A chance encounter with Aussie rules practice in Dunedin has seen Timaru’s George Read make the wider New Zealand training squad.
Read was at Otago University when a friend took him along to a training, after he saw a group playing in a park.
After joining up Read was hooked by the hugely popular Australian game and in 2012 he debuted for Otago in the national provincial competition against Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury.
Read’s performances for Otago saw him drafted into the Central Giants, who play in four team Auckland premier league.
His ability to shine in the premier league then caught the New Zealand coaches eye.
Read said he was delighted to have made the squad.
“The squad is mainly players from the premiership. I go up to Auckland most weekends.”
The 24-year-old plays in the midfield and admits to scoring the occasional goal.
His role is to win the ball around the stoppages and the deliver it to the forward line.
Read said people were intrigued when he told him what sport he played.
“They think it’s pretty cool, most people are interested.”
“I was probably not that good (at rugby). I like the space and movement (of Aussie rules), you have a lot more space and time and it is less physical.”
Fitness is a big key to the game, with Read running up to three kilometres in each 20 minute quarter.
As part of the squad Read will have two opportunities to make the AFL New Zealand team.
The two campaigns include an Anzac game against an Australian Academy team, to be played at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on April 24, and the International Cup in Melbourne in August.
Read said the International Cup includes any country keen to play apart from Australia.
The two campaigns will see their respective selection processes carried out independently of each other.
New Zealand head coach Rob Malone is intent in selecting the best players for each game.
“Our target is to select the best possible team for New Zealand. The ability to add or delete names from the squad, will ensure competition for spots and show case who is willing to work hard to achieve final selection”.
In Australian Rules there are 18 players on the field for each side and the New Zealand wider training squad has 50 players involved.
Read was unsure how many players the final squad would consist of.
“I’ve just got to keep playing my best.”
Read works at DB Breweries as a packing technician and funds his own way to Auckland each week.
“There is a small subsidy but I basically pay.
“There are players from all over New Zealand in the league and about half a dozen players from Christchurch also go up each week.”
While he can’t train with the team during the week Read said he focuses on fitness.
“I do quite a bit of running, as fitness is a key element.”
Since graduating Read also turned out for the Cougars in the Christchurch club competition.
“I even convinced a mate to come and play a couple of games.”
Australia Rules is the most popular sport when it comes to ground attendances across the ditch with an average of over 33,000 a game, followed by the Big Bash cricket with 30,000 and then Super Rugby with 19,000 in 2016.
There are a handful of Kiwis playing professionally in the AFL including Shane Savage (St Kilda), Dustin Martin (Richmond) and Max Gawn (Melbourne), while Brent Renouf turned out for Port Adelaide and Karmichael Hunt played four seasons with the Gold Coast Suns before switching codes again to the Reds, having first starred in league for the Brisbane Broncos.
Story – Stu Piddington stuff.co.nz