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Australian rules football in New Zealand


Australian rules football in New Zealand

Australian rules football in New Zealand
New Zealand player takes a mark in a 2008 International Cup match
Country New Zealand
Governing body New Zealand AFL
National team New Zealand
First played 1871, Wellington
Registered players 30,000[1]
Clubs 19
Club competitions
Audience records
Single match 22,546 - 2013 St Kilda vs Sydney. Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Australian rules football in New Zealand is a sport which is growing in popularity.[2]

There are five Australian Football Leagues in New Zealand: Auckland (Auckland Australian Football League), Canterbury (Canterbury Australian Football League), Wellington (Wellington AFL), Waikato (Waikato AFL) and Otago.

16 New Zealanders have played in the Australian Football League. Several more are descendants of Māori and European New Zealanders.[3][4] Wellington hosted the first AFL game outside of Australia and the first AFL game in New Zealand in 2013 between the Sydney Swans and St Kilda.[5] Wellington hosted the second AFL game in New Zealand in 2014: Brisbane Lions and St Kilda played on Anzac Day.[6]


  • History of Australian rules football in New Zealand 1
    • Beginnings 1.1
      • Brief Revivals 1.1.1
      • New Century 1.1.2
    • Hiatus 1.2
    • Modern Competition 1.3
    • Exhibition Matches 1.4
    • International Success 1.5
  • Participation 2
  • Leagues & Competitions 3
  • National team 4
  • AFL games (2013-present) 5
  • Audience 6
    • AFL Exhibition Matches 6.1
    • Television 6.2
  • Notable New Zealand players in the VFL/AFL 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

History of Australian rules football in New Zealand


The Christchurch Football club, founded in 1863[7] played football according to its own rules,[8] one of which was to bounce the ball every 4 yards, very much similar to the modern game of Australian Football. The club adopted rugby rules in 1876.[7][9]

Australian Football was introduced to New Zealand around 1868. The Nelson Football Club was formed this year and played a hybrid version of Victorian and Association (soccer) rules in its first two seasons.[10][11][12] By the 1860s there was regular trade between New Zealand ports and Melbourne, and the Victorian (or Melbourne) rules would have been known by some of the immigrants.[13] The Nelson Club were the first club in New Zealand to adopt Rugby rules in 1870.[14]

The Wellington Football Club was formed on 12 May 1871.[15] The club initially adopted Melbourne rules, but soon switched to Rugby rules "principally for the reason that the clubs in adjoining provinces play under those rules, and as the club contemplate playing a match with the Nelson club before long the necessity of such a course is apparent." The last match played under Melbourne rules was on 24 June 1871.[16] This was not the end of the matter, however, with the club for a short period in 1875 adding the Melbourne rule of bouncing the ball. The club soon after reverted to full Rugby rules.[17]

The Dunedin Football Club, formed in 1872, initially played under its own rules. Shortly thereafter a second club in Dunedin, the Union Club, was formed and is thought to have adopted Victorian rules. Poor weather meant that few games were played in both the 1873 and 1874 seasons. The Dunedin Club adopted Association (soccer) rules in 1875, while the Union club retained Victorian rules.[18] The clubs were able to compromise, and the first match between the clubs that year was played under Victorian rules on 19 June 1875.[19] The return match was played under Association rules a few weeks later. In 1876 a hybrid match was played between the two clubs. The first half was played according to rugby rules, and the second half according to Victorian Rules.[20] By 1877 both clubs had adopted Rugby rules.[18]

"At the annual meeting of the Union Club in 1877 it was decided by 17 votes to five to adopt the Rugby Union Laws, the club in all its matches with the D.F.C. previous to that date having stipulated for one spell of every game being under Victorian rules."[21]

The first games of football in Auckland were played in 1870 with the rules being a mix of Victorian and Association. In 1873 the Auckland Football Club adopted Rugby rules following a visit by two members of the Wellington Club.[12] At the 1874 AGM of the Auckland Football Club discussion continued around rules, with motions put to either adopt the Victorian Rules of 1866, or form a committee to consider other rules. These motions were defeated in favour of continuing with Rugby rules.[22]

An Auckland team undertook the first inter-provincial Rugby tour in late 1875. This sparked additional interest in Rugby in regions such as Canterbury and Dunedin where several codes were being played. Ultimately the success of this led to further representative tours, and proved to be a catalyst for Rugby to become the dominant code in the main regions.[12][18]

