Goannas in New Zealand: Green, Gold, and Arnott's Biscuits

Kyal’s Fifth Favourite Biscuit: Scotch Fingers

The Goannas are on the move. From all corners of the country we are catching buses and boarding planes. Destination: Wellington. Until now, our campaign has largely been conducted long-distance: pictures of fortnightly pods with our local training groups, occasional bits of homework set by the coaches, and many, many pictures of our feet sent over Snapchat.

Our first team competition meeting goes well. Kyal got us sweet new head merch, and his fifth favourite biscuit is an Arnott’s Scotch Finger. It’s a promising start to the weekend.

Kyal’s Fourth Favourite Biscuit: Chicken Crimpy Shapes

This is our second training camp, and our first chance to practice our competition habits. Fortunately for us, our competition habits can start after a sleep in thanks to a generous first-round bye. Yum. A leisurely two-course breakfast courtesy of Team Snack, Jack Lilwall, accompanied by some nostalgia-shattering morning television, is followed by team yoga in the carpark à la Team Dad (and part-time physio) Ben Mortimer.

When we get to the fields, we find a typically beautiful New Zealand valley. Instead of hobbits and sheep we find athletic-looking Kiwis throwing discs at the bottom of a grassy wind tunnel.

Game 1: Goannas 13-5 Wellington Wildcats Why. Wellington has a good enough program to send three even teams to their home nationals in an X/Y/Z split. They’re missing some key players for this game, including eventual male tournament MVP Aaron Neal, and we win comfortably.

Game 2: Goannas 13-11 Groot. We take half at 7-2, but a significant slip in our concentration and energy leads to cheap turnovers. Groot capitalises hungrily on these opportunities, but we stop the bleeding in time to enforce our early lead.

Game 3: Goannas 13-0 Manawatu. Manawatu are a relatively inexperienced team who tell us they don’t get many opportunities to train together. A few missed long shots to the endzone are the closest they come to scoring. We cool down and leave the fields while other teams are finishing their final games.

Dinner is at a food court, and with it comes a robust discussion of appropriate HSP sauces. Inflammatory comments are made, and the remark ‘dumb on the palate’ brings tensions almost to the point of no return – until Dad Mortimer tells us that we can get lime thickshakes at McDonald’s here. O, ambrosial nectar of peace and goodwill! We discover that lime thickshakes are the secret behind New Zealand’s staggeringly good spirit, and satayphobia is soon behind us. What a miraculous country.

Our nightly team meeting follows. Kyal wastes time talking about frisbee before getting to the good stuff – Chicken Crimpy Shapes have snagged fourth in the biscuit rankings. With both business and pleasure done for the day, Dad and Snack tuck us into bed, while Max and Greta sing mental strength lullabies. Kyal’s in the dining area taking care of the Crimpies.

Kyal’s Third Favourite Biscuit: Chocolate-Backed Tiny Teddies

Game 4: Goannas 13-5 Barely Legal. An early start on Day 2 sees us at the fields well before most of us would usually be awake. Especially Dave. Fortunately for us our opposition are even younger than we are, and perhaps even more susceptible to the early morning.

Game 5: Goannas 8-13 Rocket. We’ve heard that the second seed is the A end of an X/Y split with Groot. We get up early but can’t contain them and they take half with breaks in hand. A defensive adjustment brings us back into the second half, but we lost too much ground too early to do much now. Cal Sambridge manages to get his arms over the shoulders of their two tallest players in the spirit circle, and as he struggles to maintain contact with the ground, we’re grateful he’s there to help us win the important battles.

Game 6: Goannas 13-3 Exiles. Some opportunistic members of the opposition tender bids on our new Goannas hats, but lead about $450 below our starting price. On-field negotiations continue, but are equally one-sided.

We make our way to the other end of the fields – a journey reminiscent of Tolkein in its scale – and catch our first sighting of the Stingrays for the weekend. They’re locked in a tough quarter-final against GWS Blaze, and snag a win on universe point to progress.

Game 7 (Quarter Final): Goannas 15-10 Wildcats Zed. Our chemistry has been growing steadily all weekend, and stands us in good stead here. We finish the game regretting all the time over our ultimate careers we’ve wasted playing against our fellow Goannas instead of with them.

