The successes of participants in the AFL New Zealand High Performance programme were recognised at the AFL New Zealand High Performance Awards.
Held on the eve of ANZAC Day at the Macs Function Centre in Wellington, the awards were a celebration of the hard work and commitment shown by participants in the High Performance programme.
The function included a fine selection of guest speakers, including Her Worship the Mayor of Wellington Celia Wade Brown, Ameet Bains from the St Kilda Football Club, Simon Black from the Brisbane Lions Football Club, and New Zealand born AFL Premiership winner Warren Jones.
Five awards were given on the night, to players and coaches who have demonstrated their talent, commitment and leadership qualities over the past year. Two of the awards were new categories, those for Female Player of the Year, and Coach of the Year. All awards were presented by National High Performance Manager Mick Coultard.
Female Player of the Year was awarded to Setareh Brown of Whangarei Girls High School. Brown was a key member of the Under 18 New Zealand Kahus, and has been an outstanding leader of AFL at her school, organising a team for the Hawks Cup.
The next award was for Under 16 Player of the Year, and was presented to Te Kopa-Tipene Thomas. Since playing a leading role in the Under 16 New Zealand Hawks series against the AFL Flying Boomerangs, Tipene-Thomas has been in fine form, winning the Best and Fairest award at the Under 16 National Championships and starring at the South Pacific Cup. He was also called up to play in the South Pacific Nations team, who will play a two match series against the New Zealand Hawks this weekend.
Under 18 Player of the Year went to Ben Miller, a young man who has grown in maturity and skill to the point where he is among the best Senior players in the country. He was named Best and Fairest at the December 2013 AFL New Zealand National Championships.
The next award went to a stalwart of New Zealand Hawks teams. Andrew Howison was declared Senior Player of the Year after a standout season, including multiple Best and Fairest awards with the New Zealand Hawks.
Finally, the award for Coach of the Year was presented to New Zealand Senior Hawks Coach Justin Davies. Davies was recognised for his tireless work and commitment to the New Zealand Hawks, along with shaping the team into a formidable unit.
Along with the awards, both the New Zealand Hawks and South Pacific Nations teams were presented with their jerseys for their upcoming series.
Finally, the evening was concluded with the unveiling of the 2014 AFL New Zealand Heritage team. This team features players of New Zealand birth or parentage who currently play at the highest level in AFL, including New Zealanders Shane Savage and Karmichael Hunt.
Three of the players named in the team were part of the audience at the High Performance Awards. Andrew Howison, Ben Miller and St Kilda Saints International Scholarship player Joe Baker-Thomas were all recognised as leading New Zealand AFL players, capable of footing it with the best.
The High Performance Awards were an ideal buildup for what promises to be an exciting weekend of football, with the St Kilda Saints taking on the Brisbane Lions at Westpac Stadium tonight. The curtain raiser to that match will feature the New Zealand Hawks and South Pacific Nations, with the 2nd match of their series played at Hutt Park on Sunday.