Brief Revivals

The Reform Football Club was formed in Wellington in 1879 to "play under the Victorian rules".[23] In the same article several clubs are also reported to have been formed in Dunedin and one in Nelson. The Reform club's first practice match was held in the Hon. J. Sheehan's paddock, Hobson St, on 5 April 1879 in front of a "considerable number of spectators".[23] The Reform club enjoyed a reasonable amount of press coverage throughout 1879. From 1880 there is very little mention of the club, and how long it was in existence is unknown.[24]

The 1888-1889 New Zealand Native football team matches saw a Māori team visit Victoria, as part of a year long tour of the UK and Australia, to play a program of Victorian Rules games. The team plays 8 games, winning three and losing five. It defeated South Melbourne Football Club,[25] which at that stage was Victoria’s premier club.

New Century

After being virtually non existent since the 1880s, interest in Australian football was rekindled on the back of a wave of immigration from Australia in the first decade of the 20th century.[26] In 1903 the ‘New Zealand Association of Australian Football’ was formed in Christchurch by a committee of expat Victorians.[27] The league had 4 clubs (City Wanderers, Sydenham, Woolston, and Imperial with a fifth, Carlton, formed a year later). By 1904 a number of leagues were being established throughout the country. In Wellington a league of five clubs was formed (City, Newtown, Petone, Wanderers and Federal),[28] and Auckland had three clubs in the new league (Auckland Imperial, Victoria, and Austral football clubs).[29] Other centres also had clubs form in 1904 including Dunedin (Australian Pioneer Football Club[30]), Kaitangata (Wanderers[31]), Waihi and Waikino.

Additional clubs were to join the Auckland league in the following years, including the Eden Football Club, who won back-to-back Auckland Australian Football League premierships in 1907 & 1908.[32]

In 1905, two New Zealand representatives (one from the North Island and one from the South) attended the Australasian Football Conference where the Australasian Football Council was formed.[33]

In 1908, New Zealand defeated both New South Wales and Queensland at the Jubilee Australasian Football Carnival an event held in Melbourne, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, to celebrate 50 years of Australian Football.[33]


Already in decline, the outbreak of World War I and the popularity of rugby union signalled a hiatus in the game in New Zealand. No clubs survived after the war.

New Zealand was no longer represented and without any overseas delegates, the council reverted to the Australian Football Council.

Nevertheless, some efforts were made to rekindle interest in the code during these years.

In 1961, the Melbourne Football Club toured New Zealand during its off season, becoming the first VFL/AFL club to do so.[34]

Modern Competition

In 1974 senior competitions began in Christchurch (The Canterbury Australian Rules Football Association),[35] Auckland (Auckland Australian Football League)[36] and Wellington.

In 1995, the competition had grown sufficiently strong to field a national team, the Falcons.

The Arafura Games gave the side the first opportunity to compete at an international level. In 1995, 1997 and 1999, New Zealand took the silver medal in Australian Football at the event in Darwin, Northern Territory, running second to Papua New Guinea.

In 1997, the New Zealand Australian Football Development Foundation (NZAFDF) was formed.

1998 saw the debut of New Zealand born Trent Croad into the Australian Football League, the beginnings of what is a successful career at elite level.

In 1999, NZAFDF incorporated as governing body and was renamed New Zealand AFL.

Exhibition Matches

The years of 1991, 1998, 2000 and 2001 saw official Australian Football League exhibition matches staged in New Zealand so that the AFL could gauge local support.

International Success

Richard Bradley takes a spectacular mark against India in the 2008 International Cup

In the inaugural Australian Football International Cup in 2002, New Zealand finished 3rd.

In 2003, local Aussie Rules convert Nick Evans debuted for the famous All Blacks rugby union side against England.[37]

2005 was a huge year for Australian Football in New Zealand. The national team, the Falcons defeated Papua New Guinea to win the International Cup and were later invited to send a team to the Australian Country Championships.

Since 2004, there were talks of a New Zealand Australian Football League franchise or club relocation as a possible expansion plan for the league. New Zealand fields teams in several Australian competitions in other football codes including the National Rugby League and A-League.

The country became considered as a 7th Australian state by the Australian Football League's international development department.

