AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan, Saints President Greg Westaway, Wellington City Councillor John Morrison and Saints CEO Michael Nettlefold after the announcement.
Photo Pat Scala The Age
Wednesday the 12th of September 2012

AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan, Saints President Greg Westaway, Wellington City Councillor John Morrison and Saints CEO Michael Nettlefold after the announcement. Photo: Pat Scala

THE AFL admits the success or failure of St Kilda's Wellington venture could determine whether the league tries to put a team in New Zealand.

After St Kilda announced a historic Anzac Day game against Sydney at Wellington's Westpac Stadium next year, the AFL's chief operating officer, Gillon McLachlan, said the five-game, three-year arrangement would be a test for the potential spread of the game across the Tasman.

Westpac Stadium, which is the home ground of the Hurricanes rugby team and A-League team the Phoenix, has hosted pre-season AFL games before, in 2000 and 2001. The first clash drew 14,000 people, but the AFL and St Kilda hope to sell out next year's game.

Whether it tempts the league to put an expansion team there is a moot point. ''You never say never,'' said McLachlan. ''What we're doing is taking our fabulous game and we're going to have an incredible event in New Zealand.

''I'm going to put it out there: we'll sell that game out and it'll be an incredible event … celebrating shared cultures and values in New Zealand with a great product, with sports-mad New Zealanders and Australians who like to travel.

''Where that goes, I don't know. Whether it's a team in 10 years' time, I'd love to think it was. It'll depend on the success … and how much the locals buy into it.''

Under St Kilda's arrangement with Wellington City Council, there will be two ''home'' games in 2014 and again in 2015, against opponents that have not yet been determined. The Anzac Day theme will be used in each of those years. The 2013 game will be the first AFL game played for premiership points outside Australia, a ''landmark game'' in McLachlan's eyes.

St Kilda receives a financial guarantee from each game, believed to be about $500,000. Club members will have free access to the NZ games, and will also be given a make-up game as part of their membership.

Saints chief executive Michael Nettlefold said Westpac Stadium was perfect for Australian football, ''a little longer than the SCG, and about as wide as Etihad Stadium''.

Wellington City Council's John Morrison, a former Test cricketer who helped drive the arrangement, described the AFL as ''the biggest sport in Australasia'', before a reporter reminded him of New Zealand's rugby obsession. Morrison said the crowd figures proved his argument. ''We're not as familiar with it, obviously, as rugby. It's not a matter of beating off rugby or football or whatever. It's a matter of an opportunity here.''

■St Kilda's high-performance manager Peter Burge has quit the club to join Richmond, replacing the recently resigned and long-serving Matt Hornsby. The move will cause a reshuffle in the Saints' fitness area for the second time in 12 months, with David Misson leaving this time last year for Melbourne.

It is understood coach Scott Watters is pushing for a new-look sports science regime heavily based on that run by Collingwood's David Buttifant, a pioneering subscriber of high-altitude training.

With CAROLINE WILSON