CARLTON has continued to support the AFL’s push into international waters by signing Papua New Guinean Peter Labi to a two-year scholarship.
The 17-year-old was advised of the club’s intentions to offer him an international scholarship in late September before he signed the official paperwork in Brisbane last Thursday.
The half-forward has been playing Australian Rules for four years, and played for AFLQ side Mt Gravatt this season after moving to Queensland when he was 16.
He was also part of the PNG Mosquitoes that claimed the International Cup at the MCG in 2008.
Labi will relocate to Melbourne in time for the start of pre-season training on Nov 2, and is expected to play for the Northern Bullants next year.
General manager of AFL football operations, Steven Icke, believes Labi is an exciting prospect, and will benefit from training at an elite facility.
“When you look at his athleticism, his ability to find the footy and kick goals, and his defensive pressure, he’s got a bit to offer,” he told the club’s website.
“He’s had a pretty disrupted two or three years when he’s moved around a lot. He’s going to get bigger and stronger, and we think if we get him into an AFL environment there’s a fair bit of up-side.”
The pacy Lae native played 13 games for Mt Gravatt this year, including three finals and the side’s grand final loss to Morningside. He also played five games with the Brisbane Lions’ reserves as a top-up player.
He is currently 189cm tall and weighs 84kg, but is expected to grow further.
Labi said he had loved the game of Australian Rules since being introduced to it by an AFL-funded schools program four years ago.
“The guys at my school asked if anyone was interested so I went home and asked my mum. She said ‘give it a shot’,” he said.
“I love it so much. When I was told about Carlton I was so surprised I nearly cried. I called my mum and dad straight away and everyone was so pleased for me.”
Mt Gravatt coach David Lake compared Labi to a young Sydney Swans’ champion Adam Goodes.
“I’d seen him play for Nambour in the U-18 division two grand final so I knew what I was getting – one pretty exciting package,” he said.
“He’s so clean and crisp with his skills, is a strong, powerful athlete and he kicks it beautifully.
“He only needs five possessions to kick five goals and he’s hard to match up on because of his height and speed.”
Labi is the second Papua New Guinean-born player to be affiliated with Carlton after 200-gamer Michael Sexton.
Chairman of AFL PNG Scott Reid said he was optimistic the pair’s journey into Australian Rules would encourage young Papua New Guineans to get involved in the game.
“It’s been so exciting for us to see first David and now Peter win the recognition that they so richly deserve but if I can say one thing to AFL recruiting scouts – there are plenty more where they came from.”