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Saturday, November 18 2017 @ 07:01 pm ACDT

Townsville Shines - Again



With the release today of the AFL’s JLT Community Series – the pre-season competition – Townsville in North Queensland has landed some big fish to further build the game in the city. By degrees, Townsville is becoming a viable AFL venue, both for matches and increasingly as a destination for local playing talent.

World Footy News reported back in early 2013 that the northern cities of Cairns and Townsville would be locked in a battle to be a destination for an AFL club team or franchise by 2030. See Cairns v Townsville – Which will be the home of an AFL team by 2030?. That argument was on the back of Cairns having hosted AFL premiership matches in 2011 and 2012 (and a number of pre-season matches featuring Geelong, Brisbane, Port Adelaide, Melbourne, St Kilda and North Melbourne in preceding years). At the time, Townsville had just been awarded its first pre-season match between the Gold Coast Suns and North Melbourne.
It was early days, but Cairns certainly had the jump on Townsville. A host of Cairns locals were making their mark in the AFL including Jarrod Harbrow (Gold Coast), Courtenay Dempsey (Essendon), Charlie Dixon (then Gold Coast), Peter Yagmoor (Collingwood), Rex Liddy (Gold Coast) and Lewis Moss (Gold Coast). By comparison, only Josh Hall (Gold Coast) was flying the Townsville flag.

But things have changed, and Townsville is making its mark. After a two-year hiatus where Mackay hosted the pre-season matches, the city has returned to AFL ranks with the JLT Community series match on March 2nd. Three weeks later Cairns will host the Round One premiership match between the Gold Coast Suns and North Melbourne Kangaroos. Interest in the game of Australian Rules football across the north will be piqued by two elite level matches within the same month. Both cities will feed of each other.

But Townsville has more aces up its sleeve now…Josh Williams and Braydon Preuss. Both players were recruited by North Melbourne and have played senior grade. Both started their careers with the local Hermit Park Tigers club in Townsville. They are local products around which an entire marketing program could be built.

Williams is 19 years old and played two matches for North Melbourne in his debut season after being taken in the 2016 National Draft at selection #36. Man-mountain, Braydon Preuss, the Roos’ 206cm giant ruckman also came from Hermit Park Tigers in Townsville. Rookie listed in 2015, Preuss played eight matches for North Melbourne this year.

As Townsville manages to unearth more talent, Cairns has seen a drop. Liddy, Moss and Dempsey are no longer on AFL lists – nor is Sam Michael who played for both the Brisbane Lions and Essendon. Jack Bowes is now a Suns player, but the overall Cairns talent pool has dropped a little as Townsville’s local talent rises. This is significant as young kids can idolise a local and possibly choose their own Australian Rules football pathway – it happened in Cairns and is happening in Townsville.

This all bodes well for the return of elite football to the city. A new era beckons with new opportunity, new drive, new talent and potentially new markets. Less than 5000 fans turned up at Riverway Stadium for the last match there in 2015. It is almost certain that the city will improve dramatically on that number next year with locals caught up in the hype of a new season and local talent to support.

It shapes as a tremendous start to the 2018 AFL season as Cairns and Townsville get to show their wares in unison. Though, realistically, this is just another example of the historic rivalry between the two cities, and that ads even more spice to a fascinating 2018 AFL Premiership and JLT Community season.
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