REIGNING International Cup champion Ireland is set to take on the fast and physical team from Nauru in Bendigo on Saturday.
It is the first time an AFL International Cup game will be played in a regional centre.
The two teams will be chasing victories in their final pool matches at the QEO before the finals kick-off.
The Cup is played every three years, with the 15-day football carnival seeing 18 men’s and seven women’s teams eyeing championship glory
Ireland is the only two-time winners competing in the international competition, while Nauru was sixth in the last tournament.
AFL Development officer for the Pacific region Ben Drew said it meant a lot for the Nauru Chiefs to represent their country.
“All of the players and everyone involved with the team has worked really hard to get over here,” he said.
“There are only about 9000 people who live in Nauru, so to fundraise and play in the International Cup is a big deal.
“This tournament is the biggest event on Nauru’s calendar this year.”
Drew said Aussie Rules was the national sport in Nauru, with each of the country’s 14 districts supporting a specific AFL team.
He said the love of footy had come from the country’s young people, who travel to Melbourne to get an education.
“When they go back home they bring their knowledge and what they have learned back to Nauru,” Drew said.
Nauru, which is situated in the south Pacific, has a national competition with only one football ground.
Drew said each year there is a draft, similar to the AFL, with six teams playing in the competition.
“Each year there is a draft, players pay a $20 registration fee and they play,” he said.
This year’s team, led by captain Trent Depaune, has been in training for this tournament since May.
Drew said Bendigo fans would be in for a great show.
He said Nauru was renowned for its fierce attack on the ball.
Along with its captain, Nauru will have experienced campaigners in Johnny Dagiaro and Mallinson Batsiua lining up.
Former GWS Giants international scholarship player Yoshi Harris is also expected to play with the Chiefs.
“Nauru is a smaller team, there wouldn’t be anyone over six-foot,” he said.
“They are a physical and tough team, they don’t lose their feet in a contest because their ground back in Nauru isn’t grass, it’s dirt and rocks.
“Ireland, on the other hand, is a much more structured and taller team.”
The Ireland Warriors have had a successful three years since they last played in Melbourne, having won two Euro Cups and retaining their AFL Europe Championship title on home soil.
Several of the team’s players have had experience playing in the tournament.
Young gun Ronan Geraghty is playing with Sydney University in the NEAFL and ruckman Padraig Lucey has played in the European Legion for the past two seasons and is currently featuring in the FOX8 series of The Recruit.
So far in the tournament Nauru has had wins over Indonesia and Great Britain.
The Warriors have also defeated Fiji and won against France on Wednesday afternoon.
The Ireland-Nauru game will be played at the Queen Elizabeth Oval, after the Bendigo Football-Netball League game between South Bendigo and Castlemaine.
The game will begin at 5.30pm. Entry is free.