A RADICAL plan proposed by GDFA president Mathew Curran and endorsed by Football NSW could see a combined Riverina team based in Griffith build on the foundations of the Riverina Rhinos and join State League 2.
The state's governing body is keen to increase regional representation in NSW's football pyramid and The Area News understands Griffith has been encouraged in recent months to take the leap.
Curran's blueprint - which has been informally presented to the GDFA board - would involve the creation of a club featuring the Riverina's best senior players to take part in the competition, which is comprised mostly of clubs from the Sydney metropolitan area.
Curran said with the round-ball game in rude health, the time is right for Griffith to start looking to the future and consider abandoning local loyalties for the greater good.
"People have to ask themselves if we want to take that next step," he told The Area News.
"I can see the growth of it. It's where we need to be, otherwise all these kids are going to come out of the Rhinos and have nowhere to play.
"It's been offered and if we get our lot together we can give it a shot.
"It needs to start now so we can get it arranged, probably have a forum and get a committee formed.
"If you keep saying 'we'll do it next year' then it never comes."
The opportunity for promotion to State League 1 or perhaps beyond to the National Premier Leagues adds further appeal to the move, with Curran so confident in the quality of local talent that he believes a Riverina side would have no problems challenging for honours in year one.
Nowra-based Southern Branch FC is the only regional side currently in State League 2, while the Western NSW Mariners play up a tier in State League 1.
Football NSW competitions coordinator Andrew Fathers said: "It's Football NSW, not Football Sydney, Wollongong and Gosford."
"A lot of people forget that. That means we reach into those (regional) areas.
"There's always going to be resentment from some, asking whether these teams will actually add to the competition, and resistance from others.
"But we need to look outside what we've already got and see what we can provide elsewhere."
While any application will hinge on how the Riverina and Griffith correspond with Football NSW's acceptance criteria, Fathers said he believed regional teams are more than capable than holding their own against metropolitan sides, pointing to Hanwood FC's run to the State Cup final last year as proof.
He conceded the six-hour driving distance between Griffith and Sydney is a significant hurdle, but not an impossible one to overcome.
"To ask teams to go travel to that extent could be a hard task but they are things we will work through," Fathers said.
"City-based teams say they didn't join to travel six hours to play a game of football.
"But to claim association football is not to the same quality as State League is a little bit naive.
"Not everyone's going to be able to pack up and move to the city.
"There's got to be some development to encourage kids in these growth areas."
State League 2 also includes an under 20s division, but Curran's dream scenario would see a local side in State League 1, which has scope for under 16s and under 18s teams.
That would make for an ideal production line with Regional League side Riverina Rhinos already boasting under 12s, 13s, 14s and 15s sides.
"All of a sudden, there's a flow-on from the Rhinos, straight through," Curran said.
"Then beyond that it's the National Premier Leagues and you're playing against clubs like Marconi and that.
"It's a long shot but you could possibly do that in three years, in theory.
"The opportunity is there but everyone needs to take their club hats off and focus on the game.
"This is about providing a pathway for an under 9s kid playing in Griffith's Skills Acquisition Program to the Rhinos and then into the State League.
"Then he's playing against Sydney clubs and can be picked up that way."