St Kilda coach Scott Watters thanked Wellington for its support of the Saints despite making a losing start at their new home away from home last night.
The Sydney Swans were predictable party poopers as they defeated St Kilda 79-63 in the first game of AFL played outside of Australia.
A crowd of 22,546 witnessed a keenly fought contest, although greasy conditions impacted on players’ skills and resulted in a low scoring game
“I’m 100 per cent behind it,” Watters said.
“This is our home game so I hope they’re [Wellington] always behind us. I thought they gave us great support today and we’ll be back next year. Hopefully the game convinces them. We made 97 tackles, they made 89. They’re big figures and I know you guys aren’t familiar with those sort of figures but that’s a pretty contested ball game. I think our game is a great game so those that came tonight, spread the word. We think the game can grow, we’re proud of it.”
Reigning premiers Sydney led for most of the match and moved to a 4-1 record while the Saints dropped to 1-4.
About 4500 St Kilda and Sydney fans crossed the ditch and the tourists contributed to a vibrant and colourful spectacle.
But the result was probably irrelevant to most of the curious Kiwis in attendance,
Former New Zealand cricketer turned Wellington city councillor John “Mystery” Morrison flipped a coin to open proceedings and the big crowd roared as the first ball was bounced.
St Kilda’s recalled forward/ruckman Justin Koschitzke had the honour of booting the first AFL goal on foreign soil, kicking truly after holding a strong mark.
Among the Swans’ best were Daniel Hannebery, Luke Parker, Josh Kennedy and Jarrad McVeigh as the Sydney-siders relentlessly ground down their struggling opponents.
St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt also played strongly and booted two goals while Swans skipper and league convert Kieren Jack was typically industrious.
The AFL will be pleased with the crowd – considering the struggles of the Hurricanes and the Phoenix to attract fans – and the Saints are set to return to Wellington for two games in both 2014 and 2015.
“It’s a bonus on so many levels,” Watters said.
“There’s commercial opportunities, there’s unbelievable cultural opportunities for our players. To play on Anzac Day and the relevance of that day to our playing group, there are 18-year-old kids and to be in that sort of environment, in another country, is unbelievable for their growth, not just as footballers.”
A tired Jack wore a broad smile as he was handed the newly struck Simpson-Henderson trophy by Prime Minister John Key.
Hannebery was awarded the Anzac Medal as the player that best embodied the Anzac spirit.
In the curtain-raiser, the New Zealand Hawks triumphed 54-21 over the South Pacific Academy.
Singers Stan Walker and Samantha Jade kicked off the pre-match festivities, belting out a couple of their hit tunes, before the trusty cheer squads unfurled a giant ‘Thank You Wellington’ banner for the players to run through.
The match footballs were delivered by children of New Zealand war veterans and then The Last Post was played and a minute’s silence observed.
Sydney Swans 3.3 6.7 9.13 11.13 (79) St Kilda 3.1 5.3 6.6 9.9 (63)
Goals: Sydney: B McGlynn 2, L Parker 2, A Goodes, J Bolton, J Kennedy, J McVeigh, K Jack, S Mumford, T Richards. St Kilda: L Montagna 2, N Riewoldt 2, J Geary, J Koschitzke, J Steven, S Ross, T Dennis-Lane.
– © Fairfax NZ News, Sam Worthington