HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Billy the Kid

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If you’ve lived in New Mexico for any amount of time, you have to have heard of Billy the Kid (1859-1881). As someone who spent the better part of four years in the Land of Enchantment, it’s hard to argue with that.

Any Wild West historian worth his/her salt can tell you all about the legendary outlaw simply known as Billy the Kid. And that’s exactly what he was – a legend. To that end, there have been dozens of poems, documentaries, and live-action movies about Billy, most notably the 1973 Sam Peckinpah film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, starring Kris Kristofferson as Billy and James Coburn as Pat Garrett.

Still, many people, even experts in the field, know very little about Billy other than a few facts and information handed down by oral tradition and folklore. In fact, the above photo is the only surviving depiction of the man.

Some people – both Western historians and Billy’s own contemporaries – are divided over who he actually was. In some circles, he’s known as a vicious killer and thief who was part of a growing violent epidemic in post-Civil War New Mexico. Others believe that Billy was simply a punk kid who fell in with the wrong crowd and never killed anyone for the fun of it. And still others viewed Billy as a cunning, suave marksman – noted for being a charmer, a talented dancer, and a folk hero. In modern terms, say a combination of James Bond, Batman, and Clint Eastwood.

So what DO we know about the mysterious Billy the Kid? Let’s find out.

The first thing that you need to know about Billy the Kid is that his name wasn’t Billy. He was born September 17, 1859 in New York City and his given name was Henry McCarty. He was raised Catholic by his Irish-American mother Catherine, and he had a younger brother, Joseph (born 1863).

Very little is known about Billy’s father, other than the fact that he died when Billy was very young. Shortly thereafter, Ms. McCarty and her boys moved to Indiana, where she met and fell in love with a man named Henry Antrim. The family moved around to several places before settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1873. Ms. McCarty married Antrim shortly thereafter, and then moved the family again, this time a few hundred miles south to Silver City, New Mexico.

Unfortunately, Billy’s mother passed away a year later from tuberculosis. Billy, by now age 15, started working for a lady named Sarah Brown in Silver City. Brown took him in after his mother’s death, while Billy’s brother remained with Antrim.

In 1875, Billy and a friend robbed a local laundromat, stealing clothes as well as two pistols. Billy was charged with theft and put in jail, but escaped two days later and fled to his stepfather’s house. Soon after that, Billy fled again to the Arizona Territory, where he worked on a ranch and developed a gambling habit. The following year, a respected rancher named Henry Hooker took Billy in and gave him consistent work as a cattle wrangler.

Around this time, Billy befriended a man named John Mackie, an ex-Army cavalryman who had become a small-time horse thief following his discharge. The two men began stealing horses from soldiers at nearby Camp Grant.

During one of these incidents, things turned violent. On August 17, 1877, Billy got into a verbal altercation with Francis Cahill, a blacksmith who had become increasingly suspicious of Billy. During a poker game, Cahill attacked Billy, and after a brief struggle, Billy shot Cahill, who died the next day. Billy was taken into custody by Camp Grant authorities, but managed to escape again.

Billy stole a horse and attempted to return to New Mexico, but was attacked by Apaches on the way back, who robbed him and stole his horse. A tired and dehydrated Billy managed to walk several miles through the desert to the home of John Jones, a gang member who lived in Pecos Valley, New Mexico. Billy stayed at the Jones home and recuperated for awhile before catching on with a band of cattle rustlers. By this time, Billy began using the alias “William H. Bonney” to avoid catching unnecessary attention from newspapers and authorities in his adopted hometown of Silver City.

Billy eventually went back to honest work as a ranch-hand in Lincoln County, New Mexico, working for an Englishman named John Tunstall. Tunstall and his friend, a lawyer named Alexander McSween, were locked in a feud with three prominent businessmen: John Riley, James Dolan, and Lawrence Murphy. This trio were intimately involved in local politics and were suspected of shady dealings with various authority figures in Lincoln County.

In early 1878, on behalf of Dolan, county sheriff William Brady attempted to claim $40,000 of Tunstall’s property in order to repay a much smaller debt owed by McSween. Tunstall, sensing danger, warned his ranch-hands (including Billy) to guard the property and prevent the sheriff’s men from stealing any horses or cattle.

On February 18th, Sheriff Brady assembled a posse and attempted to force Tunstall off his land. In the process, Tunstall was shot and killed, starting what eventually became known as the Lincoln County War.

Two days later, Billy and a couple of his associates went to the local justice of the peace, John Wilson, and obtained murder warrants for Sheriff Brady. While attempting to do so, Billy and his friend, Dick Brewer, were ambushed by the sheriff’s posse and imprisoned. This caught the attention of Deputy U.S. Marshal Rob Widenmann, who freed Billy and Brewer on February 23rd and, in turn, locked up Sheriff Brady’s men.

After his release, Billy joined the Lincoln County Regulators and attempted to avenge Tunstall’s murder. On March 9th, two of Tunstall’s alleged killers, Bill Morton and Frank Baker, were shot dead. A month later, during an ambush at nearby Blazer’s Mill, Brewer and Sheriff Brady were also killed. A warrant was then issued for the arrest of numerous parties, including Billy.

By now, McSween was the leader of the Regulators, who were nearly 60 strong. They occupied the town of Lincoln on the night of July 14th, surrounding the town for several days. The new sheriff, George Peppin, dispatched several sharpshooters to kill the Regulators at the local saloon, but it backfired when Charles Crawford, one of the snipers, was shot by a Regulator named Fernando Herrera.

A furious Sheriff Peppin requested help from Colonel Nathan Dudley of nearby Fort Stanton, but Dudley refused. On July 19th, McSween and the Regulators were attacked at their lodge by Deputy Sheriff Jack Long, who burned the house down. As Billy and the Regulators retreated, McSween was shot and killed by Robert Beckwith, who was then shot by Billy.

Billy and three surviving Regulators regrouped outside of town on the Mescalero Apache Indian Agency. However, when a local bookkeeper was murdered on August 5th by a Lincoln County Constable, the Regulators were framed for the crime.

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On October 5th, U.S. Marshal John Sherman met with the new governor of the New Mexico Territory, Lew Wallace. A Union officer during the Civil War, Wallace was intent on restoring law and order to the dangerous New Mexico landscape. In their meeting, Sherman informed Wallace of a number of pending arrest warrants, including for a one “Billy the Kid.” Due to widespread political corruption in Lincoln County, Sherman had been unable to indict the people involved in the conflict.

In November, Governor Wallace issued amnesty to anyone involved in the Lincoln County War following Tunstall’s murder earlier that year. However, the pardon did not apply to anyone who was under indictment for a crime, so Billy was still a wanted man.

On February 18, 1879, Billy and a friend of his were in the wrong place at the wrong time. A local attorney, Huston Chapman, was murdered and his corpse set on fire while Billy and his friend were forced to watch. Later, Billy wrote a letter to Governor Wallace, offering information on Chapman’s murder in exchange for amnesty. Billy met with Wallace in person on March 15th, with Wallace offering full amnesty to Billy if he testified before a grand jury. Soon after, Billy turned himself in to Sheriff George Kimball.

As agreed, Billy provided information about the Chapman murder, but as the weeks passed, Billy began to question Wallace’s motivations. Believing that the Governor had double-crossed him, Billy escaped the jail on June 17th and decided to lie low for several months.

In January 1880, Billy shot and killed a man named Joe Grant (allegedly in self-defense) at a saloon in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. By now, Billy had joined a new posse and they were still causing trouble in the area, causing headaches for the new sheriff, Pat Garrett.

