20 April 2023

ACT Gridiron Monarchs eye state championship in Wollongong

| James Day
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Hennecke, Lyle and Griffiths on a green football field in training gear with a line of parked cars behind.

Quarterback James Hennecke prepares to throw the ball at training, while offensive lineman Ed Lyle protects him and running back Tom Griffiths gets in position up the field. Photo: Lindsay Manktelow.

ACT Gridiron’s Monarchs will head to Wollongong next week for the NSW state challenge where they hope to claim their first victory in more than a decade.

Region spoke with the team’s head coach and vice president, Jason Ray, to understand what gridiron offered to Australia, how the sport was growing here and who the team would face.

The Monarchs are made up of players from the territory’s three main American football (gridiron) clubs: the Woden Gladiators; Narrabundah Centurions; and Gungahlin Wolves, the latter of which Jason also manages. “We’ve been training for about three months now and are looking really good,” he says.

The tournament’s first game on Wednesday 26 April against Queensland – which fought out the last national championship with WA – shapes as the “biggest test”, according to Jason. The side’s final game on Friday 28 April against NSW will also be a “reality check for some of our guys who haven’t played state football”.

READ ALSO Centurions Gridiron Club welcomes two women to its men’s squad

Initially, the Monarchs were training for a national championship. But that never eventuated because of COVID. After this year’s plans fell through, the three state teams decided to create a new competition which Jason says “has been great to see come together”.

“In the past we’ve had a bit of animosity towards each other,” he says. “Now the guys all get along really well and are pushing each other to not only make themselves better prepared for the upcoming competition but also in becoming great American football players.”

Since COVID, the ACT league has boasted two competitions which have seen a huge spike in player numbers due to the sport being one of the first to come back following the lockdown. Now all three teams have strong sides of about 40 players, which Jason says has significantly improved the quality of play.

Irvin holding a ball in preparation to throw while Noble prepares to run on the right of the photo. Both are wearing their training gear with helmets with two players nearby, one in the foreground and one in the background.

MVP of the ACT league and quarterback Jay Irvin at training with receiver teammate Andrew Noble. Photo: Lindsay Manktelow.

Jason also credits the sport’s recent boom in popularity to the greater availability of NFL and American college football on TV and streaming services including Kayo, along with the popular video game Madden. When Region asked what set the sport apart from others in Australia, he says the physical and mental aspects of American football are like no other.

“When you see someone who’s 300 pounds and then someone who’s maybe 60 kilos wet on the same field, it’s pretty amazing.

“All the positions are unique and there’s a huge strategic element to the game, which really makes you think how you can best your opponent on the field.

“You don’t have to be the biggest or fastest or strongest, there are ways to beat another team with just your brain. It’s a really great way to test yourself.”

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He says players moving to gridiron from other traditional Australian sports to better adapt to certain positions is noticeable.

There’s a position for everyone. Rugby players with experience in the rucks are suited to being offensive lineman and line-backers; AFL players are best moving around the field as receivers or defensive backs. However the quarterback remains a “unique position” which in Ray’s opinion “takes a certain sort of person to take it on”.

Jason says keep an eye out for Monarchs’ Jayson Irvin, the starting quarterback from Narrabundah Centurions who is also the ACT league’s current MVP. On the defensive line, he notes Larry Smith, a defensive back originally from the US who has been playing in the territory for a number years.

Micallef and Mittl are training on a green football field with a filled parking space and trees in the background.

Wide receiver James Micallef catches the ball over defensive back Andrew Mittl. Photo: Lindsay Manktelow.

Tickets for the games in Wollongong are $11.90 each and can be purchased here. For more information on the ACT gridiron league you can visit the website here, and for Gridiron Australia here.

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