective ball use.

Eventually this see-sawing battle had to come to an end and it was through the NZ Hawks Vice Captain Michael Gregson, a clever rover, sending the ball forward, reading the drop and getting a minor score on the board with his snap.

PNG’s Jacobiah Peni was working hard to get the ball out of defence for the South Pacific but eventually the ball was pumped into the Hawks Will Gregson who marked and goaled.

The South Pacific were certainly working hard and were able to move the ball forward where young New Zealander Fletcher Barclay again marked strongly and goaled.

Young New Zealanders James Mackenzie and Hugo Phillips were working well with their intercepts with a long kick on the siren resulting in another mark to Fletcher Barclay. His shot after the siren went into the stands on the full.

Half time Scores: NZ Hawks 5.3 (33) to South Pacific 2.0 (12)

As a spectacle, the game offered much with man to man footy, strong overhead marking and an ability from both teams to run and spread well when in possession.

Once again, neither side could move the ball far forward as play swang between the arcs in the third quarter. PNG’s Theo Gavuri and the Hawthorn listed New Zealander Siope Ngata were standouts with Gavuri’s pace and Ngata’s strong marking. NZ scored another 3 points with Mackenzie and Duncan keeping the young South Pacific defenders very busy. Peni and young New Zealander Kade Riddell were both solid with their defensive efforts for the Academy team.

Eventually experienced NZ Hawk James Kusel hit the base of a pack hard crumbing cleanly, squared up and slotted a goal. Another noticeable advancement with the standard of this game was that despite both teams tackling hard and effectively there was none of the need to bury an opponent that was a staple of earlier Kiwi generations of footballers. This meant players stayed on their feet more often and moved on to the next phase of play.

As the quarter closed out MIchael Gregson again got forward and as he crumbed was tripped. He cooly went back and popped it through from the square on the siren.

Three Quarter time: NZ Hawks 7.6 (48) to South Pacific 2.0 (12)

A free kick to the Hawks Mundell was centred to the ever dangerous Mackenzie who shot truly for his fourth of the evening. Both sides were moving the ball well, looking to spread and carry the ball which saw Maia Westrupp head forward for the academy and launch a long bomb which was pushed through for a point.

For a period the South Pacific had dominance with Ben Miller, Kade Riddell and Theo Gavuri prominent. Nauru’s Jonah Eoe eventually snapped for the South Pacific but his shot was rushed through for a point. The very pacy Chris Mong then raced forward taking a grab in the square for the South Pacific and had no problem converting.

Riddell, Miller and Ngata again were dominant for the South Pacific with a highlight being a great sidestep thrown in by Kade Riddell. All this possession lead to a mark in the pocket by Barclay. He bent the ball left to right but his point was to be the last score of a very entertaining game.

The game finished in front of a crowd of around 2000 which was a good result given we were still well over an hour before the main attraction.

Final Scores: NZ Hawks 8.6 (54) to South Pacific 3.3 (21)

With Andrew Demetriou saying before the main game that NZ was “Unquestionably the greatest growth market for football outside of Australia” this was very evident from both the NZ Hawks players and the nine junior Hawks players in the South Pacific side.

Well-known AFL International identity Andrew Cadzow noted that the Academy side was not its strongest, as 5 PNG players eligible for the team were left playing in the Queensland State League as it was thought better for their football, Shem Tatupu was on his two week training session with the Hawks and Kurt Heatherley is recovering from injury. However, he was still very happy with the efforts of his team. He said “the absence of such a talented group of players only adds weight to the great developments that are occurring in the South Pacific”.

That is a statement I couldn’t agree more with and well done to all involved.

Contributed by: Rod Shaw