GRIFFITH has been urged to follow through with plans to enter a senior men's team in Football NSW's State League 2 by two regional areas that have recently taken the same leap.
As debate rages over whether a combined Riverina representative team could work in a Sydney metropolitan competition, officials from Shepparton and NSW's Southern Branch have told The Area News that the one-team concept is the only way forward for bush football.
Since the departure of Griffith clubs from the ill-fated Regional Premier League, Shepparton has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the Victorian football pyramid with a new club, Goulburn Valley Suns, formed to play against the likes of South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights in the state's National Premier Leagues competition.
While the introduction of the Suns has diluted the quality of the Shepparton competition - which many fear will happen to the Billabong Cup should Griffith enter State League 2 - Goulburn North-East Football Association (GNEFA) president Frank Trimboli said the pain was ultimately worth it.
"In one sense we've embraced the concept but at the same time we don't like damaging what's in place," Trimboli said.
"But it's evolution, isn't it? Things change over time and you have to accept it and move on.
"While there's some disgruntled people, it's given us a pathway we never had before.
"We're part of the big picture ... if you're not part of it, you're going to be left out of it."
Nowra-based Southern Branch FC entered NSW State League 2 last year, finally introducing a senior men's and under 20s team to compliment the junior and women's sides that have been playing at state level since the 1980s.
Southern Branch is also entered into the Football NSW Regional League, which also includes the Riverina Rhinos, giving them the same junior-to-senior pathway the GDFA is keen to mimic.
Manager Phil McColl said Griffith should be prepared for an expensive "battle" to make it a reality.
"It will be a battle but one that is ultimately, definitely, 100 per cent worth it," he said.
"If you want to give your players a pathway through to the top, you've really got to invest in a senior men's competition in the state league.
"I know there's been a couple of players from down that way that have done very well and this would put them on the right track."
McColl said Southern Branch is always in competition with the big-money Illawarra league that has lured local players away from the State League 2 side.
He estimated the State League 2 operation costs roughly $100,000, a sum that includes payments for coaches and players, as well as travel reimbursements that are dispensed on a win or draw basis.
McColl said the most important thing for the Riverina to consider is a quality head coach that will convince local players to ditch existing loyalties and come on board.
"If you've got that, you're halfway there," he said. n Continued Page 18
The GV Suns, who are controlled by the Shepparton council, have proven an extremely costly exercise with huge sums spent on the likes of former A-League talents Kristian Sarkies and Naum Sekulovski, who have been brought in to ensure the side is competitive against the top brass in Victoria.
The Suns have also signed ex-Melbourne Heart coach Peter Zois to take control of the first-grade side.
No such outlay would be required for the Riverina, given State League 2 is only NSW's fourth-tier competition - but Griffith faces almost double the travel burden than Shepparton and Southern Branch, unless Football NSW can adjust the draw to alleviate the pain of regular trips to Sydney.
Trimboli also confirmed dual registration of players for both the GV Suns and their original RPL clubs is not permitted, as that would give them an unfair advantage over the rest of the Victorian NPL clubs.
Dual registration is one of several key areas that GDFA clubs have asked president Mathew Curran to clear up before the State League 2 proposal is discussed further.