Melbourne’s ninjas are getting ready to roll out the welcome mat this weekend, when some of the best athletes from across the world descend on the city for Australia’s top ninja tournament.
The Ninja Challenge League Finals is an annual event bringing together the best ninjas in Australia – along with international wildcards from five countries – to compete in a three-stage competition where only one person can be crowned Last Ninja Standing and take home up to $5000 cash.
Established in Western Australia and operating nationally since 2017, the Ninja Challenge League (NCL) requires Australian competitors to earn a spot in the end-of-year Finals at qualifying events held in ninja gyms across the country.
“the NCL Finals will be held in Victoria for the first time”
Traditionally hosted in Perth, the NCL Finals will be held in Victoria for the first time this year, with Melbourne gym The Compound Training hosting the event on October 1-2.
After heading west to compete in the past, Victorian ninja legends Zak Stolz and Daniel Mason are looking forward to hosting more than 80 adult competitors and more than 180 youth competitors in their home city.
“My favourite part of national and higher level competitions is the social aspect, I genuinely can’t wait to catch up with old friends and meet new talents,” Stolz said.
“The thought and effort put into creating challenging courses also makes it much more exciting than regular comps,” Mason added.
Despite their success on television, neither Stolz nor Mason have reached the podium at the NCL Finals before.
Mason, 31, said he hoped to change that this year.
“So many high quality competitors means you not only have to make no mistakes but have to perform at your best,” he said.
“I think I’ll consider a podium successful, but I’m definitely going for the win.”
The obstacles in each stage of the Finals aren’t revealed until the night before the competition, so the first time ninjas touch the course is during their official run.
One shot for glory
Competitors only get one attempt to clear each stage within a set time limit, so a single mistake is all it takes to end an athlete’s season.
In four years of NCL Finals competitions, no competitor has been able to put together a perfect run to clear all stages to claim the title of Grand Champion.
Stolz has reached the highest peaks of success in the sport, but said the NCL Finals was “the beast I still need to tame”.
“I’m super keen to see what the courses are like,” Stolz said.
“Both years I’ve competed in the NCL Finals I’ve made silly mistakes on things I would normally not be too concerned about.
“Hopefully this year is different and I can take it all the way.”
To prepare for the unknown challenges of the tournament, Mason said the pair had been pushing each other to the limit.
“I’ve been training hard with the best of the best in Zak to make sure I know how to get an edge on him,” Mason said.
“Whatever the final challenge is I know it will be extremely tough – hopefully I’m up to it.”
Australia’s top Ninja Warriors head to the NCL Finals
This year’s tournament will be the first event to pull in athletes from across Australia and the world since the pandemic began.
That three-year gap has meant that new ninjas have emerged as contenders, like teenagers Haydyn Reed from Queensland and Saxon Johnstone from New South Wales.
Stolz said he was excited to see Queensland teenager Haydyn Reed, the top seed at this year’s tournament, in action.
“To ignore Haydyn as a number one seed would be a silly mistake, he’s coming in pretty hot and I’m keen to see what he can do,” he said.
For Mason, the return of the NCL Finals represented a chance to put on a show for his son Fletcher, 5, and daughter Andie, 2.
“They haven’t been able to come to many big competitions over the past few years, so it will be great to share the experience with them,” he said.
Mark Ravi, the owner of the Ninja Challenge League, said the event would be a memorable one.
“Melbourne is home to so many iconic sporting events, I can’t think of a better city to host our first national tournament since the pandemic began,” Ravi said.
“We’ve pulled out all the stops to design courses that will be challenging, but really fun.
“I hope this is the year we see someone named Grand Champion.
“We have a number of ninjas with the talent to get it done, but anything can happen in ninja and that’s why we love it.”
To follow the action, subscribe to the official Ninja Challenge League YouTube channel, where the entire competition will be professionally live-streamed.