Left to right: Able Seaman Lachlan Borrillo, Petty Officer Chris Gamble, Firefighter Riley Heddles, Bombardier James Taylor, Leading Aircraftsman Jarrod Dilger. Image: Matthew Sampson.

THE spirit and emotion of Anzac Round will power the return of one of football’s much-loved traditions this weekend.

For the first time in three years, the Anzac Cup Challenge is back, with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) All-Stars and the Australian Combined Emergency Services (ACES) to do battle at Adelaide Oval in the curtain raiser to Port Adelaide versus West Coast on Saturday afternoon.

The Challenge, seen by both sides as the pinnacle of their sport, has not been contested since 2019 due to COVID-19.

Started in 2004, the game pits the nation’s best Army, Royal Australian Navy, and Royal Australian Air Force footballers against those from the Fire Service, Police and Ambulance Services.

The teams head into Saturday’s game with renewed mutual respect after a challenging run off the field.

“This year is unique because there has been such close cooperation between the ADF and emergency services over the last three years, with the fires, floods, and pandemic,” said Colonel James Davis, ADF Australian Rules (ADFAR) deputy chair.

“Anzac is about service. Through the ADF lens, we define that as service in conflict or peacekeeping, but we have seen service on display in a whole range of forms over the last couple of years, whether through emergency services or volunteers, or people just helping out in their communities to manage a sequence of catastrophes and disasters that we otherwise haven’t had to endure for quite a while.”

We’ve talked a bit about the history of Anzac Day and what it means to all of us, and we just want to get together and do the services and the ADF proud.

- Petty Officer Chris Gamble - ADF All-Stars coach

In his 26th year of service with the ADF, Colonel Davis said the Cup’s return was a welcome relief. The ADF squad was picked following a national carnival in March which brought together 250 personnel, from players to umpires, administrators and coaches.

“It’s so important to get back to these events this year. If you don’t, you lose the muscle memory of them, and they can be lost forever,” he said.

ADF coach, Petty Officer Chris Gamble, an AFLW and VFL line coach at Collingwood, concurred: “You miss sharing stories with other services and the connections and the friendships built up over time, so it’s super important that it’s back.

“We’ve talked a bit about the history of Anzac Day and what it means to all of us, and we just want to get together and do the services and the ADF proud.

“My guys are really chomping at the bit. We’ve lost the last two carnivals and we’re keen to square up and get a good result.”

Six-time ACES representative Josh Byerlee, a Community Engagement Officer with the Metropolitan Fire Service, said the game would be fiercely but fairly contested.

“It’s probably the purest form of footy you can get just because we’ve got so much respect for each other when we run out on the field,” the ACES operations manager said.

“Everybody wants to play their hardest to honour the other team. While Anzac week is the ADF’s week, we want to make it our day and win the game.”

Senior Firefighter Byerlee said it was an honour for the ACES to share the Oval with their off-field allies.

“I went to Kangaroo Island with the bushfires a few years ago and we got a ride home with one of the Air Force planes. While we were there on the ground, we were working with the ADF. Disasters like that bring us closer.”


Fellow firefighter Riley Heddles, who is based with Fire Rescue Victoria, said he had been waiting three years to make his Challenge debut.

“I was hoping to play in 2020 so I can’t wait to get out there,” he said.

“Our coach Rod Campbell is strong on making it a leadership and self-development week and it’s been really good so far.

“We don’t possess the Anzac spirit, because we don’t go away and do the job that they do, but we have so much respect for the people we play against. We’re going to go out there and show them the utmost sportsmanship and just hope to have a really good game.”

Lachlan Borrillo, an Able Seaman with the Royal Australian Navy, will lace up for the ADF alongside his identical twin brother, Brad.

“There’s a bit of confusion around the boys – they still don’t know who’s who – but it should be fun,” he said.

“We will bring the Anzac spirit to the game. It’s a very special thing that they did all those years ago and if we can bring half the courage that they had out onto the footy field, I think it will be an exciting game.”

The Australian Defence Force Australian Rules All-Stars and the Australian Combined Emergency Services will play for the Anzac Cup for the first time since 2019. Image: Matthew Sampson.

Port Adelaide has a strong connection to the Defence community.

In recent years, the Club has implemented programs that support Defence personnel and their families. In 2019, Port Adelaide entered an agreement with the ADF to formalise its relationship with the ADFAR and the continued support of one another.

The ADF All-Stars will take on the ACES at Adelaide Oval from 1.10pm as a curtain raiser to Port Adelaide’s Anzac Round clash with West Coast. Gates open at 1pm.

Port Adelaide will be celebrating its deep links with the defence force at the game, with an Anzac ceremony honouring those that have served to be held before the first bounce.

The playing group will also be sporting special Anzac Round guernseys, inspired by club legend and national war hero, Bob Quinn. The match-worn guernseys will be auctioned post-game with all proceeds going towards the RSL’s ANZAC Appeal.

Those wishing to support the ANZAC Appeal can also do so by online donation at anzacappeal.com.au.