Garrett had been given a bounty on Billy’s head from Governor Wallace himself. Two days before Christmas 1880, Garrett captured Billy and his posse and took them to stand trial in Santa Fe. On the way there, the group was mobbed by rowdy locals attempting to kill Billy and his men. After arriving in Santa Fe, Billy was interviewed in the jailhouse by a reporter from the Las Vegas Gazette. The reporter took note of Billy’s relaxed demeanor, to which Billy replied that he didn’t believe in being pessimistic and that he would have the last laugh.

While in jail, Billy wrote Governor Wallace again, asking for clemency, but to no avail. In April 1881, Billy was transported to stand trail in Mesilla, New Mexico. After two days of testimonies, Billy was found guilty of murdering Sheriff Brady – the only conviction of any combatant in the Lincoln County War. On April 13th, Billy was sentenced to hang. He was moved once again, this time back to Lincoln.

On the night of April 28th, Sheriff Garrett was out of town. Deputy Bob Olinger and his colleagues were out at dinner, leaving a lone deputy, James Bell, to watch Billy.

Billy requested to use the outhouse, and Bell agreed. Somehow, on the way back to the jail, Billy freed himself from his handcuffs and knocked Bell over, before grabbing his revolver and shooting him in the back as he fled. Billy’s legs were still shackled, but amazingly, he was able to hobble into Garrett’s upstairs office and arm himself with a shotgun. Olinger, who had heard gunshots from across the street, approached. Billy called out, “Look up, old boy, and see what you get,” before shooting Olinger in the head. Billy then freed himself from his leg irons, stole a horse, and fled town.

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Three months later, Governor Wallace placed a new bounty for Billy’s arrest or death. After hearing rumors that Billy was in Fort Sumner again, Garrett and two deputies left on July 14th to question Pete Maxwell, a friend of Billy’s and the son of a prominent landowner. Late at night, Garrett was questioning Maxwell when Billy unexpectedly entered the room. Due to the poor lighting, Billy did not recognize Garrett and called out, “Who is it?” Garrett, recognizing Billy’s voice, shot him in the chest twice, killing him.

Garrett was eventually given the bounty by Governor Wallace, but rumors began circulating that Garrett had ambushed Billy and killed him in cold blood. Feeling a need to set the record straight, Garrett told his side of the story in his book The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, published in April 1882. It remains one of the few definitive chronicles of Billy’s life.

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: United States

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The growth of Aussie rules football in the US has been a slow, steady, but satisfying journey. The United States Australian Football League (USAFL) was originally established in 1996 and is currently based in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Americans and Australian ex-patriates alike have been able to get the word out about the historic game, and the excitement of footy is finally coming to American shores on a large scale.

In the 1960s, the Victorian Football League (VFL) tried to expand its international audience by promoting what they called the Australian Football World Tour in 1967 and 1968. It was initially conceived as a way to develop international rules football – a hybrid sport featuring representatives from both Aussie rules football and Gaelic football – but also became a way for international audiences to see various elements of footy up close and personal. Games were played in Dublin, London, and New York City, but the tour was discontinued after 1968.

The VFL (now the AFL) also tried to play various preseason exhibition matches overseas in American cities  – such as Portland and San Francisco – as well as two consecutive games held in Miami in 1988 and 1989. Most recently, the Sydney Swans battled the North Melbourne Kangaroos in a 2006 preseason game held at the UCLA intramural fields.

As far as a US-based league goes, the USAFL was founded in 1996 and incorporated as a formal competition the following year. Many of the American players had developed a passion for footy during the 80s, when VFL/AFL matches were televised on the then-fledgling ESPN network. Some of the original footy clubs in the first two seasons were the Cincinnati Dockers, the Louisville Kings, the Nashville Kangaroos, the Boston Demons, the North Carolina Tigers, the San Diego Lions, and the St. Louis Blues.

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The USAFL has gained some passionate champions in Australia. Some of the current USAFL ambassadors include such big names as former Brisbane Lions superstar Michael Voss, AFL Hall of Famer Leigh Matthews (former Brisbane and Collingwood coach), and Hawthorn icon Robert DiPierdomenico. These men, in particular, have helped the USAFL gain international credibility as a top-level footy league and as an avenue to help establish and develop the sport in the States.

Currently, the USAFL is divided into three separate regional leagues, which all have their own tournament during the summer season. In all, the USAFL has 37 men’s teams and 13 women’s teams. The USAFL Nationals tournament is held annually in October, with the location changing each year (the 2017 edition will be in San Diego).

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The best American footy players get a chance to participate in the triennial Australian Football International Cup and (in alternate years) the 49th Parallel Cup, which pits the American team against the Canadian team.

The Revolution (men) and the Freedom (women) are the names of the International Cup teams. The Revolution have competed in every International Cup since 2002, with their best finish coming in 2011, when they received fourth-place honors. The Freedom joined the party in 2011 and 2014, finishing in third place both years.

As of today, there are 2,000 registered footy players in the US, with many more on the way. The AFL has conducted more tours of the States in recent years, including combines in many major cities, and are working to place more development officers throughout North America.

AMERICANS IN THE AFL

  • Sanford Wheeler (played 1989-1994) – Born in California to an African-American mother and an Australian father, Wheeler moved to Parramatta (a western suburb of Sydney) at age six. He first picked up footy as a teenager before getting drafted by the Sydney Swans as a defender. Unfortunately, Wheeler played for Sydney during some of their worst seasons as a club and was de-listed by coach Ron Barassi in 1994.
  • Jason Holmes (played 2015-present) – Originally from Chicago, Holmes played college basketball at Morehead State University and was signed as an international rookie by the St Kilda Football Club in October 2013. After spending time with the VFL’s Sandringham Dragons, Holmes made his AFL debut in 2015 as the first born-and-raised American to ever play in the league.
  • Dwayne Armstrong (played 1996) – Armstrong, a former American football player for Iowa State University, attempted to transition to Aussie rules with the Essendon Bombers. While he never made a start in any AFL games, Armstrong gave a solid effort at lower levels of competition, both with Essendon’s VFL squad and also with Wanderers Football Club in the Northern Territory Football League.
  • Mason Cox (played 2016-present) – A former walk-on basketball player for Oklahoma State University, Cox is the tallest player in AFL history, standing at an imposing 6’11”. After being spotted by AFL scouts in the States, the ruckman showed plenty of raw talent when he landed in Australia, starring for the Collingwood Magpies’ VFL reserve team in 2015. Cox made his AFL debut in 2016 during the annual ANZAC Day clash (Collingwood vs. Essendon) and kicked the game’s opening goal.
  • Seamus McNamara (played 2010-2012) – McNamara played basketball for Marist College before switching to Aussie rules in 2010, signing an international scholarship with Collingwood. McNamara played a handful of preseason games for the Magpies before being delisted in 2012. He stayed in Australia and ended up going back to a basketball career.

