Main content

Clarke brothers flying high

Brothers in arms: Xavier (l) and Raphael Clarke during their days as St Kilda teammates in 2004 - ${keywords}
Brothers in arms: Xavier (l) and Raphael Clarke during their days as St Kilda teammates in 2004
RAPHAEL and Xavier Clarke used to be teammates at St Kilda, are now housemates and have always been brothers. But for the next three weeks at least, the pair will have to deal with a different sort of relationship.

On Thursday the Flying Boomerangs travel to South Africa for the fourth time when the squad departs for Johannesburg for a two-week trip.

The Flying Boomerangs is a program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 14-15. The 25 players on the trip will play two matches against South African teams in Potchefstroom and Durban.

Xavier, as the AFL's indigenous programs coordinator, is managing the trip. And for the first time, Raphael is coaching the side.

"I think he loves telling everybody he's the boss," Raphael said, with a smile.

Raphael, who was delisted by the Saints at the end of last year after nine seasons, was offered the role after regular coach and former Adelaide star Andrew McLeod was unavailable due to family reasons.

He meets the squad for the first time in Perth on Wednesday, where he plans to introduce himself, explain what the squad should stand for, and outline the game plan, which, he says, won't be too rigid.

"The way the indigenous boys like to play is free-flowing and taking the game on. There will obviously be a couple of team rules, but I'm not going to stop them from playing their natural way," Clarke said.

Football plays only some part of the Boomerangs' overarching aims. The rest revolve around developing the teenagers as people and leaders within their communities, something Raphael strongly represents.  

As a player he enjoyed conducting clinics, being a mentor to young indigenous children, and making sure if the Saints or the AFL put on a program that he was a part of it. Being straight out of the game adds further weight to his words.

"I always liked to be a role model," he says.

The tour offers a chance for the squad, which is selected from around Australia, to impress ahead of the NAB AFL Under-16 Championships later this year.

Xavier nominated Victorian Koolyn Briggs - "I think he will go places" - and Callum AhChee (brother of Port Adelaide's Brendon) as standout talents to watch.

"Callum's a big key forward who moves beautifully," Clarke said.

"He's one to look out for in the under-16 national championships this year so there's a few boys there who definitely have great talent. We're hopeful that we'll get them ready for the 16s carnival and then hopefully a few will be picked in the level one AIS-AFL Academy squad."

The Boomerangs present the first stage of Raphael's life beyond St Kilda, a stage he has embraced. He is working towards finishing his building apprenticeship, and has signed with St Albans in the Geelong Football League, still hoping there's a chance he gets back into the AFL system.

"There's always that bit of hope and I think everyone runs around with that bit of hope in the back of their mind," he says.

"I just want to get back to enjoying my footy again and having some fun."

Follow Callum Twomey on Twitter at @AFL_CalTwomey.