Jaya Aulakh leaps for the centre ball during a game of Australian Football. Aulakh often plays as a ruckman because of how tall she is. (Contributed photo)

North Delta woman to represent Canada at major Australian football tournament

Twenty-year-old Jaya Aulakh will join Team Canada at the International Cup in Melbourne, Australia.

North Delta certainly isn’t Down Under, but for 20-year-old Jaya Aulakh, the sports definitely are.

Aulakh has been playing Australian Football, also known as Aussie Rules or footy, since she was 13 years old. Now, she’ll be representing Team Canada at the International Cup in Melbourne, Australia, from Aug. 5 to Aug. 19.

The International Cup is an Australian Football tournament that takes place every three years. It’s open to all national teams, although no expatriate Australians are eligible to play, and this year will be welcoming Great Britian, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Ireland, Fiji, America and one team called the European Crusaders.

This will be the sixth International Cup, and Aulakh’s first time competing in it.

“I’m feeling really good actually,” she said about preparing for the tournament with Team Canada. It’s a much different feeling than when she went down to Florida with the Canadian development team in 2015.

“I was really scared,” she said. “I’ve always thought I was a skinny kid and that I would get hurt really easily, but once I got into the game I found that I can outrun people, so I don’t get tackled.”

Footy isn’t a game for the faint-hearted.

It’s the athletic version of a platypus, an amalgamation of different games that create one, uniquely Australian sport. From an outsider’s perspective, it resembles rugby, except that it’s played on a cricket field and has scoring rules similar to American football. The jump ball, and the option to bounce the egg-shaped ball as you run, is reminiscent of basketball, while the need to punch the ball to move it forward much like volleyball.

From the inside, of course, it’s a little more intricate.

Games are played with 18 athletes a side, with four on the bench. The centre bounce starts the game, and the object of play is to move the ball down the field towards the four goal posts. The ball can be moved three ways: by running, with a bounce every sixteen yards; with hand balls, by using your fist to hit it forward; or by dropping the ball with one hand and kicking it forward.

Passing is an integral part of the sport, although sometimes the ball can fly too high. In those cases, players can jump to catch it, called a mark. During a mark, an athlete can use a fellow player or opponent as a spring board to catch the ball, leaping up onto their shoulders and flinging themselves into the air. After a mark, the player can keep running or stop and take a free kick.

“I think it’s just a combination of all the sports I love,” Aulakh said. “It’s really different. And it’s nice to say that I play a full contact sport, because most people wouldn’t expect that of me.”

Like most sports, there are positions (defender, forward, midfield). Generally, Aulakh plays as a ruckman, the person who takes the jump ball, because she’s tall. But she doesn’t know where she’ll be playing for the International Cup.

“For Internationals, I’m not sure where I’m going to end up being, just because a lot of people have been injured,” she said. “So everything is kind of getting switched around.”

Team Canada players continue to play in their everyday leagues leading up to the International Cup — Aulakh plays for the Westcoast Wildcats, based out of Vancouver — which means the possibility for injury is always around. Most of the damage has been typical of sports injuries: anterior cruciate ligament tears, sprained knees. Aulakh thinks its possible someone might have broken their leg.

But those injuries are just part of the sport, and they’re injuries Aulakh will happily risk.

“I can’t imagine myself not playing footy for the rest of my life,” she said.

“I always felt like I could grow in this sport, not even just skill wise, like, as a person. I think that’s why I want to continue being in it, because I know I’ll always learn something new … It’s never the same every year.”

The Canadian women’s team will be starting off the International Cup on Sunday, Aug. 6 with a game against Fiji. The semi-finals will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 15, and the gold medal game on Saturday, Aug. 19.