Hawthorn's Kiwi recruits Kurt Heatherley and Shem Tatupu
THE AFL isn't trying to compete head-on with rugby union and league for talent in New Zealand, national talent manager Kevin Sheehan says.
Singing a remarkably similar tune to the code's western Sydney songsheet, Sheehan says the AFL is just looking to provide another choice for talented young Kiwis.
"We don't see ourselves as competition - we like to see ourselves as being on the menu, just an option," he said.
"Not everyone's suited to play for the All Blacks or in the NRL.
"There's different body types that may be more suited to our game, and we want to give them a professional opportunity."
The first step on that path began in Wellington on Thursday when 40 boys aged between 15 and 18 from all over New Zealand
were put through their paces across a range of tests designed to measure speed, agility, endurance and vertical leap.
Sheehan said the best youngsters in the country were selected, and nine of the AFL's 18 clubs had travelled across the ditch to see what's on offer.
"They've got to show their X-factor, something special about them athletically that might appeal to some of these clubs having a look," Sheehan said.
He pointed to the example of giant Hawthorn teenager Shem Tatupu as an indication of what New Zealanders can achieve in the challenging sport.
Tatupu, son of former Warriors rugby league player Tony Tatupu, has been listed as an international rookie at Hawthorn
although he isn't eligible to join the Hawks' list until the end of this year.
The 197cm tall 17-year-old, weighing in at 105kg, has agreed to a three-year contract taking him through to the end of the 2016 season.
"This game will challenge you in every respect … in the air, behind you, there's no offside, you've got to be good on the ground, you've got to be tough and courageous. It's a demanding game in every sense," Sheehan said.
Hawthorn has also secured another teenage Kiwi, Kurt Heatherley, on a three-year deal, after he has held an international scholarship at the club since late 2009.
The AFL recently signalled its interest in expansion across the Tasman, scheduling the first match for premiership points outside Australia in Wellington later this year.
St Kilda will play the Sydney Swans at Westpac Stadium on April 25, and the AFL has also committed to playing two games in New Zealand in 2014 and 2015.
The AIS-AFL Academy level one squad is on a 10-day tour of New Zealand during which they will play a match against a team of NZ's best AFL prospects at Wellington Stadium.