UNITED STATES AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE

  • Central Region
    • Austin Crows
    • Baton Rouge Tigers
    • Chicago Swans
    • Cincinnati Dockers
    • Cleveland Cannons
    • Columbus Jackaroos
    • Dallas Magpies
    • Des Moines Roosters
    • Houston Lonestars
    • Indianapolis Giants
    • Kansas City Power
    • Louisville Kings
    • Little Rock Coyotes
    • Milwaukee Bombers
    • Minnesota Freeze
    • Nashville Kangaroos
    • North Star Blue Ox
    • Oklahoma City Flyers
    • St. Louis Blues
    • Tulsa Buffaloes
  • Western Region
    • Arizona Hawks
    • Denver Bulldogs
    • Golden Gate Roos
    • Las Vegas Gamblers
    • Los Angeles Dragons
    • Orange County Bombers
    • Portland Steelheads
    • Sacramento Suns
    • San Diego Lions
    • Seattle Grizzlies
  • Eastern Region
    • Atlanta Kookaburras
    • Baltimore-Washington Eagles
    • Boston Demons
    • Fort Lauderdale Fighing Squids
    • New York Magpies
    • North Carolina Tigers
    • Philadelphia Hawks
    • Tampa Bay Starfish

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Tonga

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The South Pacific country of Tonga has been introduced to footy fairly recently, but they’ve taken to the sport quickly and have been able to earn their stripes on the international level. The small Polynesian archipelago of roughly 103,000 people is home to many talented athletes.

Tongans have historically favored other full-contact sports throughout their history, as rugby union is their national sport and rugby league is also widely played in the islands. This influence is apparent in the growing Tongan diaspora, specifically in Australia and New Zealand.

Footy wasn’t introduced to Tonga until the 1980s, when a couple of Australian teachers visited Tongan schools and managed to show the kids the rules of the game. Later on in the 90s, Ewen Gracie, a teacher from Melbourne, worked at a Tongan high school and attempted to establish an ongoing school-based Aussie rules competition with reasonable success.

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The Tongan Australian Football Association (TAFA) was founded in January 2003 by Aussie ex-patriates Tim Valente and Mark Korsten. The teams grew rapidly in skill and in numbers, and the following year they sent the first Tongan footy player overseas to compete – Sila Va’enuku, a former rugby union footballer, traveled to Melbourne to play in the Australian Football Multicultural Cup alongside a handful of Tongan Australians.

By 2008, Tonga’s national footy team, the Tigers, were hoping to have the numbers to compete in the Australian Football International Cup, but they didn’t qualify. They tried again in 2011, and surprised many by placing ninth. Despite losses to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, the Tongans showed enough promise to return to the competition three years later.

At the 2014 International Cup, Tonga beat Japan, Pakistan, and India in decisive victories, while also suffering losses to Canada and South Africa. The Tongans finished sixth in the competition that year and brought renewed optimism for the 2017 edition of the Cup.

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Many Tongan youngsters are involved in footy to this day, with the U16 national team winning the 2009 AFL Oceania Cup and earning runner-up honors in 2010.

Currently, the Tongans have less than 200 registered footballers nationwide, but the sport continues to grow in popularity and has an established presence in five different Tongan high schools.

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TONGANS IN THE AFL

  • Israel Folau (played 2011-2012) – A Tongan Australian who grew up in both Sydney and Brisbane, Folau played in the National Rugby League with the Melbourne Storm (2007-2008) and the Brisbane Broncos (2009-2010) before surprising many by switching to Aussie rules. Folau played for the AFL’s Greater Western Sydney Giants as a utility player. He played in 13 AFL games and 15 games in the North East Australian Football League (NEAFL) before switching football codes again, this time to rugby union.
  • Peni Mahina (played 2014-present) – One of the most famous Tongan footy players, Mahina is the son of rugby union legend Malakai Mahina. He surprised many when he decided to pursue Aussie rules, but has since become one of the most consistent playmakers for the Tongan national team, starting in 2014 at the International Cup.

The good, the bad, and the so-bad-they’re-good

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“That movie is so bad, it’s good.”

We’ve all heard this saying, so much so that it’s almost become a cliche. Many films enjoy cult classic reputations strictly based on the fact that they’re bad-but-entertaining. Frequently, these films have a niche-market value to them which the filmmakers can use to their advantage, marketing it in an effort to win over people with ironic senses of humor. More often, the cult classic status happens completely by accident. These movies are also frequently low-budget affairs that are inadvertently sabotaged by their writer or director’s lack of experience, talent, or money.

At the end of the day, these audiences recognize that these films lack any value or substance. Most so-bad-they’re-good films become classics well after the fact, once they develop an underground DVD/Blu-Ray following. A lot of them belong in their own sub-category, specifically for the variety of hilarious movies starring, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Nicolas Cage.

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Arguably the best known so-bad-they’re-good films are Troll 2 (1990) and The Room (2003). I’m not going to get super in-depth about the plot (or lack thereof) in these movies, as that information is readily available online and has been hashed and rehashed by numerous critics (especially on YouTube). Still, I’ll go over the basics of these films and include as much relevant information as I can without spoilers.

To me, there are three types of so-bad-they’re-good movies:

THE ENTERTAINING ONES

Troll 2 and The Room both work for me, because their plots are incredibly nonsensical and nothing in the movie is realistic. The Room is, ostensibly, a romantic drama/love-triangle tragedy about San Francisco banker Johnny, his fiancee Lisa, and his best friend Mark.

Troll 2 is an even stranger movie, featuring no trolls (they’re goblins), having no connection to the original Troll film, and being made in America by a crew that spoke Italian exclusively. Also, the film’s poster has nothing to do with the film itself. (Confused yet?)

There are two separate reasons for why these two films are the way they are, and both are related to cultural differences.

  • The writer/director/producer/star of The Room, Tommy Wiseau, has gone to great lengths to hide where he is from in various interviews. None of his co-stars had the slightest clue as to where his bizarre accent originated, where he grew up, or even how he got the $6 million to finance the making of The Room. But Wiseau’s enigmatic nature helps lift The Room to larger-than-life bad movie status. The Room works so well because of Wiseau’s broken English and his complete lack of understanding of how Western culture works. It’s the perfect example of a movie that fails miserably in what it’s trying to do, but does so in a blissfully unaware and almost innocent way. It’s the perfect storm of awkward, confusing insanity.
  • Troll 2‘s filmmakers aren’t quite as beloved, because their motive for making the film was genuinely confusing. Husband-and-wife team Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi, both Italian nationals, shot the film in rural Utah. The entire crew, except for the production designer, spoke little to no English, and the inexperienced actors had very little idea of what was actually going on and how they were supposed to say the words on the page. Since Troll 2 is ludicrous in nearly every way, one would expect that the filmmakers would have a tongue-in-cheek attitude about it and take the so-bad-it’s-good status to heart. But Fragasso and Drudi have never gone back and admitted that the film was – for lack of a better word – trolling (obvious joke is obvious). Infamously, Fragasso even crashed a cast reunion for Troll 2 after the movie achieved cult classic status; he heckled the cast members and hurled insults at them before security removed him from the venue. It’s also worth mentioning that the movie’s producer, Joe D’Amato, was notorious for making poor quality exploitation movies purely for a paycheck.

Still, in spite of the motive for making them, both Troll 2 and The Room work on nearly level, particularly in plot holes, over-the-top acting, nonsensical dialogue, and general WTF moments.

THE BAD ONES

Two other notable movies that have attained cult classic status are Foodfight and Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

  • Foodfight was made on a $65 million budget. The film was directed by Lawrence Kasanoff and was originally supposed to be released in 2002. Foodfight was intended to be a satirical parody with anthropomorphic food icons representing such brands as StarKist Tuna, Mr. Clean, Count Chocula, etc. But the film hit numerous snags in securing the licensing for the product placement, and at one point, the entire film’s animated assets were stolen from the studio. Foodfight lumbered around in production hell before getting released in 2012, when many of its stars (Eva Longoria, Charlie Sheen, Christopher Lloyd, Hilary Duff) were either washed-up or irrelevant.
  • Meanwhile, Birdemic: Shock and Terror was an indie film released in 2010 by writer/director James Nguyen. A Vietnamese immigrant who was long fascinated by Hitchcock films, Nguyen could only shoot the film on weekends due to his day job and many of his actors being unavailable. The result is an appallingly-bad film that is frequently listed as one of the worst ever made.

