Auckland are hoping to convert a Kiwi-born AFL player to rugby union.
Many will have missed the name Kurt Heatherley, when he was listed as ‘loaned’ when named in Auckland’s 40-man Mitre 10 Cup. The 1.94m former Hawthorn Hawks player is now hoping to forge a career in union, after leaving New Zealand as a teen to pursue his then AFL dream.
After being formally drafted by Hawthorn in the 2014 draft, the Aussie footballer would go on to become the first Kiwi born and raised player to debut in the AFL.
However, with his AFL career failing to take off, he’s returning to his native land in the hope of forging a career in professional rugby union.
Originally from Tauranga in New Zealand, he does has rugby experience – playing up to U16s level before being scouted for AFL. He started training with Melbourne Rebels last year with an eye to converting and his Auckland coaches are hopeful he will become a try-scoring fullback with prodigious aerial skills.
However, at just 91kg on a 6’4 frame, he may need to spend a tad more time in the gym.
“His aerial skills are pretty good, his kicking game is very good, and he knows how to finish,” coach Alama Ieremia told 1 NEWS. “He knows how to score tries.”
During his stint at the Melbourne Rebels, rugby manager Nick Ryan said of the ‘elite’ athlete: “He’d run the boys ragged on the fitness side,” Ryan said. “Rugby is a 180 (degree) game, rather than 360, and the spatial awareness is a little bit different.
“But the attributes of being an elite athlete physically and mentally, we’re really confident he has some pretty intriguing capabilities that are worth having a look at.”
“For us, it’s about going out and winning it all over again. 2018 has been and gone, and we celebrated those achievements last year,” said Ieremia. “It’s now all about being prepared and ready for each challenge and each game that awaits us.”
Regarding those selected in the squad, Ieremia conceded that not all would play right away, but that good form would be rewarded if players performed for other representative sides.
“Our representative programme is aligned from the top-down, and we’re extremely lucky to have great support from our clubs and their coaches to allow us to pick from such a strong and talented player-base.”
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