Category: Australian Rules Football

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: United States

usafl_logo

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.

img_6492

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).

18-a-side-1024x768-min

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

9080e94d3481ed914fe3a53d0d51ae13

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.

tonga1

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.

c_23-tonga_vs_nz

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.

RTEmagicC_Tonga_246A.jpg

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.

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Nauru

map_of_nauru

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.

800px-panzer-saints-u17-2003

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.

1024px-nauru_chiefs_quarter_time_huddle_ic08

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

37h73aic

#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.

logo

#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.

richmond_football_club_2012_logo

#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.

collingwood_football_club_logo-svg

#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.

essendon-replacements

#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.

carlton_fc_logo-svg

#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.

gc-suns-logo-footer_190x150

#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.

north_melbourne_football_club_logo

#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.

hqdefault

#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.

150px-st_kilda_fc_logo

#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.

melbournefc-svg

#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.

haeks_logolge

#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.

fbc5dc9cde47875b2aa62b9f225b6c49

#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.

west_bulldogs_logo14

#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.

logo

#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.

lzsnl2pu

#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.

7dd6e9d178ac7c24a616b6010c6a6aa4_400x400

#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.

greater-western-sydney-giants

#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

6d5cb14500e11de5333da8cbab21f744

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.

371363

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.

afl3-680x365

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.

 

FOOTY FAQs

In my original “intro to footy” blog, I covered some of the general FAQs surrounding the sport of Aussie rules football, specifically its historic origins, popularity within Australia, and some of the basic rules of the game, including the scoring system.

Today, I’d like to go over the gameplay/rules in depth, specifically for my American friends who are unfamiliar with footy and who might be interested in catching a game online or on cable TV at some point. So here we go!

  • How big is a footy oval?

australian_football_field-svg

Since a footy oval is synonymous with a cricket ground, the dimensions of the field vary considerably, since cricket is one of the few sports with no universally-declared field size. Most grounds are a maximum of 185 meters long and 155 meters wide.

There are two large semicircles at both ends of the ground marking 50 meters from the goalposts (called forward-50 lines). The goal square is located in the shadow of the goalposts and is similar to a “key” region on a basketball court. The midfield region is marked by a large center square and a center circle within the square. This is where gameplay starts.

  • How long is a game?

The game is divided into four quarters of 20 minutes each. If there are stoppages in play, such as the ball going out of bounds, the time is added onto the total, just like in soccer. Other stoppage examples include when the ball is being run back into the field of play after a goal is scored.

There are breaks in between quarters, as well as halftime. The halftime is a 20 minute break, while the breaks in between quarters are six minutes long.

  • What kinds of pregame traditions are there in footy?

Just like in American football, fans will frequently tailor-make a large banner for the team to run through before the game. Often, the fans will make competitive references to their opponents or even honor veteran players who have accumulated a certain number of games.

In the past, during the AFL regular season, most matches have lower-level minor league games that are played before kickoff. These are called “curtain-raisers.”

  • How does gameplay start?

After a coin toss decides which goal each team will defend, the game starts in the center square. The umpire blows his whistle and will either toss the ball upwards (a ball-up) or bounce the ball hard on the ground so it bounces back up (a center bounce). It is at the umpire’s discretion as to which method will be used, based on weather and the condition of the ground. Two tall players, known as ruckmen, contest the ball in a manner very similar to basketball, trying to knock the ball down to their smaller teammates in the midfield and forward line.

  • After the ball is knocked down by the ruckmen, what happens?

In addition to the ruckmen, there are several midfielders from both teams surrounding the ruckmen in the center square area. These are referred to as rovers and ruck-rovers, and together with the ruckmen, they are collectively called “followers.” It is the job of these players to grab possession of the ball, handball it to a teammate (known as a disposal) or kick the ball forward to their other teammates (known as a clearance).

  • What is a mark?

A mark is when a player on the receiving end of a kick jumps up and catches the ball cleanly. From here, they can decide to dish it off via a handball or kick it to another teammate. They can also attempt to kick a goal themselves if they’re close enough, or run with it in the open field provided they bounce it every 15 meters.

If a player takes a mark, the defender cannot touch them or encroach on the space where the mark was taken. If the player takes a mark inside the forward-50 line, they have 30 seconds to take their kick unimpeded, as opposed to 10 seconds anywhere else on the field. If that time passes, the umpire will call “play on” and the defender is free to tackle you.

