Naitanui happy to hit mark as flying billboard for city’s west

The Giants have banked on the marketing appeal of Nic Naitanui to raise interest this week but the West Coast sensation is still trying to convert members of his extended family in western Sydney to the sport.

Unfortunately for the AFL and their newest team, the Penrith-born Naitanui calls Perth home and has no intention of resettling in his birthplace but he has plenty of relatives who live in the Greater Western Sydney region the Giants want to become their heartland.

”I’ve got a lot of uncles and aunties, a few of my cousins are still out that way,” Naitanui said.

Despite Naitanui’s status as one of the budding superstars of the competition the AFL is not the No.1 sport of choice among his family, who have their roots in Fiji where rugby is the preferred football code.

”So as well as trying to educate the suburbs and the people of the community out there I’m still slowly trying to communicate to my family what’s going on,” said Naitanui, who is a multicultural ambassador for the league. ”They’re slowly grasping the whole concept of AFL. Now that I’m playing they’ve started watching. Coming from a pretty dominant rugby background they tend to watch a lot of that.”

The sporting preferences of Naitanui’s family underscore the difficulty the AFL and the Giants have in drawing new fans to the game while also highlighting the possible impact a big-name signing will have for their cause.

Naitanui said his family rarely watched AFL games unless he was playing, but he understood why.

”If I’m someone who has watched football my whole life it’s pretty hard to switch off that and start watching soccer unless you know people who are playing or have a passion for it,” Naitanui said.

”They’re starting to watch a different variety of games but I’m not sure if it’s their No.1 choice if none of us are playing. That’s what we’re trying to convert them to and instilling in them to watch AFL a lot more often.”

Naitanui has heard stories from Giants players about the difficulties they face at school visits ”because all they want to talk about is either rugby or soccer”.

”I think we’re slowly cutting into that market, it’s a long process,” Naitanui said. ”It’s not only the kids you have to convert but the families as well. GWS are doing a pretty good job over there, I reckon.”

Despite the enormity of the task confronting the Giants, Naitanui believed having a club based in the region was vital. The 23-year-old said he would likely have pursued his other childhood sporting loves, rugby and basketball, had he grown up in western Sydney instead of Perth.

”Unless there was a GWS or another side out there I don’t think I would have been exposed to it as much,” said Naitanui, who grew up on the same street as Carlton’s Chris Yarran and Fremantle’s Michael Walters.

”If you grow up playing the same thing your whole life you want to do it, if I was out in western Sydney it would have been the rugby or basketball. If I grew up now with the Giants team there it caters for me a bit more.” The Giants, who drew a paltry 5830 fans to their last home game at Skoda Stadium, have gone to great lengths to use Naitanui to sell Saturday’s game. Not only did coach Kevin Sheedy pen an open letter to the All Australian ruckman but the Giants took the unusual step of placing highlights of an opposition player on their website. Naitanui is happy to be used as a promotional tool for the game but has ruled out any possibility of leaving the club he supported as a boy to cross to the Giants.

”It’s all about growing the game and getting supporters along,” Naitanui said.

”At the end of the day we want more people playing footy. Sheeds can do as much as he wants, I don’t mind, I’m staying put at home.”

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