The historic Australian football match being played in Shanghai on May 14, 2017 means more to Chen Shaoliang than most. As the first recruit from China for an Australian Rules Football (AFL) club, showcasing the sport he has come to love to a 'home' crowd is a dream come true
Whilst injury means he is not playing in the Port Adelaide team to take on the Gold Coast Suns, the former captain of China's national Australian rules football team is excited to be in Shanghai for the game.
“I am very excited and very much looking forward to this game. From what I know, lots of my team mates feel the same," he says.
The 11,600 seat stadium is sold out with local fans joining more than 5,000 supporters who have come from Australia.
“I think this game has historical significance and I also think this is a beginning, a starting point for Australian football to enter China," says Shaoliang.
Converting to Aussie Rules
Originally from Chaozhou in Guangdong, Shaoliang came to Australia in 2016 as part of the club's China strategy, creating awareness of the Australian Football League (AFL) overseas.
He discovered the game in 2012 after participating in the AFL's draft camp in China. From here Shaoliang fell in love with the sport and became the captain of Team China – China's national AFL team.
"When I first watched AFL I feel that it may not be for me," Shaoliang laughs.
"But when I first picked up a football it made me feel excited."
Port Adelaide recognised his talent and gave Shaoliang the opportunity to come to Australia in 2016 to train and prepare for playing in the SANFL competition, the South Australian state competition.
Unfortunately, in a practice game during his first week of training, he damaged his right anterior cruciate ligament.
Spending the majority of 2016 in rehabilitation, Shaoliang is working hard to get his knee back on track.
"My knee is good, and is getting a lot stronger now," he says.
"I feel that AFL is a really good game to learn to play... we need to be really fit to run on the ground anywhere."
Shaoliang acknowledges that many people in China still don't know exactly what the sport of AFL is, but as an ambassador he aims to educate as many people as possible in the lead up to his team's big match.
“Lots of Chinese people have no idea about Australian football. In fact, four years ago before I was first introduced to it, I practically knew nothing about Australian football either.
Port Adelaide v Gold Coast Suns will be held at Jiangwan Stadium, Shanghai, on Sunday 14 May 2017 1.15pm (China Central Time), 2.45pm ACST / 3.15pm AEST, and broadcast live on the Australia Plus TV network.