  • What is a spectacular mark?

Simply put, a spectacular mark is the most exciting play in footy. Frequently called a “speckie,” it occurs when a player jumps on top of another’s back in order to take the mark. While you’re not allowed to push anyone in the back, you can jump up and use your opponent for leverage while you attempt to grab the ball, essentially planting your shin on their back. It’s pretty awesome!

27052012-subiaco-australia-fremantle-v-west-coast-eagles-nic-naitanui-cb32b3

  • What is a crumb/crumber?

A “crumb” or “gathering the crumbs” is when a group of players try to contest a mark (typically inside the forward-50 line) and none of them get it, leading to a mad dash for the ball. It is called this because the image of several players trying to grab the ball looks like a group of pigeons going after bread crumbs. You may frequently hear AFL commentators referring to players as being quality “crumbers.”

  • What can you do when you don’t have the ball?

All players need to contest the ball when it’s in their immediate vicinity and try to stave off their opponent, but when you don’t have the ball, you need to keep your head in the game.

In addition to playing tight defense regardless of your position, it’s a big rule of thumb to be able to shepherd. A crucial part of playing footy, shepherding is just like guarding in basketball or checking in hockey – having your teammates’ backs when they have the ball. The only catch is that you can’t shepherd if you and your opponent are less than five meters from the ball.

  • What happens after a goal or a behind is scored?

After a goal, the goal umpire will signal that the team has scored and another umpire will grab another ball and run it back to the center square so that play can be restarted with a ball-up.

If a behind is scored, one of the defenders nearest the goalposts will go behind the goalpost and kick it back into the field of play for his own team.

  • What happens after a tackle?

If a player is tackled cleanly while still possessing the ball, it’s a turnover and the opposing player who made the tackle will get a free kick. This also applies if the man being tackled does not dispose of the ball properly (with a clenched fist) or if he holds onto the ball after having prior opportunities to get rid of it (“holding the footy”). Throwing the ball is not tolerated and will also result in the opposition getting a free kick.

  • Can you kick or touch the ball directly on the ground?

Yes. If a player (typically a forward) has the ball fall in front of him within sight of the goal square, he is allowed to kick it directly along the ground, soccer-style, as long as no other players are within the vicinity.

If a player is attempting to go for the ball in the open field but is being pursued by another player, he can tap the ball forward once or twice in order to gain separation from his opponent, get a better grip on the ball, or knock it forward to a teammate.

  • What happens if you run too far with the ball?

One of the unique skills required in Aussie rules football is the running bounce – when a player running with the ball in the open field must bounce the ball every 15 meters. This rule is not enforced strictly if you’re about to be tackled, but if a unimpeded player is deemed to have run too far without bouncing, he will be whistled and the other team will be given a free kick.

  • What can defenders do? And what can’t they do?

All players are permitted to tackle the man with the ball, but defenders consist of the six players defending their forward-50 line and goal square against the opposition. These players are comprised of three halfbacks and three fullbacks, and all must attempt to stop the other team’s forwards from kicking goals.

They are all allowed to block (or smother) kicks, tackle in a legal manner, shove the ball-handler out-of-bounds, or spoil kicks by punching the ball out of the opponent’s hands when he is attempting to make a mark. Defenders can even deflect a ball that’s going through the goalposts; if they do this, the other team will only score one point (a behind) rather than six (a goal).

  • What other types of penalties are there?

Players cannot

  1. Argue with or swear at an umpire
  2. Directly prevent a player from taking a free kick or otherwise encroach on the mark
  3. Enter the field at areas other than the interchange area
  4. Make head or neck contact with your opponent while in a marking contest
  5. Attempt to trip your opponent
  6. Make high or low tackles (above the shoulders or below the knees)
  7. Shove an opponent in the back
  8. Hold onto a player’s jersey or restrict their movement by grabbing
  9. Tackle a man who does not have the ball
  10. Tackle a player who has already taken a clean mark

If you commit any of these penalties (as well as some others), you will either give away a free kick or be cited for a more severe 50-meter penalty.

  • What if there’s a jump ball?

If a group of players are trying to grab the ball and the umpire cannot determine who has possession, he will conduct a ball-up from the spot of the ball and the two teams will contest the play from there.

