Australian Football has a bright future in New Zealand according to a number of sporting and media personalities who took part in AFL 9s during the historic St Kilda vs Sydney clash in Wellington.
Andrew Durante, Sophie Devine, Meghan Mutrie and Mark Hathaway were four of the participants in the AFL 9s match while the excitement was evident for around 80 Wellington school children who got the chance to play on the Westpac Stadium surface in four Kiwikick matches during the halftime entertainment after being introduced to AFL Kiwikick for earlier this year.
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One youngster was asked by a ground announcer what was the best part of Kiwikick and her reply was full of excitement as she said “To kick it through the middle one because you score six points”.
The celebrities enjoyed their first foray into AFL 9s as well but none more so than Wellington Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante.
“I had never played AFL before and I really appreciate the skills that are involved in the game,” said Durante.
“I think when you are watching you don’t really understand the skills that are involved but I had a great time.”
The first AFL clash for premiership points on foreign soil lived up to expectations as 22,546 fans turned out for the tight tussle which was won by the Sydneysiders 11.13 (79) to 9.9 (63).
Television New Zealand (TVNZ) sports reporter Mark Hathaway said St Kilda’s decision to take a game of AFL overseas was “great for New Zealand”.
“I hope we can embrace it and make them want to come back,” he said.
“It is great entertainment.”
“You don’t really need to know a lot about the game or the background of the teams to come and watch them play and another benefit of bringing the game here is you can expose it to the young people which is awesome.”
Sophie Devine, who is a dual international for New Zealand in cricket and hockey, was excited by the potential of Australian Football in New Zealand.
“I think it is awesome. The crowd today is fantastic and Wellington has really got behind it which is cool,” said Devine.
“Hopefully they (the AFL) can break into the market over here. Obviously rugby and league sort of dominate in New Zealand so it will be cool to see if we can get another oval ball sport here.”
The Crowd Goes Wild reporter Meghan Mutrie said it was an “awesome initiative”.
“I think is fantastic for them (St Kilda) to show a long term commitment to Wellington.”
St Kilda’s historic move could also have an effect on the more established sports in this country with Devine hoping New Zealand’s close relationship with Australia on the sporting landscape brought “more games from all the different codes” to New Zealand.
Hathaway added that the strong attendance could be a wakeup call for other sports.
“I think the crowd tonight goes to show it can be done in Wellington. We have had the Hurricanes struggling and the Phoenix had low numbers so I think they need to be more innovative,” he said.
“Across the ditch they (the AFL) have this idea where they charge two dollars for a kid or something like that so maybe the other sports need to look into it.”
As for an AFL franchise starting up in New Zealand, Devine, Hathaway and Mutrie weren’t sure although Durante was more positive with his views.
“Yeah why not.”
“Australia and New Zealand are very similar countries and have really close ties. There are fantastic athletes all across New Zealand and we saw from these young boys (tonight) how good they are already so hopefully it does take off.”
By Anthony Morgan for AFLNZ