The U16 New Zealand Hawks departed yesterday to compete in the South Pacific Cup, to be held in Coffs Harbour, NSW.
The young men will be representing their country against teams of a high calibre, including an Oceania Invitational team, Papua New Guinea, and representative teams from Australia.
The U16 New Zealand Hawks will be coached by Wellington’s Shannon Wall, and captained by Te Kopa Tipene-Thomas of Bay of Islands College.
A strong squad has been assembled, including contingents of players from Northland, Wellington, Auckland and Otago.
Some of the players, including Tipene-Thomas, Te Rei Clark, Kaleb Forde-Fraser, Christian Blackie and Utusa’itoa Ah Kuoi have represented New Zealand previously, against the AFL Flying Boomerangs in December 2013.
The remainder have been selected after impressing selectors Shannon Wall and Mick Coultard during the Under 16 National Championships, held in March.
Their first practice match has been played, against a strong team from the Gold Coast Academy. The Hawks were hampered by having to play right after stepping off the plane, but acquitted themselves well.
While the Hawks lost the match, they improved over the course of the game. Among the standout performers were Tipene-Thomas, who led by example, Christian Blackie, who managed to win plenty of possession, Carlos Donnell-Brown who was a standout in defence and Nathan Curran, a ruckman who earned the Best and Fairest Award for the team.
Two players from the Hawks kicked goals in the match, Francis Pedersen and James Watkins.
Parental involvement is crucial in the success of AFL New Zealand High Performance events and tours. Ken Ah Kuoi, father of Utasa’itoa and Naitoa Ah Kuoi, will be taking up the role of Team Manager during the South Pacific Cup.
The father of Rosmini College player Nathan Curran spoke for all of the parents in describing his pride in the selection of his son.
“He’s represented his region in other sports, but this is his first time representing New Zealand. We’re really proud and excited for Nathan.”
Upon returning from the South Pacific Cup, many of the players will be invited to compete in the Under 18 National Championships, to further develop their abilities as AFL players and athletes.
The Under 18 National Championships will be held in conjunction with the many ANZAC Week events, including the match between the St Kilda Saints and Brisbane Lions, and the AFL New Zealand High Performance Awards.
At these awards, one of the players on the current tour will be recognised as the AFL New Zealand Under 16 Player of the Year.