The History of American Football In Aotearoa, New Zealand
American Football in New Zealand
The content on this page has been collated by Martin Stowers and Ed Mason.
It was 1981 when the first American Football Clubs were formed in New Zealand, and the first official competition began in 1982 post the formation of the NZGFA with a 4 team league in Auckland.
From early scrimmages often involving rolled up towels and jandals stuffed in T-Shirts for pads and no helmets, the game has slowly evolved to now have an Auckland full contact league featuring 8 Clubs across Junior, Colts and Premier Mens grades and the sport also being played in Wellington and Christchurch.
With the rising global popularity of American Football driven by the NFL, NZAFF are passionate to see the Sport continue to grow in New Zealand.
The History Of The Game
The origins of organized football in New Zealand can be traced back to 1978 when the first scrimmages took place amongst a small group of friends and family in Auckland who would go on to become the pioneers of the game of American Football in NZ as we know today.
Early training camps were run by Church of LDS elders with scrimmages in Auckland and also Hamilton. These humble beginnings would eventually lead to the formation of the foundation Clubs in Auckland region, that of the Metro Lions (formerly Mountain Lions) and the Henderson Rangers who played against each other regularly in the first few years.
Eventually the South Auckland Saints (Raiders) and North Shore (Long Bay College) clubs were formed which lead to the inaugural NZGFA competition kicking off at Blockhouse Bay in 1982.
Kiwis Playing In The US
During these early years the man many consider the godfather of American Football in NZ, George O’Scanlon helped organize teams with equipment and was also the spearhead behind the well- coached Henderson Rangers. George was also the recipient of a coaching scholarship to Utah State University.
During the 1984 preseason George O’Scanlon took the Henderson Rangers on a tour of Colleges in the US and they returned to NZ a well-coached and drilled team. Through George's connections with Utah State, and particularly former Head Coach Chris Pella, this started to open up opportunities for Kiwis to play overseas. Mark Nua (University of Hawaii) and Timo Tagaloa (Utah State University) were the first athletes to travel on the pathway to collegiate level in the US in 1984.
Over the years many other New Zealand athletes recieved scholorships to play American Football in the US with the likes of David Dixon (Arizona State University) and Toa Sagapolu (California Berekley) leading the way in the mid 1980s. Mark Nua (San Diego Chargers) and David Dixon (Minnesota Vikings) both went on to play professional American Football in the NFL, with David playing for 10 years for the Vkings.
Todays game is still opening up opportunities for young New Zealander's to gain experience playing American Football overseas and gain a College education, with several New Zealanders currently playing in the American College system.
The first New Zealand National sides were selected as early as 1983, with matches over the following years arranged against a range of opponents including US College teams. The first taste of trans-tasman American Football came in 1987 with a series of two games between the NZAFL Warriors and the Queensland Taipans played at Mt Smart Stadium. 1997 saw the first official trans-Tasman test match played between NZ and Australia as the NZ Haka would play the Australian Bushrangers team, and there have been several clashes between New Zealand and Australia since.
The Junior game (U19 Colts) has been more active in recent years with the 2009 squad upsetting the favoured Australian Colts team to qualify for the U19 World Cup in Canton, Ohio where they went on to play Canada, Germany and France. The New Zealand Steelblack Colts played Australia again in 2015 for the next IFAF World Cup Qualfier going down narrowly, and in 2016 also played Australia on the Gold Coast in a warm up game before Australia headed to China for the World Cup.
In 2016 a one-off International was played between the New Zealand Steelblacks Mens team and American Samoa at Mountfort Park, Manurewa which was the first Mens National side assembled since 2005, and a Mens team was also sent to the 2016 IFAF Flag Football World Championship where the New Zealand Makos came 9th.