We cool down watching the exhibition game between the Stingrays and Kārearea, their cross-Tasman rivals. As the game comes to a close we get through several rounds of speed dating with our own counterparts on Kea, NZ's U24 Mens team, with one rule – don’t talk about ultimate. With our go-to conversational crutch swept out from under us, we flounder about trying to remember how real humans interact, with varying results. We’re rescued by a substantial pizza delivery, and are soon experimenting with various speed-eating techniques. The pizza doesn’t last long, and we’re back onto the important business of the weekend: chocolate-backed Tiny Teddies claim the coveted third spot in the favourite biscuits listing.

Kyal’s Second Favourite Biscuit: Shortbread Creams

A second consecutive early morning has many of us questioning whether this whole Goannas thing was really such a good idea after all. The sun is low over the fields when we get there, and the scenery is almost beautiful enough to make up for the fact that we’re not still tucked into bed. Soon, lingering thoughts of bed are banished by the warm up, and we’re firing on all cylinders.

Game 8 (Semi-Final): Goannas 13-11 Dogma. We come out of the gates hard and score five breaks before Dogma holds an offensive point. They’re a very good team and bring themselves back into contention as the game progresses, but their slow start is telling. With parents and friends watching the livestream back home, we book our tickets to the final.

We eat lunch on the hillside next to the showcase field and watch the women’s semi-finals. Both games are very one-sided, and the stage is set for a Wellington-Wellington final between the two Capital Punishment teams.

Game 9 (Final): Goannas 15-10 Rocket. We’re thrilled to have another crack at Rocket, and stoked to have such a big stage to play out the rematch. The game starts quick, and hard. An intercepted disc wins us a break for the fifth point, and our defence starts to slow them down drastically. They soak up our pressure and both sides trade holds until half, when the ultimate on display is soundly eclipsed by the half-time entertainment. To the crowd’s disappointment, this soon gives way to more ultimate.

In the second half, the pressure we had applied through the first half pays dividends, and we punch through another four breaks to win the game and claim the National Championship.

Kyal’s proud, but has a confession to make: his second all-time favourite biscuits are shortbread creams. We call an ambulance and he’s rushed to hospital, where he’s diagnosed with grossly overestimating the relative quality of shortbread creams. He’s prescribed some medication and given the all-clear, but we’re warned to consult medical professionals should he ever show signs of rating such mediocre biscuits so highly again.

Ad-hoc cricket with Kyal in a particularly unorthodox silly mid off.

Kyal’s Favourite Biscuit: Tim Tams

Celebrations ensue. We cool down in the shade and tuck into whatever food is left. We settle down at the end of the showcase field to watch the Women’s final. Some go for a dip in the river next to the fields, where Dave Andrews makes the mistake of swimming downstream of Lachie White (or putting his head under despite warnings of blue-green algae) and lives to regret it the next day. Then there's the medal ceremony.

This part is important – if you’re involved with the organisation of national-level tournaments, please, take note. Various NZU awards are handed out, and teams are congratulated for their performance over the weekend. We get our medals and a plaque that shows us just how often Australian teams pop over the Tasman to remind our neighbours of the local pecking order – AND WE GET AN ENORMOUS ORANGE CAKE. The winners of the Women’s division get a huge chocolate cake. These things are huge, and delicious, and probably justify the flights over in and of themselves. We aren’t ready to leave the fields yet, so bags, drink bottles and a lacrosse ball are repurposed, and a game of cricket keeps us busy for another hour. Kyal makes a substantial recovery from his brief hospitalisation, and reveals that his favourite biscuits are good old Tim Tams. Delicious.

The party starts in earnest. A rave starts in the communal walk-in fridge. Dance-offs are won by Dave Andrews, and Cal Sambridge splits his chin in a worm-race (he doesn’t win). Some of us are flying out well before sunrise the next morning, but right now, it’s a good time to be a Goanna. The feet snapchats have stopped for the time being, but they – and we – will be back. Sitting at home and at work across the country, we can’t wait to come together again for our next training camp.

Look at that cake.