The North Harbour Junior Hawks Cup Cluster Tournament has been held, with three schools competing for the title. Birkenhead College, Rosmini College and Westlake Boys High School converged on Onepoto Domain for the tournament.
Onepoto Domain is the home of the North Shore Tigers AFL Club, as well as being where the North Shore Central Play AFL Club is located. Running before, during and after the tournament, AFL KiwiKick and AFL 9s were played alongside the matches.
The Junior Hawks Cup constitutes the first step on the AFL New Zealand High Performance Pathway. Athletes that make an impression in these competitions can be rewarded with invitations to the AFL New Zealand Combine programme, from which the very best are selected to represent New Zealand at age group level.
Round One of the tournament saw Birkenhead College take on a strong team from Westlake Boys High School. The result was decisive, with the well-prepared Westlake running riot to record 60 points. The final score was 0.1:1 to 9.6:60.
Birkenhead College also suffered at the hands of Rosmini College. The superior accuracy in passing, marking and goalkicking of Rosmini saw them shoot out to a large lead at half time, converting four of their six scoring opportunities into goals. To their credit, Birkenhead College refused to give up, and fought back in the second half to regain respectability. The final score was 9.5:59 to 1.4:10 to Rosmini.
With two of the three matches completed, the stage was set for a final match that would decide the tournament. What followed was a tense and absorbing contest, which AFL New Zealand Secondary Schools Coordinator Mick Coultard described as:
“The best game of Secondary School level AFL I have seen in years. Both teams played with passion and intensity, as well as an excitingly high level of skill.”
The match began with Rosmini College shooting out to a seemingly decisive lead, nailing 21 points including 3 goals in the first half. Westlake Boys High School struggled for continuity on attack, and were left trailing by 13 points at the break.
After the break though, they came out with a fierceness of purpose and willingness to attack that forced Rosmini College into the position of defending their lead. With the game being played primarily in their half, the opportunities existed for Westlake Boys High School to score points quickly. However, after only managing to turn 1 of the 7 scoring opportunities into a goal, they were left trailing by a small margin at the final whistle. The match ended 4.4:28 to 2.8:20 to Rosmini College.
Mark McKenzie and Greg Boxhall from the Hawthorn Football Club were in attendance, scouting potential players to offer AFL International Scholarships. At present, three young New Zealanders currently hold an International Scholarship with the club, including Siope Ngata of Aorere College, who was the MVP at last year’s North Island Junior Hawks Cup.
The support of teachers and student coaches is important for the continued success of the Hawks Cup. From Birkenhead College, Andrew Henley was instrumental in putting together the team. Mark Calverley was the teacher in charge and coach for West Lake Boys High School.
Rosmini College were fortunate to have Aiden Cheyne, a senior student who is also a current member of the AFL New Zealand High Performance Programme involved as their coach. Aiden was able to pass on knowledge and skills that he had picked up in the AFL New Zealand High Performance programme. He narrowly missed selection for the recent U-18 New Zealand Hawks squad that played the Victorian Amateur Football Association due to injury, but is expected to feature in future New Zealand Hawks teams.
Each school had a player who earned the title of being Best on Ground for their team. From Rosmini College, the honour went to Nathan Curran. Jack Heighten was adjudged the best player from Westlake Boys High School, and Jonty Hawkins was particularly impressive from Birkenhead College.
Further Hawks Cup cluster tournaments will be taking place around the country over the coming weeks. The Junior Hawks Cup programme will culminate in the North Island and South Island Hawks Cups, where school teams will have the opportunity to secure the title of being the best AFL team on their island. The current North Island title holders are Kelston Boys High School.
Fixtures and Results:
Birkenhead College 0.1:1 – 9.6:60 Westlake BHS
Birkenhead College 1.4:10 – 9.5:59 Rosmini College
Westlake BHS 2.8:20 – 4.4:28 Rosmini College