Samoan Kangaroos making leaps and bounds

STRONG and solidly built, men of Samoan background are renowned for success on the rugby union and league fields. But South Pacific Islanders who have taken up the Australian game are discovering they have a natural flair for the code.

And despite rugged appearances, members of the national Samoan Australian football side aren’t afraid of taking orders from a woman.

Milani Feaunati has been reappointed national coach following a respectable campaign at the 2005 International Cup to finish fifth behind New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the United States and Ireland.

The eight-team Samoan Australian Football League, marking its tenth birthday alongside the AFL’s 150th anniversary this year, provides a strong pool from which players will be selected for the national side.

Feaunati will then take charge of a committed training regime with the players required to complete three sessions per week.

A woman’s formula is one that works for the Bulldogs, right down to analogies that help explain the rules.

“With introducing the rules we explain that AFL has no offside, no knock-on, and players start in positions similar to netball and not in their own half,” AFL Samoa development officer Michael Roberts says.

So the derisive cry of "It's not netball!" – so often heard when umpires pay free kicks supporters consider 'soft' – does not quite pack the same punch for fans of Samoan football.

In a nation of people accustomed to sliding the ball through the centre of two sticks on their bellies, adjustments to facilities have also helped make the transition.

“During our schoolboys competition we use metal stakes hammered into the ground and covered over with PVC piping,” Roberts says.

“It’s also important to remember most sports score to the opposition’s end, where in AFL we score at our own end. This can be confusing when explaining 'your' goals. Most sports defend their goals like a military base.”

North Melbourne’s Aaron Edwards, originally from West Samoa, is a prime example of what the Samoan physique is capable of with an Australian football in hand. Who knows what untapped talent is cultivating offshore under the watchful eye of a whistle-brandishing woman.

Many players have transferred from rugby union, volleyball, athletics and sevens rugby, resulting in a running, switching style of play with strong tackling and bumping.

Roberts says the Samoan team will also boast “sneaky flair up forward”.

But perhaps the most dangerous asset the Bulldogs possess is one that runs in their blood.

“These guys have no fear, so they always keep their eyes on the ball,” Roberts says.


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