Quite a few people ironically enjoy and appreciate these films; I hate them. Why is that?

For a film on a $65 million budget (slightly above average for a studio film), Foodfight‘s animation is atrocious in every way. The characters are beyond obnoxious, and nearly every joke misses its target. In addition to the obvious product placement, Foodfight also has genuinely creepy moments, highlighted by a bizarre amount of sexual innuendos and references to Nazism. Yes, this was intended to be an animated children’s movie.

Birdemic might be the most technically incompetent film ever made. It features the bad movie staples of a lousy script, lousier acting, and gigantic plot holes, but the film is a completely different nightmare on a technical level. Sound comes in and out of scenes like a punch to the face, the camerawork is incredibly amateur, and the visual effects are so laughable that I’m convinced a 13-year-old could do better on Adobe AfterEffects. The film is also rife with preachiness about environmentalism, as the killer birds of the film’s title are said to have been caused by global warming and fossil fuels. No, I’m not joking.

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I’m not going to fault anyone for liking these films ironically. But both Foodfight and Birdemic, to me, represent the worst, most cynical level of moviemaking. I don’t know Larry Kasanoff or James Nguyen personally, but based upon their reputations and the interviews I’ve seen with them, they’re unprofessional people who don’t have the personality or the skills to make successful movies. Both men’s entire reaction to their films and their lackluster defending of them show them to be lazy, cynical, or like they made their movies for a prank or because they lost a bet.

It shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that in order to make films, you have to be passionate about making them. I’ve made short films in the past, and I can guarantee you that it’s not all sunshine and roses; Murphy’s law always applies, and everyone has to be on top of their game every day of shooting.

Even if you aren’t a filmmaker, as an audience member, you should be willing to watch films that are made with the proper effort. There’s certainly a time and place for bad movies, but it really irks me when I see directors and writers who seem cynical, lazy, and defeatist from the get-go.

THE BAD/ENTERTAINING ONES

There are many films that fall in the bad AND entertaining category. Here are two:

  • The 2006 remake of the 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man looked good on paper, starring Oscar winner Nicolas Cage and being directed by Neil LaBute, a filmmaker known for making unsettling and harsh thriller movies. But in the end, the film was a massive box office bomb and received extremely negative reviews from audiences and critics alike.
  • Samurai Cop was released in 1989 and was almost instantly forgotten. A micro-budget film made by the late Iranian director Amir Shervan, the film wasn’t even released theatrically and generated a cult following on its later VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray editions. Samurai Cop is essentially piggybacking off of genre tropes of the day, most notably Beverly Hills Cop and the Lethal Weapon franchise.

Samurai Cop and The Wicker Man are very different films. The former was a misguided low-budget adventure of an Iranian national trying to replicate American action movie success. The film is known for its terrible editing and audio dubbing, and has some ludicrously choreographed action scenes. But it works for me, because it’s insanely entertaining and funny, even though the technical flaws are blatantly obvious.

Meanwhile, The Wicker Man was an ambitious effort to adapt a bona fide horror classic into the modern day. While the movie is poorly plotted and the characters in it make baffling decisions, it is lifted by – who else? – Nicolas Cage.

Cage has made many good movies and many horrible movies in his career. But he seems to have a unique level of staying power for someone who has starred in box office bomb after box office bomb. Very few actors can be consistently entertaining while acting in bad movies, and The Wicker Man is a prime example of this effect. Even in an otherwise terrible film, Cage entertains you and makes you cry with laughter.

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Bad movies are basically a tutorial for anyone interested in making or critiquing films. And normally, it’s nothing too intricate or complicated. Most bad films are bad for fairly simple reasons – an unfocused script, a complicated plot, bad acting, stilted dialogue, or simply a director who is inexperienced, unaccountable, or both.

I have a very basic rule of thumb when it comes to evaluating films: don’t be a hater unnecessarily. I’m definitely not the only one who hates the Star Wars prequels, but I doubt I’ll just say “they suck because they suck.” I could earn lots of points from fanboys and fangirls by criticizing specific things or spending too much time on something that people love to hate, but I usually won’t.

Does that mean that some films don’t deserve to be ripped to shreds? No. But I feel like a lot of people don’t actually bother to explain their rationale for not liking a movie. You can chalk that up to people having knee-jerk emotional reactions in general, but as serious film-goers, we need to be the best critical thinkers there are. That doesn’t mean we have to go into a feature film and break down the good and bad in every frame, but it’s still a useful guide for anyone who loves movies and how they’re made.

I hope this blog has helped you, not just to evaluate and appreciate so-bad-they’re good movies (and the different types thereof), but also to approach any film with a slightly different mindset. Cheers!

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Nauru

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The smallest island nation in the world, Nauru has a notable and sizable presence in the international Aussie rules community. With 680 registered junior and senior players out of a population of roughly 10,000, Nauru has the highest participation rate of any country in the world (30-35%).

That’s pretty impressive for a nation that is less than a century old and covers less than 10 square miles.

Nauru is a tiny phosphate rock island in the central Pacific, located just south of the Equator in the vicinity of several archipelago-nations, including the Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu and Kiribati.

The indigenous Nauruan culture features both Micronesian and Polynesian influences. After being liberated from Japanese control by Australian naval forces in 1945, a joint trustee partnership among the UK, Australia, and New Zealand helped administer Nauru in the post-war years. Nauru permanently became independent in January 1968. Its isolated location and lack of natural resources notwithstanding, the country has long been considered a major magnet for phosphate strip mining.

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Despite its young and humble history, the country of Nauru is passionate about footy, which was first played on the island in the 1930s and is currently administrated by the Nauru Australian Football Association (NAFA) under the auspices of AFL Nauru. The country’s only major stadium, Linkbelt Oval, hosts footy matches annually, and the NAFA Grand Final is a major annual event on the island, regularly drawing crowds of 3,000. In addition to weightlifting, Aussie rules is considered the national sport of Nauru.

Nauruans have played footy dating back to the pre-WWII era, when a large number of Nauruan children attended schools in the football-crazy Australian cities of Geelong and Melbourne. Even Hammer DeRoburt, the first president of Nauru (1968-1976), had a footy background from his days as a student and teacher at the Gordon Institute of Technology in Geelong.

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The Nauruan national footy team is known as the Chiefs, and they have participated in numerous international tournaments, including the Australia-based Arafura Games in 1995 and 2001. The Chiefs have also competed in the triennial Australian Football International Cup, placing four different times, including a fifth-place finish in 2005.

Nauru also competed in the Web Sports Cup in both 2000 and 2001. The Chiefs won two notable matches both times, including one against a Queensland team from the Gold Coast, and another against the team from Samoa. In 2003, Nauru’s junior team got a chance to play in the Barassi International Youth Football Tournament; they fought hard, but suffered defeats to teams from both the Australian Capital Territory and New Zealand. Other young footy players have had chances to represent Nauru at tournaments like the Oceania Cup and the NAB Under-16 Championships.

Today, Nauruan footy, as represented by the NAFA, has a dozen teams in two separate divisions, representing nearly every local district in the country. While the NAFA is formally recognized as an international partner by the AFL, the league also receives sponsorship and funding from Nauru Airlines, local banks, phone companies, and hotels.

