New format for AFL sides

AFL NORTH Coast will play the senior premiership as a 16-a-side competition from the beginning of the 2011 season.

The decision to dump the traditional 18-a-side structure was made at this week’s committee meeting and brings all three main grades into line with under-18s and reserve grade already playing with two men less on the field.

President Jim Woodlock was one of the supporters of the innovation and revealed clubs had given majority support.

“The new format will alleviate the issues clubs have had in the past rustling up the required number of players to take the field,” he said.

“With up to six players allowed on the interchange bench, having two less players on each side should also produce a more attractive brand of football.

“For some time clubs have been forced to ask players to double up from under-18s to seniors when they were short and because of this latest change, taking that course is now unlikely to be necessary.”

While AFL numbers are booming in the region between the Camden Haven and Clarence Valley, the growth numbers are still in their early teenage years and still a season or two away from the main competition.

“The best players from the under-18s are usually already in seniors but this will help improve the standard of those who are not quite there yet,” Woodlock said.

“Because of our growth it’s also opening up for younger players to come into the under-18s and this will also serve to allay the fears of parents their kids aren’t yet ready for the step up.

“Particularly if we can sit a young bloke on the bench for under-18s and let him have a quarter on the field, it will show mum and dad that it’s often the smaller kids who can make an impact.”

And the president doesn’t deny there may also be significant advantages for the league’s two battler sides.

“Certainly it will help Grafton and Nambucca, particularly while they keep developing good young juniors and can get them into seniors,” he said.

“A faster competition will not only help them but the rest as well, making it very, very attractive.

“I think it’s actually our responsibility to get as many young players into senior football as we possibly can.”

Woodlock said his organisation was flexible about how long the 16-a-side concept would remain in force.

“Long term, the strategy is to have every grade going out there with 18 players,” he added.

“But it’s always up to the clubs; they can change back at a later date if that’s what they want.”

This week’s meeting also ratified the AFL North Coast draw for the 2011 season.

The first round will be played on April 16 before the Easter weekend break.

Again, there will be 15 rounds, with finals to be held over four weeks at BCU International Stadium.

Port Macquarie will celebrate their first match at the new Wayne Richards Park facility in the opening round against the Coffs Swans.

But they will have to wait until round five for a shot at redemption in a grand final replay against the Sawtell-Toormina Saints.

The draw also had to accommodate the extenuating circumstances that Grafton face in the opening part of the season.

With the redevelopment of Ellem Oval rendering the side without a semi-permanent home, the draw will have the club playing away for most games until at least June.

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