Atlanta hosts Nashville to open 2016 USAFL Season
The Atlanta Kookaburras and Nashville Kangaroos renewed their winter series this weekend with the first action of the 2016 USAFL season. The two teams opened the calendar last year in Nashville, and this year the Atlanta Kookaburras welcomed their oldest and fiercest rivals the Nashville Kangaroos for a pre-season warm-up game at Candler Park in Atlanta.
The Kangaroos had a dozen experienced players make the trip for the 10-a-side match, while the home team had a bigger squad including many raw recruits. On a mild March day, the Kookaburras bigger bench could have little influence, whereas the honed skills of the Kangaroos were a deciding factor.
The game began competitively, with each team sweeping the ball from end to end. A long kick from Tim “Squirrel” Fulwider found Eric Toepfer, who opened the ledger for the Roos. Atlanta was quick to respond with an accurate shot from an angle, but Nashville was more effective in converting opportunities. Full forward Nathan “Nathan” Caldwell put through a beauty from the boundary line after the ball was again efficiently transported all the way from full back. Fulwider was rewarded for his earlier assistance with a long goal from the flank. Caldwell received a long pass from Jeff “Peeps” Persson to put Caldwell’s second goal on the books. The boot from Persson was impressive enough to earn him kick outs from full back for the rest of the game, and it will be interesting to see whether this is a long term switch for the former goal sneak.
The second quarter began with the Kangaroos leading 4.3 (27) to Atlanta 1.1 (7), and continued with more of the same. Fulwider kicked his second from a long set shot, then Cliff “Nugget” Cosnahan juked his opponent to goal from a distance. Atlanta responded with a couple of goals, split by second-year player Toepfer emerging as a force in the forward line with his second goal. Half time came with Nashville retaining a solid lead, Kangaroos 7.4 (46) over Kookaburras 3.3 (21).
Changes in defense by both teams resulted in tightening of scoring in the second half. Caldwell and Toepfer each bagged their third goal: Caldwell from a quick shot in congested play, and Toepfer showing nerves of steel to score from a set shot. The Kookaburras wasted several opportunities, with one kick at goal sailing out of bounds, and two behinds to trail at 4.5 (29) to Nashville’s 9.6 (60) at the final break.
Both teams’ defenders were tenacious in the final quarter, with Nashville’s youthful quartet of Persson, Dee Vsetecka, Evan “Colonel” Ling and David “Frosty” Harris making goals almost impossible for the Kookaburras. Desperate shots resulted in four behinds but no major scores at the Atlanta end, while Fulwider kicked the Kangaroos’ only fourth quarter goal at the other end.
Nashville Kangaroos 10.9 (69)
Atlanta Kookaburras 4.9 (33)
Goals: Eric Toepfer 3, Nathan Caldwell 3, Tim Fulwider 3, Cliff Cosnahan.
With an impressive crop of prospects, the Kookaburras are sure to improve throughout the year. The Kangaroos were undermanned and are also relying on recruits to fill the voids. The two teams are in the process of scheduling more meetings later in the year, and newly appointed Atlanta head coach Brent “Piggy” Bacon will certainly apply lessons from this game to counter the Roo skills.