NAURUANS IN THE AFL

  • Yoshi Harris (played 2012-present) – Harris was a Nauru native who was selected in 2011 on an international scholarship for Greater Western Sydney. A 6’0″ halfback/wing player, he played a few games in 2012 for GWS’s reserves squad, as well as in the AFL Sydney competition. In 2014, he represented Nauru at the International Cup.

NAURU AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION

  • Senior League
    • Aces
    • Blues
    • Boe Lions
    • Menaida Tigers
    • Panzer Saints
    • Supercats
    • Ubenited Power
  • Junior League
    • Esso
    • Frigates
    • Meneng Eagles
    • Ubenited Power
    • Yaren Magpies

2017 AFL premiership season preview

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#18 – Brisbane Lions

  • 2016 RECORD: 3-19
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2009
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 2003
  • HOME GROUND: The Gabba (capacity 42,000)
  • COACH: Chris Fagan (1st season)
  • CAPTAIN: Dayne Beams
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Jack Frost
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Pearce Hanley
  • DRAFT PICKS: Hugh McCluggage, Jacob Allison, Cedric Cox, Jarrod Berry, Corey Lyons, Alex Witherden

The Lions need to get off to a fast start in 2017, the first season under new coach Chris Fagan and new general manager David Noble.

Bright spots were scarce last season, but the Lions did get solid performances from youngsters like Josh Schache and Eric Hipwood. Now a year stronger and faster, the duo should continue to make strides while surrounded by several key veterans, including former captain Daniel Rich, who signed a five-year extension in the offseason, and the consistent Dayne Zorko, who could contend for All-Australian honors in 2017.

Former Collingwood defender Jack Frost signed with Brisbane as a free agent after an injury-riddled 2016 season in which he only played in 10 games. Frost should form a nice nucleus with another young gun, 20-year-old Harris Andrews, in the Lions’ back line.

Forward Michael Close looked to be in great shape in offseason training after tearing his ACL, and former Geelong player Allen Christiansen is looking to make an impact, but he has continued to have bad luck with injuries.

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#17 – Fremantle Dockers

  • 2016 RECORD: 4-18
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2015
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: None
  • HOME GROUND: Domain Stadium (capacity 43,500)
  • COACH: Ross Lyon (6th season, 67-42-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Nat Fyfe
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Shane Kersten, Bradley Hill, Joel Hamling, Cam McCarthy
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Chris Mayne
  • DRAFT PICKS: Brennan Cox, Luke Ryan, Griffin Logue, Sean Darcy

The Dockers had a horrendous 2016 season, dropping down the ladder dramatically and missing the finals for the first time under veteran coach Ross Lyon. The main problem was catastrophic injuries to three main players – forward Nat Fyfe, ruckman Aaron Sandilands, and small forward Hayden Ballantyne – as well as a general lack of depth.

Fyfe, who broke his leg early last year, looked back to his old self in offseason practice, despite consistent rumors that he might seek a trade in free agency at the end of the year. Fyfe will have new help in Cam McCarthy, the former GWS star who missed last season due to undisclosed personal problems. Hawthorn veteran Bradley Hill looks to be a big-time addition and showed some serious chops in the offseason. He’ll be playing with his brother, Stephen Hill, for the first time in 2017.

The Dockers don’t normally stay down for long, and they’ll probably get close to the Finals, but it’ll be difficult for them to crack the top eight immediately. Depth is still a major issue in certain places.

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#16 – Richmond Tigers

  • 2016 RECORD: 8-14
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2015
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 1980
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • COACH: Damien Hardwick (8th season, 74-81-2)
  • CAPTAIN: Trent Cotchin
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Toby Nankervis, Dion Prestia
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Brett Deledio, Ty Vickery
  • DRAFT PICKS: Ryan Garthwaite, Shai Bolton, Jack Graham

The Tigers start off with three straight winnable matches at home at the MCG. That’s important because Richmond started last season 1-6 and never fully recovered or regained their confidence. Getting Gold Coast star Dion Prestia in free-agency was a big deal, but the Tigers also lost veteran Brett Deledio, who signed with Greater Western Sydney.

Second-year forward Daniel Rioli looks to take on a bigger leadership role in Deledio’s absence, and coaches raved about Rioli’s skills in training camp. Prestia looks to have a major role with Richmond, but he could miss the beginning of the season after recuperating from a knee surgery that prematurely ended his 2016 campaign at Gold Coast. The Tigers also got bad news when promising rookie Jack Graham injured his hamstring during preseason training.

Embattled head coach Damien Hardwick might be coaching for his job in 2017, having cleaned house with his assistants in the offseason after the Tigers stumbled to an 8-14 finish and missed the Finals.

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#15 – Collingwood Magpies

  • 2016 RECORD: 9-13
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2013
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 2010
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • COACH: Nathan Buckley (6th season, 60-50)
  • CAPTAIN: Scott Pendlebury
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Lynden Dunn, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Daniel Wells, Chris Mayne
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Nathan Brown, Jarrod Witts, Jack Frost, Travis Cloke, Marley Williams, Dane Swan
  • DRAFT PICKS: Kayle Kirby, Sam McLarty, Callum Brown, Josh Daicos

The Magpies are looking to rebound after another disappointing season, in which the team struggled with numerous injuries and general inconsistency. During the trade period in October, the Pies got GWS utility player Will Hoskin-Elliott, who is a gem when healthy, but Collingwood will miss key leaders like Jack Frost, Dane Swan, and Travis Cloke.

Collingwood has some quality pieces in various places, including imposing ruckman Mason Cox, who showed encouraging signs in 11 games last season. Forward Jamie Elliott has shown a lot of promise before he was slowed by an ankle injury during preseason.

Four out of Collingwood’s first six matches are on the road, including a date with Sydney and a trip to Simonds Stadium to play Geelong. Could the Pies surprise while under lower expectations in 2017? Maybe, but they’ll have to hope that all the pieces fall into place at the right time.

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#14 – Essendon Bombers

  • 2016 RECORD: 3-19
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2014
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 2000
  • HOME GROUND: Etihad Stadium (capacity 56,347)
  • COACH: John Worsfold (2nd season, 3-19)
  • CAPTAIN: Dyson Heppell
  • KEY ADDITIONS: James Stewart
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Michael Hibberd
  • DRAFT PICKS: Andrew McGrath, Kobe Mutch, Jordan Ridley, Josh Begley, Dylan Clarke

Let’s start with the obvious: Essendon can’t possibly be as bad as they were in 2016, when a dozen of their best players were suspended for doping before the season started and the team stumbled to a last-place 3-19 record. It was the historic club’s worst season since 1932.

The Bombers return a number of those banned players, including former captain Jobe Watson, current captain Dyson Heppell, Tom Bellchambers, Michael Hurley, and Travis Colyer. Watson and Heppell, both speedy midfielders, should be back in top form soon enough, but Hurley tweaked his ankle in practice recently and might miss the start of the season. Bellchambers has also been slow to return to form after knee surgery.

Some of the better players during the nightmarish 2016 season were Orazio Fantasia, who kicked 29 goals in 19 games, and utility player Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, who is still raw, but showed  potential and quickly became a crowd favorite last year. Midfielder Darcy Parish also demonstrated consistent play.

The Dons will look to carve out as many wins as they can under veteran coach John Worsfold, but they aren’t considered a threat to do too much damage in the competition this season. They might spring an upset or two, but getting back to the Finals is unlikely.

