The Naitanui Academy has officially played on hallowed turf, taking on Fremantle’s Next Generation Academy at Optus Stadium in a curtain raiser for the final AFL RAC Derby of the season.

Reigning Eagles’ best and fairest winner Naitanui watched on, as his Academy’s namesake played for one of six (three per club) positions in the AFL’s World Team Program.

It was the first curtain raiser for two years, due to COVID-19 protocols, and also one of the first matches throughout the season not played under consistent downpour.

The match was hotly contested from the beginning, with three weeks of training prior to the mini-Derby, but the thrill of playing at Optus, as well as gunning for selection made it well-fought for the entirety.

By the end of the game, the crowd had grown to close to 20,000 spectators taking in the contest, which was a novel experience for the 15 and 16-year-old Multicultural players, who were able to utilise the player change rooms, and enter Optus through the race.

“It was a massive thrill, the facilities, the preparation, you’re in the AFL change room, the music is blasting, so it was a really exciting and eye-opening experience for these kids to see what it would be like to be an AFL player,” Naitanui Academy coach Chris Brown said.

"The teams ran out onto Optus and really cracked in and wanted to show their worth which was great.

Both sides went hard at the ball early, with West Coast able to weave the through congestion and win the centre clearances, as well as send early supply into the forward-line.

But Fremantle were able to wrestle the momentum back through fast ball movement of their own, finding their own entrances inside 50.

With the back-and-forth affair leading into half-time, it was Fremantle’s Next Generation Academy who were able to fight it out for the match’s entirety and take home the win, with the Naitanui Academy falling just a couple of goals short at the end of the game after a valiant effort.

But there were still spoils for those in the Naitanui Academy with three selected to join the AFL’s Multicultural squad and Academy in coming months.

“It’s a high performance camp, an extension of the NGA club academies. Bringing in kids from all across Australia. With player education and training at the start of the week, then play a couple of games against the Flying Boomerangs squad to round it out,” Brown said.

“It will be a great experience for our players, both from a leadership standpoint, and also in furthering their match experience and football skills.”

Former inaugural Eagle and Alcock Cup winning coach Steve Malaxos was also on hand, offering a wealth of knowledge and expertise which was amazing for the kids.

“It was a great experience for all regardless of the result. A big thanks to Graham Mills, Wade Spilcker and the team at Fremantle as well. It was a very big event to put on, a curtain raiser, we  really appreciate the opportunity to be involved.

“As always this opportunity wouldn’t be possible without the support of Youth Engagement Partner BHP. Without their dedication to our program, we would not be able to deliver the Naitanui Academy free of charge across WA."


The following players were chosen for the AFL World Team:

Harrison Creighton (Swan Districts)

Lucas Naylies-Pereira (East Perth)

Flynn Fulton (Perth Demons)