Northern NSW NPL, WPL clubs take on junior development

NEW ERA: The Emerging Jets playing an NPL Youth game against Maitland at Cooks Square Park. NPL clubs are preparing to take over elite junior development from under-9s to under-12s. Picture: Michael Hartshorn
NEW ERA: The Emerging Jets playing an NPL Youth game against Maitland at Cooks Square Park. NPL clubs are preparing to take over elite junior development from under-9s to under-12s. Picture: Michael Hartshorn

Northern NSW Football is conducting a review of its junior development system which could hand more responsibility to NPL and WPL clubs.

The review is still in progress, but NPL clubs expect they will end up running four more junior teams, from under-9s to under-12s, replacing the Emerging Jets and zone Skill Acquisition Phase programs in those age groups.

The club SAP teams would be phased in over the next three years, starting with under-9s in 2018. Charlestown City have already advertised for an under-9s SAP coach for next year, although a final decision on the new “pathway” is not expected until the NNSWF board meets on August 16.

The review follows the Jets’ decision to take over part of the Emerging Jets program – six boys’ teams from under-12s to 18s and five girls’ squads from under-13s to 19s – starting in October. 

NNSWF plans to operate a shadow training program for these age groups to bridge the gap between NPL Youth and the Emerging Jets. The review also proposes a new centralised, zone-run training program for seven- and eight-year-olds in addition to their club commitments.   

The governing body has met with the NPL and WPL clubs to discuss the review and is awaiting feedback before the August board meeting.

NNSWF recommends SAP club coaches be paid $2700 over 30 weeks and says it will help recruit and accredit them and appoint technical advisors to oversee them.

The review says NNSWF would administer SAP leagues to be played at “hubs”, including its Speers Point headquarters.

NPL clubs the Newcastle Herald spoke to had a mixed reaction to the changes.

Valentine technical director Steve Sneddon said a SAP program would help Phoenix retain their best juniors, many of whom now entered Macquarie SAP sides then moved to other NPL clubs.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” he said. “If you haven’t got a club that can pay heaps of dollars for your first-grade players, in three or four years’ time hopefully some of those players can come through.

“Our NPL sides don’t do very well in the juniors at the moment, so we want to attract and keep those kids at our club.”     

But Sneddon questioned the costs, which he said could be on a par with clubs’ NPL Youth fees.

“They’re talking about charging the kids $900 each as a standard fee across the board,” he said. 

“I have no problem with the program at all. Costs is probably the biggest thing I struggle with. I’m trying to understand the $900.”

NNSWF chief executive David Eland said fees had not been set but would cover two training sessions a week for 30 weeks, weekly fixtures and gala days. Families in financial hardship could apply for support.

Edgeworth president Warren Mills said the Eagles would embrace the SAP program because they did not have an existing junior structure feeding top youngsters into their under-13 NPL team.

“We haven’t got nines and tens and elevens and twelves coming though,” he said. “It’s going to be more work, I’m sure, but we’re certainly looking to get stuck in and do it properly.”

Adamstown president Andrew Licata said the SAP program would require more work but Rosebud had no objections to it.

“It’s just a matter of knowing what’s required and implementing it in a way that’s appropriate. There’s no point doing it and just ticking a box.” 

Broadmeadow Magic president Steve Foteff queried the wisdom of placing more work on the shoulders of club volunteers already straining under the weight of the NPL Youth competition.

“One of the huge problems is finding appropriate training and playing facilities, and having enough volunteers to get through the work,” he said. 

“The workload’s ever-increasing, and my worry is we’re getting very close to the threshold where we’re being pushed beyond volunteer clubs and into the semi-professional realm, and I just don’t know that there’s enough resources to have a competition of semi-professional clubs in Northern.

“The expectation is this will be an elite program above community football, so then you have everything that goes with that, the expectations of the parents, the costs. In theory, I understand it all and the benefits of it, but my fear is we’re being pushed beyond the volunteer base that we are.”

Foteff estimated that the program would accommodate 600 players in the Hunter. 

“Do we have all the kids that warrant that many spaces in SAP? Does it water down the talent? Can all 10 clubs successfully deliver this program?

“David Eland has certainly raised the bar and created a much more professional league, but can we have 10 semi-professional clubs in the Hunter Valley? I guarantee the answer right now is no. That’s my opinion.

“It’s a huge, huge ask on volunteers to provide these sorts of programs. We’ve got to be realistic about what volunteers can do.”

Eland said NNSWF was committed to extensive consultation and clubs had until August 1 to respond.

“We understand that there’s already enormous pressure on volunteers at Premier clubs, but at the same time we’ve all got an opportunity to look at continuous improvement, and it’s certainly our view and FFA’s view that Premier clubs should be at the heart of player development,” he said.

“Now that Northern doesn’t have the responsibility of the Emerging Jets, we don’t have the W-League, we’ve now got the opportunity to lift our capacity and to assist clubs in this regard.”