Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wombats make it 5 straight against Richard Champion's Masters

Luke Anderson and Richard Champion
Rumours had been flying around a few weeks out about the possible ex-AFL talent the Australian Masters would be bringing along to their hit-out against the Singapore Wombats. Sure, the team would be made up of over-35’s, but given that 36 year old Dustin Fletcher would technically make the cut on that team – and he’s currently holding down full-back in a top 8 AFL side – the ‘Bats went in to battle preparing to give the Masters Kangaroos’ plenty of respect.

Sure enough ex-Brisbane Lions star Richard Champion looking in as good a form as the day he played his last match strode out to Centre Half-Forward. As part of the ‘Bats back six once again, I was quietly rueing the fact that all former league champs, no matter what position they played in the big league, always seemed to settle in to the forward line in their retirement years. 

The whistle blew and the game got underway and the first lesson learnt was plain and simple – a master’s team means less speed, less vertical leap and plenty more cunning. The Kangaroos won the first centre clearance and speared a pass in to full-forward which was duly marked by their tall-timber spearhead. Twenty seconds in and the Wombats were already down by a goal. Under the assumption there was a little element of good fortune in the first goal, some worried sideways glances were shot from the ‘Bats bench as the Kangaroos won centre clearance number two. This time the Wombats defence weathered the storm, rebounded and finally got the ball forward of centre. The Singapore forward line which had been of concern early in the year was starting to find its feet and before long the ‘Bats had equalled the score. As the quarter wore on the ‘Bats wrestled the dominance in the midfield back and in doing so opened up a floodgate of goals for the term. After the worrying first few minutes, the Wombats had managed to kick six goals to one in the first term.

Quarter number two started as the first had ended but the Kangaroos were also getting their share of footy this time around. With Richard Champion having to push up the ground to make an impact the ‘Bats defence tightened the clamps giving nothing away, Singapore adding 4 majors for the term and led 10.1 (61) to 1.0 (6) at the main break.
With the focus at training the day before on developing some sound kick-out structures the message from the coach was simple “for f#@k’s sake, rush a behind so we get the chance to practice it!”
The third term had tightened right up and although the Wombats added a few more goals to the board the Kangaroos were finally looking dangerous going forward. The rock-solid Wombat defence finally cracked when a centring kick from defence fell short and landed in the hands of the ‘Roos. The resulting goal their only for the quarter as the Wombats extended their lead to 69 points at the last change. With the result beyond doubt both teams shifted down a gear, the Roos found their way forward adding another two goals to bring their tally for the afternoon to four but the Wombats responded with three of their own to keep the margin ever growing. The final siren brought to a solid day of footy in which the Wombats extended their winning streak to five games taking home the chocolates to the tune of 74 points. Singapore Wombats 16.6 102 defeated the Australian Masters Kangaroos 4.4 28. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011


HMAS Ballarat become victim number 4 in 2011
After starting the year 3-0, the Singapore Wombats entered the fourth game of the “touring” season fairly confident of making it four-on-the-trot. Determined to end the ‘Bats streak were the visiting Navy boys from the HMAS Ballarat. The Ballarat boys were keen to say the very least, suited up and ready to go a full hour before kickoff. The Wombats looked as if they might have a tough day at the office ahead.

In scenes akin of the Collingwood Malthouse-Buckley succession plan, Coach Hotton handed over the reins to budding understudy CK for the afternoon. Having found a neat little spot in the Wombats backline playing on the flank (a backline that had been conceding a miserly whisker under 5 goals per game) chances of me escaping the shackles of defence looked grim. That was until CK decided to change things up and throw me forward for the start of the match. The move may had been spurred on by my inspired last quarter efforts up forward last time out that saw me rack up some handy “goal assists” on the stat sheet, or it may have just been because I was wearing CK’s jumper that he didn’t want to get dirty, fact was heading into the fourth game of the year my mission was simple – kick a bloody goal!
With a midfield engine second only to the Judd-led Carlton football club the Wombats fired out of the blocks sending the ball forward. The Ballarat boys quickly tried to mop up, getting first hands on the loose ball and looking for a clearing kick to an open player in their defensive pocket. Swooping in, about to lay a tackle the Ballarat back pocket – now very aware of my presence – try to flick off a quick handpass. In a scene that could have been plucked straight out of the Matrix and was, as they say, more ass than class, I intercepted the ball in midair with my left hand, pinned it back to the chest of the stunned Ballarat player and tackled him into the turf before he (or I for that matter) had realized what had happened. Free Kick for holding the ball. You beauty! From around 30 metres out on a tightish angle I lined up and kicked possible the straightest ball of my life for goal number one of 2011. This was followed a few minutes later by another ball that has dribbled along the boundary just metres from our goal line. With three opponents to beat I got my hands on the ball, ducked, weaved and ducked some more before kicking POINT of the year. A narrow miss from a hurried snap hard up against the behind post made it Wombats 1.1 7 (via my 1.1) to the HMAS boys yet to score. The rest of the quarter was all Wombats as we pushed out to a five goal first term lead. The news wasn’t any better for the Navy boys in the second, despite having some class players around the ground – the Blue and White brigade’s best player was literally bare foot and keeping his charges semi-competitive, a late second quarter charge by Ballarat saw them keep within 5 odd goals heading into halftime.

