Premier plan gets big tick

THE DECISION to merge the Holiday Coast and Clarence River men's Premier League soccer competitions has been given a big tick of approval from local clubs. The merged competition, to be known as the North Coast Premier League, will feature eight teams from the Holiday Coast and Grafton. With as many as 11 clubs vying for places, some will be relegated to first division. But even the clubs in danger of being relegated yesterday indicated they feel the changes would be a strong step forward for the future. Woolgoolga and Northern Storm, who are likely to face the toughest battle to stay in Premier League, threw their support behind the changes. Despite a lean year in Premier League, Storm president Don Riley believes his club can still earn a spot in the top competition next year. "Overall, we were probably the most successful club this year," he said. "But if we do get relegated, it might not be such a bad thing as it will give us an extra year to strengthen our seniors." Woolgoolga president for 2004 Michael Lamont conceded his club could struggle to make the grade next year, but said the club still supported the changes. "We know a couple of clubs, and we may be one of them, won't make the cut, but we are in support of the changes," Lamont said. "If there is promotion and relegation in a few years, we are confident we will soon be back up into Premier League." The competition heavyweights have also welcomed the change. "It is a good step, it will definitely make things more interesting, which is better for soccer in this region," Coffs Coast Tigers president Scott Wolgamot said. "There has been a perception, whether right or wrong, over the years that this competition has been a two-horse race between us and Coffs Harbour and then maybe Sawtell as a third. The inclusion of the Grafton sides will definitely broaden our base." Coffs Harbour Lions sang a similar tune. "We are certainly in favour of the changes," Lions secretary Wendy Sharpe said. "It will definitely strengthen the competition over time." Sawtell is also in favour of the new format. "It should breathe new life into the competition," club vice president Paul Quinn said. "It will be interesting to play against different sides, a lot of our players are pretty familiar with their opposition." Urunga District Raiders also agreed with the principal of extending the competition, but the club was concerned about calls that they could be relegated. "It is a good idea, the competition has got to be made stronger," Urunga president Tom Campbell said. New entity Valley United, a merger between Macksville and Nambucca, were in favour of the idea, but questioned whether local clubs should be relegated for outside clubs. "It is a good idea and it will result in better soccer," Nambucca vice-president Geoff Thorn said. "But we would be disappointed if we were the ones who missed out in favour of a Grafton team." ? MITCHELLDALE

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