With an eye on developing a stronger side, the JAFL and the Samurais endeavored to up their training and create a cohesive side in anticipation of the AFL International Cup in summer 2017. That may seem a long time away, but much like national teams in soccer or basketball, the chances to assemble the best players together are few and far between. The match was a chance to put into practice everything they have worked on in their weekly training sessions, and the work showed against a combined Goannas, Eastern Hawks and Tokyo Bay Suns lineup on Sunday.
While it was ostensibly a training exercise for the Samurais, the opportunity to test the Goannas squad in a proper match against quality opposition meant it was fruitful for both sides. “The skills were outstanding for the first hit out of the season,” Goannas coach and ruckman Sam Ghirardello said. “A lot of players settled into new positions very well.”
The new players left a big impression on their debut for the Goannas. Brett Whyborn was a force in the middle and up front, while Chris Murray made an impact with strong play at fullback and surging runs out of defense. Other players adjusted well to new positions, including Doug Bonham and Dean Dowie taking turns in the ruck, and Alex Wyatt, Jarrod Woodward and Steven Palmer in the forward line. Oceans Huynh put in the usual tough shift in the midfield, matched by Pete Chalmers’ energy on the wing. Experienced campaigners Ev Hitchman and Travis Wilson returned to the fold, too. One Goanna regular lined up for the Samurais, too – all-rounder Yuji Yamamoto put in a shift in the ruck for the nascent national side, and was certainly worthy of selection among the Samurais' best on the day.
Encouraging to see was the interchange on the field between Goannas, Hawks and Suns players who in some cases didn’t know the name of their new teammates for the day during warmups. Although it’s easy to shake the wintertime rust off with players you train with week-in and out, it’s tougher to re-adapt to the speed of the game while also playing alongside people for the first time. Suns and Hawks regulars alike slotted in, and by the 3rd and 4th fifth every player wearing Goannas colors was operating together. With a month and a half until Round 1 of the 2016 JAFL season, there are many reasons to be excited for the Goannas’ prospects this year. “It was a huge effort against a quality opposition and a great sign of what’s to come for the Goannas this season,” Ghirardello said.
Match report by Doug Bonham
For video footage of the entire match, head here.
And be sure to check out the 2016 Season Fixture and plan your holidays accordingly!