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#13 – Carlton Blues

  • 2016 RECORD: 7-15
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2013
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 1995
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (100,018)
  • COACH: Brendan Bolton (2nd season, 7-15)
  • CAPTAIN: Marc Murphy
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Caleb Marchbank, Rhys Palmer, Billie Smedts
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Zach Tuohy
  • DRAFT PICKS: Harrison Macreadie, Zac Fisher, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Cameron Polson, Pat Kerr, Tom Williamson

Carlton also has a favorable early schedule, and they’ll be looking to crack the finals in 2017 after a better-than-expected debut under coach Brendan Bolton. They didn’t lose too many players in free agency, either, so this could be a big season for the Blues.

Caleb Marchbank and Rhys Palmer were two solid free agent additions from GWS, and they seem to be really good fits at Carlton. The team’s skipper, Marc Murphy, is finally healthy after numerous injury-plagued seasons, and he enjoyed a fantastic preseason. The Blues will also get former No. 1 draft pick Bryce Gibbs back. Gibbs, now 27 and a key part of the Carlton midfield, is back for his 11th year at the club after trade rumors linked him to Adelaide in the offseason.

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#12 – Gold Coast Suns

  • 2016 RECORD: 6-16
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: None
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: None
  • HOME GROUND: Metricon Stadium (capacity 25,000)
  • COACH: Rodney Eade (3rd season, 10-33-1)
  • CAPTAINS: Tom Lynch/Steven May
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Jarrod Witts, Jarryd Lyons, Pearce Hanley
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Jaeger O’Meara, Dion Prestia
  • DRAFT PICKS: Jack Bowes, Ben Ainsworth, Jack Scrimshaw, Will Brodie, Brad Scheer

The Suns are really hoping that 2017 is their year, as their fans are growing restless for a Finals berth. Gold Coast had a mediocre season after a promising 3-0 start, and disgruntled playmakers Jaeger O’Meara and Dion Prestia departed in the offseason.

The club was excited to have Gary Ablett Jr. back in training after shoulder surgery ended his 2016 season prematurely. Ablett was linked to trade rumors with Geelong in the offseason, but he remains committed to the Suns and looked sharp as ever in offseason drills.

New co-captains Steven May and Tom Lynch have stepped up in a big way. When healthy, May is a big-time playmaker, and Lynch earned All-Australian honors last season after kicking 51 goals.

Alex Sexton, Peter Wright, and Touk Miller are other key players to watch for Gold Coast heading forward. Oft-injured Michael Rischitelli has also shown promise in the offseason. The opening of a brand-new training facility has fans excited, but the Suns are a team that needs to show rapid improvement and consistent competitiveness.

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#11 – North Melbourne Kangaroos

  • 2016 RECORD: 12-10
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2016
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 1999
  • HOME GROUND: Etihad Stadium (capacity 56,347)
  • COACH: Brad Scott (8th season, 86-72)
  • CAPTAIN: Jack Ziebell
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Marley Williams, Paul Ahern
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Aaron Black, Daniel Wells, Michael Firrito, Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie
  • DRAFT PICKS: Jy Simpkin, Nick Larkey, Josh Williams, Declan Watson

The Kangaroos have some soul-searching to do in 2017. A number of their veteran players were de-listed at the end of the season in a questionable move, with former skipper Brent “Boomer” Harvey electing to retire. On the field, North Melbourne started off 9-0, but fell away during the latter half of the season and barely got into the Finals. Do they have a comeback in them in 2017?

Small forward Lindsay Thomas has been a consistent performer in practice, wowing coaches with his time-trial. Unfortunately, the Roos have been derailed by injuries, including ruckman Majak Daw (knee), utility Sam Wright (ankle), midfielder Taylor Garner (hip), and midfielder Jed Anderson (shoulder).

North Melbourne has a chance to make a move further up the ladder in ’17, but there’s still bound to be growing pains after the departure of so many heart-and-soul players.

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#10 – Port Adelaide Power

  • 2016 RECORD: 10-12
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2014
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 2004
  • HOME GROUND: Adelaide Oval (capacity 53,583)
  • COACH: Ken Hinkley (5th season, 41-29)
  • CAPTAIN: Travis Boak
  • KEY ADDITIONS: None
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Paul Stewart
  • DRAFT PICKS: Sam Powell-Pepper, Willem Draw, Joe Atley, Todd Marshall

Port Adelaide underachieved in 2016, barely missing out on the Finals and lacking consistency throughout the year. While the club was quiet in free agency, they hit the training track with renewed energy in the offseason, so the mood around the Power has mostly been one of optimism.

Chad Wingard and Karl Amon have been mired with injury issues in the past few seasons, but reports from training indicated that the duo is back to their old form. Rookie Sam Powell-Pepper has also wowed teammates and coaches alike with his fluid ball movement and terrific athleticism.

Key forward Charlie Dixon is still a question mark after offseason ankle surgery, and Paddy Ryder needs to have a strong year after missing all of 2016 due to suspension. The Alice Springs native has looked very solid in offseason drills. Fellow ruckman Dougal Howard will likely miss the first chunk of 2017 after tearing his ACL in training.

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#9 – St Kilda Saints

  • 2016 RECORD: 12-10
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2011
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 1966
  • HOME GROUND: Etihad Stadium (capacity 56,347)
  • COACH: Alan Richardson (4th season, 22-43-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Jarryn Geary
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Nathan Brown, Koby Stevens, Jack Steele
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Sam Fisher
  • DRAFT PICKS: Edward Phillips, Ben Long, Josh Battle

The Saints have been enduring the rebuilding process for several years now, but they made some significant steps forward in 2016 and are attacking the new season with a new mentality under fourth-year coach Alan Richardson.

While Nick Riewoldt won’t be the Saints’ captain again, he signed a one-year extension and is still keen to get back into the action for his long-time club. The Saints were excited to get former GWS midfielder Jack Steele in free agency, but he’s been hampered by a nagging foot injury. Unlucky defenders Hugh Goddard and Jake Carlisle have also been victims of the injury bug recently, and they probably won’t be at full strength until a few weeks into the season.

However, Blake Acres and Daniel McKenzie have looked sharp in the offseason and look ready to make big strides in 2017. St Kilda was also smart to re-sign the reliable Sean Dempster and All-Australian winger Leigh Montagna.

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#8 – Melbourne Demons

  • 2016 RECORD: 10-12
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2006
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 1964
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • COACH: Simon Goodwin (1st season)
  • CAPTAINS: Nathan Jones/Jack Viney
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Jordan Lewis, Michael Hibberd, Pat McKenna 
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Lynden Dunn, Heritier Lumumba
  • DRAFT PICKS: Mitchell Hannan, Dion Johnstone

The addition of two big-time veterans – Jordan Lewis from Hawthorn and Michael Hibberd from Essendon – will help the Demons immeasurably, and it looks like they’re finally ready to knock on the door of the Finals in 2017.

Although their 2016 season was generally one of growing pains, the Dees discovered some new standouts, including forward Jesse Hogan, young gun Christian Petracca and ruckman Max Gawn. Another youngster, Clayton Oliver, will look to return to form after playing 13 games in 2016 and running into off-field issues.

Defender Oscar McDonald had a great offseason, coming back bigger and stronger, and Cameron Pedersen has been looking solid while easing his way back in from shoulder surgery. Speedy utility player Jack Watts and defender Neville Jetta were a couple of young players that Melbourne was happy to re-sign several months ago.

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#7 – Hawthorn Hawks

  • 2016 RECORD: 17-5
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2016
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 2015
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • COACH: Alastair Clarkson (13th season, 180-102-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Jarryd Roughead
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Ty Vickery, Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis, Bradley Hill
  • DRAFT PICKS: Harry Morrison, Mitchell Lewis

The Hawks lost three big-time superstars after the season concluded – and none was more surprising than their trade of Jordan Lewis to Melbourne. But they still got Tom Mitchell from Sydney and Jaeger O’Meara from the Gold Coast Suns in other deals, and there’s reason to believe in the Hawks in 2017 again.

