Each week during the AFL shutdown period, aflplayers.com.au will bring to light the perspective of someone at the heart of a memorable moment or game. This week, we look at the first game for premiership points outside of Australia between St Kilda and Sydney in Wellington, New Zealand, on Anzac Day, 2013.
From Los Angeles to London, there have been a number of Australian rules football exhibition matches to showcase the game outside of Australia.
With an appetite growing around the world to bring Australia’s game overseas, the Saints made a bold move in 2012 announcing that they would be playing three Anzac Day games in Wellington, New Zealand.
Scheduled to play the Swans in the first of the three matches in Round 5, 2013, it would become the first match played for premiership points outside of Australia.
Former Sydney defender Nick Smith said there was an overwhelming feeling of excitement knowing the club would be taking the game offshore.
“A lot of the guys had never been to New Zealand and I was in that boat… It was something new and it was something exciting,” he told aflplayers.com.au.
Playing at Sky Stadium, better known to New Zealanders as the ‘Cake Tin’, it was a unique and different experience to what Smith was accustomed to.
Going through international customs a passport was required and a thorough check of football boots to ensure the players weren’t bringing foreign soil into the country – it was a busy week for the club’s boot studders.
With a flight time from Sydney to Wellington similar to Perth, the preparation for the Swans was similar to that of a game in the west.
Arriving a couple of days before the match the Swans settled into New Zealand, adjusted to the change in timezone and became familiar with the foreign stadium.
The stadium, predominantly used for rugby, soccer and cricket, is slightly smaller than the the average AFL-sized ground and according to Smith tore up easily.
“The surface we played on was different to what you’re used to in the AFL and so it got chopped up quite a bit which made the ball really slippery and harder to handle,” he said.
Smith said playing on Anzac Day and being involved in the pre-game ceremony in a country that fought alongside Australia during the war was a surreal experience.
“When they sing the Australian and New Zealand national anthem and perform the Last Post, it’s a really good time to reflect on how lucky we are,” he said.
“Seven years on I remember the experience of playing on Anzac Day and the significance of that more than the actual idea of playing in a game overseas.”
Although the game itself is hazy in his memory, there is one moment that remains clear to this day – Ted Richards playing on Nick Riewoldt.
The St Kilda great had 27 touches, 13 marks, laid seven tackles and kicked two goals while Richards collected 16 touches and took seven marks.
It wasn’t until the Brownlow Medal in September that year that this moment would become one for the ages for Sydney players.
Despite former Sydney midfielder Dan Hannebery being awarded the best-on-ground medal, Richards was given the three Brownlow votes.
“Teddy was claiming he was the best player ever to play outside of Australia despite his opponent having a great game,” Smith said with a laugh.
“He still goes around today telling people that he is the best player outside of Australia.”
Football and its players are often referred to as ‘going to war against their opposition’ but Smith said that lining up alongside your teammates for the sounding of the Last Post, and observance of one minute’s silence, and the national anthems of New Zealand and Australia puts everything into perspective.
“It’s a time to reflect on how lucky we are and be thankful for those that sacrificed so much to give us what we have today,” he said.
“It’s completely incomprehensible being 18 or 19 or whatever age and leaving your family behind to fight in a war on the other side of the world.
“We’ll never meet the people that made these sacrifices but we can always remember and be thankful for what they’ve given us.”