By VINCE RUGARI
THERE will be a Wagga-based team in next year's Griffith first-grade competition after all.
Player power in Wagga has prompted the shock creation of a new breakaway club known as the Eastern Wanderers, which was given approval to join the GDFA on Monday night at an association board meeting.
Formed as a direct response to Football Wagga's decision earlier this month to end expansion talks with Griffith, the Wanderers will be solely registered with the GDFA.
The club's first-grade team is expected to boast some of Wagga's best players, the majority from 2013 grand final teams Lake Albert and Wagga United �- all keen to challenge themselves at the higher level on offer in Griffith.
GDFA president Mathew Curran described the sudden addition of the team as an important step towards the long-term dream of a Riverina-wide competition that he hopes will one day also include clubs from Albury and Shepparton.
"It's just going to move the competition forward," he said.
"Wagga's in a rebuilding phase at the moment, they've got a whole new board, it gives their better players the chance to play in a better competition, and it gives us another team."
In effect, the Wanderers could serve almost as a Wagga representative team, which should allay fears any expansion sides would struggle in the stronger GDFA league.
A selection of Lake Albert players, headed by new club chief Sam Mangelsdorf, will form the core of the side.
Mangelsdorf told The Area News the club would have no problems filling out a competitive squad.
"We haven't approached anyone at this stage, but the doors are open," he said.
"We're pretty confident with numbers, I can't see us having any troubles there.
"It's very exciting. There's been talk about it for a fair few years.
"The grand masterplan was to have a Griffith, Wagga and Albury comp and a Country Super League would have been awesome but that hasn't happened.
"This is a great stepping stone.
"Griffith was willing to take us in and we're a group of boys that just want to play a bit better level of footy and have a bit more of a run at it.
"We don't have any high expectations - we're not expecting to go out and win the comp but we're expecting to be competitive and hold our own.
"Griffith's been very supportive of us and that's made it very easy for us to come over."
It is believed Football Wagga will assist the new club with helping to settle on a venue to use next season, despite not being expressly involved with the creation of the Wanderers.
New president Erwin Budde, who also doubles as the president of Lake Albert, said he would not stand in the way of any players considering defecting.
But asked if he viewed the Eastern Wanderers as a long-term solution, Budde said: "Good question."
"It's great from a regional competition point-of-view to see two areas working together, however that's going to happen.
"As clubs we weren't ready to go across, and that's an important point to make. Players themselves can do what they like."
The Eastern Wanderers are no guarantee of fielding women's or under 18 sides but will be allowed to play next season even with only a first-grade and a reserves team.
There is recent precedent for this - Yoogali Wanderers FC was permitted to join the GDFA earlier this year with only first-grade and reserves sides.
In another development, Curran confirmed the Yoogali Wanderers have disbanded after just one season in the competition, with players set to return to parent club Yoogali FC.
That leaves the GDFA top flight with nine teams.