Hawks Loom Huge in New Zealand

Although we've previewed some of this already, Wednesday 11th November will be remembered in AFL New Zealand circles as hugely momentous and not just for the commemoration of the end of the First World War.

AFL New Zealand and the Hawthorn Football Club officially launched the HANZ Up programme for player development within the country. ‘HANZ (an acronym of Hawthorn and New Zealand) Up’ is a programme instigated between the two bodies which is truly multi-faceted and simply one of the greatest events thus far in the promotion and development of football outside Australia.

Hawthorn President and former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett will be hosting the evening alongside Geoff Dickson (Chairman AFLNZ) and Dean Warren (AFL Oceania GM). Three Hawks players in Trent Croad, Brent Renouf (Premiership players of 2008) and Shane Savage (all born and bred NZ) will attend. Renouf’s family is well known in Wellington with the foyer of the Town Hall, the Renouf Tennis Centre and Renouf Stadium linked to his father’s uncle, Sir Francis Renouf.

‘Hanz Up’ fits in beautifully with New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key’s direction that he wants more Kiwis to be active and therefore is to be included among the sports promoted through KiwiSport.

Involvement from the Hawks has occurred, and will occur in a variety of ways:-

  • The Hawks Cup has already been held within the four secondary school zones that have been developed so far. AFL New Zealand CEO Rob Vanstam has said that since the “Hawks Cup has been completed he has had schools ringing AFL NZ wanting in”. This is in no small part due to the New Zealand Secondary Schools recognizing AFL as one of the sporting codes that they promote and include within the curriculum. This is a huge advance in a country outside of Australia and a real feather in the cap of AFL NZ in achieving this.
  • Each year three talented youngsters and their families will be hosted by Hawthorn for a week and train with the Club. This will be known as the “Trent Croad Scholarship” recognizing one of the most famous New Zealanders to play in the AFL.
  • One of these three youngsters will then go on to attend the AIS for a further week’s training.
  • Hawthorn will announce their first signing of an NZ International Rookie. He is believed to be Kurt Heatherley who is a fifteen year old with a basketball background. The Hawks already have a number of talent scouts operating within NZ.
  • The New Zealand National Sides will change their moniker from the Falcons to the Hawks with the native hawk of New Zealand, the Kahu, stylized on the jumper (pictured above is Hawthorn star and premiership captain Sam Mitchell). This obviously has huge benefits for the New Zealand national sides with apparel sponsorship forming some of the arranged support.
  • The Hawks are sponsoring the Kiwikick programme with currently 38 registered centres totaling 1200 participants, up from zero last year. Vanstam is certain that they will have had at least 125 centres operating by the end of 2010. One of the amazing things to consider with the registered centres is that often in an area such as the Bay of Plenty, an area including Rotorua, Tauranga and other such towns in a truly beautiful part of NZ, there is simply no history of AFL footy. As such part of the development is as much about upskilling the interested parents, as the kids attending the clinics. The programmes are described as comprising broad-based skills sessions that will be of benefit to a wide range of other sports but will introduce the children to the football code and also to the Hawthorn brand. This makes them attractive to people who otherwise might be put off by an unknown sport. Outside of this there is of course the school participation programmes run by AFL NZ where 15,000 students have had a more brief exposure to the game over the past year. Vanstam said the school programmes were needs based dependent on what the school wanted but it was all about exposure- whether as part of the school programme, during lunchtimes or even straight after school.

Though it is Hawthorn that is investing heavily the International Draft Laws will allow equal access to all AFL Clubs for recruitment. It appears the days of a “one-off rock show” where the AFL stage a game in New Zealand, as happened during a brief 4 year period around the turn of the century, are gone and in the place of such games comes a far more satisfactory and comprehensive involvement. That said, those games would were wonderful to be a part of and it would be terrific to see games again in NZ, particularly featuring Hawthorn.

Without a doubt this shows Hawthorn as a smart and adventurous Club who have learnt a lot from their involvement in Tasmania and have now applied some of those strategies in a market that has long awaited such involvement. Hawthorn coming in with such a broad base approach to underpin their involvement from the juniors up is something that WFN applaud heavily.


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