AFL North West’s under-17 side has delivered a promising performance at a two-day carnival at Coffs Harbour that belied the squad’s inexperience and augurs well for the future.
The first ever junior representative team fielded from this region lost to the vastly more experienced North Coast 8.5-53 to 4.7-31 over two quarters in the third-place playoff on Wednesday afternoon.
They qualified for the match after beating North Coast 7.4-46 to 4.5-29 on Wednesday morning.
The North West Stars side included Gunnedah’s Harry Snook.
Another Gunnedah player, Michael Long, pulled out on the eve of the tournament for a personal reason.
AFL North West development officer Sonia Martin said: “We’ve been seen as a second rate competition … So we proved we’re as good as everyone else. We really got everyone’s attention.”
North West mounted a great recovery after favourites Hunter thumped them by 10 goals in the Stars’ opening game of the carnival on Tuesday.
Martin said that match served as an eye-opener for the Stars.
“In the second half our boys got a lot better,” she said.
“They actually woke up and said, ‘This is the level of competition’.
“All of a sudden there’s 18 [opposition] players on the field who are really, really good players.
“It was really a different style of play for them [North West].”
In game two on Tuesday, North West rebounded admirably with a six-point loss to Northern Rivers, before beating Central Coast by 33 points in the final game that day.
Martin, whose husband Alan coached the side, said: “Our boys grew in confidence and everything came together … What a turnaround from where they were.”
To underline the promise shown by the side, drawn from a competition launched in April last year, Martin said: “Our most experienced players have played about 15 home and away games compared to the other teams’ 50 to 60 gamers, at least.
“We’re a raw talent, is the way to put it.”
Martin said eight players in North West’s 21-member squad were normally under-15 players. “No other leagues are playing any under-15s,” she added.
One of those under-15 players is Moree’s Jack Montgomery.
“He did very well in the ruck and learned a lot … He’s really young, so hats off to him,” Martin said.
Gunnedah’s Snook, who goes to school in Tamworth and plays for the Tamworth Roosters in AFL and the Tamworth Magpies in rugby, typified the side’s inexperience but promise.
Having played only two AFL games, he was sent to Coffs Harbour after players pulled out of the Stars lineup.
“He really came into his own in the second and third games and started to kick some goals once he was pushed forward,” Martin said.
North West’s players also came from Inverell, Tamworth, Walcha, Manilla and Armidale.
“This carnival is the current pinnacle of the sport for these boys,” Martin said.