St Kilda sign up 2nd NZ International Scholarship

Giovanni Mountain-Silbery may have grown up hoping for a career in rugby league, but the 16-year-old Auckland schoolboy now looks destined to make it in the AFL.

We may be used to NRL clubs coming over to New Zealand to pick up this country’s best young talent, but increasingly AFL teams are also seeing this side of the Tasman as a potential goldmine.

Young Kiwis Kurt Heatherley, Shem Tatupu and Siope Ngata are all going through the system at Hawthorn Hawks and yesterday Mountain-Silbery became the latest New Zealand recruit with St Kilda announcing that he had been given an international scholarship.

Mountain-Silberly will remain in New Zealand for the next two years to complete his education, but the club has organised a trainer for him twice a week and he’ll go to Melbourne on school holidays.

“This whole opportunity is massive, it’s a new experience for me and my family,” Mountain-Silbery said after being presented with a St Kilda jersey at his Aorera College in Papatoetoe yesterday, from the club’s New Zealand-born player Shane Savage.

At 1.96m and 96kg, Mountain-Silbery certainly has the physical traits to excel.

He has played for Counties Manukau in the NZRL’s National Competition and had the Rabbitohs showing interest in him.

However, it was his desire to get better at league that led to his move to Aussie Rules.

“I predominantly live in a league family and they wanted me to use AFL to help with off-season stuff, like kicking,” Mountain-Silbery said.

“So I tried it and that’s where I was noticed by the AFLNZ trainers and they told me to give it a good crack.

“[League] was definitely a big option for me and my family, but the AFL happened to present the opportunity first, which I was happy to take.”

The signing of Mountain-Silbery continues St Kilda’s mission to be the top supported AFL club on this side of the Tasman.

They’re playing the Brisbane Lions at Westpac Stadium on April 25, the second year in a row they’ve taken a game to the capital. They have also signed New Zealand-born midfielder Savage from Hawthorn.

Savage was just two when his family moved to Melbourne, but he regards himself as a passionate Kiwi and hopes more New Zealanders try to make it in AFL.

“There is great opportunities for New Zealand players to go over to the AFL and have a big impact,” 23-year-Savage said.

“We know with the physique they’re all ready to go and have the attributes to play, it’s just about teaching them the craft of how to kick and handball. If you can accomplish that you can have a real impact at the AFL level.”

The new AFL season for St Kilda kicks off against Melbourne on March 22, but it’s the game in Wellington that Savage is most excited about.

“St Kilda have a partnership with Wellington over the next five years, so to play a game at Westpac Stadium on Anzac Day is going to be an amazing experience,” he said.

“Playing in my home country and having my grandparents come down for the match is something I’m looking forward to.

“We’re not coming to take over rugby, we understand that’s the No 1 sport. But we want New Zealand to be a home, we want to get as much support as we can and that everyone jumps on board with the St Kilda football club.”

By David Long for Fairfax NZ News