Having had a reasonably good first half up front the rotation policy saw me return down back for the second half to mind the opposition Centre Half-Forward who had taken a fair dose of angry pills and was hell bent on smashing a few ‘Bats into the turf. Giving away 10cm in height and about 10kg I copped the brunt of a few cheap shots but was able to get the job done – angry man possession-less and dragged and the ‘Bats firmly in control cruising home to a whopping 81 point win.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Walking in the footsteps of Giants

As an Australian living abroad playing and spreading the word on Aussie Rules, I’ve often pondered what it would take to make our wonderful game part of the local landscape of my newly adopted city. The trials and tribulations of the dedicated few that man the ‘new frontiers’ around the world are more often than not the same: recruiting “converts”, finding fields and equipment, financing the whole project and simply spreading the word are all core to establishing our wonderful – yet hard to describe to the uninitiated – game of football. Many conversations at La Quebecoise pub in Montréal centred on the what if? What if we could run programs in schools and develop juniors? What if we had exposure in the media? They were the pipedreams of Aussie Rules pioneers thousands of miles from home.
But what if money wasn’t a problem? If fields were magically starting to appear, grassroots programs were put into place and the media took an interest so the ‘word’ was getting out – could it actually work?

We’re about to find out – thanks to the Greater Western Sydney Giants.

Now before the Hardcore rugby loving public of NSW tears my heart out, it’s important to know that “sport” is a choice on the menu, fans are the dining public and you can’t be “force fed” something you don’t like. It’s all about choice, and having an extra choice on the menu is not a bad thing. Footy is a great spectator sport, and when offering it up, makes a great side dish to the prospective fan’s other first love be it ice hockey, soccer or rugby. That said the Giants have a rather large PRO and an even larger CON that most ex-pat weekend warriors don’t experience in the Montréal’s, Toronto’s, Boston’s and London’s of international footy.

The PRO is footy already exists in Sydney. It’s far from being the number one sport but it’s definitely a known entity. The Sydney Swans have reached the pinnacle of the AFL in the harbour city, and although sporting success in any city will lead to fleeting popularity for a brief moment in time -the standard overseas conversation of “I play Aussie Rules Football” and response: “Oh, you mean Rugby (or Soccer)” does not apply. That’s a huge head start.

The CON is that there is direct (and in some cases loathing) opposition – Rugby League doesn’t want the big bad wolf lurking in their backyard. It’s been dubbed by some as a ‘Code War’. The NRL even went as far as rescheduling one of their marquee match-ups to coincide with the Suns big night in hopes to take the shine off the Gold Coast v Brisbane Lions first “Q-Clash” derby. It didn’t work, the Suns v Lions game was a roaring success. But perhaps the AFL should wear that slap in the face for poaching Hunt and Folau, two of the NRL’s finest. We’ll call it even – for now.

Like the very real prospect of every international Aussie Rules club: the Giants might fail. There’s no guarantees in this venture except that the AFL are planning to stick it out long-term. Now long-term doesn’t mean forever, but it certainly means that if the Giants don’t make it, it won’t be because they never had a chance. So what is the measure of success aside from simply surviving? Far from the “every kid gives rugby away and converts to AFL” Armageddon scenario in the back of the minds of some doomsayers, a sustainable team where local footy is played on weekends by plenty of kids, good crowds at Giants games and some Aussie Rules banter at water coolers in Sydney’s West on a Monday morning should suffice. There’s plenty of room for AFL and NRL in good ole Sydney town.

The path the Giants are carving is one many of us in the international community dream of. The fact they have amongst their playing stocks a rugby league convert also has to warm the hearts of the world footy community – we’ve all played in games where the rugby convert with huge potential invariably gets into open space and instinctively tucks the ball under his arm and darts away to the mild amusement of his/her teammates. Israel Folau has been much maligned but is far more advanced than those raw first gamers. Like Hunt, he has backed himself to be able to make the switch and has opened himself up to immense ridicule if he fails. The greatest basketballer in the world did that once too, although for different reasons I might add. Folau doesn’t expect to fail. Respect that, and judge him fairly, he’s not making a million dollars because he’s as good as Judd and Ablett, his inflated salary is all about getting the ‘word’ out. And it is money that seems to be well spent. He’s a first year player who has never played the game before just like Mike Pyke was when he started at Sydney three years ago. Pyke’s stock is on the rise, but realize it was not an overnight success.

