AFL's Saints hope Wellington behind them
St Kilda are determined to make Wellington feel like a second home (AAP)
By Sam Lienert
St Kilda are determined to make Wellington feel like a second home as they prepare to host the first overseas AFL game for premiership points in the New Zealand capital on Thursday night.
While their opponents for the historic Anzac Day clash, the Sydney Swans, flew in to Wellington on Monday and the Saints arrive only on Tuesday, St Kilda chief executive Michael Nettlefold is hopeful of attracting the lion's share of support.
More than 2500 St Kilda members are flying from Melbourne, compared to 1500 of their Swans' counterparts.
And Nettlefold hopes that of the roughly 20,000 locals expected to attend, the majority will adopt the Saints, given they have driven the concept and will host two games per season there from next year onwards.
"It's very much a home game and we're hoping that New Zealanders and Wellingtonians adopt us as their preferred AFL team, absolutely," he told NZ Newswire.
The Saints held a community camp in Wellington in the pre-season and several players and coaches made another promotional visit about six weeks ago.
Saints aim to further solidify their trans-Tasman ties by recruiting a player from New Zealand soon.
They've participated in two AFL NZ national talent combines, held their own recent talent-spotting meeting in Auckland and will attend another in Wellington on Tuesday.
"We're very committed to identifying and bringing some talent into the St Kilda Football Club," Nettlefold said.
Making the concept work is important for the Saints given their three-year deal with the Wellington City Council and AFL nets them about $500,000 each time they play there.
While the remaining two years depend on the parties being satisfied with the inaugural match, the signs are good given a crowd forecast of 25,000.
That Wellington is benefiting economically from the 4000-plus travelling Australians helps.
"We understand that hotels are fully sold out right across the three nights, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday," Nettlefold said.
From a football perspective, a five-day break and flight poses some difficulties for St Kilda.
But Nettlefold believes in time the New Zealand concept will favour the Saints even in that regard, as they become increasingly familiar with the trip and venue while it remains a novelty for each different visiting side.
"We'll certainly work hard to make it feel like home," he said.