2006 saw the first ever live regular season Australian rules football matches on television (the AFL) were shown by SKY Network Television.[38]

In November 2008, 17 year old Liam Ackland was invited to the AIS/AFL academy.[39]

The Hawthorn Football Club, which had been involved in New Zealand since about 2004 and at one in 2009 had 3 players from New Zealand on its senior list,[40] stepped up its involvement in 2009 with development funding to set up a school competition, the "Hawks Cup", for recruiting and talent identification.[41] The sport boomed at junior levels after approved by the New Zealand Secondary Sports Council.[42] Kurt Heatherley of Tauranga accepted an AFL scholarship in 2010.[40]


Map of New Zealand showing regions where Australian rules football in 2007 was organised in green

The New Zealand AFL currently has around 600 senior players.[43] In 2010, the AFL hoped to increase registered secondary school participants with the introduction of in-school programs.[42] This introduction was highly successful and at the end end of 2012, 25,000 Kiwikick participants had been recorded.

Leagues & Competitions

National team

The national team is the Falcons. The Falcons were Silver medallists in the Arafura Games in 1995 and 1997, runners up in the Australian Football International Cup in 2002, then became International Cup champions in 2005.

AFL games (2013-present)

AFL club St Kilda signed an historic agreement with, the AFL and Wellington City Council, the Saints will play in New Zealand on Anzac Day for at least the next five years 2013-2017. The first match was against Sydney in 2013 and in 2014 the Saints will host Brisbane Lions. [44] They play for the Simpson-Henderson Trophy.

Round/Date Host Score Guest Score Winner and Margin Venue Attendance
April 25, 2013 St Kilda 9.9 (63) Sydney 11.13 (79) Sydney by 16 points Westpac Stadium, Wellington 22,546
April 25, 2014 St Kilda 11.13 (79) Brisbane Lions 12.10 (82) Brisbane by 3 points Westpac Stadium, Wellington 13,409
April 25, 2015 St Kilda N/A Westpac Stadium, Wellington
April 25, 2016 St Kilda N/A Westpac Stadium, Wellington
April 25, 2017 St Kilda N/A Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Source: Footy Wire


AFL Exhibition Matches

Date/Year Location Stadium Teams Crowd
5/10/1991 Auckland Geelong v. St Kilda 8,500
1/03/1998 Wellington Basin Reserve Melbourne v. Sydney 7,820
29/01/2000 Wellington Westpac Stadium Western Bulldogs v. Hawthorn 11,666
2001 Wellington Westpac Stadium Brisbane Lions v. Adelaide 7,500


Notable New Zealand players in the VFL/AFL

Currently on an AFL senior list
Player VFL/AFL Years* VFL/AFL Matches* Connections to New Zealand, References
Aaron Edwards - 91 New Zealand father, Samoan mother[46]
Ben Rutten - 215 New Zealand mother, Dutch father[47]
Jasper Pittard - 31 [47]
Daniel Pearce - 5 Dutch mother, New Zealand father[47]
Marley Williams - 22 Maori father[47]
Nathan Van Berlo - 182 Both parents[48]
Karmichael Hunt 2011- 43 Born Auckland, father from Cook Islands, mother from Samoa[49]
Shane Savage 2009- 56 Born; Maori father, European mother[50][51]
Brent Renouf 2008- 67 Born, Parents[51][52]
Heath Grundy 2006- 139 Mother from New Zealand[53]
Simon Black - 322 Father born there[47]
Paul Bower - 70 Maori mother[54]
Brett Peake - 118 Maori[54]
Brian Peake - 66 Maori[54]
Shem Tatupu - 0 Born (international rookie)
Kurt Heatherley - 0 Born Tauranga[55] (international rookie)
Jay van Berlo - 32 Both parents[48]
Jordan Russell[47] - 125 Mother[48]
Adam Campbell 2006–2009 13 Born Christchurch, Parents[56]
Trent Croad 1998–2009 222 Born, Parents[57]
Daniel McAlister 1997–2002 6 Born, part Maori[54]
Danny Dickfos 1996–1999 65 Part Maori[58]
Donald Dickie 1996–2000 55 Born, part Maori
Wayne Schwass 1988–2002 282 Born, part Maori[59]
Warren Jones 1978–1988 123 Born
Peter Bennett 1944–1954 103 Born
Marty McDonnell 1939–1950 92 Born
Thomas O'Halloran 1925–1934 142 Born
Joe Sellwood 1930–1945 181 Born
Harry Haughton 1912-19 113 Born

