By Tuifa'asisina Peter Rees

The 2005 AFL International Cup that took place in Melbourne in August was a triumph for the Pacific nations, despite the unfortunate late withdrawal of Nauru due to economic struggles.

Papua New Guinea and New Zealand contested the grand final with the Kiwis winning their first major Aussie Rules title while for PNG it was their second consecutive finals appearance.

To further illustrate the Pacific dominance, Samoa took out the top individual award when their captain Fia Tootoo was voted the Most Valuable Player (MVP) with Navu Maha of PNG. It was the second consecutive time Tootoo has won the award after being adjudged the outstanding player in 2002.

Samoa finished fifth, two places better than it did in 2002. They just missed out on the semi-finals after beating Canada, South Africa and Great Britain. The two games they lost were against eventual finalists New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

New Zealand and PNG got into the grand final after beating 2002 champions Ireland and surprise packets USA in the semis.

The grand final was a spectacular affair as the game was the curtain raiser for an official AFL game at the home of Aussie Rules at Melbourne's magnificent MCG stadium which can seat up to 80,000 spectators. New Zealand proved too good in the final with their height and aerial game out manoeuvring the skilful but outsized PNG players. New Zealand 7.8.(50) defeated PNG 5.2.(32).

It is no wonder AFL officials are following the lead of rugby union and rugby league and looking more to the island nations as a talent pool. It was a change in mindset that gained more momentum in the mid 1990's.

Previously, Aussie Rules was seen as the national game of Australia without thought of globalisation. That changed as the game spread to over 44 countries due mostly to ex-pat Australians introducing the game to locals. In the 1930s and 1950s the game was first introduced to the Pacific Islands in Nauru and Papua New Guinea respectively.

Today, tiny Nauru regards Aussie Rules as its national sport while PNG has over 20,000 players to call on. By the 1990's, the game had gained a foothold in Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and even Niue. The AFL set up the International Australia Football Council (IAFC) in 1995 to monitor the international game.


New Zealand celebrates with the AFL International Cup trophy after beating Papua New Guinea in the final. (Photo: Courtesy World Footy News)

The Papua New Guinea Mosquitoes line up for the singing of their country's national anthem before playing NZ in the finals. (Photo: Courtesy World Footy News)

Samoa performing the siva tau before playing Canada; with Samoan captain Fia Tootoo as co-MVP of the 2005 AFL International Cup. (Photo: Courtesy SARFA)

The IAFC has assisted with funding and technical assistance. AFL clubs have also done their bit by establishing their own partnerships with the island nations.

The AFL approved the holding of the inaugural International Cup in 2002 which saw eleven countries taking part. Of that number, three were from the Pacific; Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Nauru. The tournament proved to Australian officials that the Pacific was a rich breeding ground of talent. Fast forward three years and officials are already describing the 2005 International Cup as a vast improvement on 2002 with the teams more competitive.

Plans for the 2008 AFL International Cup are already underway with the AFL looking to incorporate the tournament with their 150 anniversary celebrations. From 2008 on, the AFL intends on launching an AFL World Cup to run every four years.

The AFL is also keen to market the game more in the Pacific. They feel the game is suited the islanders with the mix of kicking, running, tackling and jumping involved in this fast paced game. They are trying to recruit Brisbane Lions' Mal Michael who is from Papua New Guinea, and Richmond's David Rodan of Fiji as ambassadors in their bid to include Aussie Rules as a sport in the 2007 South Pacific Games programme.

1st New Zealand
2nd Papua New Guinea
3rd USA
4th Ireland
5th Samoa
6th Great Britain
7th Canada
8th South Africa
9th Japan
10th Spain

2005 AFL International Cup All Stars Team (picked from the tournament's best players as voted):
Navu Maha (PNG)*, David Gavara-Nanu (PNG), Stanley Tapend (PNG), Alister Sioni (PNG), Richard Bradley (NZ), Andrew Congalton (NZ), Craig Ashton (NZ), James Bowden (NZ), Todd Danks (NZ), James Brunmeier (USA), Donnie Lucero (USA), Michito Sakaki (Japan), Mtutuzeli Hlomela (South Africa), Steven Malinga (South Africa), Clifford Richardson (Ireland), Mike Finn (Ireland), Rob Burgess (Great Britain), Jose Francisco Lorente (Spain), Fia Tootoo (Samoa)*, Mateta Kirisome (Samoa), Rob McEwan (Canada), Paul Loghanne (Canada).


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