Australian Rules football is set to boost its profile in the Richmond-Tweed region with the addition of clubs from Murwillumbah, Pottsville and Tweed Heads to the Summerland AFL competition next season.
The new competition, which might be played under the banner of AFL Northern Rivers, also may include Casino Lions, who opted out of this year’s Summerland competition due to a lack of player numbers.
Officials are hopeful the Lions will re-form and join the new competition, which will include existing clubs based at Lismore, Ballina, Nimbin and Byron Shire.
AFL Northern Rivers’ Gerard Piper spoke of the formation of the new competition today at Ballina High School, where a Kick Around Australia event was held to mark 150 years of Australian Football.
Attending the event was Brisbane Lions player Wayde Mills, a former Lennox Head local who attended Southern Cross School at East Ballina.
The event also was a ‘thank you’ to AFL Queensland, which recently donated a set of goal posts to Ballina High School.
Ballina High School principal Ros Mayberry and Wayde Mills led a ceremonial ‘charge’ through a banner which read ‘Ballina High School Thanks AFL Queensland’.
On the new competition, Gerard Piper said that the Summerland League had 1000 senior and junior players, but AFL Northern Rivers was aiming to double that with the addition of the new clubs.
He said that, following the inclusion of the Summerland AFL into AFL Queensland’s region earlier this year, the local league could now apply for a budget to improve facilities in the region; for example, the addition of lights to some grounds.
Wayde Mills, who played his first game with Coolangatta as a 14-year-old, said the inclusion of the local region under the banner of AFL Queensland was a good step.
Now 20 and with 20 AFL senior games under his belt, Wayde believes there is a new pathway for local juniors who aspire to playing AFL.
He is set to be followed in the AFL ranks by Byron Bay ruck-rover Matt Lodge. Gerard Piper said that Matt, a student at Trinity College in Lismore, had been signed by Carlton.
Paul Frangos, a teacher at Ballina High and a veteran of coaching and playing in the Summerland League, said the sport was progressing well on the Northern Rivers. “The kids are taking an interest,” he said.
Locally, Australian Football has a solid junior base, with competitions from Under-8s through to Under-14s being contested by clubs from Maclean in the south and north to Brunswick Heads.
There also are two Under-16 teams which compete as the Northern Storm in a Queensland-based competition.
* Local AFL fans should note Saturday, August 30, in their diaries. Grand finals in all competitions, from Under-8s through to seniors, will be played at Oakes Oval, Lismore.