Australian rules football (Aussie rules) is a fast, mobile game played by two teams of 18 players on an oval grass field measuring at least 150 by 135 metres. Games comprise four 20-minute quarters and points are scored by kicking the ball through the opposing team’s goal. There are two sets of goalposts; a kick between the inner posts is called a goal and is worth six points, and a kick between an inner and outer post, called a behind, is worth one point.
Players can position themselves anywhere on the field, moving the ball by kicking, carrying, or handballing (holding the ball stationary with one hand and punching it with the other). A spectacular feature of the game is when a player leaps high in the air to take a catch, which is called a mark.
In 2013 there were regional leagues in Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago. A national provincial championship for under-18s and adults is held every December. The premier competition was won by the Mid-Canterbury Eagles in 2011 and 2012. The national team, the New Zealand Hawks, competes in the International Cup, the Oceania competition and against Australian touring teams.
New Zealand-born players, notably Trent Croad, Wayne Schwass, and Joe Sellwood, have also played in the professional Australian Football League (AFL) and at state level. In 2013 the AFL staged a premiership match in New Zealand for the first time.
At junior level, Aussie rules began establishing itself as a sport in primary and secondary schools in the 2000s. In 2012 more than 600 secondary-school students played Aussie rules.
Play it our way
In the 1870s and 1880s Australian rules officials attempted to persuade the Otago Rugby Football Union that they should play the Aussie game, but had no luck. The Otago RFU did no more than note a letter had been received and then ignore it.
Australian rules football (then known as Victorian rules) was first played in New Zealand in the 1860s, and in 1904 there were club games being played in Auckland. The New Zealand Football League was formed in 1907, and the following year there were clubs in Auckland, Waihī, Wellington and Christchurch. At the 1908 Australian championships, the New Zealanders beat New South Wales and Queensland, finishing fourth.
Despite this promising beginning, there was a long break before New Zealanders really took up Aussie rules. In 1965 and 1975 a Sydney club played exhibition games in Auckland and Wellington. Local Aussie rules associations were formed in the 1970s, and a new national body was formed in 1994. In 1995 New Zealand competed in the first international Australian rules football championship in Darwin. In 2013 the first ever Australian Football League premiership game outside Australia was played at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium between St Kilda and the Sydney Swans.