Hawthorn re-signed veteran midfielder Luke Hodge and forward Cyril Rioli, and they’ll remain faces of the club for the foreseeable future. Youngster Ben Stratton had an outstanding season before getting injured late, and his absence was definitely felt during the finals. Hawthorn will also have one of the AFL’s best feel-good stories in 2017 – veteran Jarryd Roughead will return to footy after missing last season due to a melanoma scare.

If the Hawks can regain their mojo late in games, they’ll still be in the mix for a preliminary final, but there’s no denying that they’ve lost a ton of talent from the past few squads.

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#6 – West Coast Eagles

  • 2016 RECORD: 16-6
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2016
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 2006
  • HOME GROUND: Domain Stadium (capacity 43,500)
  • COACH: Adam Simpson (4th season, 45-24-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Shannon Hurn
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Sam Mitchell, Nathan Vardy
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Patrick McGinnity, Mitch Brown
  • DRAFT PICKS: Daniel Venables, Jake Waterman, Willie Rioli, Josh Rotham

The Eagles have the talent to remain Finals contenders heading into 2017, but they still have plenty of work to do to get back to the Grand Final. Getting Sam Mitchell from the Hawks in free agency was a big-time coup, but the Eagles might not have star ruckman Nic Naitanui back after he suffered a string of injuries in 2016, including surgery on both ankles.

Midfielders Luke Shuey and Jeremy McGovern look to continue their solid work from last season, and two-time All-Australian Josh Kennedy is still the name to watch at forward after leading the league with 82 goals.

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#5 – Western Bulldogs

  • 2016 RECORD: 15-7
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2016
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 2016
  • HOME GROUND: Etihad Stadium (capacity 56,347)
  • COACH: Luke Beveridge (3rd season, 33-15)
  • CAPTAIN: Robert Murphy
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Travis Cloke
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Will Minson, Koby Stevens, Nathan Hrovat, Joel Hamling
  • DRAFT PICKS: Timothy English, Fergus Greene, Patrick Lipinski, Lewis Young

The Bulldogs are still coming down from the high of their storybook season, winning their first premiership in 50 years. So the question remains: was it a fluke?

First off, the Bulldogs return several key players from injury, including skipper Robert Murphy and key defender Lin Jong. The stars of last year’s finish, like Jason Johannisen and Marcus Bontempelli, are also back, and the Dogs nabbed Collingwood free agent Travis Cloke in the trade period. There’s plenty of reasons to be excited about 2017, and the countdown to defending their premiership starts now, but there still needs to be a concerted effort throughout the season to guard against complacency.

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#4 – Geelong Cats

  • 2016 RECORD: 17-5
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2016
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 2011
  • HOME GROUND: Simonds Stadium (capacity 34,074)
  • COACH: Chris Scott (7th season, 102-39-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Joel Selwood 
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Aaron Black, Zach Tuohy
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Corey Enright, Jimmy Bartel, Nathan Vardy, Josh Caddy, Billie Smedts, Shane Kersten
  • DRAFT PICKS: Timm House, Branden Parfitt, Thomas Stewart, Quinton Narkle, Esava Ratugolea, Ryan Abbott

The Cats struggled down the stretch in 2016 and once again exited the finals in disappointing fashion. Despite the presence of best-and-fairest winner Patrick Dangerfield, Geelong wasn’t able to take advantage of the chances they were given in postseason play.

Dangerfield is back, along with several of the team’s major playmakers. The Cats will certainly miss the retired Jimmy Bartel and Corey Enright, and they also lost veteran Nathan Vardy to West Coast. Geelong did manage to pick up Carlton half-back Zach Tuohy, who offers lots of speed and athleticism, and their draft picks have looked promising as well, particularly Brendan Parfitt.

The Cats also need more consistent play from forwards Tom Hawkins and Steven Motlop, both of whom are coming off mediocre seasons and who have had occasional off-field issues as well. Motlop had a very poor showing in the finals, while Hawkins was affected all year by a troublesome meniscus.

Geelong can make a run at the Grand Final again, but they’ll need to perform at a much more consistent level throughout the season and avoid some of the letdowns of the past. There’s reason to think they can reload and get back to the pre-lims.

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#3 – Sydney Swans

  • 2016 RECORD: 17-5
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2016
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 2012
  • HOME GROUND: Sydney Cricket Ground (capacity 48,000)
  • COACH: John Longmire (7th season, 102-45-2)
  • CAPTAIN: Josh Kennedy
  • KEY ADDITIONS: None
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Ted Richards, Tom Mitchell, Toby Nankervis
  • DRAFT PICKS: Darcy Cameron, Oliver Florent, Will Hayward, Jack Maibaum

The Swans had a quiet free agency period after falling in the AFL Grand Final last year, but they did re-sign most of the midfield, including Kieran Jack, Dan Hannebery, and Harry Cunningham. And the Swans’ superstar forwards, Josh Kennedy and Buddy Franklin, will return for more in 2017.

Sydney still needs more from some players in the backfield alongside the reliable Heath Grundy and Dane Rampe. Defender Michael Talia was having a fairly decent year before an ugly off-field incident involving drugs, and the Swans really need Aliir Aliir to stay healthy and continue to improve his form. Aliir has been a feel-good story for Sydney, but his injury-related absence in the Grand Final was felt acutely.

The Swans can get into the preliminary finals again, but there needs to be a more-concerted effort throughout big games if they want to win their first flag since 2012.

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#2 – Adelaide Crows

  • 2016 RECORD: 16-6
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2016
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: 1998
  • HOME GROUND: Adelaide Oval (capacity 53,583)
  • COACH: Don Pyke (2nd season, 16-6)
  • CAPTAIN: Taylor Walker
  • KEY ADDITIONS: None
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Ricky Henderson, Nathan van Berlo
  • DRAFT PICKS: Myles Poholke, Elliot Himmelberg, Jordan Gallucci, Ben Davis, Matthew Signorello

Adelaide entered the 2016 season with a bunch of unknowns, with a new coach and the loss of star forward Patrick Dangerfield, who ended up with Geelong. Still, the Crows looked very solid throughout the year before exiting the Finals fairly early.

The forward line remains one of the best around, with Eddie Betts, Taylor ‘Tex’ Walker, and Josh Jenkins all coming back to the club. Coaches are high on courageous 20-year-old defender Jake Lever, but there are still question marks surrounding veterans like Curtly Hampton and Paul Seedsman, both of whom missed large chunks of last season due to injuries.

In the midfield, All-Australian Rory Sloane has returned to the club, as has veteran Scott Thompson, but the Crows’ lack of depth was exposed late in the season, and they need to address that going forward if they want a shot at the preliminary finals. Second-year coach Don Pyke has the Crows on a steady development curve though, and there’s a real chance they could do more damage in the postseason if they stay healthy.