  • What happens when the ball goes out of bounds?

If the ball goes out of bounds, the boundary umpire will pick up the ball and, with his back to the field, throw it over his head back into play. The players will then contest the ball just like they would in any other marking contest. However, players are not allowed to deliberately push or kick the ball out of bounds, and will be penalized if they do.

  • What is an “after the siren” kick?

If the siren sounds to signify the end of the first half or of the entire game, a player can still kick a goal. For example, if a player kicks the ball to a teammate and the receiving player marks it cleanly, he is still allowed to take the kick even if time expires.

Most of the time, this kick has little consequence, but there have been several instances when a player has kicked a game-winning goal. It’s the Aussie rules equivalent of a buzzer-beater, and it’s rare enough to make any close game an instant classic.

  • Is any padding permitted?

Aussie rules is a full-contact sport, just like rugby. Soft protective headgear and light shin guards may be worn, but no other padding is allowed. Mouthguards are strongly encouraged, but not required.

  • How many substitutions are allowed?

Each team is comprised of 22 players – 18 on the field and four on the bench. Of those four bench players, three are regular substitutes and one is an injury replacement. New players can sub onto the field during stoppages of play, but they must enter at the designated interchange area or risk a penalty. In the AFL, the maximum number of exchanges is 120 per game.

  • How are in-game penalties handled? Is there a carding system?

Unlike in soccer or rugby, there is no carding system in Aussie rules, which means that players cannot be ejected for rough conduct. However, they can be reported at the umpire’s discretion.

In the AFL, the player discipline is handled in a post-match tribunal, who will issue suspensions or fines if needed. The severity of the offense is based upon video review of the incident in question, specifically determining which players were at fault and/or if the illegal contact was deliberate.

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Papua New Guinea

papua_new_guinea_map

Despite being very close geographically, Australia and Papua New Guinea might seem like being worlds apart in culture and lifestyle. But in the realm of sports, the two countries are very similar – Papua New Guinea’s national sport is rugby league, making it one of the few countries besides Australia to favor rugby league over rugby union.

But the country is also home to a very passionate footy community, which the locals typically refer to as “AFL” or just “Rules.”

Papua New Guinea was an Aussie territory for many years, establishing partially autonomous rule shortly after World War II, but not becoming a fully independent nation until 1975. Given these historic ties, it’s not surprising that the sport of Aussie rules has a well-established history in PNG.

Footy was first played in PNG in 1944 in the city of Lae, where a number of Australian schoolteachers and military personnel were located. Lae, the second-largest city in PNG, proved to be an ideal spot for an Aussie rules community to grow over the next few decades, as the game spread to other large cities, including the capital, Port Moresby.

In the 1970s, the best Papuans were selected to play an annual game with a representative team from Queensland, the closest Australian state to PNG. In 1977, the sport was popular enough in PNG to send their national Under-17 footy team to compete in an international cup against the Victoria team. The next year, PNG’s team returned Down Under – this time to Adelaide against the South Australian team – and in 1979, PNG sent another squad to Tasmania to field a team in the Teal Cup (now known as the AFL Under-18 Championships).

Unfortunately, in the 80s, the presence of Aussie rules stagnated. Papua New Guinea was now a fully independent nation, and the country’s TV stations were much more focused on the very popular State of Origin rugby league matches between New South Wales and Queensland. Apart from the AFL Grand Final, footy games were rarely televised in PNG and many of the previous decade’s star players were aging and retiring from the sport.

Fortunately, the footy league in Cairns, Queensland took notice of the declining participation rates in PNG and helped them out, offering to play occasional matches against the PNG teams starting in 1990.

1280px-png_mosquitos_2008_international_cup

In 1995, the PNG national footy team, the Mosquitos, got a chance to star on the international stage, competing in the Arafura Games in the Australian city of Darwin. The Arafura Games were a unique and inclusive international event, featuring numerous sports being played by multiple athletes, both able-bodied and disabled (it was discontinued in 2011 due to budget cuts).

The Mosquitos crushed the New Zealand Falcons in the Arafura Grand Final, winning by a score of 100-18 and claiming the gold medal. The major footy authorities further south in Melbourne took notice and arranged meetings with officials from the PNG Rules Football Council. Two higher-ups in the AFL, Ian Collins and Ed Biggs, traveled to PNG and were impressed with the quality of footy that they were playing.

