The AFL rookie draft highlighted the burgeoning popularity of the code in Australia’s Sudanese community with the contingent of players at the elite level more than doubling.
As the AFL and its clubs continue to develop non-traditional talent pathways, tall and athletic Sudanese-born youngsters who have taken up the game after escaping conflict in the war-torn African nation are impressing clubs with their rapid development.
On Friday, Essendon swooped on exciting ruck prospect Gach Nyuon with the fourth pick at the rookie draft, while Brisbane added defender Reuben William (No.20) and Richmond took tall forward Mabior Chol (No. 30).
The trio join trailblazer Majak Daw, who was re-rookied by North Melbourne, and Sydney’s Aliir Aliir in AFL ranks.
“It’s exciting for the game that these young boys are starting to emerge onto AFL lists,” AFL talent manager Kevin Sheehan said.
“They’ll set the standard and become the faces of the future for our game.
“They’re impressive boys to meet with the passion that they have for this relatively new-found game.
“Gach, Reuben and Mabior are great examples of what can be done when you’ve got talent and you’re able to work your way through challenging issues that come with not only learning about a new country but also a new game.”
Sheehan expects to see more Sudanese-born players push for AFL selection as the popularity of the sport and role models like Friday’s draftees gather momentum.
“There’s lots of challenges and we’re learning as we go as well,” he said.
“It’s hard for people who have played the game all of their lives to appreciate – these boys have come from very tough backgrounds where survival and life itself is the main aim.
“Just looking after yourself and your family – sport wouldn’t even be thought of for a lot of these boys.
“To then learn how highly we regard this game – it doesn’t compare to the hardships that some of these boys have endured.”
The AFL also faces competition from basketball to attract the best Sudanese-born talent.
Majok Majok is at Melbourne United and along with Mawut Deng and Atem Atem, who are on the Adelaide 36ers’ training squad, they are leading the way at NBL level.