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#1 – Greater Western Sydney Giants

  • 2016 RECORD: 16-6
  • LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2016
  • LAST AFL PREMIERSHIP: None
  • HOME GROUND: Spotless Stadium (capacity 25,000)
  • COACH: Leon Cameron (4th season, 34-34)
  • CAPTAINS: Phil Davis/Callan Ward
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Matt de Boer, Brett Deledio
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Caleb Marchbank, Cam McCarthy, Rhys Palmer, James Stewart, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Paul Ahern, Jack Steele
  • DRAFT PICKS: Will Setterfield, Tim Taranto, Isaac Cumming, Harry Perryman, Lachlan Tiziani

The Giants lost some developing young guns in free agency deals, but there’s plenty of reason to be high on this team as potential 2017 AFL premiers. GWS roared into the finals and got to the preliminary round, where they lost to their crosstown rivals, the Sydney Swans. But even after a historic year at the footy club, Leon Cameron and his team still aren’t satisfied and are setting their sights on winning it all.

The club’s established stars are back, including co-captains Phil Davis and Callan Ward, All-Australian defender Heath Shaw, and veteran forwards Jeremy Cameron and Steve Johnson. Johnson was everything the Giants needed him to be after joining the club from Geelong before last season, while former #1 draft pick Jonathan Patton enjoyed a return to form after numerous injury-riddled seasons. Hard-hitting ruckman Shane Mumford struggled with a nagging elbow injury in offseason drills, but coaches are excited about his backup, 24-year-old Rory Lobb.

GWS made a big splash in free agency, luring away former Richmond captain Brett Deledio, who adds leadership and versatility to an already-talented midfield group. Another offseason addition was former Fremantle Docker Matt de Boer, who missed lots of time due to injury in 2016, but could do well with a fresh start at GWS.

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Fiji

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One of the most sport-crazed countries in the Pacific, the islands of Fiji have long lacked a presence in Aussie rules football. It’s overshadowed significantly by rugby union, the Fijian national sport, but footy has made some strong gains in recent years.

AFL matches were first televised in Fiji in 2002, and the league saw that there was potential to reach the Fijian population and help establish footy as both a spectator sport and a participation sport. By 2005, the Fiji Daily Post had beat writers covering AFL games, in addition to the much more established sports of rugby union, rugby league, and netball.

Around the same time, a group of Aussie police officers stationed near the Fijian capital of Suva helped get some local athletes involved. The Aussies founded the Fijian Australian Football Association (FAFA) that year, with the goal of keeping it as the national governing body for footy. They attempted to get a national footy team into the 2007 South Pacific Games, which were being held in Fiji, but they couldn’t qualify in time due to a lack of players and funding. The FAFA went on hiatus as they attempted to organize a local competition.

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Shortly thereafter, the Western Bulldogs became the first AFL team to actively start scouting and recruiting Fiji-born players, holding combines in the cities of Suva and Labasa. The project bore immediate fruit for the Bulldogs, recruiting two Fijian teenagers, Solomon Loki and Inoke Ratu. Both youngsters – originally budding rugby players – were picked by the Bulldogs as international scholarship players, but they were unable to get Australian visas due to the country currently enforcing sanctions against the Fijian government. (Ratu’s visa situation was eventually able to be resolved, and he played footy at the lower levels in rural Victoria.)

There were more positive developments for Fiji footy in 2008, when AFL Oceania was founded. AFL Fiji was formed the following year and quickly released a list of objectives in order to grow the sport on the islands:

  • To offer Fiji’s youth another sport whereby they may develop to their full potential
  • To thereby establish and promote Australian football, commonly known as AFL, in Fiji
  • To achieve these aims through organization of national inter-school and inter-club competitions
  • To foster participation in international AFL competitions
  • To provide assistance to AFL clubs interested in Fiji recruits

In 2010, the inaugural AFL David Rodan Cup was held. Named for the popular Fijian-born AFL player, the Rodan Cup featured a round-robin tournament among 14 different schools. By all accounts, the event was a smashing success, helping to show the sport on a large scale to Fijians for the first time.

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Shortly thereafter, the Fiji Power was formed as the national footy team, competing in December 2010 at the Under-16 Oceania Cup in Tonga. With that experience as a springboard, the Power were selected to compete at the 2011 International Cup, which was held over two weeks in both Sydney and Melbourne. The Power surprised many, winning the Division 2 championship in decisive fashion over France.

Aussie rules is growing rapidly in Fiji to this day, with specific outreach programs for kids and an increased focus on player development. It’s an exciting time for Fijian footy, and hopefully many more players will be able to pick up the sport in the near future.

FIJIANS IN THE AFL

  • Charlie Moore (played 1897-1899) – Fijian who moved to Melbourne as a kid and later played in the early years of the AFL (then the VFL). A cousin of future footy legend Roy Cazaly, Moore played in 30 career games before giving up his pro career to fight in the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa, where he was killed in action in May 1901. He was the first professional footy player to die in any major war.
  • David Rodan (played 2002-2013) – Born in the town of Lami, Fiji to Tongan parents before moving to suburban Melbourne at the age of three. He showed a natural aptitude for footy as a teenager and was eventually drafted by the Richmond Tigers in 2002. He played in 65 games with the Tigers as a forward/midfielder, before moving to the Port Adelaide Power in 2007, where he kicked 86 career goals in six seasons. Rodan retired in 2013 and has since found work as an AFL umpire. He even won the Australian version of Dancing With the Stars in 2014.
  • Alipate Carlile (played 2006-2016) – A cousin of Rodan’s, Carlile hails from Lautoka, Fiji, but grew up in Wangaratta, Victoria. He played soccer and basketball for most of his childhood before beginning his Aussie rules career with the local club, the Wangaratta Rovers. A noted defender, Carlile played alongside Rodan at Port Adelaide for six seasons before retiring last year.
  • Aaron Hall (played 2012-present) – Originally from Tasmania, Hall’s mother is Fijian and his father is an Aussie. He was drafted in 2012 with the seventh overall pick, and as of last season, he has played in 69 career games with the Gold Coast Suns. His dad, Dale, briefly played for the Sydney Swans in the early 90s.
  • Nic Naitanui (played 2009-present) – A star ruckman, Naitanui has spent his entire career so far with the West Coast Eagles. His parents were of Fijian descent, but Naitanui and his siblings grew up in the Perth area. Naitanui is widely considered one of the best ruckmen in the game right now, but he will likely miss the entire 2017 AFL season due to an ACL injury.
  • Esava Ratugolea (played 2017-present) – Ratugolea, a forward, is of Fijian descent and was drafted by Geelong in 2016 with the #43 overall pick. He played under-18 footy with the Murray Bushrangers in the TAC Cup competition.
  • Wes Fellowes (played 1981-1989) – Of partial Fijian descent on his mother’s side, Fellowes was raised in Bulleen, a northeastern suburb of Melbourne. A ruckman, he played 102 career games for Collingwood, following in the footsteps of his late father, Graeme. He won Collingwood’s best and fairest award in the 1986 season.
  • Setanta Ó hAilpín (played 2005-2013) – Born in Sydney to an Irish father and a Fijian-Rotuman mother. Ó hAilpín moved to County Cork, Ireland at the age of five, and he was a star player in the All-Ireland hurling competition from 2000-2003. He took many by surprise when he moved back to Australia and decided to give footy a shot, first with Carlton (2005-2011) and then with Greater Western Sydney (2012-2013). Ó hAilpín primarily played as a full-back/ruckman and kicked 82 career goals in 88 AFL games. He also represented Ireland in the 2004 International Rules Series, a unique competition in which Gaelic footballers and AFL footballers play under a set of hybrid rules.
  • Tom Nicholls (played 2011-present) – A ruckman from rural Victoria, Nicholls was born to a Fijian mother and an Australian father. He played footy in the TAC Cup competition with the successful Sandringham Dragons team, before debuting for the Gold Coast Suns in 2011. Nicholls received an AFL Rising Star nomination early in the 2013 season, too.