Contributed by: Wesley Hull
With the release of the AFL’s 2019 premiership season draw due tomorrow, some important pieces of the puzzle have already been announced. High amongst those is the decision to grant Townsville, in North Queensland, their first AFL match for premiership points. The city will see the Gold Coast Suns meet St Kilda at Riverway Stadium in their Round 13 clash.
It makes a bitter sweet situation for North Queensland. Whilst Townsville has earned the right to host a match after years of doing their “apprenticeship” with NAB Challenge and JLT pre-season matches, it does replace Cairns which has hosted matches at Cazalys Stadium since 2011. The sweetener for the north is that Mackay will again hold a JLT series match at Great Barrier Reef Arena on March 3rd when the Gold Coast Suns meet the Western Bulldogs.
Townsville crowds have already proved to be enthusiastic fans of matches played in the city – right down to pre-match activities and community support. The chance to host a premiership match of such high stakes should see Townsville support this event vocally and at the turnstiles.
The Suns have been regular visitors to the north since 2010 when they visited Cairns to play the Bendigo Bombers. Since then they have visited Cairns, Townsville and Mackay on a regular basis, growing support and getting support for their own recruitment through local academies. In the recent past this has netted them players such as Jack Bowes and Jacob Heron.
St Kilda is newer to the region and will take a little time to develop a fan base. They have a huge travelling period, going to China in Round 11 to meet Port Adelaide. Then they travel to Townsville for the Round 13 clash. A bye in Round 12 should help rest their travelling legs.
Riverway Stadium (formerly Tony Ireland Stadium) has a capacity of 10 000. That is slightly less than Cazalys in Cairns, though it is thought that the Townsville crowds will challenge that capacity. This happened for a T20 cricket match in 2007 between Queensland and Victoria. The biggest AFL crowd to date in Townsville was a bit over 7000 attending the 2013 inaugural pre-season clash between the Suns and North Melbourne.
Cairns’ crowds have dipped in recent years, especially in 2018 when horrid weather forced the Round 1 clash to be played in atrocious conditions in front of a small crowd. Townsville has now grabbed the gauntlet and will hope to build itself into the stronghold of footy in North Queensland. The city boasted two AFL listed players in 2018 – Braydon Preuss (North Melbourne, now Melbourne) and Josh Williams (since de-listed by North Melbourne) – who both came from the Hermit Park Tigers AFL Townsville club.
Acting Suns CEO Andrew Thomas stated to Fox Footy that, “North Queensland is a significant region for our club and is our home away from home and we enjoy playing our role in developing Australian Football throughout the region, which is also a key recruitment catchment for the Gold Coast SUNS Talent Academy.” (See: https://www.foxsports.com.au/afl/afl-...a9d1e40eeb )
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