Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Beginner's guide to Aussie Rules

Jarryn Geary in action for St Kilda. Photo /Getty Images
Jarryn Geary in action for St Kilda. Photo /Getty Images

For the first time in competition history an AFL premiership game will be played outside Australia when the St Kilda Saints meet the Sydney Swans at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Thursday night. APNZ's Daniel Richardson caught up with St Kilda defender Jarryn Geary to learn about the game.

The basics: Two teams of 18 do battle across four 20-minute quarters on a circular field with four posts at each end. If the ball goes through the two middle posts - which are taller - a goal is scored. A goal is worth six points. If an attempt at goal goes between the outer posts it is known as a 'behind' and is worth one point.

The history: The first season of the AFL was contested in 1897 when it was known as the Victorian Football League because all eight original teams were from that state. As the game expanded across Australia it was rebranded as the Australian Football League in 1990 and there are now 18 teams from five states, (there is no team in Tasmania, although North Melbourne and Hawthorn play 'home' games there).

The numbers: The AFL is hugely popular and the average crowd for a game last season was 32,748, while 707,621 people were members of a club at the end of last year.

The positions: Players are given titles such as: Ruckman, ruck rover, rover, forward pocket, wing, centre, half-back flank, full forward and back pocket.

The game: Geary, who has played for St Kilda since 2008, is a defender and during a training camp in Colorado last year, offered this to Americans who wanted to understand the game. "Probably the best analogy was, it's sort of like competitive soccer and you're allowed to tackle and chase and spoil the ball but you use your hands and feet. So keep the ball in the air, you can mark it, transfer the ball from one to another and the aim is to get it in the two big goal posts at the other end,'' the 24-year-old said. Sounds simple enough, right?

"It was pretty funny, there was a lot of blank faces and then everyone all said 'yeah, yeah we understand, that sounds like whatever'. But the best way to describe it was showing them on our phones on YouTube and that was the best way to get them to understand the game and they actually got a pretty good appreciation from it.''

The players: They come in all shapes and sizes, which often depend on their position. Ruckmen are usually the biggest players on the field and Fremantle's Aaron Sandilands is the tallest man in the game at 2.11m. The shortest player to grace an AFL field was Jim Bradford, who at only 1.52m turned out for Collingwood in 1943 and North Melbourne in 1949.

At 1.83m tall and weighing 82kg, Geary isn't the biggest horse in the race but said he needed to be quick around the track.

"I'm a defender so my number one aim is to defend the opposition's small forwards ... generally they're the quicker sort of players and my job is to stop them from kicking goals. So basically I've got to lock on to them and pretty much be a caravan and make sure that they don't get too far away from me.

"You've got to do plenty of body work and I've got to make sure I keep my eye on them because they can slip away from you pretty quickly and once they do they sort of get on the end of it and kick a goal. So it's a pretty tough position; if I get it wrong it tends to fall their way.''

Final thought: Geary said AFL was a spectacle that lent itself to being experienced live. "It's one of those games where there's sort of something going on in every part of the ground. So if the ball's down one end you've got to be in position for the ball to come back down your end. So you are always thinking and moving and you're never out of the game.''


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