Unlike the Gold Coast Suns who are tipped to be a force in only a few years (despite the fickle football public diving off the bandwagon after the round 2 loss to Carlton and hypocritically sneaking back on after the Q-Clash victory) the Giants are supreme underdogs. Nobody outside the Giant's inner sanctum envisions success, only doom and gloom. We’ve all heard the talk - no one will want to play there, they’ve got no chance of securing a big name, they’ll be the easy beats and blight on the competition – they’ll be located in Tasmania in less than ten years. Even their name and colours have been ridiculed by the very football public that they belong to. Not me, I’ve enjoyed the Suns making their grand entrance, the team born with a silver spoon in their mouth as they were described. Although I didn’t love the name or colours at first I’ve also warmed to the Giants, their effort to stand out, be noticed and fight what many describe as an unwinnable battle resonates with me and my time in Montréal with the Québec Saints. I understand what they’re doing, and I hope they succeed.

And that’s why I am now a GWS Giants foundation member. Although they’ll never displace my passion for my beloved Navy Bluebaggers – I’m in for the long haul (Although I might be somewhat miffed if they pinch Marc Murphy!).

There will be a plethora of international Aussie Rules rookies this year from New York to Mumbai kicking a footy for the very first time. Inevitably they’ll be faced with a decision on which AFL team to support. Their Aussie friends will be doing their best to recruit them into the fold of their dear and beloved teams. But here is an idea - make your team the Giants. They should be installed as the World Footy community’s adopted team – like Ben Lee said, we’re all in this together. They are the group that are, in a sense, standing in the trenches alongside us – the international footy community – fighting the good fight. After all, thanks to the Giants in twenty years time, the players of the Québec Saints who are knocking back a Labatt’s Bleu at La Quebecoise in Montréal will have an answer to the very question that bounced off the gritty walls of the team’s beloved watering hole not too long ago – what if...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wombats win epic 'Singapore Showdown' over Sharks

Singapore Wombats and Singapore Sharks go head-to-head
You learn something new every day. Last week I learnt Singapore has TWO football teams. Let me explain: The Wombats have been a Singapore staple for nearly 20 years, but tucked away is another team – the Sharks. The Sharks are predominantly an Auskick group of (many!) kids running around playing footy (very very well I might add). The Sharks ‘Dads’ are their men’s team – it’s kind of football in reverse, instead of a team investing in juniors, juniors have invested in, well, their Dads.

This brings me to the ‘Singapore Showdown’ (Number 2 if I am correct?) . The Wombats have started off the season in impressive fashion dispensing with the HMAS Melbourne Demons by 10+ goals at home, then travelling to Malaysia and giving Trent Croad’s Warriors a 12 goal touch up. The match-up against the Sharks went well last year, the Wombats taking the honours. But for 2011 there was a twist. Some Wombats now have kids running around in the Sharks program, so come Showdown #2, they would be wearing the Green and Gold in a one-off performance.

I took up my now familiar position in the Wombats back six as the game kicked off. The ‘Bats impressive early with plenty of the ball, but once again wasteful up front missing some gettable goals. The Sharks were extremely competitive, but with Big Ben dominating through the midfield a la Dane Swan the Wombats managed to kick away to a small lead. The Sharks may have had a slightly older average age, but it didn’t stop their big guns flying across the packs taking some absolute screamer marks, the Green and Gold guys were well drilled and responded late in the quarter with a couple of their own, the Wombats holding a narrow 4 point lead at the break, 2.6 to 2.2.

Steffo breaking a tackle
It was déjà vu in the second term, Jaco was on fire through the middle for the Wombats with great support from Sammie Brewster and Jezza but just when the Wombats looked as if they might skip away, the Sharks would reel back the deficit, the ‘Bats still in front by 4 points at the half.
Buoyed by the mention in the best players for the Malaysian game the previous week (a huge improvement from my nightmare debut earlier in the year)  I’d racked up a few touches early playing off half-back, the Sharks however had used the ball so well moving into their strong marking forward line our backline were under constant pressure.

The third term kicked off and the Sharks threw down the challenge. Their full-forward was marking well, and by the time he had decided he would run through me and give me an elbow to the face the Sharks were starting to look dangerous. The Wombats frontal pressure was non-existent as the team seemingly coasted along expecting the win to just happen. With some Wombats playing brilliantly in Sharks colours the momentum swung, and at three-quarter-time the game was poised for a huge upset, the Sharks leading by a point, 6.6 to 5.11.