At the 1997 Arafura Games, the Mosquitos prevailed over New Zealand again, winning by a score of 93-60. They also played games against Australian squads, including the Northern Territory representative team and a team comprised entirely of soldiers from the Australian Defence Force.

In 2000, the AFL was ready to invest in its PNG audience, officially naming Andrew Cadzow as the country’s AFL development officer in Port Moresby. The following year, AFL PNG was officially incorporated, and the sport had new life in the country. Currently, AFL PNG seeks to coordinate intrastate games, develop current footy players, and discover new talent, while supporting the game financially in PNG. AFL PNG also works to get more kids involved, either through school or after-school programs.

They’ve also developed a strategic partnership with AFL Queensland (starting in 2005), which offers some boarding school scholarships to deserving Papuan children, as well as providing easier paths for Papuan footy players looking to get their shot at the AFL.

The highest recorded attendance for any footy match in the nation’s history was in 2009, when the PNG-based Central Highlands Football Club played against the Flying Boomerangs (an Aboriginal Australian team) at Kilage Stadium, drawing 7,500 spectators.

At the moment, AFL PNG relies on a small number of donations from PNG-based banks, phone companies, and other businesses, as well as some private donations from Australian entrepreneurs. The country has also recently welcomed an Aussie rules development academy in Port Moresby and hopes to further foster the growth of footy in PNG sporting culture. The AFL’s Brisbane Lions, in particular, have taken an interest in recruiting Papuan footy players to the Lions’ development academy (formerly known as the Suncoast Lions in the NEAFL). Such players have included Amua Pirika, John Vogae, and Emmanuel Tupia.

Currently, there are nearly 2,000 registered adult players in PNG, and the sport continues to experience strong growth, even more so than soccer or rugby union. The country has the second-highest number of registered footballers outside of Australia itself. The future for footy in Papua New Guinea continues to look very bright.

PAPUA NEW GUINEANS IN THE AFL

  • Donald Barry (played 2009) – Drafted in 2009 by the Brisbane Lions as an international rookie. Only played one year in the AFL, but had a long and successful run with the Coolangatta Blues (Queensland Australian Football League) and with the Manunda Hawks in the AFL Cairns competition. Barry also played for the Mosquitos in the 2008 Australian Football International Cup.
  • James Gwilt (played 2005-2016) – Born in Melbourne to a Papuan mother and an Australian father. Played in 126 games as a defender with St Kilda from 2005-2014 before playing two seasons with the Essendon Bombers.
  • Peter Labi (played 2009) – Drafted by Carlton as an international rookie in 2009 after spending the previous year as a member of the Brisbane Lions reserves team. Also a member of the Mosquitos’ 2008 International Cup championship squad.
  • Mal Michael (played 1997-2008) – By far the most influential PNG footy player, Michael was born in Port Moresby to a Papuan mother and an Australian father. Moved to Brisbane at age three and graduated from St Peter’s Lutheran College. Ended up playing 238 career games in the AFL with Collingwood, Essendon, and Brisbane. After retiring in 2008, he has become an unofficial footy spokesman in his native country and has established the Mal Michael Foundation to help raise funds for the sport and give more Papuans a chance at the AFL.
  • Gideon Simon (played 2012) – Originally from Mount Hagen, PNG, Simon was signed as an international rookie for the Richmond Tigers in 2012 after playing with the Coburg Lions in the VFL. While he didn’t stick in the AFL competition due to a troublesome hamstring, Simon managed to catch on with Centrals-Trinity Beach in the AFL Cairns competition.
  • Brendan Beno – A full forward, Beno hails from the island of Bougainville and was a recruit for the Brisbane Lions Academy program in 2010. He had a very promising junior league career in PNG and also played for the Mosquitos in the 2011 International Cup.
  • Ben Sexton (played 1991-1996) – Born in PNG, but raised in Bendigo, Victoria. Made his debut for the Western Bulldogs in 1991 and played 39 career games there before joining Carlton in 1996 and subsequently retiring.

LEAGUES

  • Eastern Highlands Rules Football League
  • Goroka Football League
  • Kimbe Football League
  • Lae Football League
  • Mount Hagen Football League
  • Port Moresby Football League
  • Rabaul Football League