MANY a Hawthorn fan would give anything for the opportunity to meet the players, tour the club’s facilities and get in behind-the-scenes on game day.
That’s exactly the once-in-a-lifetime experience a group of Big River Hawks players enjoyed last week.
A group of nine players and two officials from the club spent the long weekend in Melbourne, following in the Hawks’ footsteps.
It was the club’s first trip to Melbourne as part of their partnership with the Hawthorn Football Club.
The Big River Hawks is an under-18 football team that was established in 2010.
It allows young men from the Katherine region and surrounding communities an opportunity to play in the Darwin-based NTFL.
Being part of the Big River Hawks team is a privilege to young men in the region, and to do so there are a number of rules that players must abide by to earn their spot in the team.
These include regularly attending school, completing further training or having a position in the workforce.
The team helps to develop leaders within the community and offers opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in the region to integrate.
After a 184-point loss in their first-ever game, the Big River Hawks have gone from strength-to-strength, making finals that year and in each year since, including a premiership in 2013.
Over the past couple of years, a number of Hawthorn players, including Shaun Burgoyne, Cyril Rioli and Brendan Whitecross, have visited the Big River Hawks’ home base, visiting players and running training sessions.
For some of the Big River Hawks players on this trip, this was their first time outside of Northern Territory and an initial, first-hand taste of elite-level AFL football.
The travelling Hawks arrived in Melbourne late on Thursday night and returned for home on Monday morning.
Friday saw the players tour the Ricoh Centre and participate in a group mentoring session with indigenous Hawks stars Burgoyne, Rioli, Bradley Hill, Jed Anderson and Jermaine Miller-Lewis.
Hill said it was great to have the group around the club and to be able to impart some of his knowledge on the young Hawks.
“They came down to training the other day and we had lunch and a few of the boys went for dinner (that night),” he said.
“We had a kick with them – they love coming down to Melbourne and seeing some of the guys they idolise.
The Big River Hawks were then involved in the club’s open training session on Saturday morning – running water for the playing group and testing their skills against the ‘speccy’ bag – before watching the Box Hill Hawks take on Port Melbourne in the VFL, and Essendon take on Geelong at Etihad Stadium.
Sunday involved an MCG tour, before the boys ventured to Etihad for the Hawks’ big game against St Kilda – visiting the changerooms pre-and-post game, taking photos on the ground and watching the game from a corporate suite.
The NTFL season runs from the start of October until the end of March – this year the Big River Hawks reached the preliminary final - making this a ‘post-season’ trip for the team.
Hill said he hoped to see more of the Katherine-based team around the club in the future.
“It’s a really good thing that Hawthorn can bring them down (to Melbourne) and hopefully we can do more with them,” he said.
The trip followed last month’s $1 million funding announcement for the club’s Indigenous program over five years from Epic Good Foundation’s co-creators Stuart Giles and Cathie Reid.
The donation will allow the club to engage with the Big River Hawks on a larger scale in Melbourne.