The rapid rise of Joe Baker-Thomas through AFL has been capped off by his nomination for the Wellington City Council Emerging Sportsman of the Year Award in the Dominion Post Wellington Sportsperson of the Year Awards.
The nomination comes at the end of an incredible year for the young man, who is signed to an AFL International Scholarship with the St Kilda Football Club.
Joe Baker-Thomas was very proud to be recognised with the nomination.
“It is a huge honour for me to be nominated for this prestigious award. It wasn’t so long ago that Australian football was a foreign concept to me but my journey with St Kilda over the past year has been a wonderful experience and I am doing everything I can to make the most of this opportunity.”
Joe Baker-Thomas was signed after first playing in the Hawks Cup AFL interschool competition, playing for Porirua College. The International Scholarship was announced during ANZAC Week 2013, during which the St Kilda Saints played their inaugural ANZAC Day Wellington match.
AFL New Zealand is sanctioned by the New Zealand Secondary School Sports Council, with the Hawks Cup supported by College Sport organisations around the country.
Since then, Joe has gone on to represent New Zealand at Under 16, Under 18 and Senior levels in AFL, showing with each step up in difficulty he is ready to meet the new challenges.
A highlight so far of his AFL career was his performance in the 2014 New Zealand Hawks vs Australian Institute of Sport match, played in January at Westpac Stadium. Joe was a standout performer in the forwards, marking cleanly and kicking a goal in a low-scoring match.
Joe’s development in Wellington has been facilitated through the efforts of AFL New Zealand High Performance Coach Shannon Wall, who worked with him in weekly coaching sessions.
Ameet Bains, General Manager of Player List and Legal Affairs at the St Kilda Football Club, is very pleased with Joe’s progress to date.
“Joe has significantly developed as a footballer since St Kilda recruited him as an international scholarship holder in April, 2013. He has come a long way in terms of building his skill set and physicality and has shown plenty of promise in adapting to Australian football.”
The young AFL player moved to Melbourne in February to continue his training, returning to Wellington in April to play in the New Zealand Hawks vs South Pacific ANZAC Day match, which was the curtain raiser to the St Kilda Saints vs Brisbane Lions match.
Joe Baker Thomas was also named in the AFL New Zealand Heritage Team, which is a recognition of New Zealanders who excel in AFL. Baker-Thomas was the youngest member of this honorary team.
Sam McKenzie, AFL New Zealand’s Wellington Development Manager, is proud of the rapid development of AFL in Wellington.
“The growth of the game in Wellington has been huge in the last year and a half. With Sport Wellington’s help through the KiwiSport Project we have been able to reach over 6,000 kids at primary school level and over 1,000 at secondary school, exposing them to the game of AFL.
There are now more opportunities than ever for Wellington children to learn AFL and as Joe has shown, there is a pathway to play the game at the highest level.”
Signing Joe Baker Thomas to an International Scholarship and playing matches in Wellington is not the only way the St Kilda Football Club have supported the growth of AFL in New Zealand. The club also puts an emphasis on community outreach in New Zealand, helping young Kiwis in particular develop an affinity with the club and the sport.
During the recent ANZAC Day match in Wellington, St Kilda were the clear home favourite, with the crowd enthusiastically cheering them on. Plans are in place for the club to return in 2015, which will delight AFL fans in the capital.