Wombats coach Hotto demanded the ‘Bats dig deep, the bragging rights of an entire country on the line. Moved up front to play as a defensive half-forward in the last quarter I finally escaped the shackles of the backline, the quarter kicking off with both teams trading goals. Still neck and neck the ball was sent forward for the ‘Bats again, the Sharks getting numbers back and attempted to clear the ball. A series of handballs found their way to the Sharks ruckman as he prepared to send the Sharks forward I wrapped the big man up, no free kick but the ball spilled free and the ‘Bats went forward again and managed to squeeze one through, the ‘Bats up by handful of points. Despite both teams having very deep benches there were a lot of tired legs on the field, the Wombats gaining another centre clearance and going forward. The ball bounced deep into the forward pocket, arriving at the same time as two Sharks I threw the ball onto the left boot and sent it to the top of the goal square, a kind bounce and an obliging Wombat made no mistake, the margin slipped out to just over a goal. It was left to Belly to put the icing on the cake, his goal moments later put the game beyond reach of the gallant Sharks, they would go forward late in the quarter and narrowly miss a few chances, eventually falling by 17 points. It was an epic battle, and the second chapter of what will surely be a fierce rivalry for years to come.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Wombats defeat Malaysia Warriors to claim 'Changi Cup'

Perhaps it was the Singapore Wombats reputation for being late or the sight of the Sepang Formula One circuit through the bus window, but the first win of the Wombats Malaysian tour came early and was simply arriving at the field alive. There were more than a few anxious moments (observed by the look of mild shock on the players faces), but not even a red light – located on a busy thoroughfare and very red for quite some time -was going to stop the Michael Schumacher inspired bus driver, taking the sweeping corners at break neck speed and having to switch lanes at the last second as inconsiderate drivers used his braking zones to go about their Saturday afternoon outings.

The Malaysian Warriors played host to the warm favourite Wombats, but with new inclusion; 2008 Hawthorn Premiership player and All-Australian Trent Croad in the line-up for the locals, the Warriors might have fancied themselves a little stronger up forward than usual.

Despite my best efforts to escape a backline entrusted with the job of shutting down a retired AFL superstar – who coincidentally would be pulling on the boots at the ripe old age of 31 – after a quick sales pitch by Juzzy and a once over stare down appraisal by assistant coach CK, as the team was read out I took my place on the half-back flank, secretly deciding as I was lining up for the start of the match that I’d play the position to the letter, half-back and the other half wherever I damn well pleased.

The match kicked off and the first centre clearance fell to my soon-to-be-outlawed gloved hands, driving the ball forward for the ‘Bats, the single stat already a vast improvement from my possession-less first half debut earlier in the year. Some tidy work up forward saw a goal on the board and the Singapore side had drawn first blood in the battle for the ‘Changi Cup’. The Warriors hit back quickly winning a centre clearance and lobbing the ball out in front of T.Croad. Despite the desperate attempt of two Wombats, some speed may have been lost by the former Hawthorn great but the strength was still very much apparent as he wrestled free of his minders and stretched out his arms to take a well-contested mark 35 from home on a slight angle. A costly behind was followed shortly by another from Croad as the Wombats responded with a few goals of their own, Brandon ‘Baby Beiber’ Hough dancing his way around his Malaysian defender to kick his first of the afternoon in a performance that would have melted the hearts of every thirteen year old in the vicinity. Despite a superb effort by the Malaysian ruckman the Wombats started to win the contested ball, taking the edge in the centre clearances and peppering their forward end with shots on goal. Rooster was presenting well up front but couldn’t keep the ball wedged between his wings, the 'Bats overusing the ball in front of goal – possibly to build up the supercoach points – and had wasted the momentum early. The Warriors responded with a good passage of play that landed the ball once again in the vice like hands of Croad. His first major keeping the Malaysian team in the match as the first quarter drew to an end, the ‘Bats in control by three goals.

Quarter number two started with the Wombats back six, who had done a solid job of restricting the Warrior forwards to a solitary major, making sure that Croad was well held. The Wombats again took charge of the match, kicking away early under the drive from Taggart and Jezza. Frustration started to show though as the Singapore backline blanketed the Warrior offence keeping them goalless, Croad a spectator as half-time arrived, the Bats leading seven goals to one.

The Warriors battled on in the third term refusing to go quietly. Tempers flared but the ‘Bats continued their domination increasing their lead, Croad doing his best impersonation of Leigh Matthews by running into a goal post and snapping it half. With the game all but over heading into the fourth quarter it was left to the Warriors big ruckman who had been stellar all day to continue the fight for the home side. He and his gallant midfield had been serviceable but were again overwhelmed by the Wombats charge led by Wazza and Taggart – the Singapore Wombats coasting home to record their first win of the touring season to the tune of 12 goals.