See also


  1. ^ Herald Sun - New Zealand AFL CEO Rob Vanstam says there is growing interest in the game across the Tasman
  2. ^ NZ coverage reaches new heights
  3. ^ AFL players with international backgrounds#New Zealand
  4. ^ - Heatherley waiting for word on his AFL future
  5. ^ - AFL confirmed for capital next year
  6. ^ St Kilda v Brisbane Lions -
  7. ^ a b Christchurch Football Club - Club History
  8. ^ RUGBY UNION FOOTBALL - HISTORY - 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
  9. ^ , J. T. Smith & Co., p. 120Illustrated Guide to Christchurch and NeighbourhoodMosley, M. (1885),
  10. ^ Swan, Arthur C. (1948). History of New Zealand Rugby Football, Vol. 1, 1870-1945.
  11. ^ "Early Rugby in the Manawatu - Talk" Clive Akers, 10 April 2008
  12. ^ a b c Camilla Obel, "Unions, Leagues and Franchises: The Social Organisation of Rugby Union in New Zealand", University of Canterbury thesis, 2001
  13. ^ Blainey, Geoffrey (2003), A game of our own: the origins of Australian football, Black Inc, p. 142
  14. ^ Turley, A. (2009). Rugby-The Pioneer Years, How Rugby Captured the Heart of a Nation, Auckland, N.Z.: Harper Collins.
  15. ^ Wellington Independent, 12 May 1871
  16. ^ Wellington Independent, 24 June 1871
  17. ^ Evening Post 3 May 1875 & 12 May 1875
  18. ^ a b c Rex W. Thomson, "Provincial Rugby in New Zealand: Otago's Academic Pioneers", Fall 1996
  19. ^ Otago Witness, 26 June 1875
  20. ^ "When 'Rules' ruled Sydney".  
  21. ^ Otago Witness, 6 June 1889, Page 26
  22. ^ Daily Southern Cross, 2 May 1874.
  23. ^ a b Evening Post, 7 April 1879
  24. ^ Papers Past
  25. ^ Ryan, Greg (1993). Forerunners of the All Blacks. Christchurch, New Zealand: Canterbury University Press. p. 144.  
  26. ^ Jock Phillips. 'History of immigration - Migration: 1900 to 1914', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 12 June 2013
  27. ^ Otago Witness, 1 April 1903, Page 50
  28. ^ Evening Post, 3 June 1904 and 22 June 1904
  29. ^ New Zealand Herald, 14 May 1904
  30. ^ Otago Witness, 11 May 1904, page 53
  31. ^ Bruce Herald, 7 June 1904, Page 5
  32. ^ Auckland Australian Football League
  33. ^ a b A False Dawn
  34. ^ Melbourne in AFL first
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ All Black almost a Swan fromm
  38. ^ World Footy News - Live footy telecasts for New Zealand
  39. ^ International juniors head for AIS and Junior Oceania Cup
  40. ^ a b HANZ-UP! AFL Program
  41. ^ Hawks cast recruiting net across Tasman from the Herald Sun
  42. ^ a b Rushworth, Anna (29 November 2009). "Aussies luring Kiwi kids into kicking and jumping game".  
  43. ^ AFL International Census 2007
  44. ^
  45. ^ Sommet Sports broadcasting on Sky Sports
  46. ^ Making his mark
  47. ^ a b c d e f 118 players with multicultural background on AFL lists
  48. ^ a b c An old head on young shoulders
  49. ^ Masters, Roy (1 August 2009). "Hunt and the hunted: AFL targets NRL’s monopoly on islanders". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  50. ^ 'Proud Kiwi' looks forward to homecoming
  51. ^ a b
  52. ^ McClure, Geoff (2 July 2008). "Kiwi Brent joins select club". The Age (Melbourne). 
  53. ^ Bidwell, Hamish (23 April 2013). "Swans hope to win over a few Kiwis". 
  54. ^ a b c d The Footy Almanac - Asia-Pacific Team of the Century
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^ All Blacks tackle Waverley Park
  58. ^ Losing Hayne would be disaster DANIEL LANE for the Sydney Morning Herald 6 June, 2010M
  59. ^ Māori overseas - Retaining Māori culture in Australia - Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

External links

  • NZ Herald - Australian Rules news section
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