This coming weekend sees the next edition of AFL International Cup, and two countries are aiming to cause some upsets and become the first in the Southern Hemisphere to win the women’s title.
For the Papua New Guinea Flames, they return to the tournament after their absence from the 2014 edition, and will be looking to replicate the success their men’s team has had at previous tournaments.
Meanwhile, after a respectable fifth-placed finished at the last International Cup, the Fiji Vonu are looking to improve on their two wins and progress to the Semi-Final stage.
PNG have long been feared on the men’s side of the International Cup, known as fierce competitors and taking home the title twice.
However, on the women’s side, they competed in only one tournament, registering just the single victory and finished fourth of five teams.
Since then, the Flames passed up on playing in IC14, but return to the tournament this year as an unknown quantity, but one the opposition won’t be taking lightly.
Freeda Keene from AFL PNG told Girls Play Footy that one of the building blocks of creating a strong Flames squad was ensuring the development of a local women’s competition.
“There are five teams in the Port Moresby competition and two in the current Lae senior competition,” Keene said.
“It is safe to say the majority of our women’s footy – and men for that matter – is played at the school-age.
“The standard of those youth players is at an amazing level which bodes well for the future of the code.
“The female to male player ratio in the junior competitions and carnivals has dramatically increased to roughly 50/50, with the boys’ participation only slightly higher.”
Unlike some of the Northern Hemisphere countries which have had a national squad assembled since the middle of last year, the PNG Flames came together just four months ago.
“At the beginning of the process there were about 40 athletes from different parts of Papua New Guinea interested in selection.
“Regional training occurred and then, train on squad based themselves in Port Moresby from May.
“All those regional players came together as whole in April for the first time for trials.
“Then some stayed on in Port Moresby to play in the senior competition through May.
“From late May, the train on squad has been training three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays.
One thing that may aid the Flames is the close relationship between AFL PNG and football clubs and leagues throughout.
Over the past few years, junior female sides from PNG have toured the Sunshine State and played against regional leagues, while just recently, the Brisbane Lions also provided them a much-welcomed morale boost.
“We were lucky to have had a visit and coaching clinic with Brisbane Lions Marquee player and Australia Post Multicultural Ambassador, Sabrina Frederick-Traub,” Keene said.
“The Flames, and also some local junior youth players, benefited from hearing about motivation to reach the top.
“It was amazing to hear from someone so involved in the success of the inaugural AFLW season.”
Keene also told Girls Play Footy that there was some young and exciting talent to watch in the PNG Flames team.
“Young players to watch include Vincensiana ‘Vincy’ Kaipu whose skill and balance in disposal puts teammates at ease.
“Taiva Lavai is also an exciting young player to watch who comes to her first Cup with superb IC17 pedigree. Lavai’s two brothers are in the PNG Mosquitoes squad, including twin brother Max and older brother John James, who is returning captain for the defending champs.”
When asked who would face off in the decider at Etihad Stadium, Keene believe it will be her nation taking on the defending champions, Canada Northern Lights.
“There is a great deal of confidence amongst the team that they will be able to match it against the best.”
Coach: Jonathan Ila
Assistant coach: Omu Ane Ila’Upa
Squad: Alison Gaur, Brigid Gaur, Vaine Lai, Tonok Hedwick, Lilah Esther Malabag, Alice Alois, Valerie Mai, Manicha Mettakaisava, Miriam Agita, Virigina Kiwa, Alphonsa Bai, Warambina Anita, Vanessa Pisep, Taiva Lavai, Maureen Bauwase, Fatima Sovara, Jacqueline McDoa, Florentyna Ray, Vincensiana Kaipu, Piwen Kutan, Jessley Meli, Eliana Kaputin, Prudence Sindriwen, Phyllia Pisep, Ruth Cutting, Samantha Bandi, Iki Loreen, Elma Emil
Fixture [Pool B]
Round 1: vs European Crusaders – Sunday, August 6, 12:15pm at Ransford Oval, Royal Park
Round 2: vs USA Freedom – Wednesday, August 9, 10:45am, at Wesley College, Glen Waverley
Round 3: vs Irish Banshees – Sunday, August 13, 2:00pm at Hallam Reserve, Hallam
The one memory that many nations relay back about playing the Fijians in the last AFL International Cup is how hard they tackle.
It’s no surprise, considering how popular rugby is in the country, and those skills are transferable to Aussie rules.
Now it comes down to skills. Have the Fijians managed to keep up their skill development as other nations have, and can that propel them into the Semi-Final stage?
Owing to a small population, the Fijian nation only has a two-team women’s competition that is played over a 10-week period.
As Fiji Vonu coach Brenton Harris told Girls Play Footy, that two-team league saw the players training together regularly, with the best of the best selected to represent their country closer to the tournament start date.
“We started training early November 2016 with two sessions a day – such as gym, running and ball work – four days a week until recently,” Harris said.
“Two weeks prior to leaving for Melbourne training moved to three days a week with morning and afternoon sessions.”
Lifting the regularity of training sessions and playing more games, along with learning from the AFLW competition, has had great benefits according to Harris.
“The standard has improved because we have more players who have played more games.
“They train regularly and hard.
“It was noted early on that kicking was a genuine problem and to the girls’ credit, they have improved across the board, particularly on the run.
“We watched also watched one AFLW game together [Crows vs Lions at Norwood Oval] and they were enthralled with the game.”
The Fijian women’s side will arrive in Melbourne just three days prior to the tournament launch, and unlike other nations, the Fijians have yet to find a local women’s team to train with while here for the two weeks of the tournament.
“We will arrive on August 2 and we are staying in Surrey Hills, so if anyone has any contacts with a local club, we would love here from them.”
If any club takes up the chance to train with the Fijians, or if anyone attends one of their games, Harris said there’s four stars to look out for.
“Salote Matakibau, she’s hard as a cat’s head and a great mark for her size.
“Litia Matanisigadrau is very skilful and smooth moving. Will run all day.
“Iliseva Ratudina is representative for Fiji in beach volleyball and is a strong mark with a huge leap.
“Also keep an eye out for Vasemaca Radinibukelevu; outstanding skills and uses the ball very well out of defence or on the ball.”
Like many other countries, the Fijians see themselves making it to the big dance at Etihad Stadium, and taking on Canada for the title.
“Our side is very physical and we expect to at least make the Semi-Finals at IC17.”
Coach: Brenton Harris
Captain: Ilisapeci Viwa Vateitei
Squad: Asena Niumataiwalu, Matelita Tuilevuka, Kereni Latu Litea Nabalarua, Milika Tokaicake, Taraivosa Halamehi Tuilomani, Atelini Drotini, Jenifer Goodsir, Iliseva Ratundina, Paulini Korowaqa, Vani Serevi, Taraivosa Tagivetaua, Salote Matakibau, Lani Wolfgramm, Litia Matanisigadra, Vasemaca Radinibukelev, Loata Vakausausa, Siteri Matana Tadrau, Sally Fong, Ilisapeci Viwa Vateitei, Milika Bale, Verenaisi Lawebuka, Nesi Barini, Fuga Taoba, Sera Kaukiono, Vitalina Mirini, Kalisi Nakarawa, Makereta Tunidau.
Fixture [Pool A]
Round 1: vs Canada Northern Lights – Sunday, August 6, 10:30am at Ransford Oval, Royal Park
Round 2: vs Great Britain Swans – Wednesday, August 9, 11:45am, at Peninsular Grammar, Mt Eliza
Round 3: vs Pakistan – Sunday, August 13, 12:00pm at Mulgrave Reserve, Wheelers Hill