Jets youth team under pressure to quit state league

THE Northern NSW Football board will meet tonight amid calls from state league coaches for the Jets youth team to be removed from the competition immediately.

Hunter Sports Group remains committed to fielding a youth team in the state league.

But rival coaches believe the side’s inclusion is now pointless and that they should be withdrawn to avoid a messy exit later in the season.

The Jets entered the state league this season and played their first match on Friday, defeating Valentine Phoenix 1-0 at Cahill Oval.

HSG chief executive Troy Palmer said yesterday that the group wanted to keep a side in the league and would invest in a high-performance academy to develop juniors.

He said HSG would spend $1million annually ‘‘to encourage local children to play football and propagate the game in the region’’.

But state league coaches have questioned the feasibility of keeping the youth team in the competition now HSG has taken away the pathway to a Newcastle A-League side.

Darren Elkin (Weston), Mark Wilson (Charlestown City), Michael Bolch (Hamilton), Lindsay Tapp (Valentine), Greg Smith (West Wallsend) and Graham Schofield (Lake Macquarie) believe the Jets’ place in the state league is untenable.

The coaches believed that without a Jets side to strive for the squad would gradually dissolve through the season as the under-20 players, no longer in the A-League shop window, sought opportunities elsewhere.

Although supportive of the Jets’ introduction into the league, the coaches feared the 17-man Jets squad, which had only two players on the bench against Valentine because of injuries, would struggle to remain competitive and keep enough players together for the entire season.

Some suggested the Jets should be pulled out now and a bye installed to maintain a fair competition for all clubs.

‘‘If you don’t have an A-League side any more, what’s the point of having a youth league side?’’ Elkin said.

Mark Wilson said: ‘‘I still want them to have a side but it’s hard to see how they are going to be a competitive side now.’’

Greg Smith was adamant the side should be withdrawn.

‘‘Players are going to be going everywhere. There’s no point in them staying now.’’

NNSWF chief executive David Eland said the future of the Jets in the league would be a hot topic at the federation’s monthly board meeting tonight.

Eland said the youth team’s ‘‘participation will need to be carefully considered’’ and thorough consultation with clubs would be vital.

He said clubs were notified yesterday that NNSWF had not been privy to the Jets’ decision before the announcement and that competitions would continue without change until further notice.

‘‘I don’t see how we can do anything else,’’ Eland said.

‘‘I’m sure there is a club preparing to host the youth league side on the weekend.

‘‘And as the peak body we have a responsibility to think about these young players that have committed to represent the Jets in the state league this season.’’

But he conceded the reasons behind the Jets’ inclusion were no longer relevant.

‘‘The origins of the youth league playing in the state league was that it was a directive from FFA for member associations to allow their A-League club’s youth league teams to play in their competition,’’ Eland said.

‘‘If the Jets are no longer fielding an A-League team, then the directive is meaningless.

‘‘The directive will not apply to our state league.’’

Jets youth team coach Arthur Papas said he was told to prepare his side as usual.

They are set to play South Cardiff on Saturday from 2.30pm at Ulinga Oval.

‘‘As I understand, we’re still training, there’s a commitment to spend even more on the youth, so until we’re told otherwise, it’s just continue on,’’ Papas said.

‘‘I thought it was really positive last week, being involved in the senior competition. Hopefully if that can remain, it’s still beneficial for the region.

‘‘It’s not a great situation, but also we’ve just got to get on with it and see what materialises as we progress.

‘‘We plan on being there this week and beyond.’’

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