The GWS Giants are leaving a large footprint across the Riverina, providing a training academy for young football players across the region. Last Friday two friendly matches were played at the Narrandera Sportsground between two teams of GWS cadets, Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) and Wagga.
Russell Cody, who coaches one of the MIA teams, said the academy was a fantastic opportunity for young regional players.
“The training goes on all year. They’re the picks of each team, and this is the first game they’ve had against each other. They swap around; next time we’ll play in Wagga.”
The GWS Academy has been running for some time now, and it allows the club to spot talent and create their own recruiting pool.
Available for players between the ages of 13 and 19, there are currently around 500 players enrolled in GWS academies. There are ten academy zones across NSW for boys, and four for girls; one of the girls’ zones is in Wagga.
Narrandera boy Zac Williams was the first GWS Academy player to play for the Giants in 2013. In 2015 all of the Giant’s recruits – Jacob Hopper, Matthew Kennedy, Harrison Himmelberg and Matthew Flynn – came from the academy.
The training not only gives the recruits an edge and extra skills to take back to their own clubs, but it means that the Riverina is becoming a strong recruiting ground for first grade AFL. Players from Narrandera, Collingullie, Leeton and Wagga are currently representing the sport all over the country.
“It gives them the opportunity to go into GWS talent pools. There could be kids in this who could go on to be the next AFL stars,” Cody said.
“The kids love it. At that age really all they want to do is play. The under 13s won against Wagga by a couple of goals. It’s not really about winning; it’s about seeing how they play.”