The crowd figure is not the only measure of success for an AFL pre-season game in the Riverina, according to Southern NSW regional manager Steven Mahar.
The official tally for last Saturday’s JLT community series game between GWS Giants and West Coast Eagles was 3984. It was less than half the anticipated 8000, and well down on the heady days of 2007-2010 when 10,000-plus spectators were turning up to watch the Swans play pre-season games at Narrandera.
Mahar said the turnout for the game – which was televised live, and included two young squads in the clubs’ first hit-outs of 2017 – shouldn’t affect the region’s chances of securing matches.
“We obviously want to see good crowds but it hasn’t been flagged as a concern that we won’t get future games,” Mahar said.
“In fact, with Griffith coming on line (with improvements at Exies Oval), there was some discussion at the game on the weekend that there’s three premier venues in the Riverina (including Wagga’s Robertson Oval) as well as Lavington which is a standout venue as well.
“So there’s four genuine venues that could host AFL games into the future and that’s a real positive.”
Last March, in 40-degree heat, Collingwood versus North Melbourne at Robertson Oval was also down on expectation with 6000 fans.
By contrast, rugby league’s Country-City game in 2015 attracted a sell-out crowd of 10,000 at Wagga’s Equex Centre. Last year’s pre-season Super Rugby game between the Brumbies and Waratahs drew a crowd of 7237 at the same venue.
Mahar believes the change of sponsor for the pre-season competition and the heavy promotion of the AFL Womens competition may have also softened the buzz around the JLT games.
But he points out that having two AFL teams training locally on Friday – including one which travelled across the country – rounds out the bigger picture. The Giants also held Auskick events and community camps in the days after the game.
And Mahar said it was “a massive win” for local coaches to learn from Giants staff Leon Cameron, Wayne Campbell, Mark McVeigh, Dean Brogan, Lenny Hayes and Alan McConnell at a coaching course.
Cameron also praised the atmosphere at Narrandera, as well as the ground, after the Giants’ win, while Eagles coach Adam Simpson declared the surface “AFL standard” and voiced his appreciation of the new coaches boxes.
“It was very positive,” Mahar said. “The surface was amazing, the coaches’ boxes and the upgrades that council made have been fantastic and that helps community clubs.
“By bringing AFL clubs here we can work with local councils to improve facilities – that leaves a legacy for local communities and that’s a real positive.”
Southern NSW hosts another pre-season game when the Swans take on St Kilda at Lavington on March 12.
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